In 1729, the writer Jonathan Swift presented what he called “A Modest Proposal” to solve the problem of abandoned children in his country. He begins by saying that his “modest proposal” is “For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public.”
The prestigious Brazilian university press UNESP has recently published a book that includes the proposal with an excellent preface by R. Moraes.
The proposal is a tale of terror: the famous satirist recommended that poor families sell their children to be savored as an elegant dish by the rich families. According to his satire-terror story, his “modest proposal” would supply income to the poor and a new gastronomical delicacy to the nobility; it would create jobs in the hospitality sector and remove abandoned children from the streets.
In addition to this, it would, according to Dr. Swift, reduce robbery, begging, the guilt complex of the rich and, above all, the suffering of the children and their families. It would eliminate the anguish of the mothers who do not know where their children are or what risks they are running while wandering around the streets.
Through the “modest proposal” of horror, the mothers would know their children’s destiny. And they could sleep sad but tranquil. Besides this, they would obtain income by selling their children.
Due to the taboo against cannibalism, the proposal was fortunately not accepted. The society that abandons its children defends their lives, no matter how great their suffering may be.
Swift died in 1745. Had he lived until the twentieth century, he would have seen his idea adapted and adopted in various countries under different forms, disguised for acceptance, skirting the religious taboos against cannibalism.
In some countries, Swift’s “modest proposal” condemns poor children to child labor, manufacturing shoes that will be used by the rich children in other countries. The time stolen from their childhood is transformed into shoes. Instead of serving as the main course at the table, they are trod upon in their childhood.
In Brazil, Swift’s idea was also adapted and adopted. The taboo against anthropophagy, brought to the country by the Portuguese, created an even more sophisticated solution. Instead of eating the children, as suggested by Swift’s “modest proposal,” we adopted the option of drinking them in the form of the juice from the oranges harvested with the hands that should have been holding pencils in school. Their childhood is transformed into orange juice and swallowed up.
Here we also prefer another rendering of Swift’s “modest proposal,” that of child prostitution. Replacing the banquets at the castle tables are motel beds. The children are not killed to be served to satisfy the palate, but their living bodies serve to satisfy lust.
Swift would be impressed by another Brazilian solution: that of buying the children of the poor by paying their mothers a monthly fee so that their children will stay alive. Without schooling, without a future, growing up to have children of their own who will live the way today’s children are living. The price is a monthly voucher for each family.
The “modest proposal” was adapted to prevent the horror of cannibalism, explicitly forbidden by Christianity, but it was adopted with refinements that are – although less horrendous – sometimes even more cruel.
In Swift’s hair-raising satire, the death of a child would be a simple, instantaneous and almost painless act, similar to what we do with steers, chickens, pigs. In the form adapted and adopted in Brazil, the child is submitted to a slow death, which lasts for all of childhood – living bodies, aborted brains, sad lives.
There is something erroneous in the logic of the civilization adopted by human beings. While the anthropophagic societies took good care of their children, in the societies that abandon and exploit their children cannibalism is taboo, an abominable act.
In order to respect the horror of anthropophagy, the perverse modern societies abandon their children to the horror of a sort of neocannibalism. And often without even perceiving this.
All of this for lack of another “modest proposal”: instead of modern-day neocannibalism, equal schools for all.
Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.