THE COLUMN

Issue No. 71/June 22, 1996


OPINIONS

IVAN HOFFMAN

Once upon a time, a king and his subjects lived inside the walls of a castle, surrounded by a moat of similar opinion. The castle was located in the town of Noitall, which was a suburb of the city of Xeno, in the county of Phobia.

The castle had a drawbridge, just as you might expect in these sorts of stories, and a gatekeeper whose job it was to screen all visitors who approached the castle. This was in the days before voice print or retina identification.

"State the passwords!," the gatekeeper would demand.

"I believe what the king of the castle believes," was the only acceptable reply. He would then lower the drawbridge and allow the visitor to cross the moat of similar opinion and pass inside.

In Noitall, questions had long since been banned. No one knew exactly when that happened but no one questioned the reasons. The question mark had been removed from the keyboard of all the computers, thereby freeing the townsfolk of the need to learn the placement of that key, which often as not varied from manufacturer to manufacturer anyway. There was, after all, no need for questions. All who lived there knew all the answers.

Now this had been going on for a number of generations, each king of the castle following the ideas of the ones who preceded him. Everyone inside the castle was happy and at peace.

"Things work," everyone agreed.

"Yes," they echoed, "things work."

However, the silence that was louder than the king's dictates, the quiet, little feeling inside each resident's heart, the one that said "things don't work," that silence could not be silenced, even though it could not be questioned. That silence had been banned. It had been officially declared as not to exist. No one questioned the ban, no matter what they felt in their heart. But antacid sales were inexplicably strong.

"You look fine today," they would tell each other.

"Yes. I am fine," was the reply. "Just fine. You look fine as well."

"I am fine," was the response. "Just fine."

And then one day, the entire population of the town, king and all, simply died. They died all of a sudden and at exactly the same time. It was as though they all shared one single body and were each subjected to the same vulnerabilities. Scientists, investigating the town's history many centuries later, found nothing that could shed a clue on the reasons for the town's mysterious collective death.

But the scientists did conclude that everyone died facing upward. It was a mystery beyond mysteries.

*****

It has been known for some time that when a population does not have a large enough pool of differing genes, eventually the species dies from diseases and such. When Europeans first came to what they considered the new world, they brought with them diseases that wiped out some indigenous cultures that had been inbred for many generations.

It is the same with crops. There are seed banks in the world that collect and preserve seeds of many varieties of crops. They do this so that in the event a strain of virus or some such disease were to strike one variety, we would not face a total destruction of the entire species. And be without arrugalla.

When we find a narrow population of humans or vegetables, without sufficient variety, the in-breeding that occurs, the lack of cross-pollination that takes place, makes the population vulnerable to mass death.

Perhaps some philosophers ought to be engaged to reexamine the mass death of the town of Noitall, which was a suburb of the city of Xeno, in the county of Phobia.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman

For another spin on these ideas, please read "Dirty Pictures" on my site.

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