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Anne Spencer: verses on folly, faith and fantasy

February 3rd, 2008 · 2 Comments

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.
Julius Caesar

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.

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Tags: Academia · acupuncture · badscience · blogosphere · Dangerous advice · evidence · herbalism · homeopathy · HR bollocks

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Quackademics in USA and Canada // Feb 17, 2008 at 22:36

    […] is the third post based on a recent trip to North America (here are the first and […]

  • 2 Slartibartfast // Feb 18, 2008 at 23:48

    Wow! Has Anne Spencer published an anthology? Or should that be Annethology? Brilliant, especially the politics one.

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