In the third part of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver visits the scientific academy at Lagado, where, amongst various outlandish studies and experiments, he comes across this:
Another professor showed me a large paper of instructions for discovering plots and conspiracies against the government. He advised great statesmen to examine into the diet of all suspected persons; their times of eating; upon which side they lay in bed; with which hand they wipe their posteriors; take a strict view of their excrements, and, from the colour, the odour, the taste, the consistence, the crudeness or maturity of digestion, form a judgment of their thoughts and designs; because men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool, which he found by frequent experiment; for, in such conjunctures, when he used, merely as a trial, to consider which was the best way of murdering the king, his ordure would have a tincture of green; but quite different, when he thought only of raising an insurrection, or burning the metropolis.
(from Part 3, Chapter 6)
What a wonderful idea, I thought reading this. It is, of course, true that “men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool”, so it is entirely reasonable that examination of human excrement should reveal their thoughts and intentions. Ah, I thought to myself, if only Stalin had thought of this!
I had, however, seriously underestimated Stalin in this matter, for, as I recently discovered, he had indeed thought of this. From this report that recently appeared on the BBC website, it seems that Uncle Joe had put his chief henchman Beria in charge of a top secret laboratory in which the excrements of foreign leaders –and, who knows, possibly others – were analysed in an attempt to figure out what was in their minds. Stalin, it seems, was particularly interested in the poo of Chairman Mao, going so far as to build special plumbing that would carry his ordure into special boxes, and, hence, to a laboratory for analysis.
What will the shade of Swift be doing now, I wonder? Shaking his head sadly? Throwing up his arms in despair? Laughing uproariously? Venting his fury and his disgust? I suppose it goes to show that there’s no lengths to which totalitarianism will not go, and no satire so outlandish that it cannot become a reality.