Once a woodpecker suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Hardly unusual in a woodpecker, one might think. Moreover, OCD no longer carried the stigma it once had. Obsessive single-mindedness and compulsive repetitions characterized much of behavior, the woodpecker was assured by another of its kind, who pointed to examples from both the natural kingdom and the unnatural one to illustrate the point. “Imagine we led a bee’s life or the fraught existence of some politician.” “A politician?” the woodpecker replied with a tone of annoyance. “That’s going a bit far, isn’t it?” “Taxonomically perhaps, but you have to admit there are certain similarities in the way both our heads and those of politicians have evolved to withstand repeated pounding.” “Thanks a lot.” The woodpecker was now clearly perturbed. “We at least put ours to good service in getting rid of harmful pests.” “Okay, okay, perhaps the comparison wasn’t the best. If it’s a question of hard heads and how they’re put to use, imagine that you are a satirist, then.” “A what!?” “A satirist. You’ve seen them around, digging into everything as if the urge was overpowering and rooting out prey too slow or too complacent to escape.” “So that’s what those noisy things are called, is it? Satirists?” The woodpecker wasn’t any more comfortable with this comparison than the previous one, however. It could grant the point about hard heads and the tireless pursuit of a target, regardless of how well hidden or protected it might be. But were satirists bothered by anything approaching the woodpecker’s own conflicts at the moment of the kill? Did the same questions ring in their minds as in its own at each blow struck: questions of whether the noisome objects of their attacks might simply have been obeying their own deep obsessions, hardwired to draw its attention almost? Did satirists at times suffer twinges of conscience like those the woodpecker felt just before skewering its prey? If the woodpecker’s own juicy prey had any second thoughts about being driven to destroy something as grand as an old-growth forest tree by tree, wasn’t it possible the satirist’s victims suffered hesitations of their own? Brooding moments when even the most fixated of them paused in their manic intent and examined their obsessive drives. Were satirists moved to hold back at times like these from striking their prey? Even to let some slip away? But if that was true, a satirist might not be so different from it after all, the woodpecker supposed. Could both of them be pressed by irresistible forces to hunt out new prey with gusto, only to feel that thrill turn into a strange, troubled empathy for their victims once the crisis had passed and a determination to resist any future impulses to attack—followed inevitably by a new compulsion to do exactly that? Had the woodpecker found another creature as torn as itself? No, that was inconceivable. Yet what if it wasn’t? Could there really be such a thing as a reluctant satirist?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans