Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Another Modest Proposal

I was recently talking about Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" with a friend (the subject came up after a mention of the Brobdingnagian Bards) and was reminded of an essay in imitation of it that I wrote about ten years ago.

At the time, I was taking a class on 18th Century Literature, and two of the assignments were to do a prose and poetry imitation of 18th century style. I posted the poetry one a couple of years ago, but never did post the prose one.

So I dug it up this morning. Bear in mind that it's an imitation of writing style as well as using the same kind of "propose a horrific solution to a difficult problem" theme. So the sentences are longer and more full of clauses than I'd normally use, for example. Not to mention the capitalization of all nouns. :)

A Modest Proposal for the Reduction of Crime in the United States of America, and for Making Criminals Beneficial to the Publick

- Or -

Two Strikes and You're Dead

Our great Country has come upon hard and troubling Times, when a Man cannot turn on his Television Set without hearing of some shocking Murder or Rape, unless he is to turn it to some cable Channel (where, indeed, the Images shown may be even more disturbing). Our Children cannot walk the streets of our Cities without Fear that they may be mugged for their Clothes or attacked for displaying an offensive Colour. Our Towns and Suburbs are riddled with Criminals and Gang Members, who will rob and kill as casually as a normal Man might read the Newspaper or eat his Dinner.

Certainly it is understood by all Parties that this proliferation of illegal Activity, which is so intense among the inner Cities that it threatens to overwhelm legal Occupations, is a deplorable state of affairs and a very great grievance; however, few rational Solutions to this most pressing of Problems have been proposed. Politicians take anti-Crime Stances wherein they propose more Prisons and longer Sentences, but these so-called Solutions only exacerbate the Problem they intend to solve; for it is a well-known Fact that Prisons are breeding Grounds for more hardened Felons, and further, by incarcerating these Recreants, we are forcing honest Citizens to support their worthless Lives, paying their hard-earned Cash so that these Outlaws might be fed, clothed, and housed. The Cost of supporting a single one of these Rogues is enough to maintain a law-abiding Family of four; in many cases, these depraved Villains would be less of a Burden on Society if they were permitted to continue their Substance-abusing, Drug-dealing, gambling or prostituting Lives without hindrance.

But I am by no means suggesting that we allow these degenerate Monsters to pollute our Country with their immoral Lifestyles; rather, it is my firm Belief that we can no longer tolerate illegal Behavior in any way, shape, or form. These Law-breaking Creatures are a Cancer in the Body of our Country, and you cannot reform or imprison a Cancer; the only appropriate Treatment for it is Destruction.

Now, it is well-known that our Justice System is imperfect, and that, on Occasion, an innocent Man has been wrongly convicted. I will acknowledge that the preservation of these few chance Victims of Fate should be accorded some Priority; therefore, I shall reluctantly limit my Proposal to executing only second-time Offenders. The Chances of an Innocent being twice convicted are so slight as to be negligible. As for the Possibility that a Person who reformed after his first Offense could be framed for a second Offense by some unscrupulous Party, I see no reason to admit to that at all. Certainly it is possible that a Malefactor might be wrongly convicted; but as it is widely held that Criminals cannot be reformed, there seems no reason to believe that the Varlet would not be guilty of some other, unknown, Crime.

Some misguided Souls may contend that my Proposal is merely a more comprehensive Version of earlier, failed Plans; they may argue that Capital Punishment has not proven to be an effective deterrent in the past. But the ineffectiveness of the Death Penalty is largely due to the unevenness of its Application: one Individual might hang for a Crime that a more fortunate Person might merely serve life for. State Laws vary as to when and for what a Man may be killed, and Juries vary as to whether or not the same Crime deserves Death. By eliminating all these trifling details as to the severity of the Crime and the Nature of so-called mitigating Factors, and simply mandating the same Sentence for all repeat Offenders, the fairness and ease of our Justice System will be greatly enhanced. No longer will we need to Question whether Blacks receive harsher Sentences than Whites, for all will receive precisely the same Punishment.

No doubt this Plan will make Jury selection more difficult, as some tender-Hearted Souls may be reluctant to convict a Shoplifter on her second Offense, out of some sentimental Notion that the Punishment should fit the Crime. Such People refuse to recognize that minor Crimes inevitably lead to greater Ones, and the Child stealing a Candy Bar today will be raping Women tomorrow. However, careful screening should ensure that those who serve on Juries will not allow Feelings of sympathy for these Monstrous Law-breakers to cloud their Judgement and make them render a Verdict of innocent merely to preserve the Criminal's Life.

Others may insinuate that this Proposal may be Unconstitutional; that it violates the Right to Due Process. Since Legislators have not hesitated in the Past to create Laws which violate the Constitution far more directly, such as rendering Abortions illegal, or criminalizing Speech as the Communications Decency Act does, I see no Reason why Questions of Constitutionality should be permitted to interfere with my Project. However, as some do maintain a frivolous sentimental Attachment to that ancient and outdated Document, it would probably be best to make my Plan an Amendment to that old-fashioned and absurdly idealistic Charter, though it would no doubt be better to do away with the Hindrance altogether, and replace it with some more sensible, modern Document.

