Swans Commentary » swans.com January 17, 2005  



The Dumb Prophet
An Allegory of Intelligence


by Gerard Donnelly Smith





(Swans - January 17, 2005)   Once a dumb-child who swept the streets outside the temple slipped upon a pile of offal and hit his head. Upon waking up, he found himself none the worse. He did not realize he had been changed, that his thoughts could be heard by others.

Then one day while rude politicians and priests hurried by, knocking him about without noticing him, the dumb-child screamed: "You're all assholes."

Everyone froze, and then looked at one another asking: "Who said that?" and "Who are you calling asshole?" Several fights began as the dumb-child slipped away. He had spoken and people had heard.

Without moving his lips, the Dumb Prophet found he could speak his thoughts and desires. Yet he could not understand why no one listened, why none turned to give him water or food. He would ask for drink, and they would spill water into the sand, and then pray to some god or another. He would ask for food, and they would sacrifice their prized goats and best fruits and vegetables at their altars to the East and the West.

In frustration, he thought "Why aren't you listening? Why can't you hear me?"

At first everyone thought they had gone mad. When they turned to see who had spoken, only the dumb-child stood behind them. At first, no one admitted to having heard anything. Soon, however, political and religious demagogues thought god was speaking through them. The most faithful, yet least humble among them soon began to claim that they were prophets whom god had chosen to spread his message, a message of compassion and mercy that would never reach fruition until everyone just sat quietly and truly listened.

Still no one would listen because no could truly hear the Dumb Prophet. Yes, they heard his words, but did not understand the context of his words. Even his simplest requests taken out of context became maddeningly confusing: once his sister experiencing menstrual cramps began to moan, making the boy uncomfortable. He wished she would go to her bedroom and be quiet. Soon young girls and women throughout the kingdom were shut in their rooms one week out of every month. One group claimed god thought women were unclean, others that women's menstrual blood was poisonous, while some claimed god wished to honor women's child-bearing by giving them isolated rest.

Arguments soon began about the place of women in society; although everyone had heard the Dumb Prophet's exact words, discrepancies in interpretation caused claim and counter-claim of heresy, and mumbled threats of violence could be heard: if others would not listen, then they must be punished.

Things deteriorated.

New laws enforced the majority's wishes: women were to be locked up.

Outside the temple where he swept dung from the streets into the sewer, The Dumb Prophet, tired of cleaning up said, "why can't people clean up their own shit?" One-hundred zealous voices echoed in chorus: everyone must cleanse themselves of impure thoughts, purge themselves of unwholesome food and drink, and take responsibility for their decadent actions. Soon the conservatives began enacting laws to regulate speech, to prohibit alcohol, smoking and gluttony, and to punish those who refused to clean up their shit.

The Dumb Prophet, being not only dumb, but also a stupid child, did not realize his part in the confusion. Just as others mistook his meaning, the child did not see the causal relationship between his thoughts and people's actions. He kept thinking as if people could hear him, kept complaining that no one did what he asked, kept damning them to hell because they would not help him, respect him or see him.

Soon the kingdom was full of fear, because god was angry that his children were disobedient, that if the religious taboos and social laws were not followed god would destroy the world. Within a matter of a few days, laws were passed that granted the monarch unparalleled access to each subject's private lives, their associations, their finances, and their religious views. A new religious office was created to enforce the laws. Before long, no one was safe from their scrutiny, no one felt secure in their homes or business. Rumors were that no one had even read the laws before they were signed, so deep was the fear among the politicians that god would smite them all.

Since he could not read, The Dumb Prophet had not read the new laws either, since he owned no property, except the broom with which he cleaned the shit-covered street, no one paid him any attention. He continued sweeping the shit from the temple steps, and from the sidewalk. He continued thinking out loud.

Once he saw two men holding hands begin to kiss and thought "that's not right." Soon laws were passed to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Soon homophobia reached the highest office of the land, sworn to uphold the rights of all citizens. Instead, the monarch banished his own daughter, forcing her into a nunnery. Within days, again, the twisted words of an idiot became civil law.

Worse was yet to come.

A neighboring state, rich in resources had refused to share its wealth. Tension had increased since the Dumb Prophet's thoughts had caused his homeland to become a haven for religious zealots and terror-mongers, while the neighboring state remained committed to secularism. Outside the temple, the politicians and religious leaders argued about what should be done. They could no longer tolerate the presence of a heathen-state so close to their own god-fearing nation. Moreover, they envied the wealth and resources it held.

The Dumb Prophet was sweeping sand from the sidewalk close by. He had not heard the conversation, nor did he know about the political tensions, or even that a neighboring state existed. He mostly swept during the day, and looked at the pictures in his favorite book My Pet Goat at night. The Dumb Prophet wished he could have a pet goat, but his parents were poor. Then, he saw something shiny in the sand. He knelt down to pick up a gold coin, and a pocket knife. He had always wanted a pocket knife, but his parents did not trust him with sharp implements. Immediately, he thought joyfully, "there's gold in the sand, there are weapons buried in the sand" over and over again.

The nearby conversation came to abrupt end. They had heard the words of god, telling them the enemy had buried weapons and gold in the sand. The religious and political leaders rushed into the temple where they drafted a plan to invade the neighboring state on the pretense that the weapons buried in the sand were proof the heathens were planning their own attack. God had ordained the invasion they claimed, because he had told them that the weapons were there. Despite the fact that no weapons were ever found, before or after the invasion, no one questioned the words that god had supposedly uttered.

To this day, the Dumb Prophet sweeps the shit from the steps and sidewalks before the temple. To this day, politicians and religious leaders hear his thoughts and confuse them with some higher authority. To this day, the thoughts of an imbecile are translated into laws by those who believe they are god's messengers.


Internal Resources

Poetry on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans

Iraq on Swans


About the Author

Gerard Donnelly Smith on Swans (with bio).



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URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/gsmith37.html
Published January 17, 2005