Awakening Common Sense

Jonathan Swift, by Charles Jervas (died 1739)....
Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift needed to make a point that for years had been falling on deaf ears. He went to an unlikely, unimaginable extreme in an essay he wrote in 1729, “A Modest Proposal,” in which he argues to the people of Dublin, Ireland, a full proof plan to lessen the famine, increase the economy, and improve the quality of life for most overall. He speaks of the poor selling their babies as delicacies to the rich. He covers all the detail of how to prepare a desirable infant, how many would be available and why, and all the benefits to both the seller and the buyer. As I am reading through his proposal, I am astonished and flabbergasted and wondering if he is serious. I am also disturbed by the lack of emotion of both the writer and his agreeable cohorts and of the recognition of potential emotion of the people he is proposing this of. However, I read on, and as he is concluding his proposal and the purpose of such an insane idea, he finally makes his point with valid sarcasm saying, “Therefore…let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients (including such as ‘…of being a little cautious not to sell our country and conscience for nothing; of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy toward their tenants; [and] of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shopkeepers,’) till he hath at least some glimpse of hope that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.” This is when his words made clear sense to me. The reality was that there were real and plausible solutions if people would stop, listen, think, and make an effort. How simple the true solution was could not be seen until something magnificent and ridiculous was set beside for comparison; and finally sleeping common sense could be awakened.


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