Ninety-nine floors beneath the marble bathrooms of CEOs, I found myself treading a sidewalk stained with bodily fluids, and I was, apparently, a heretic in a gleaming cathedral grove of multinational corporations standing shoulder to shoulder in an untrammelled campaign to erode the sovereignty of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, because I could feel these mirror-clad towers of corporatism straining their steel girders to lean over and get a better look at me, the idiot of their hegemonic culture, the disgrace of their master plan, the fuck up of their modern western civilization.
Perhaps inevitably, the iron filings of my thoughts aligned themselves around the scarecrow action figure tucked inside the breast pocket of R.’s shirt (on loan to me for the duration of my errand), as it grazed my chest with each of my footfalls and got me thinking about the pestiferous cousins of scarecrows.
Straw men used to make town halls, pubs and street corners their homes, but around the turn of the second millennium they found a more convenient, far less messy place to call their own, in the virtual worlds of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
To create a straw man, all you need is the straw: the half-truths; the stereotypes; the misinformation; the disinformation, and with this weaponry you can go about misrepresenting whoever you please, until you’ve thoroughly succeeded in dehumanizing them, caricaturing them, lampooning them, and then—if you’re so inclined—harpooning them. Might is still right, it seems, in the most developed nations on earth, so go right ahead and use the harpoon of heresy, the cluster bomb of bullshit, the draconian drone of deception, the AR-15 of falsehood, the cuntish keyboard of casuistry.
The proper deployment of a straw man requires the substitution of a given proposition with a superficially similar yet non-equivalent proposition, and this must be done with artifice, subtlety, and with no small amount of panache. The idea is to create an illusion inscrutable enough to resist the critical thinking skills of your audience. If you are successful, and your superficially similar yet non-equivalent proposition proves convincing, then you are now poised to assassinate the (caricatured) character of your straw man with one or more of the weapons in the aforementioned arsenal.
But, I know you’re not like that. I know you wouldn’t do what so many regimes and religions have resorted to doing when they’ve found themselves in need of a target capable of validating paranoid policies. Consider for a moment, in this context, the historical struggles of Women, Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, First Nations, Gays, Lesbians, the Transgendered, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
I removed the scarecrow action figure from his pocket and examined him more closely, hoping to get to the bottom of what he symbolized for R.; not expecting this to happen quite so literally, as I passed under a street light and looked at the soles of its little plastic feet, and there written in ballpoint pen were two words. The right foot had the word mond written on it, which I knew was German for moon, while the left foot had the word ray written on it, and after a few seconds it dawned on me that I had just been introduced to Raymond.
I knew Raymond to be a name appropriated by the English from the French who appropriated it from some other culture (German, perhaps?) that created it for the purpose of describing people who were thought of as wise protectors. Scarecrows, of course, were protectors of crops, and life too, if the growing of crops was conflated with the business of living, yet they weren’t thought of as being wise, not since L. Frank Baum’s writing famously informed Ray Bolger’s acting, ten days before Hitler invaded Poland.
Like most people, I had long found curiosity in the crucified-ness of scarecrows, and while I dwelt again upon this puzzling ‘imitation of Christ’, I happened to remember the following little known fact (thanks to Trivial Pursuit!):
The first recorded use of a scarecrow was in the Egyptian wheat fields along the Nile, three thousand years before the Christ thing happened. Then, in 2,500 BC, Greek farmers started carving wooden scarecrows in the image of Priapus (a minor god who protected crops, presumably, with his major erection), and at this point I began to wonder about the Egyptians and the Greeks and Christianity and scarecrows, and how they all fit together inside the matryoshka of modern western civilization.