There once lived a man who had strange dreams.
One of the dreams regularly involved a tennis tournament played on a mountaintop in Peru. Another had an origami master who was the operator of an armored personnel carrier. Yet another consisted of an Australian women’s rugby coach who moved to Serbia, opened a brewery, and wrote a novel based on the life of Python of Byzantium (Πύθων ὁ Βυζάντιος).
The worst of these dreams, however, was a nightmare which tormented the man periodically. In this nightmare, there was a xylophone made from human bones: finger bones for the high notes on the right, down to an enormous femur for the lowest note on the left. In this nightmare, the man was invariably tied to the xylophone with shigawire, while a demonic musician played something execrable (such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). At the climax of the music, just when the man was on the point of being driven entirely insane, the ghost of Warren G. Harding poured grape juice onto the xylophone from an amphora made of jade.
At this point the man always awoke with a start, in a cold sweat, sometimes screaming, sometimes crying.
It goes without saying that the man developed a lifetime phobia of grape juice being poured onto xylophones. And worse: he developed a fear of almost any juice product being dumped onto any percussive mallet-based instrument.
He avoided Kindergarten classrooms, for who could say that little Timmy might not pour his juicebox onto that glockenspiel? He avoided performances of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, for might not the percussionist have a flask of wine which could spill forth? And forget ever going to see the Rolling Stones in concert: might not a band member spill a screwdriver onto the marimbas during “Under My Thumb”? All told, the man’s phobia represented a very minor, but non-zero, inconvenience.
Our story would be of little interest were it not for the fact that the man became Emperor of the World. How this was achieved is of no consequence to this parable; suffice to say that the man lied, preened, stole, and schmoozed his way to the top. But once he was in power, the now-Emperor decided that he could now rid himself of fear, by passing a law. The law was presented thus:
As Emperor of the World I hereby ban the pouring of grape juice onto xylophones. Anyone caught committing such a traitorous, cowardly act, will face the full wrath of our justice system, and be imprisoned for not more than 33 years.
The Emperor released this edict and went to bed content, confident that his nightmares were over.
But there were unintended consequences.
Most people had never, in their wildest fantasies, entertained the notion of pouring grape juice onto xylophones. The whole concept never crossed their minds. But now, with the Emperor explicitly banning the practice, the pouring of grape juice onto xylophones (PGJOX) became A THING. Suppose you wanted to irk the Emperor, get under his skin, be a gadfly, protest his policies. What better way, than PGJOX? Whereas before the Emperor clawed his way to power, there was not a single case of PGJOX, after the edict there were thousands of such cases.
The Emperor was too dense to realize that his law had caused all that grape juice to be poured. Indeed, the ballooning of PGJOX cases reaffirmed his pre-conceived notion that PGJOX was A THING, and had always been A THING, and so his law was justified. There was a vicious cycle: the more he railed against PGJOX, the more people performed the act he hated; this in turn caused him to rail against PGJOX all the more.
What became of the Emperor? And what became of the law? And what became of pouring grape juice on xylophones? In the first case, his nightmares returned, his dreams became indistinguishable from reality, and we are still to this day (centuries later) recovering from the 30-year rule of the Mad Emperor. Of course, the law banning PGJOX was repealed eventually, but (interestingly) pear juice is still poured onto vibraphones every Nov. 30 in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan (on Banff Day).
Moral: if you’re a lawmaker, and there’s some strange act that makes you uncomfortable, then shhhhhhh…don’t do anything. Don’t bring attention to it. Passing a law against your pet peeve is just lighting a match and handing it to your opponents.
But don’t trust me. Trust the ghost of Warren G. Harding.