G. K. Chesterton: Prophet of Portlandia

 The TV show Portlandia, which documents the quirkiness and political correctness of Portland Oregon, has recently received some critical acclaim and national attention. Oregon’s weirdness either has a long and illustrious history or G. K. Chesterton is truly a prophet. In his 1904 novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill Chesterton writes the following about predictions of the next century:

 Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed (‘shedding,’ as he called it finely, ‘the green blood of the silent animals’), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried) the pamphlet called ‘Why should Salt suffer?’ and there was more trouble.

 I would guess that Chesterton’s account of this pamphlet from Oregon is fictional, so his choice of Oregon as the source of a defense of “mineral rights” is even more startling. On the other hand, as a native Oregonian I find it quite plausible that someone took the next logical step beyond veganism and tried living on salts. And no doubt had this person succeeded, someone with even a more sensitive soul, would have come to the defense of salt and argued that we must live only on gases—not minerals. Oregon may even have a Mineral Rights Liberation Army. And those seeking to defend gases from human predation may already be arming themselves with recyclable plastic bags and rubber bands. As Portlandia often demonstrates, Oregonians have always had the courage to follow a wrong idea to its logical conclusion.

 The irony of Chesterton’s prophetic satire of Oregon is that this whole chapter is about how journalists and pundits fail to predict the future—that the common people regularly play a game called Cheat the Prophet and do the opposite. But in this case, Chesterton was the prophet and Oregon has not cheated him.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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