Regular readers know JLH as our hard-working German translator. The other night, after a hard day of working his way through reams of Hochdeutsch, putting it into English, he decided to take a break, as well as a wee dram — perhaps two — of schnapps. The result was this updated version of a familiar old tale.
A Fable for Our Time
Once upon a time there was a young girl. She was almost old enough to vote, and like many voters, she was naïve and idealistic, trusting those in charge to take care of the big things while she lived her life. She was called Dotty, and nobody knew whether that was short for something else, or just a reflection on her happy-go-lucky attitude. One day, on the way to school, she stepped into a wormhole — not the kind made by an ordinary earthworm that you wouldn’t notice if you stepped on it, but a real science-fiction kind of wormhole — which scooped her up and deposited her softly in an unfamiliar place.
The people in this place were called Little People — not because of their size, but because no one of them was very important. At that moment, they were celebrating the unexpected demise of the Wicked Witch of the East, whose true home was far way, but who had been a monstrous presence in their lives for a very long time. The place she came from was not only far away, it was very scary. It had things called gulags and five-year-plans and people who were put into insane asylums for being not insane. The Witch had come to talk about a peaceful solution to disagreements she had with the Little People. But when she sat down, she took off her magic blue slippers and pounded them on the table and shouted that she was going to bury all her enemies and then she had a fit and dropped dead.
When Dotty met the Little People, they advised her to leave immediately, because the Wicked Witch of the West, who lived in this place and believed in everything the Wicked Witch of the East did, was going to be very angry when she heard about her big sister, so any stranger could be in trouble. Dotty should go and see if the Great Wizard could help her get home. They advised her to put on the magic blue slippers left by the Wicked Witch of the East, because they would help her to travel along the road to the Wizard’s capitol — the Sapphire City. She did as they suggested, but when she put the slippers on, they turned from blue to red. All the Little People laughed and sent her on her way.
So Dotty set out on the only road out of town. She had hardly gone any distance when she heard a creaking, grating sound and, looking to the side of the road, saw what appeared to be a man made of tin. Nothing about him was moving except his eyes, which swiveled furiously from side to side. Dotty walked up to him and asked: “What’s the matter?” The eyes stopped moving and stared at one spot on the ground, where she saw an old oil can. She picked it up and squirted some on the hinges of his jaw. It creaked up and down and back and forth and finally he thanked her by saying: “About time. Now do the rest!”
He spoke stiffly and bit off his words as if he were angry at them. Next, she oiled his elbows and shoulders and he bent his elbows and raised his arms until they were horizontal. “That’s as far as they go,” he said when she looked inquisitive, “Left out in the rain too long. I’m an old soldier and I believe in seniority — especially mine. I am for straightforward action, trusting your instinct and shooting from the hip.”
“But,” Dotty said, “you’re not carrying a weapon.”
“Figure of speech. My weapon is my razor-sharp mind.”
Dotty told him she was going to see the Great Wizard and he said, “That’s just where I want to go. Maybe he can tell me how to get my heart’s desire.”
“What’s that?” Dotty asked.
“Making other people do what I tell them.”
“Oh,” said Dotty and decided it would be good to set out without asking any more questions.
So off they went, and had hardly gone any distance at all when they found a scarecrow tied to a pole in a field. He was very thin, and much of his straw lay on the ground around him. After meeting the Tin Man, Dotty was not surprised to hear the scarecrow ask for their help. So they untied him and helped him re-stuff himself until he looked solid and well-fed again. When she told him where they were going, he said, “Oh, let me come along! Maybe he can tell me what to think.”
“What to think about what?” Dotty asked.
“Why, about all the things I would think about if I had a brain:
- “How can we save the whales when Global Warming dries up the seas,
- Whether we should kill pets to keep them from the horror of being owned,
- How much of our own culture we must obliterate to make other cultures feel we are not looking down on them,
- How to teach the little children that ‘sharia’ is just another word for ‘Christmas,’
- How we can eliminate barriers between peoples by eliminating borders,
- How we can explain to all the antiquated reactionaries that the only way to stop a madman from shooting down a whole lot of people while screaming ‘Allahu Akbar!’ is to outlaw firearms and destroy the NRA,
- How to explain that practicing freedom of speech is a seditious act.
- And that freedom of the press means the freedom to believe in a Fuehrer,
- And that academic freedom means the freedom to assert without proving.
- You know — the things all normal people think about.”
This was the second time that Dotty felt it would be good just to move along.
But the three of them had hardly gone any distance at all when a large, lumpy grey figure with a horn on its nose leapt out of the brush, landing directly in front of them with a loud, dusty thump and a gargling roar. Then it stared at them and they were all so surprised that they just stood there.
