Once an ersatz found itself in everybody’s thoughts. This development was not an entirely welcome change from the life of quiet anonymity the ersatz had known in the past. There had been definite advantages to remaining out of the spotlight. You could think and act pretty much as you wished, without concern for how wise or foolish others might consider you to be. And if you copied most of your ideas from others, who cared? What difference did it make? All of that changed, however, the day the ersatz was asked in a routine on-the-street TV interview for its opinion regarding the state of the nation. Five minutes later, it had dismissed the entire episode from its mind, but the interviewer hadn’t, and the ersatz quickly found itself being quoted on air and in print across the land. Its answer, many agreed, forecast “a quantum leap in thinking.” Anonymity was no longer an option, the ersatz was told in follow-up interviews. The world was waiting for its insights. When the ersatz voiced qualms about any of this attention, noting that it had never believed its own thinking was very significant and had been quite content with that, the response was invariably a look of incomprehension. How could it fail to recognize what was obvious to all? Some even thought this modesty might be a stratagem by the ersatz to conceal its next big idea until the time was ripe to launch it. “Not at all,” the ersatz insisted, “I’ve never had any big ideas I know of.” And when it found itself credited, despite its embarrassed protests, with being the source of the latest big ideas about this or about that, it wondered what others would think when they finally recognized how small those ideas really were. But to the astonishment of the ersatz, they actually grew bigger in people’s minds the more they were repeated. Soon the mere mention of “ersatz” served as proof of the speaker’s grasp of big ideas. It was not unusual for discussions of a thorny problem to turn on a question like “What would be the ersatz solution here?” or “Suggestions for an ersatz response to developments, anyone?” “The Ersatz Doctrine,” as it soon came to be known, yielded results virtually everywhere it was applied. It produced such big ideas as “look, a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist, and it’s that simple”; “bottom line, tax cuts for the rich put more money in the paper cups of the homeless”; “public education is best turned over to Sunday School teachers”; “let market forces deal with human rights dilemmas, species extinction, the fate of the uninsured, whatever”; and “wilderness is just another name for wildfires waiting to happen.” Morning papers were filled with reports of new ersatz ideas being floated overnight, to be repeated far and wide until later editions brought even more sweeping ones. The competition to be the most quoted exponent of ersatzism grew by the day. Soon great reputations were at stake, names made or destroyed, all depending on the confidence with which one advanced one’s own form of the ersatz vision. But the ersatz itself became increasingly dismayed as it witnessed what was happening. Each new claim to be following in its footsteps left it feeling more and more a stranger to its own essence. A time might be near, it worried, when the genuine ersatz could not be told apart from any number of imitators. In short, the ersatz found itself beset by a withering identity crisis, all the while surrounded by boundless and beaming self-assurance in its name.
Copyright © 2003-2004, revised 2007, by Geoffrey Grosshans