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 lemming-like existence of a politico.” “A politico?” 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 have evolved to withstand repeated pounding.” “Thanks a lot.” The woodpecker was now clearly perturbed. “We at least put ours to good service, getting rid of harmful pests.” “Okay, perhaps the comparison wasn’t the best. If it’s a question of hard heads and how they’re put to use, imagine you were a satirist then.” “A what!?” “A satirist. You’ve seen them around, obsessively rooting out prey too slow or too complacent to escape as if the urge was overpowering.” “So that’s what those ferocious beasts are called, satirists.” The woodpecker wasn’t any more convinced by this comparison than the last, 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 its own conflicts at the moment of the kill? Did the same questions ring in their mind as in the woodpecker’s at each blow struck? Questions of whether the noisome objects of its attack might simply have been obeying their own deep obsessions, hardwired almost to draw its attention despite themselves. Or worse, might have suffered twinges of conscience like those the woodpecker felt just before skewering them. 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 periods when even the most fixated of them paused in their manic intent and rued their obsessions. And was a satirist moved to hold back then from striking? 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 such gusto, only to feel that thrill turn into troubled empathy for their victims once the crisis had passed? Followed by a determination to resist any future impulse 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. Inconceivable. Yet what if it wasn’t? Could there really be such a thing as a reluctant satirist?
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans