When he sets out to rebuke contemporary manners and mores, a cautious author may resort to subterfuge, attributing the objects of his censure to distant times and places, real or imagined. Thus did Swift in Gulliver's Travels, Shakespeare in his tragedies, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in their fantasies. In our own day, we see the technique employed -- often transparently and with overt ideological content -- in certain science- fiction chronicles, such as the Star Trek series. Even when clumsily employed, the technique remains effective, for the natural human tendency to respond hostilely to criticism is generally averted when that criticism appears to be directed at another. The unwitting target of correction may even endorse the complaint, confident that it does not apply to him. All of which reminds me of a story:
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, lived a people who were very wise. They understood, instinctively, that all education is moral education, and that the schooling of children is too important an obligation to be entrusted to the care of others. Parents did not feel unequal to the task of educating their own children, nor did they shrink from their duties under the misguided belief that their offspring could form their own minds and consciences when they reached maturity.
Nor were they unequipped to meet the challenge of instruction, for, from generation to generation, they had passed down the tools needed to impart knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. They knew the history of their own land and people. They knew how it resembled -- and how it differed from -- those of other cultures. They knew the stories and the lessons of the Bible, and believed them to be the divinely inspired word of God. They also knew by heart the stories of their ancestors, whose exploits they retold, and sometimes embellished, in order to inculcate great virtues in their progeny.
They also had their fairy tales -- bizarre, macabre, and frightening narratives of the most preposterous goings-on. They told the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and the three little pigs. And their children learned that things are not always what they seem, that enemies are not to be trusted, that flattery often masks an evil design, and that virtue -- true virtue -- always triumphs, even in defeat.
Their children learned these and many other truths and accepted them on faith. As they grew older and gained knowledge of the world, they saw the wisdom of the lessons their parents had imparted and dutifully passed them on, in their turn, to their own children.
Long might they have prospered, but for the doubt. So small it was at first, but once insinuated it began to grow and grow. Never had they questioned their own qualifications as instructors, until they were execrated by "experts." Never had they focused on the foibles of their forebears, until revisionists arose. Never had they doubted the holy word of God, until theologians theorized the Truth out of it. But that was all it took: a little doubt. And now they are no more.