Half of you will cancel me for being too liberal. Half of you will cancel me for being too conservative. All of you will cancel me because of my painful nautical puns.
This story is a prequel to A Fish Dichotomy. Read that first if you want to be slightly less confused.
I look nothing like a fish. I am guessing that you look nothing like a fish. Therefore neither of us have anything in common with the people of planet Bosun who are fish from the waist up. From the waist down they have legs and feet which may or may not be human. We don’t know for sure because, unlike most fish, the Bosunians have the decency to wear pants.
There are all kinds of fish people on the planet Bosun. Some look like trout and others look like salmon. All of their elected leaders are carp. There are, however, no kingfish. The closest thing Bosun ever has to a kingfish is the occasional governor who chooses to behave like one. Usually this involves giving some public order that accomplishes nothing, but makes said governor feel important.
Now, there was a particular governor on Bosun by the name of Strake Trunnel. He very much wanted to be important. He saw himself as a wise father figure to the people in his district. He knew what was best for them and wanted to make sure they knew it too.
One day, as he wandered the halls of the capitol building, he bumped into Dr. Berth. Dr. Berth was the minister of health. Strake asked him how his day was going. Strake, like most politicians, knew that looking like you cared was almost as important as looking like you were accomplishing something.
“Alright, I suppose,” Dr. Berth replied. “I’ve noticed a troubling drop in kelp consumption.”
Kelp was an important part of a balanced Bosunian diet.
“Oh?” Strake said.
“Yes, we recently did a survey,” Berth continued. “If the data is accurate, then 40% of the population is only eating 50% of the kelp that is considered adequate for a balanced diet.”
Strake considered this.
“I hope you are eating your kelp, governor,” the health minister continued. “It prevents itch and dropsy and all kinds of other problems.”
Kelp was not something Governor Strake really thought about. He would eat it, if it was put in front of him but he never made it himself. The exchange however, grieved his fatherly heart. He wanted to do something. It was time to save the Bosunians from themselves. He was shaking with exhilaration. It was time for a mandate!
He held press conferences, he put together a social media update. (How do fish type without fingers? It’s one of those things you have to see to understand.) He even had notices posted on the door of every supermarket. The notices read, “By order of the governor…” (Strake loved that part, it made him feel like a kingfish.) “…all Bosunians must consume one serving of kelp daily.”
The Bosunians had mixed reactions to the mandate. Some people were delighted. Many of them doctors who had been trying to get patients to eat more kelp for years. Others were outraged.
Strake was a member of the Bildge party. Therefore, according to unspoken social rules of Bosun, Clew voters were obligated to disagree with everything he said, no matter what it was. This rule was so much ingrained in the Bosunian social fabric, that when a Bildge party member once said the sky was blue, the Clew party called it fake news. (Though in that case, the Clew were correct because the sky on planet Bosun is green.)
Jib Walty was a fishman in Strake’s district. He was an accountant, and like most Bosunians, completely rational until either political party claimed an issue for themselves. He voted Clew, but had eaten kelp his entire life. He didn’t love it, but he didn’t hate it either.
He hadn’t thought much about kelp at all until he stumbled across one of the governor’s notices stuck to the bottom of a buoy.
“Looks like Strake is trying to be a kingfish again,” he grumbled. He rolled his eyes and swam home.
When he arrived, he told his wife about the notice.
“You know,” his wife began. “I was just talking about this with my friend Zabra. She was telling me about this article she saw about how dye is added to most of the kelp in the grocery store to make it greener. The dye is full of chemicals, it’s really terrible for you.”
Normally, Jib wouldn’t have given such a statement much weight. Afterall, everything was full of chemicals. Technically the entire world was made up of chemicals. However, given his irritation with the governor’s overreach, he was happy to accept anything as evidence that the governor was wrong.
“Figures,” he grumbled. “What does Strake hope to accomplish with this stupid mandate, anyway?”
“He’s just doing it because he’s in bed with all the big kelp companies,” his wife shot back.
This was true. One of the few things Bildge and Clew politicians had in common was that they were all in bed with big kelp corporations. Which political party the big kelp corporations admitted they were in bed with, changed based on which party was most fashionable any given day.
The next day, Strake held a press conference. He was shaking with excitement, he felt the power flowing to his fins.
