A modest allegory
Imagine a domestic scene. It’s six o’clock and a family has just sat down to dinner when their youngest member comes rushing in. She informs them that the house is on fire. The father and mother confer and agree that something must be done — right away!
From where they are sitting they can confirm that the house is indeed on fire. They can see down the hall that the bedrooms and bathroom are in flames but note with relief that the kitchen and dining room remain intact. They calculate that they probably have until seven o’clock to do something about it before the entire house is consumed by flames.
So they decide to wait until after dinner to act. They set what they believe to be aggressive targets for 6:30 and 6:45. Those targets include calling the fire department, gathering important belongings (what’s left of them by then, of course) and rushing over to the neighbour’s house for safety.
Naturally saving the children is important too. Saving the children goes without saying. Meanwhile they toast one another over dinner because they have recently become pregnant and will shortly add an eighth child to the family. They congratulate themselves on how wonderful that all is and how clever they are in their plan to save the family and the house from the coming all-consuming flames.
Three of the children at the table think the parents are overreacting and say as much. They look at their youngest sibling, the one who sounded the alarm, with mistrust. They recall that she can sometimes be a bit histrionic. While they can see the flames and smell the smoke they are unimpressed. They think the fire will probably go out by itself. They acknowledge that it’s sad that the house is on fire and that some part of it will be lost, but they nevertheless insist that it’s all part of the natural order of things.
The parents agree that both sides of the proposition need to be considered. Father joins the three children in chastising the youngest for being so alarmist, while mother takes the side of the other three children and agrees that a more moderate position should be adopted. Mother further declares that the youngest, while cute and naive, is nevertheless to be commended for her bold and brilliant declaration of this very serious family emergency. She should be held up as an exemplar of good family citizenship.
So they take a vote as a family and agree that 6:30 is too aggressive a target for action and 6:45 is too late. They concur on a target of 6:37, which is more or less in the middle. Some quibble about the extra thirty seconds they are owed but are shouted down for being petty. So the motion is carried and most are happy and all but the youngest are reasonably satisfied. They can now settle in and enjoy the remainder of their dinner where both their consciences and appetites can be appeased. The End.
Today’s little melodrama was brought to you by human stupidity. Father and mother were played by world governments. The children were played by a mix of conservatives and moderate liberals. The youngest daughter was played by Greta Thunberg. Music was composed by the late Bernard Herrmann. The screenplay of our little drama was written by the late Rod Serling and directed by the late Alfred Hitchcock. The story was filmed, on location, in the Twilight Zone.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.