ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Here's a question you might not ask yourself on a daily basis. Are peace and prosperity good or bad? We'll let our commentator Andrei Codrescu contemplate that question.
Mr. ANDREI CODRESCU (Poet): Early in 2008, before the collapse of capitalism, the people of Randolph, Iowa, were asked to catch cats. Yes, the people of Randolph were offered a five dollar bounty for each feline turned in. Those not claimed would be destroyed. Only two cats - one of them pregnant - were turned in.
Several questions attend this story. One, why only two cats? Albeit the pregnant one could be said to represent several. Two, why were the people of Randolph so listless, both before and after the bounty offering? And three, why did the story get national attention? Let's attempt some answers. One, only two cats are turned in because the people of Randolph, a) didn't think five dollars was enough to get off the porch and chase cats, and b) they killed the others without claiming the bounty.
If five dollars is too puny a sum for catching a feral cat, what is the appropriate sum? I've heard people say, money is so worthless these days I wouldn't bend down to pick up a dime. Usually but not always, the people who say this are overweight. Bending down to pick up a dime could kill them. And if not, I'll to try kill them which will cost them a lot in hospital bills.
What's the minimum you'd pick up? I usually asked them. They always say five dollars. I don't point out that the outcome is the same. If they die or end up in the hospital, five dollars ain't worth more than a dime. Still, if people will bend down to pick up five dollars, it doesn't seem to follow that they would chase and catch a cat for that sum, particularly since cats, feral ones particularly, are very fast. So, one can't really blame the people of Randolph for not risking life and limb to trap a cat for the city.
It is possible, however, that the cats are killed by citizens who didn't claim the bounty, which proves that people will do what they have to for free as long as they don't have to bend over and fill out a form. It's bureaucracy more than cats that's killing this country. I think we've now answered questions one and two with A and B, which leaves only three. Why the national attention? And I can answer this easily because I'm a national.
The times of peace and prosperity we live in require us to feel that we won't become too lazy, so we won't be able to heed a call for sacrifice when and if it comes. Yes, we have a war, but it's a professional business not requiring your average person to either rise up or bend over. Yes, the market is in the dumps, but it's still monopoly money if you haven't yet retired. Most Americans got $600 in the mail without even having to trap a cat. Will anything at all motivate your average person, short of having a feral cat eat his face? I doubt it.
SIEGEL: Poet Andrei Codrescu wrangles his feral cats in the Ozarks.
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