In 1729, the Anglo-Irish writer, Jonathan Swift, wrote an essay entitled A Modest Proposal. More precisely, the full title of his work was A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.
Swift suggests a way for the impoverished Irish to ease their economic troubles … sell their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies!
“A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout,” Swift suggests.
Of course, anyone who took a college course in English literature would know this essay is one of the finest examples of political satire ever written. Through seemingly well-reasoned hyperbole, Swift mocks the heartless attitudes of his time towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general.
My guess is that if Swift wrote such an essay today, in the age of the Internet, more than half of those reading the piece would take it literally!
We as a nation we are losing the ability to separate fact from fiction… to think critically, The art of satire is slowly dying, if it is not already dead.
Our educational system is broken when the ability to detect and appreciate satire, especially political satire, is gone.
My modest proposal for 2017, and beyond, is that we stop focusing so much on science and math for our kids at the expense of the humanities.
Yes, in times of economic stress such as these, studying history, philosophy and literature may seem like a big waste of time. But a liberal education is what molds us into well-rounded individuals able to navigate whatever comes our way.
Flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, logic and reason, along with strong communication skills, are at the core of a liberal arts education. With fake news and misinformation all around us, the ability for rational thought is needed now more than ever.
I can easily imagine a reader’s comment to Swift’s proposal in today’s age of social media:
“You are one sick dude. Don’t you have any regard for life? … especially your own kids? You should be hung!”
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