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Wednesday, 19 July 2006 00:00

Oh, the irony of it all

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“Sausage is good!?”

My 7-year-old son was looking out the window of the van when he blurted the words out of his mouth. We were taking the normal route home, and the cattle herd we pass every day was huddled lazily under one of the few shade trees.

A minute or two earlier, he asked if I ever thought people would stop “killing things.” At first I wondered if we had a budding geo-political State Department-type analyst. We had been listening to an NPR account of the growing violence in the Mideast when the question came out.

“No, I don’t think we’ll ever quit killing each other,” was my response.

“No dad, not people. I’m talking about animals. Will we ever be able to live without killing animals?”

So much for the soul-searching conversation about human depravity toward other humans, but nonetheless a relatively deep subject for a 7-year-old boy who constantly worries about his next meal before he’s finished with the one he’s working on.

“Yes,” I answered. “Raising animals for food consumes many times more resources — water, feed, land, etc. — than does growing meat substitutes and vegetables. I think at some point, as the earth’s population keeps growing, we won’t be able to raise cattle on large farms, or even hogs.”

He wrestled a bit with the implications of my very parent-like response. I could feel his brain churning over the repercussions, the cows out his windows able to live forever without fear of the butcher’s knife. I expected a Buddha-like response about the lucky cows and pigs, words of wisdom to confirm my budding suspicion that my son, like all my children, was indeed a genius.

I didn’t get the answer I had imagined. Instead, he harbored disappointment about the possibility of a world without pork.

“Sausage is good?!”

Irony. Expect one answer, get something completely different. My son’s reply left me guffawing, and even his sisters got the humor.

But irony isn’t always funny. A month or so earlier, I received a one-line email: “I find it ironic that in the issue where your cover story is about protecting undeveloped land you have so many advertisements from developments and developers.”

I didn’t recognize the sender, but my reply went something like this: “Not all developers are bad. Growth is going to happen. If developers and other advertisers find benefit in advertising with us, we can continue to spread the word about the benefits of well-planned land-use laws, the need to conserve forests and farmland, and other issues important to the region.”

That email led me to another line of though: Most of us do things that probably seem absurd and contradictory, so much so that if we ever pause to think about the repercussions, it would seem ridiculous. Perhaps the ridiculousness of these ironies is why so many of us are saddled with anxieties we can’t control.

That is what my critic out there in cyberspace was saying. It was incongruous to him or her that this newspaper could reconcile a story reporting that land needs to be protected while at the same time doing business with developers.

As my reply pointed out, I don’t see the irony in this situation. Or, I note the irony but don’t see the problem with it. Developers aren’t evil, but bad, unethical, uncaring developers are. I may dislike some aspects of growth, but to mollify those feelings I’ll work to build consensus so it has the least possible negative effects.

A lot of people probably don’t think that’s a very credible response, but it’s the best I can do. So that’s when I started counting absurdities, the ironies in our lives, politics, society that we all have to deal with. The list is endless, but here are a few:

• How come those who decry illegal immigration on our southern border as if it is the scourge of the century don’t stop buying the cheap vegetables, fruits, modular homes, restaurant meals and other goods these illegals help produce?

• Isn’t it ironic that many of us who don’t want to drill for oil along the north shore of Alaska and off our coasts drive huge cars and do little to conserve energy or recycle? And isn’t it ironic that so many who support drilling in these spots and who want America to be energy independent drive even bigger automobiles and recycle even less?

• How about the irony, perhaps stupidity is a better word, of thinking that the cheapest priced items at the big superstores actually cost the least? Price and cost aren’t the same, never have been.

• Isn’t it odd that those who cry the loudest about patriotism and the need to protect America don’t see the irony in spending all their money at the superstore where everything is made overseas, or in driving a big car and owning a huge house, thereby increasing our dependence on Mideast oil?

• I often order a Supersized Wendy’s meal and then get it with a diet soda.

• Ever wonder why so many adults who are relatively happy with decent jobs and who weren’t overly ambitious as kids work so hard these days to nurture children who are artistic, super-athletic and studs in the classroom? What kind of adults are these kids going to become?

• Here’s irony: Everyone these days is a political expert who can recite party lines verbatim but are mostly unable to embrace any of the nuances that make politics something more than a regurgitation of ideological mantra. Soliloquy and its inherent grandstanding have replaced rigorous debate.

My favorite definition of irony from my Encarta dictionary is this: “incongruity between what actually happens and what might be expected to happen, especially when this disparity seems absurd or laughable.”

The “laughable” part of that meaning is what I’m holding on to. Is the world crazy? Scan the headlines and the answer seems too obvious. Sometimes it’s just hard to make it all add up.

Just pass the sausage.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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