Once a pelican was arrested for shoplifting. Suspicions had been aroused when the pelican showed up on one security camera after another around the mall, its bag-like bill betraying larger and more angular bulges with each shot. When asked by officers to open up and then to explain the avalanche of goods that spilled forth, the befuddled-looking pelican confessed to being as amazed as anyone else by its conspicuous kleptomania. It had no recollection of having taken any of the items now being tagged for evidence. In fact, it couldn’t imagine why on earth it would have felt the need for most of them. They certainly couldn’t be considered necessities and appeared to have wound up among the pelican’s loot only because they happened to catch its eye in passing. But why? That was the question the pelican could not answer. Nor could psychopathologists appointed to assess whether it was competent to stand trial. As far as could be determined, the pelican was perfectly normal. It acknowledged stealing was morally unacceptable behavior. It also clearly understood the meaning of the question when asked whether it thought happiness in life depended on material possessions. “What do you take me for, a fool?” was its ruffled answer. Then why? The facts of the case made no sense, and yet there they were. Investigation showed a pattern of similar activity stretching back years. The pelican’s entire life was revealed to have been what one could only describe as a single-minded pursuit of startling excess, excess that knew no bounds. Based on the findings, the pelican became the first diagnosed case of Hysterical Acquisition Complex: a condition characterized by symptoms of delirious self-gratification and the overwhelming desire to possess everything, absolutely everything, including what the sufferer hadn’t the slightest need of. This diagnosis ultimately provided the bulk of the pelican’s defense. When the case came to trial, its lawyer called to the stand a dizzying array of business executives, sociologists, government officials, and just plain folks in addition to the expected mental health experts. These witnesses all testified to the fact that the behavior of the pelican and others suffering the same chronic possession attacks was an essential element sustaining advanced consumer capitalism, the credit industry, current concepts of both personal and social worth, and free-trade agreements in an age of globalization. If they had bills like the pelican’s, most confessed, they too would have felt little compunction in trying to swallow the whole world. Wasn’t that the way everybody longed to live? The fact that an otherwise average-looking pelican with a bill distended and weighed down by the senseless scooping up of things it couldn’t afford and certainly didn’t need was vital to healthy markets, individual and group self-esteem, international relations, and the reigning definition of a life worth living proved to be the deciding factor in the pelican’s acquittal on all counts. In light of such testimony, the jury decided, the defendant shouldn’t be held responsible in any way for its actions.
Copyright © 2005, revised 2008, by Geoffrey Grosshans