The Gain in establishing this Proposal as Law would certainly far outweigh the benefits of clinging to outmoded Ideology, for not only would this greatly reduce the Number of unlawful Creatures in our World, but these former Burdens on Society could be put to good Use as Organ Donors. This could put an End to the long waiting Lists those in need of Transplants currently must endure; now we may supply them with the whole Contents of our Jails; let them pick through at leisure while the Men are yet living to find the most appropriate Match for a law-abiding citizen. Furthermore, worries of preserving Organs on cross-Country Flights or while waiting for Surgeons to be ready would be eliminated, as the Organ Stock could be kept alive until the time for the Operation could be arranged. Of course, as many Methods of executing Felons render the Organs unusable, it might be necessary to arrange a new Style of execution, or return to old Methods, such as the Guillotine, which is fairly painless and leaves most of the body's Organs undamaged.

Organ donation is not the only use to which these Convicts may put. Many proud Members of the NRA have no doubt bored of putting their Weapons to use merely on dumb Animals, where the massive Firepower of their assault Rifles is frequently wasted; these People would surely pay handsomely for the chance to hunt down "the most dangerous Game" of Man. Hunters already pay for the Privilege of shooting Deer, which merely provide Meat for their Tables and Trophies for their Walls; how much more might they pay to know they were doing their Country the good Service of ridding it of a two-time Pickpocket or Shoplifter? This Plan could also bring hunting into the Cities themselves, where most Citizens have heretofore been unable to participate in the Sport. Imagine large Theme-Park Complexes, located conveniently near Hospitals so the Organs may be harvested, where Men might bring their Wives and Children to kill off the heinous Villains of Society in any of a thousand entertaining Ways.

The Boon for the entertainment Industry would be even greater--as Hollywood already makes Billions showing artificial Violence and faked Deaths, how much more might they profit using the real Thing? Game Show Formats where the Contestants might choose the Manner of a Criminal's death, while the Audience votes on whose Choice was most creative, could undoubtedly be more popular than Cops, and provide for more satisfying sequels to shows like America's Most Wanted.

The potential exploitability of this Market is unlimited; I have not even touched upon the possibilities of human-skin Shoes, or Purses, or Wigs, currently very expensive Items, for which these long-haired Freaks would be good Suppliers. There are currently approximately one million Criminals in Jails across the Country, a Figure which is by all expected to rise. As I am assured that 99% of Criminals return to Crime upon being released, it may be reasonably concluded that this Number consists largely of repeat Offenders. As it costs around thirty thousand Dollars a Year to keep these each of these Degenerates incarcerated, and as I can reasonably expect that, by using the Methods outlined above, we could surely profit by at least three Thousand a Head on their Deaths, this Venture would realize thirty-three Billion a Year. This is nearly enough Money to pay for all the Campaign Costs incurred by Politicians in an election Year; Funds which might be far better spent on important Government Issues, such as Raises for our hard-working Congressmen, or Tobacco subsidies, or Tax Cuts for those represented by Political Action Committees.

I can think of no further Objections to this Plan, or of any Alternatives which would be so simple, and require so little Expenditure or Effort. Therefore let no Man speak to me of other Expedients: Of educating our Prisoners so that they might have an Alternative to Crime: Of treating Prisoners decently, so they do not emerge from their Time raped, abused, hardened and embittered: Of making People understand that their Actions are their own Responsibility: Of Programs encouraging Children not to join Gangs or commit Crimes before it is too late: Of teaching our Citizenry that Murder, Rape, and Theft are not morally ambiguous Issues: Or of wallowing less in the glorification of Violence which permeates so much of our Entertainment.

Let no Man speak of such Expedients, till he has at least a Glimpse of Hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere Attempt to put them in Practice. In the meantime, my Solution offers something new and easily practicable, which shall incur no new Debts, nor indeed cost us anything, save a Piece of our Humanity, Morality, and Dignity, which we value so little I hardly think that we shall miss it at all.

It's interesting to me to re-read this essay. I resisted the temptation to change it, although some obvious amendments occurred to me. (I think I'd nix the mention of abortions, and replace it with one of the current anti-terrorist measures, as one example.) My politics were rather different in those days: the dig at NRA members and assault rifles is one I wouldn't've made now, and I'm a little surprised I made it then. As with Swift's original "Modest Proposal", I crafted a list of serious attempts at a solution to stick in at the end, and to dismiss with an airy narrative hand-wave. I'm not sure I agree with all those solutions, either, and not entirely sure I agreed with them at the time I wrote this. I looked at it as more a rhetorical exercise than a political one, and with so much sarcasm it's a little hard to tell exactly what I'm advocating anyway.

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