A Cautionary Tale for April First

In honor of April Fools' Day we will consider assorted human follies, including the hapless Henny-Penny and her friends, who, after a pea fell on Henny-Penny's head, believed that "The Sky Is Falling" (hereafter: TSIF) and went to tell the King. As you recall, she and her friends Cocky-locky, Ducky-daddles, Goosey-loosey and Turkey-lurky consulted Foxy-loxy, who promised to take them to the King.

April Fools' Day started in 16th century Europe, after Pope Gregory revised the calendar making New Years Day January 1 instead of the traditional April 1. Those who were ignorant of the change, or refused to accept it and continued to celebrate on April 1 were dubbed "April Fools" and heckled by their neighbors.

In a present-day April Fool joke a child may tell a friend: "There's a spider on your back!" And when the victim twists around to see, the prankster chants gleefully "April Fool!"

In contrast to April Fool pranks, which are good-natured, reciprocal, and not supposed to hurt anyone, the folly of Henny-Penny and friends in relying on Foxy-loxy for safety can have serious consequences.

We are trusting, credulous folk, ready to believe almost anything remotely plausible, as long as it affirms something we already believe, fits our existing perceptions, excuses our mistakes, or excites, comforts or reassures us in some way. We seem to be particularly susceptible to TSIF statements, and often accept them without checking them out.

In the year 2000 Americans told our presidential candidates that TSIF on our children. Foxy W. Bush promised he would take us to the King and "leave no child behind". Then he made himself King, cut taxes for the wealthy and ran up the deficit so there wasn't enough money for schools, day care or child health programs. April Fool!

On September 11, 2001, the sky really did fall. Again we ran to Foxy W. Bush who proclaimed himself "war president" and promised us a "war on terrorism" that would crush al Qaeda. He also assured us that although God blessed America and we would all be safe:: "God isn't gonna do it all by himself. I mean, He's great and all, but let's face it, when it comes to a faith-based strategic response, the Old Boy just doesn't have the same kinda resources that we can bring to bear."

.... and went to war on Iraq. April Fool!

We often think TSIF, as real disasters large and small threaten us. Despite our fears, however, we barnyard birds and Foxy W. Bush are confident in our ability to take control of any situation.

A columnist in the London Times (Hannah Betts, March 1, 2001) observed: "The ... flourishing of capitalism, science and Empire during the 19th century gave us the impression that we could solve not only our own problems but those of the world at large. "Someone must do something" we cry at each fresh catastrophe, and typically someone can. Food is engineered, task forces are dispatched, illness evaded and life-spans teased out like twine, while we Post-Modern control freaks look for the next opportunity to put Mother Nature back in her box."

We fool ourselves if we think we control the natural world. Mother Nature is ever ready, with storms, floods, earthquakes, and a resurgence of pestilences that feed on human habits like mad-cow disease, hoof-and-mouth, AIDS, Ebola. We fool ourselves if we imagine that we can control the global spread of such pathogens without global organizations like the UN and WHO to coordinate world-wide health care and food safety programs.

We assume we can control our own population and food supplies to their best advantage, even though we've never done it yet and haven't even agreed what our best advantage is. We have faith that we can make living things better with genetic engineering without figuring out what we mean by "better." We deceive ourselves that we can use up the capital of irreplaceable natural resources and continue to eat more, drive more cars and have more children

We believe we can provide quality education for all children at low cost, though we aren't sure what constitutes quality education and don't want to spend any money on it anyway. We see religion as a cheap and easy way to make everyone be good. Too many of us suppose we can have democracy and good government with low taxes and low voter participation, and that if TSIF there is nothing we can do about it anyway.

We fool ourselves mortally to believe we can wage wars in which no-one but terrorists get killed, expect to end war by blowing people and cities to smithereens, and imagine that democracy is easily imposed from the top down by those with the best bombs.

April Fool, folks. We're fooling ourselves. The sky is still falling and Foxy W. Bush is licking our bones. We need to put our heads together, take charge of our barnyard and fire Foxy W. Bush. The sky is always falling, and even birdbrains can learn it's better to deal with it ourselves.

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