“Well,” it said, “aren’t you frightened?”
And the brainless Scarecrow asked: “Of what? Who are you?”
And the creature said: “I am the most dreaded of all creatures in the political jungle. No one even wants to be seen near me. I am the Gutless Rino!”
“Well,” Dotty said, “I’m sorry not to have heard of you. We are new here and on our way to see the Great Wizard. He is going to show me how to get home and he is going to show the Tin Man how to give orders and he is going to show the Scarecrow how to think.”
“Oh!” exclaimed the Rino. “May I come along? Maybe he can show me how to get respect.”
For the third time, Dotty decided it would be best to keep moving along with her strange companions. So they set out once more.
On the way they talked about the Great Wizard and what he had accomplished and all the plans he had and all the enemies he had. The Great Wizard had many helpers who were working hard to undo the awfulness that Evil People had caused. He wanted to help the Little People to be more prosperous than they had ever been. Many said that he made powerful magic when he spoke, especially when the magic transparent rectangle appeared in front of him and his own words ran across it backwards. But no matter how much he spoke, Evil Forces suppressed his efforts. It had to be very sad to be a leader who could not lead because of what everyone else did.
As they rounded a corner in the road, it narrowed to a path through a swampy morass. Bloated bubbles oozed up out of the liquid muck, hovered for a moment, then burst, releasing a foul-smelling gas. As they began to feel faint and their eyes began to dim, the Wicked Witch of the West appeared before them, hovering over the swamp on her broom.
“Well, my dears,” she cackled, “this is the Morass of Changing Hope. It is the only path to the Sapphire City. Enjoy the Perfume of Propaganda as it puts you to sleep forever.”
And, indeed, they were falling asleep, slipping to their knees, lying down on the squishy path. Who knows how this would have turned out? Would they have died, or gone to sleep and awakened later?
We will never know, because a most peculiar thing happened. Just at that moment, there was a glitch in the mighty consensus of Global Warming. Snow began to fall. The surface of the swamp froze, preventing gas bubbles from rising into the air. Even Dotty, who was used to cold weather, began to shiver so much she actually shook herself awake. They all got back on their feet unsteadily at first, stomping around to keep warm.
Then off they went, continuing in the direction of the Sapphire City; they could see the glowing blue way off, just on the horizon. Traveling fast to keep warm, they were soon approaching the city’s center. In a little while, they came to a cluster of Greek Revival buildings laid out in a circle around the Sapphire Palace. They had signs describing their functions. There was DHS (Dealing in Heavy Secrets), NEA (Never Educate Anyone), EPA (Enthusiastically Persecuting Adversaries), IRS (Intimidation, Revenge, Suppression), SEIU (Selected Employees Intimidating U) and DOJ (Don’t Overrate Justice).
The Scarecrow said: “What esthetically appealing government buildings!”
The Tin Man said: “I could have done better!”
The Gutless Rino snorted: “They don’t scare me!”
They agreed to enter the nearest one, which was DHS. Pulling open the big doors, they came into a lobby with several passages branching off, identified by signs on stands. The largest hallway sign read “Terrorists and Assorted Illegals Reception Area and Refreshment Center” while the darkest and narrowest hallway had a long arrow into the dimness marked by a sign, “Interrogation of Gun Owners and other Putative Criminals.”
At the reception desk in the center of the lobby sat the Wicked Witch of the East. She looked sternly at the Tin Man and asked: “Have you served in the military?” When he nodded affirmatively, she handed him a long form to fill out. Dotty snatched it out of his hand and read the first few questions:
|1.||Do you wish you were still killing people?|
|2.||Are you now or have you ever been a conservative?|
|3.||Please check how many times you have been in an insane asylum: 1) one, 2) two, 3) more.
“We are done here,” Dotty said. Dropping the form on the Witch’s desk she led her companions out the door.
As they left, they heard the Witch chuckle: “It doesn’t get any better.”
Next they tried IRS. As they entered a lobby with what appeared to be hundreds of passages branching off, they saw the Witch sitting at a reception desk with several signs:
- “You know you owe us!”
- “Even if you own it, it’s not yours!”
- “You have a right to state your objections — and be punished for it.”
Dotty did not hesitate. She turned around and left and the others quickly scurried behind her.
“Maybe,” she said, pointing at a more opulent and pleasingly sinuous building off to the side, “we should try something that is not quite a part of the government.”
