Friday, November 23, 2018

Fables — some true (1981 short story)

A Short Story from the November 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time, in Africa, there lived a feeble old man. Old and feeble though he was, he had many fine cattle and young wives to tend them. One day a white man came to his village and started to tell the people that polygamy was against the laws of someone called God. After a while the witch doctor, for that was what the old man was, noticed young men hanging about near his compound. He threatened them, and they ran away. One or two did not run very far, so he pointed the bones at one of them. Within a month the young man died.

The old man realised that this was not the answer. The missionary had to die. So he waylaid him and pointed the bones. Months passed and the missionary was still hale and hearty. The witch doctor was the laughing stock of the village and the missionary boasted that he was protected by the Lord of Hosts. Now the witchdoctor let it be known that certain people would have the bones pointed in their direction if the missionary did not die. Soon after this the missionary was found clubbed to death, which goes to show that magic works.

In North America, in the 18th century, a man was in the forest picking berries. He was approached by a white man, who asked to buy the forest as far as the great river. “This paleface is mad" thought the man, but he took the gifts offered and made a magic mark upon his skin, which was covered with other magic marks. A few weeks later the Indian was setting a snare, when he again saw the white man. who ordered him to get off his land. The Indian laughed. Next day the white man turned up at the Indian’s lodge, together with others carrying muskets. They burned the lodge to the ground and threw the Indian into the river. Which goes to show that magic works.

Back in Africa, a man was approached by a trader and told that, if he handed over his corn, he would be given paper in the modern way. On the paper were the magic marks of the Chief Cashier. The trader put the corn into barns. Next year the crops failed. The farmer went to the trader with the same pieces of paper with the magic marks. The trader said “Sorry, there has been a coup d'etat, your bits of paper are worthless; the magician who signed them has lost his magic power.” “But”, said the farmer, “the corn is still in the barns.” “Yes”, agreed the trader, “but you are not getting any.” Which goes to show that magic does not always work.

In Africa again. The government was clearing the forest. They said to the pygmy people “help us to clear the forest and we will pay you.” The pygmies said “What will we do with this pay?” The government said “you will be able to buy food and clothing, and for two weeks of the year you will have a holiday.” “But”, replied the pygmies “We can collect all the food we need in a couple of hours; we don’t need clothes and we spend most of our time playing games.” Which goes to show that not everyone believes in magic. Unfortunately the government (the name for a group of magicians who talk all the time and make things happen by magic words) caused the forest to be cleared, and the pygmies died of heat stroke. Which goes to show that magicians don't like what comes naturally.

Take one, on the face of it, unremarkable young man, add one young woman, throw in an Archbishop or two plus a clutch of dotty television types, arrange a sunny day, and you can bring a ray of sunshine into a billion hearts. Take a normal, unaggressive young man, dress him up in funny clothes, shout at him a bit, get him to perform some strange ballet steps on a concrete square, put a rifle in his hand, and he will kill anything he is told to. Tell practically anyone to do something for “their country” and they will. Which goes to show that magic is powerful stuff.

Socialism is a society without illusion, without magic, without belief in money, ownership or magicians. Like the men who killed the missionary, most people believe that power lies in the hands of the magicians. The cry of the masses is “Oh mighty ones, we acknowledge your magic power over us. We will run society for your benefit if you will shoulder the dreadful burden of responsibility for the consequences of our mindless labour.” To which the magicians reply “We are the mighty ones, we never err, put your trust in us and you will never have to think for yourselves or take responsibility for your lives.” Whereupon the masses sing a verse of God Save The Queen and give rousing hosannas for capitalism.
Arthur Spender

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