This is the first of a several posts that have arisen from a visit to North America. One thing that the trip led to was an interest in how HR departments influence science -if you have a story about that, please email me.
Following the media publicity that surrounded the lecture in Toronto, I was sent this poem by Anne Spencer, of Canada.
It is based on the style of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), and she had earlier went a more political version, below, which was a runner up in the international Swift satire poetry competition, 2004. Anne Spencer has been kind enough to let me reproduce both her poems here.
What men wish, they like to believe.
Verses on folly, faith and fantasy
Great Caesar saw what we still find
In much of modern humankind,
That wishful thinking will suppress
The reason we should all possess.
Take health. That is a main concern.
We look for cures at every turn
For sicknesses that cause unease
And nasty things that bring disease.
But from the science of the age
Too many now will disengage,
Forget the studies, evidence
Of remedies that will dispense
A tested way of healing those
Conditions doctors diagnose.
They say they’ve lost their confidence
In science, and have a preference
For substances that they perceive
Fit in with what they all believe
In nature’s realm of field and flowers,
Along with supernatural powers
Or energies that ebb and flow
And are released by those who know
The proper touch or breath or spell
For proper paying clientele.
And other forms of therapy
Like healing touch they all agree
Despite their failure to explain
Result in easing of their pain.
For grave conditions that could kill
It’s nature’s bounty fills the bill,
From goats a serum crushes AIDS
And grape juice makes Altzheimers fade,
Red clover makes the blood come clean
And sugar pills become routine
As remedies for things they feel
They cannot count on science to heal.
And substances that they produce
To cure complaints or pain reduce
They say they must dilute and then
Dilute, dilute, dilute again
Because the less you have, not more
Will guarantee a better cure.
(Conclusions such as this imply
There’s no attempt to reason why.)
And quite impervious they stay
To anything their critics say
About placebos and effects
That challenge rational intellects.
Their gurus sanction their belief
That things they give them bring relief
From anything they want to try,
(Because the more they wish, they buy)
If people give them hope and say
That black is white, then that’s OK.
But there’s the rub – for harm can come
By seeing this as rule of thumb
For if you disregard the facts
That science tells, then this detracts
From treatments that show evidence
Of beneficial consequence.
More harm than good can come to those
Rejecting treatments that propose
Results that doctors can compile
Which don’t depend upon a smile
Or harmony with sundry forces
Brought to bear by doubtful sources.
So those who wish upon a star
Or herb or potion in a jar
To grant relief from ache or pain
Could well decide to think again
And weigh the chances that desire
Not reason is what we require
To make us well when we succumb
To ailments that are troublesome.
For wishful thoughts beguile the mind
But leave reality behind.
And here is the political version of Anne Spence’s poem
Great Caesar, famed in Gallic wars,
A champion of the Roman cause,
Who came, and saw and conquered when
The sword was mightier than the pen,
Was yet a statesman, author, who
Knew much of human nature too.
For Caesar saw what we still find
In much of modern humankind,
That wishful thinking reason dims
And validates our selfish whims.
But more we see in public spheres
How much this maxim oft appears,
To show how leaders are consumed
By things believed their wish presumed.
And lately this seems quite okay
With rulers of the USA.
(But we, like Swift, will make our claim
By ‘lashing vice’ but sparing name).
With politics that are complex
Illusions tend to blur the specs
When men believe whate’er they wish
Some policies get devilish.
And when you add religion too
We have a complicated brew,
And here a leader we can see
Who joins the ruling company
Of men who demonstrate the state
Of those who wish with truth equate.
He left a weak addicted past
To seek his destiny at last.
Became a Christian, born again
Aspiring to a higher plane.
(Genetically he was ahead
Since daddy had the nation led.)
But, once elected by a fluke,
(That all just men would sure rebuke)
He saw his mission godly sent
To show the world enlightenment.
And he believed that evil dwelt
Within an oil producing belt,
Its ruler evil incarnate
A tyrant quite degenerate.
And so when terrorists attacked
The World Trade towers, this proved the fact,
Or so he said, for who could not
Connect events with dot to dot?
He’d purge the world of evil’s stain
In person of Saddam Hussein.
He would not shrink from duty’s call
To seek Saddam’s decline and fall,
For he believed his destiny
Proclaimed by God – Divine decree.
He’d find the hidden weapons and
He’d bring new freedom to the land
Where western values were deplored
By villains who lived by the sword
(Or torture, rape, or nasty gases
With which they murdered ethnic masses).
And so he would avenge the dead,
Depose the tyrant, and instead
Lead on his troops –at least he’d send
Them forth to bring about this end.
God chose him evil to despoil
(And as reward he’d get the oil).
Despite the cautions he received
He was inspired, he still believed
His mission was to crush this foe
Both God and Tony told him so.
So off to conquer all that’s bad
The forces left to bomb Baghdad.
Their leader stayed at home to see
How his crusade looked on tv.
The mighty tanks, the skies aflame
Were better than a video game.
The statues fell, the prisoners freed
The regime’s downfall guaranteed
The patriot missiles, patriot men
Would soon, he thought, be home again.
Though some had breathed their final breath
The ‘victory’ justified their death
And they’d be heroes ever more
While blest upon another shore.
They played their part, they fought the fight,
Their president bid them goodnight.
They left behind a populace
Who now could western life embrace.
Well, most of it – religiously
They kept their views on sanctity.
Their heaven, they said, was nicer, and
They could have virgins on demand.
(It seems this wish- belief thing will
For any culture fill the bill).
But though the war, it seemed, was won
The problems only had begun.
The leader’s view that freedom would
Make people act the way they should
Once out from under evil’s thrall,
It turned out didn’t work at all.
Because he’d only wished , not thought
Things through with wisdom as he ought,
The leader found his plans rejected
Much more than he had once expected.
His mandate from his holy source
Was not so easy to enforce.
His ignorance of tribal clans,
Of loyalties and partisans,
Reliance on intelligence
Which didn’t make a lot of sense,
Attending to his favourites
And lots of other deficits,
Caused wild confusion in the land
So hard for him to understand.
The law and order that he craved,
Now he’d removed the ones depraved
Was not forthcoming, but instead
A lot more people ended dead.
But still he had to carry on,
With pressure from the Pentagon,
Because he thought and wished it so
That God would help him beat the foe,
Despite continual loss of life
Of those confronting all the strife.
But strange! His enemies were sure
That Allah would their cause secure.
So God to God and wish to wish
The conflict grew more feverish.
And back at home the leader found
Himself on much more shaky ground,
And world opinion, never sure
He really had the grounds for war
Began to further criticize
His too aggressive enterprise.
(As still ongoing was the strife
With still ongoing loss of life).
And God and Allah seem, to date,
Not sure which side to vindicate.
And so men’s own reality
Ignores that it’s their vanity
That is at root the primal cause.
This makes us think and gives us pause.
For men in highest places show
How vain beliefs can bring us low.
And those our leaders who are prone
To wish for things we can’t condone,
Believing they are in the right,
Might look up at the sky at night.
To wish upon a star is nice
Less likely to elicit vice,
Corrupt belief and common sense
Or make ambition too intense.
(And Judy Garland did endorse
The great celestial resource)
But when as president they act
They’d better base beliefs on fact.
The truth will out, and leaders who
Ignore it, they should exit too.