The building they entered was labeled CAIR (Counseling Americans In Relativism). The lobby floor was covered by plush carpets and the wall by elegant script-like designs. Behind a huge desk sat a figure entirely hidden in a burka. But when the draped one spoke, they could tell: it was the Wicked Witch of the West.
Her ice-cold eyes stared at Dotty as she asked: “Why are you dressed indecently?”
Dotty said: “But I am wearing my jeans and my favorite shirt.”
And the Witch said: “Your shape is clearly visible. You are tempting your companions to commit terrible acts against you. And if they do, it will be entirely your fault and you will be prosecuted and sent to a prison where all the guards will have to do the same thing. It is the law.”
“Well,” said Dotty, “I don’t have to listen to this. I am going to go and get help from the Great Wizard.”
The figure in the burka cackled. “Say hello for me.”
When they arrived at the Sapphire Palace, they discovered the Witch standing behind a reception counter.
“You’re everywhere,” Dotty said.
“I am the lifeblood of this government,” said the Witch. “I bring energy to every part of the body politic, enlarging the bureaucracy, increasing the tax revenues, monitoring the politically correct thoughts. Without me, nothing would work. But you are not here to see me. Follow the Great Hall and you will come to the Great Wizard.”
So they did, and soon they were met by a magic floating rectangle with backward letters running right-to-left across it, and a vibrant, mellifluous voice speaking the same words: “Welcome, citizens. Come this way.”
They followed the rectangle and soon discovered the Wizard himself, concentrating fiercely on an extremely difficult, up-and-to-the-left putt arranged by his magic, indoor hill-shaper. As the rectangle hovered obsequiously nearby, they stood with bated breath until he had successfully sunk the putt. Then he turned to them and asked: “Have you come to praise me?”
“No sir,” said Dotty. “We have come to you for help.”
“Ah, yes, I have heard of you. You are the low-information mob allowing itself to be led by a rabble-rouser.”
“Oh no, sir,” said the Scarecrow. “She’s a girl.”
The Wizard looked down on him benignly.
“Well, each one of us has an opinion. Fortunately, only mine counts. But do not worry. I will solve all of your problems.”
He smiled at the Tin Man.
“You like to give orders, and you already know how to do that.” The Tin Man nodded happily. “You want to make sure someone will follow them. To do that,” the Wizard continued, “you must know where to do it. I suggest somewhere like McDonald’s, where they are already eager to take orders, and fill them.”
The Tin Man stood tall and said : “I will give them orders like they have never experienced!”
Then the Wizard turned to the Scarecrow. “You,” he said, “already have all the questions you need. What you need now is to supply the answers.” The Scarecrow bobbed his head eagerly. “To do that, you must know where they come from. The questions running around in your head are not from your brain, but from your emotions, so they cannot be resolved logically. When you realize this, you will be able to answer all your questions by asking yourself what answer feels good.”
The Scarecrow screwed up his face in concentration and said: “To save the whales from Global Warning, we must reduce the escaping fossil fuel emissions by turning off our furnaces in winter and lower our carbon footprint by breathing out less than we breathe in!”
Turning to the Rino, the Wizard said: “You are seeking a way to gain respect so that you can have an influence on the way things are done. Respect is overrated. What you need is to become popular. To do that, you must buy yourself a weather vane and, every day before going to work, see which way the wind is blowing. When you arrive, you will already know what everybody thinks, and you can say what most of them want to hear.”
The Rino bounced up and down on his stubby legs and said: “I will dazzle them by agreeing before they try to persuade me!”
At last, the Wizard turned to Dotty. “I can see by the color of your slippers,” he said, “that you do not belong here. You believe in odd and outdated things like free enterprise, individual responsibility and the freedom to say what you think. Attitudes like that are out of place in a magical place like this. So I am going to remove you from the equation.”
“Wait!” Dotty cried. “How can you do that?”
“Simple,” said the Wizard,” I will label you a fanatic reactionary who slanders everyone you disagree with, and imply that you may also be violent and even have criminal tendencies. You will fade from public view and become a non-factor.”
“But none of that is true!” Dotty said.
“It doesn’t matter,” said the Wizard, “The Blue York Times and the White-Washing Post are printing what I say at this very moment and the BBC (Better Be Cowardly) is broadcasting it. You are becoming a non-person as we speak.”
And, indeed, Dotty looked down at herself and saw that she was beginning to fade. What’s more, none of her three companions was even looking at her, because they were concentrating on themselves.
Then, as suddenly as she had disappeared down the wormhole, Dotty was back where her adventures had begun. This time, however, she was very careful to step around that dark space and continue on to school. Today she was eager to take part in the discussion in her first class, Problems of Democracy.