A fable for our times
And the king, sorely troubled, sent for his Grand Wizard.
“My agents about the country tell me that the common people are full of complaint and are groaning about the level of taxation. I need the money to cover the increasing size of the court and the requirements of the courtiers. I fear the peasants are revolting.”
“Leave it with me, Sire. They do not have enough to worry about. They have become far too prosperous. The common people cannot cope with prosperity without getting out of hand, they have to be fed with stories of terror. They need to be told about the fairies at the bottom of the Great Palace Garden. Then they will only be too glad to pay more taxes”
“Are there fairies at the bottom of the garden?”
“There are now. Trust me!”
And so it came about that the members of the College of Wizards went out into the country and told the people of the fairies at the bottom of the garden and how they would bring great troubles upon the land. And they constructed gigantic idols with whirling arms, spread throughout the most beauteous parts of the land, fearful of aspect and sound, but guaranteed by the wizards to fend off the fairies. And the people were sore afraid. And they gladly paid more taxes, so that even greater colleges of wizards could be set up to study the fairies at the bottom of the garden. And many learned professors were recruited to the Fairy Research Institute, which issued parchments telling of fearful times to come, when the land would be parched and barren (or possibly frozen and barren) but barren anyway.
And the Great Wizard called together a multitude, representing the leaders of the common people, and he spake thus:
“I have been to a Great Land beyond the ocean and have sat at the feet of a wizard even greater than I. And he has a wand of great power in the form of a stick with an angled blade. When he waves his wand he can see in his crystal ball clear images of past times. I have learned from him that many of the books in our royal libraries and the paintings in our royal galleries are purveyors of falsehood. They tell of the Bad Times, when the land was plagued with cold, famine and pestilence, also of the Good Times, when the harvests were abundant and there was joy throughout the land. This Greatest Wizard told me that there were no such Times. Things have always been constant, but list, list, o list! There are Bad Times just around the corner. And it is all because of the fairies at the bottom of the garden.”
So there came about the Great Burning, when ancient paintings and great leather bound books were dragged out of the royal libraries around the land and thrown onto bonfires.
And the king was greatly pleased; yet he was still worried and called the Great Wizard to him again.
“You have done great things, but there are still pockets of resistance, which I fear will cause us trouble.”
“Have no fear, My Liege, for we are about to hold a Great Council that will settle this matter for good.”
“But my agents tell me that some of the dissident peasants are calling a council of their own, to be called “There are no fairies at the bottom of the garden.”
“That is only because they have heard rumour of our Great Council, but that is to be called “Can we deal with the terrible consequences of the fairies at the bottom of the garden?”
“That is absolutely brilliant, did you think of it yourself.”
Well, Sire, it is a little conceit of my own, but it based on a logical device known to the ancients as Begging the Question.”
“But, what of the peasant’s council?”
“Fear not, Liege, it will be unnoticed. Not for nothing have my wizards been cultivating the Guild of Town Criers. They depend on us for all their news. They know on which side their bread is buttered.
Furthermore, my own little rumour factory is spreading the story that these ragamuffins are secretly wealthy and in the pay of great foreign potentates, who wish us ill and would leave us to the depredations of the fairies at the bottom of the garden.”
“You have done well, my friend. Have a few more titles at my next investiture.”
“Much thanks, Lord, and I trust that it will be in order to use some of the money in the now swollen royal coffers to reward the wizards and learned professors who have made all this possible.”
And the all lived happily ever after. Except for the peasants, of course.
The King, once again sore troubled, sent for his Grand Wizard.
“We have lived happily ever after these eighteen years; yet our spies tell us that there is again trouble throughout the land. You gave me the means of raising taxes, for which I was duly grateful, but the royal coffers are again empty and the royal debts fail to diminish. There is stirring among the peasantry, some of whom seem to be unconvinced about the fairies at the bottom of the garden.”
“I regret, my liege, that there is some truth in this. The business of constructing the giant mechanical idols, which I am proud to say now cover much of the land, has proved unexpectedly expensive. We have also had to get rid of inflexible groups of practitioners of previous versions of our mystical craft and replace them with followers of the cause, who being highly trained in the craft are costly to employ. It is also true that small pockets of Deniers still exist and we have to persuade the Guild of Town Criers to shout them down, which is not without cost.”
“But some of the common folk are now openly proclaiming that the fairies do not exist and are loudly opposing our taxes. How can we deal with them, other than filling our prisons?”
“Indeed, it is a problem that fairies have not been directly observed for these eighteen years. Our highly paid observers have been assiduous in their work, but there has arisen a new and scurrilous group of denialists who have made it their business to observe the observers. It appears that the fairies are discomfited by all this observational activity and have withdrawn into obscurity to exercise their mischief. Our greatest minds have dwelt continuously on the problem and they have come up with no fewer that fifty possible explanations, but the one that we favour, and are now propagating, is that they are hiding at the bottom of the bottomless lake beyond the palace garden wall.”
“But won’t people just say that they were never there in the first place?”
“Majesty! I urge you not to utter such remarks, even in jest. It would be a disaster if your gracious personage were branded with the name Denier.”
“Nevertheless, our Most Secret Sources tell us that our most skilled artisans, such as blacksmiths and wheelwrights, even fuel gatherers, are leaving for other kingdoms, who are less absolute in imposing the fairy taxes.”
“Again, I regret that there is some truth in this. Some rulers are less gifted in wisdom than your glorious self, and they fall into the easy path of seeking popularity by pandering to the selfishness of the unwashed masses. It is for this reason that we have devoted great effort and funds to promoting international gatherings of the enlightened ones. This incidentally is one of the causes of the unplanned costs; for these distinguished international scholars expect to be entertained according to their reverend status and not as mere peasants. The outcome of these conferences, however, has been most gratifying, and our surveys tell us that 97% of wizards, sorcerers and soothsayers believe in FATBOG.”
“Aye, Sire. It is an ancient logical device of using the initials of a phenomenon to give it apparent familiarity and authority. It is known as an acronym and has great mystical power.”
“That is all very well, but what about our common people? Fewer and fewer of them seem to be willing to follow our lead.”
“We have no choice but to follow the path we have chosen. We must set an example by demonstrating the power of our faith. If we seem to hesitate now, the masses will begin to feel that their sacrifices have been in vain. Kingdoms have fallen in such circumstances.”
“We only hope that you are right. So let it be! Issue a royal decree that we still believe in foot bag.”