A modest proposal concerning tsunami relief

“You mock my pain!”
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
The Princess Bride

“It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms.” —A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift.

Why should I care about the tsunami victims? What are we up to now, 150,000 dead? Probably twice that number homeless? And I’m supposed to feel what? Sorrow? Compassion? I should be making a big financial contribution, you say? Why, pray tell, should I get involved?

Aren’t tsunamis just Nature’s way of solving over-population? Haven’t we been told for decades that there are too many of us and that we are rapidly depleting our planet’s resources? If 150,000 people drown and another 300,000 starve to death, shouldn’t we see this (I believe in silver-linings) as a really good day for the Responsible Management of Our Fragile Earth?

I suppose leaving so many people to suffer is inhumane. Says who? And isn’t “being humane” a frightfully speciesist concept? Do we humans really suppose we have a corner on virtue? (And didn’t virtue go out with whalebone corsets?)

For the past century, evolutionary biologists have been happily indoctrinating us to believe that we are no different from the (other) animals. 99% of our DNA is the same stuff found in tapeworms. If we’re animals, shouldn’t we act like animals?

The crocodiles, apparently unconcerned with the global reputation of their species, are busy attacking the survivors. The elephants and other purportedly intelligent mammals fled before the waves even hit, without lifting a trunk to warn their human brothers and sisters.

If the noble beasts are only interested in looking out for themselves, why should we be any different?

And don’t get me started on the dolphins and whales. These allegedly brilliant and sensitive creatures live in the sea, for crying out loud. They were the first to hear the earthquake, the first to sense the swelling of the ocean. Did anyone report pods of whales swimming to shore to warn humans that a disaster was approaching? Where were the dolphins, those masterful swimmers, when so many people were carried on the currents and drowned?

Darwin was right—life is all about the survival of the fittest. Those who could swim lived. Those who built strong houses lived. Those who ran the fastest lived. The weak are selected for extinction, the strong get to pass along their genetic material to the next generation. Brutal, yes, but it’s a system that’s worked for millions of years. You think the Red Cross is somehow going to reverse the Laws of Nature?

We both know there is no God (and what kind of God allows his children to be swallowed by a tsunami, anyway?). Don’t be laying platitudes on me, like: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Sunday school hogwash. Don’t be cooing that we’re all part of some kind of lovey-dovey brotherhood of mankind. Jackie Chan, the martial arts movie star, is jump-starting the We Are The World campaign, hoping to bring us all together in love, peace and solidarity with the victims. Gag me.

If I give my hard-earned money to World Vision’s Tsunami Relief Fund, and next month I get laid off and can’t pay my bills, is Jackie Chan going to do a benefit concert for me? Not frigging likely.

What’s in it for me? That’s the bottom line. If I help these people, what’s my payback?

I’ll feel better about myself? Drugs are cheaper and the high lasts longer. I’ll get some kind of reward in the hereafter? You probably still believe in the tooth fairy, don’t you? I’ll make the world a better place? Yeah, right. When that young thug comes to steal my Lexus, I’ll just tell him that I contributed generously to the tsunami victims, we’ll have a good cry together and he won’t shoot me and run me over with my own car.

Here’s my modest proposal for a post-modern, dog-eat-dog, watch-out-for-number-one, God-is-dead world: take the money you would have spent on tsunami relief and invest it in a better security system; sell the house on the beach; buy a bigger plasma screen; dump the brunette and trade up to a blonde; open a fine bottle of wine and enjoy life. While you can.

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  1. There’s a fine line between satire and cruelty.

    I wrote this screed because it seems to me that many of us in the post-modern world want to have all of the benefits of social good behavior with none of the foundations, e.g, a belief in Truth and in a Revealer of Truth and Moral Values; a costly commitment to the priceless value of all human life; an attitude about human responsibility that assumes that we are more than just a collection of cells and electro-chemical impulses; a belief that all human beings were created for a higher purpose than may be obvious to us in the here and now.

    If we lack these foundations, what sort of society are we left with, and exactly what is it that might compell us to help those who are suffering, especially when doing so puts our own well-being at risk?

    In other words, upon what foundations do we build a just and compassionate society if there is no God and we are all merely slaves to the impulse to see our DNA survive us?

  2. Mellissa says

    I am currently a high school senior and I am doing my last project before I graduate. It’s basically a comparison between Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal and a more modern version of a modest proposal. I came across your article on google and thought that it would be perfect for this project. I was just wondering if I could maybe get some information to help out between my comparisons. The main topics I’m looking at are the intent, author background, and the reaction. I’m sure you received numerous emails in response to this and it would help so much to be able to see them to justify my reasonings. My paper is due within a week so the sooner the better if you can help me 🙂