first black humorist in the English language, and partly because, in a way, he’s family: my full name is John Temple Eskow, and a direct ancestor of mine, Sir William Temple, was Swift’s literary secretary. So maybe I can be forgiven my ever-growing hunch that Swift’s masterpiece of satire, A Modest Proposal—in which he suggests that rich people should eat the babies of the poor—wasn’t really meant to be funny.
Not ha-ha funny, anyhow.
Swift saw Child Cuisine as a win-win proposition for English society: it would reduce the ghetto population AND provide much-needed income for the mothers who gave birth to the little delicacies (thus giving a whole ne meaning to the phrase “a bun in the oven.”)
Critics and teachers—the liberal elites, in their ivory towers– always assume that Swift was kidding. And sure–at first , it sounds extreme. “Eat the poor:” when you put it that way, it’s so easy to caricature it! But now that Obama and the far right have shouted to the world, in one voice, “we intend to make our poor even poorer; they will never have jobs; and we will no longer give them even the pretense of care,” isn’t it time to take a serious look at Swift’s supposedly “satirical” concept?
Let me be clear, as our leaders say: I’m not suggesting that Americans start noshing on newborns, or preparing tempura from toddlers, or—God forbid—sauteeing six-year-olds. For one thing, it’s not our style. When an American drone kills a bunch of kids in the Middle East, it’s not as if our soldiers rush in afterwards with knives and forks. It’s one thing to kill children, but it’s another to actually eat them.
We’re not barbarians, for Christ’s sake.
We should NOT eat the poor!
But—for their own sake, as well as our own—we should, in fact, start killing them. Calmly, and mercifully, but methodically.
During my lifetime, Washington has taken some half-assed steps in this direction: the military draft, especially during Viet Nam, slaughtered thousands of young men in fits and spurts, but it was a hit-or-miss affair, and sometimes it was hard to co-ordinate with the Viet Cong. The CIA’s taken a few shots at the problem, too, working in tandem with foreign drug-lords to flood inner-city streets with heroin and crack; but again, as Chef Gordon Ramsey would say, “the consistency was lacking.”
Of course, the worst approach of all was in our penal system , which poor kids of both sexes learned to exploit brilliantly: simply by possessing a little dope, or turning a few tricks on the street, they can spend entire decades on our dime, being fed and housed by The Nanny State, with free medical care thrown in. Random jailhouse murders hardly justify the expense. You have to wonder who dreamed up these socialist paradises—it definitely wasn’t someone really, really committed to deficit reduction.
As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “half-measures availed us nothing”.
See, the poor are hardy. “There is a rose in Spanish Harlem,” as Ben E. King sang, and like that ghetto flower the poor keep lingering on—even when it’s against their own best interests. Really—what’s left for them? It’s harder now to escape the lower class than at any time since the 1920s. And back then, if nothing else, the poor were inspired by dreams—immigrant dreams of American success, and bolder dreams of rebellion—of fighting back, and creating a world based on social justice.
What kind of life can we offer them now that even their dreams are gone?
So don’t think of it as some kind of large-scale murder program. Think of it as…deficit reduction! Think of it as “pulling off the band-aid.” Sure, killing the poor will take courage on our part—but it’s time. We all know it. And think of the bright side: not only will it be cost-efficient, but as the poorest of the poor are reduced, it will re-define the concept of “poor” ever upward, so that within a few years, we can make further reductions in what used to be called “the middle class.” By the time we stop—at a time to be decided by a Congressional subcommittee—America will be one solid, united class, truly wealthy once again.
And we’ll do it all without eating a single poor child!
John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning.