The “what if” game

Have you heard the tale about the three wishes, the bickering couple and the sausage that ended up hanging from the wife’s nose?

Nowadays, marital discord is more likely to be resolved with a murder than with a magical sausage implant. In fact, most people today, myself included, “don’t believe in” magic.

But you never know. Do you think the US emperor had read Philip Roth’s 2004 novel “Plot Against America” before he stood for president? I find that very unlikely. Yet, something the author imagined could have happened in 1940 (but didn’t), did in fact happen in 2017: A man with no real or academic knowledge of political science, social sciences or any other science (unless you consider a Bachelor of Economics and a capacity to bully other people “academic knowledge”), a man whose primitive slogan was “America First” became president. In Philip Roth’s “what if” game, “America First” is for Christians, not Jews. In the unreal reality that our disbelieving eyes have been following since 2017, as though it were a dystopic TV series, “America First” admittedly welcomes Jews. Nevertheless, Trump’s reign has distressed and deeply saddened “most American Jews”, cf. CNN 16/5/2018

As I see it, it is grossly unfair that US Jews so often are blamed by people all over the world for the crimes against humanity committed by Israel. It is not the American Jews that root for the eviction of Palestinians, the occupation of the West Bank and the imprisonment of the entire population of Gaza, but mostly Evangelical Protestants and the Tea Party movement. Unfortunately, as a result of Israel’s heinous crimes against humanity, anti-Semitism will increase.

In his novel, Philip Roth claims that fellow Americans were anti-Semitic when he grew up. I believe him! I believe him because in Plot Against America he strikes me as being meticulously, almost drearily, realistic. Philip Roth is not generally dreary! So in this novel, he is making a tremendous effort to cling to reality. Yet, the plot, the election of an “America First” man as president in 1940, is only a pseudo-reality, which turned out to be real reality in 2017… and now I, writing this, am totally confused. What is real, what is not and what is simply (black) magic?

I think Philip Roth is far from the only person who has played the “what if game”. In fact, I am sure that you, as I, will have heard players define the stakes, and you, as I, will have shaken your head doubtfully about the outcome of some of the most common “what if ” propositions.

  • What if the world were ruled by men only?
    (Oh, well, we know all about that.)
  • What if the world were ruled by women?
    (Not sure the outcome would be all that much better.)
  • What if the world were ruled by me?
    (We know, or should know, a lot about that as well. But do we learn? Have we even started to learn to recognise the psychopaths whose aim it is to rule the world?)

At the moment, however, I am more concerned about the aspect – potential aspect, admittedly – of magic in all of this. Wouldn’t it be nice if wishful thinking could ensure a different sort of  “what if”?

What if almost all of us wished that everybody in this world could be guaranteed adequate nourishment and drinking water, basic accommodation (with sewage and electricity, etc.), adequate health care and adequate education? Would our wishing it make it happen?

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