May 10, 2008

On the Island of Silence

Once upon a time there was an island far out in the sea on which none of the people ever spoke a single word or made a single sound. No one knows why this was — it could be that those who first colonized the island lacked the ability to speak, or perhaps had nothing to say! But the present inhabitants, though capable of speech, had long since forsaken it, and instead communicated with each other by means of facial expressions and gestures, in which, over time, they had developed considerable eloquence.

One day, a ship was blown off course and the seafarers happened upon this island. As the captain grounded his storm-tossed ship upon the beach, he saw a native of that place in the forest not far off, and called out to him. The man standing among the trees looked this way and that, as if unable to locate the source of the sound. Eventually after repeated calls from the captain and others of the crew, the man on the shore recognized where the sound was coming from. His eyes widened in horror and his eyebrows almost rose off his forehead, and then he averted his gaze with a frown of disgust, and gestured with both hands as if to push the ship back out to sea. He then turned and disappeared into the forest.

The crew were astounded at this reception, but debarked and went in search of fresh water. Before long they stumbled into the village that served as the metropolis of the tiny island. But everyone to whom they tried to speak greeted them with the same look of horrified astonishment and gesture of disgusted dismissal. It soon became apparent to the seafarers that they were the topic of much and lively discussion — though they could understand none of it, as it was all conducted in the silent language of the island. Had they understood they might have saved their lives. For this is what the islanders were saying about them.

How have we offended our gods that they should visit such a tribulation upon us? These people, if we can call them people, have not the least sense of discretion or decorum about them, and however much we tell them to stop their indecent behavior they keep it up — openly and shamelessly using the organ the gods have given us only for the purpose of nourishment — whereon our very lives depend — using this sacred organ of life for, well, one supposes it can only be called a kind of “communication,” as they appear to be able through this perversion of nature to carry on a limited form of conversation among themselves, and even seem to be trying — the gods forbid it! — to draw us into this vile imitation of social intercourse.

Some few of you say that they should be gagged to stop this outrage, or that their tongues should be cut out, since they have so misused them. But the consensus is instead that such halfway measures will not serve. Therefore, let us do away with these monsters before their corruption infects us, lest any of our young people be tempted so to misuse the lips and tongue the gods have given us to eat and drink and taste with, to practice this obscene parody of “language.” Bind them up quickly, and let them be slain and buried under a heap of stones, that our children and our children’s children may know in the days to come of our love for our gods, and our obedience to the sacred traditions handed down to us.

And so it was that the islanders preserved their way of life, and the unfortunate seafarers met their end.


Saturday satire from Tobias Haller BSG

7 comments:

John-Julian, OJN said...

Yes, and in The Country of the Blind.......

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh my. "Biting" hardly serves as descriptive.

kishnevi said...

change the islander's discussion slightly (very slightly), and you would have a very good presentation of what most neurotypicals feel about autistics. But unfortunately it would be to close to reality to be a satire.

FranIAm said...

There is some counterintuitive Babel theme going on here...

I do not know how you do what you do Tobias, but I am simply glad that you do!

Erika Baker said...

Did you not post this on MadPriest a while ago?
It's brilliant.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm particularly intrigued by kishnevi's comment, as it wasn't in my conscious thought, but it is quite true. There was a fascinating article in SciAm Mind recently about an autistic woman who is describing her non-verbal communication, and her frustrations at how some autistic folk have been marginalized or treated as mentally deficient through this failure of the majority to grasp the significance of the non-verbal. Then too it reminds me of a story by Ursula LeGuin about the poetry of ants -- I read it over 30 years ago I think, and don't remember the details, but the premise is that the carpenter ants' arrnamgenet of leaves is actually an epic literary work. Thank you, kishnevi, for revealing this alternate reading to me.

Erika, I wrote this quite a while ago, and Louie Crew posted it at his "Do Justice" site; but I thought it was time to introduce it to the blogosphere in light of some of the "natural law" comments that have been thrown about recently. I think I alluded to the problem of believing that certain organs only have one "divinely ordered" function as part of the difficulty with "natural law" pointed out in the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics entry on the subject -- that was the source of inspiration for the fable. Thanks for the comment.

KJ said...

Heh heh heh! I don't get it!

Sorry. Sadly, for a moment, in the face of such brilliance, I was channelling Homer Simpson. There is no excuse.