“I know that some of you are not pleased with my mandate,” he said, putting on his best fatherly voice. “But it’s simple. If you eat your kelp you won’t get itch.”
Dr. Berth who was standing behind Strake blinked his lidless eyes. (How does one blink with lidless eyes? Stop asking pesky questions and read the story.)
“With all due respect, governor,” Dr. Berth whispered. “That’s not actually true. It just makes you less likely to get itch.”
“Don’t interrupt me, doctor,” Strake hissed back. “I am trying to take a strong stance for public health.”
Jib was sitting on the couch watching the press conference on TV. He was outraged.
“The governor is lying to us!” he exclaimed to his wife. “Cuddy was out today with itch! And he’s eaten kelp every day since he was a fri.”
“Unbelievable!” she returned. “I told you. Kelp doesn’t work. In fact, some doctors speculate that kelp actually causes popeye!”
“Really?” Jib said. Once again, he didn’t bother asking who had written the article. It was just more of the evidence that the governor’s kelp mandate was wrong. He ate it like candy.
“Oh yes,” his wife persisted. “This blog doctor I was reading pointed out that 80% of his popeye patients had eaten kelp on at least one occasion prior to their diagnosis.”
“You know, darling,” he said. “Everything I hear tells me that kelp is truly awful for you. I think we should stop eating it altogether.”
His wife heartily agreed. They informed their children that no one in the family was allowed to eat kelp.
One of their children actually liked eating kelp. “Mommy, you’ve always let me eat kelp,” she complained.
“That was before I knew about the chemicals and fungus and the governor’s evil plot to control our lives,” her mother answered.
While all this was unfolding, marine biologist Dr. Mizzen Sternway had the good fortune of being on an expedition. She did not have access to the internet, news, or any form of media. Instead, she was observing shark behavior which was a great deal more fulfilling.
When it finally came time to return to civilization, she noticed something unusual. It was her neighbor Jib and his family standing on the street corner with a mob of protestors.
They were holding signs that said, Kelp doesn’t Help! Kelp Kills and the like.
She blinked her lidless eyes.
She pulled her car over and rolled down the window.
“What’s going on, Jib?” she asked.
“Governor Strake is trying to be a kingfish again,” Jib exclaimed.
“Okay…” she answered. “So why are you protesting kelp?”
“Where have you been?” Jib asked.
“On an expedition,” Sternway answered. “Help me out here.”
“Strake is mandating we eat our kelp,” Jib explained. “And we will not comply!”
“A kelp mandate?” Sternway wondered. “Well that’s silly. But I mean, you really should eat your kelp.”
“Why? Why should we do that?” Jib argued.
“Because it’s good for you,” Sternway shrugged.
“What you are eating, is Strake’s lies,” Jib accused.
“Um, I’m confused. Are you upset with government overreach or upset with kelp?” Sternway asked.
“I am upset with the governor for forcing us to eat toxic kelp.”
“Kelp isn’t toxic,” Sternway said.
“Does it or does it not prevent itch?” Jib demanded.
“What, kelp?” Sternway was confused. “I don’t know.”
“I thought you were a scientist!” Jib interrogated.
“I study sharks, Jib.” Sternway responded. “I am not a nutritionist.”
“But you think mandating kelp consumption is an ineffective way to prevent itch?”
Sternway noticed she was blocking traffic. “Um, probably,” she shrugged, then rolled up her window and drove off.
At that moment, she decided she was going to go lock herself in a windowless room and compile her shark data until whatever this was blew over.
The next day, Jib told all his coworkers that his scientist neighbor admitted that kelp mandates were ineffective in preventing itch.
So it continued in a hopeless cycle. The more the governor tried to enforce his mandate, the more people protested. People who had never eaten kelp didn’t start eating it. People who had eaten kelp without a second thought suddenly refused to eat it on principle. Nuance and complexity no longer existed. Afterall, critical thinking was too much work for the Bosunians. It was much easier for the Bildge to blame the Clew for causing itch and for the Clew to go out and protest a vegetable.
As an observer from Earth, I am not sure what the Bosunians should do to get out of this situation. Maybe if each side listened deeply, thought critically, and had the humility to give a little, whatever insanity they were involved in would dissipate. I don’t know.
At the very least, I am grateful that nothing like this has ever happened on Earth.