Modest Proposal # 23.
"There's a fat man, in the bathtub, with the blues.
I hear him moan, I hear him moan..." - Lloyd George
Those who know me well sometimes weary of my pet peeves, and the stock of rants that accompany them. Out of consideration for their angst I will now expound at length, for the very last time, on a topic that no one has ever asked me to illuminate, and there will be one less boring arrow in my quiver of expostulation. Unless and until I whittle another.
I intend by my radical proposal (is there any other kind?) simultaneously to ameliorate two major problems that at first glance would seem utterly unrelated, to wit, the so-called OBESITY EPIDEMIC and the so-called ENERGY CRISIS. Now, these two topics have been staples of the news media pretty much ever since Gutenberg invented the printing press. In fact, he had finished a Bible one day and had some leftover paper and ink, and he saw a lot of fat burghers waddling off to church, and he got to thinking how people weren't nearly so fat when he was a kid, and so forth and so on. And now, centuries later, when Peter Dan Brokaw opens his nationwide broadcast with the well-worn formula, "There is an epidemic of obesity in this country," my family braces themselves as I leap off the couch, shouting, "Epidemic of Obesity! Hooray!"
Aside from the fact that this, like most of the material on the news, is not news, I object to the use of the word 'epidemic', which carries the negative connotation of disease and death. Yes, obesity shortens the average life span, and yes, the condition is increasing in this country. However, obesity represents, to the human animal, a consummation devoutly to be wished: to eat as much and as pleasurably as one wants, to avoid toil and struggle and pain and any kind of tedious self-control - this is all of Heaven that we can know. The cause of this 'epidemic' is simply the juxtaposition of our natural tendencies and an unlimited supply of food. And as for the shortening of lifespan, it is self-evident that time is a highly malleable and subjective experience: one man (thin, fit, ambitious) reflects on his busy, ant-like existence for a few minutes at the end of a maniacally active year, and suddenly notices that it passed in a flash, really not much longer than a week, and he feels momentarily the fear of being sucked over the falls at the end of the river, and looking back on a life not much longer than that one repetitive week; another man (fat, flabby, unreflective) lies in the sun on a beach, at one with the earth and the ocean, drifting in unmarked and endless Time, completely unconcerned that someday soon his time will come to an end, for he has achieved contentment right here and now. Whose life is really longer? From this point of view we should encourage obesity as a path to Nirvana, and strive to become a nation of smiling rotund Buddhas. Never mind that a couple of billion underfed people already call us a nation of pigs. And every few weeks they see us whining on TV about our poor health and our bloated bodies and our rotten medical system that keeps on extending our lifespan, and we call it news.
Ok, that's a standard rant with a nasty moralistic undertone, that really contributes nothing to a solution. We need some semi-rational thought here (about the best we can do) without condemning ourselves for doing what any other group would do if they could. I wish to consider the human race as a component in a complex energy cycle. When we were no more than animals we participated in the natural energy transformation like any other animal: we converted the energy from our food into human flesh, and all of our waste products including the discarded flesh after death was consumed as food by other organisms. We developed fat storage abilities to tide us over periods of famine, and there is no built-in limitation to this mechanism other than environmental factors, as when survival demanded great physical efforts by most of the members of a tribe.
Now we are much more than animals (yet still less than gods, unfortunately) and we are able to manipulate the energy cycle to suit our appetites. We work no harder than we must, we eat all we can hold, and we store the excess energy of the food as blubber, even though we don't need it for insulation, like the walrus, nor do we anticipate famine, like the Inuit. When we die, we either cremate the body or seal it in a hermetic coffin, and the energy stored in the body is simply wasted. So - let's do the math: let us assume that 50 million adults in the U.S.A. have 50 pounds each of excess blubber, or 2.5 billion pounds total. Or, roughly, around 5 million barrels worth. If this blubber were collected via liposuction and refined into gasoline and other useful hydrocarbons, it would yield enough energy to keep Air Force One airborne indefinitely. I am quite sure that patriotic Americans would be willing and able to gain five pounds per year to donate or even sell to the national energy supply. I know I would. This then would be an ongoing supply of a million barrels of high-grade blubber every year, after the initial bonanza was harvested. Of course, a million barrels is a mere drop in the national energy bucket, but there are many positive synergistic side effects. First, the national health will be measurably improved, if not the fitness. We will no longer feel the need to diet or the guilt of skipping our exercise regimen. We will no longer waste many billions on diets, Thighmasters and the like, bogus fat-burning-while-u-sleep pills, cellulite creams, orthopedic surgery on ankles, knees, hips, etc. (Fear not, ortho docs; plenty of work in the lipo field!) Adult-onset diabetes will quickly decline. When we drive through Burgher Burger we'll feel a swell of patriotism as we order the Gigantoburger with triple cheese and a gallon-size soda. Heart surgeons and morticians will benefit, but old-folks' 'homes' will not, as people will be much more likely to stay fairly healthy until they suddenly drop dead of a stroke or heart attack. This will remove from us the fear of lingering through a horrible decade or so at the end of our lives, rotting on a plastic chair in the 'home', staring at a clock that ticks ever more slowly, and getting our fillings stolen from our teeth. Most of us would rather just skip that stage of life anyway, but suicide is a bit of a bother, now that Dr. Kevorkian is in the slammer. So sum it up, we would, on the average, live somewhat shorter, but much happier and more fulfilling lives, knowing that although we are still the planet's Pig Nation, at least we are giving something back. And, best of all from my personal point of view, there would no longer be regular items on the news about how unbelievably, ridiculously, nauseatingly fat we all are.
Objections to my plan are obvious and plentiful. Many of them are rooted in old- fashioned squeamishness of the kind that makes us reluctant to process our sewage and fertilize our crops with it. We prefer to just dump it into the nearest body of water and forget about it, if we can get away with it. But as the world is converted into one monstrous condominium development, whose only purpose is to convert natural resources into more human bodies, we can no longer afford this kind of fastidiousness; the machine must continue to improve its efficiency to postpone the inevitable collapse. We have seen in our own lifetimes how quickly people can come to accept practices and changes that would have been regarded as abhorrent and barbaric just a few decades ago. As the rate of change accelerates, culture evolves right before our eyes into something so different as to be unrecognizable, and seemingly monstrous. Young Beethoven was initially regarded as a barbarian; but how much greater is the jump in devolution from the barbarian Elvis to the barbarian Eminem.
But enough of this doom, and this gloom! So, what do you say, America? Call your congressman today and incessantly demand that the government outfit a great fleet of Lipo-Tanker trucks which will fan out across this great nation of ours and efficiently harvest all that wonderful surplus lard! To get the ball rolling, and put a glamorous veneer over the whole enterprise, we'll raffle off tickets for ultra-luxurious Lipo Cruises, the ocean liners equipped with special lard holds, and capable of refining and burning their own fuel from the happy passengers who waddle up the gangplank, and later ecstatically skip down it!
The next non-news faux-crisis I shall demolish will be the ever-popular Why Johnny Can't Read, Add, or do anything more complex than program his cell phone to speed-dial Pizza Palooza.