PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
The rag writers and the puppeteers had a voracious appetite for “news”, as they called it, and with the farm animals ever more in the thrall of speculating on land and buildings, they became the ideal venue for a group of foxes who called themselves “the Agronomists”.
These foxes believed themselves to be the most ardent acolytes of the cult of the Invisible Snout, and claimed to be able to see its mysterious movements in the patterns of the clouds, the flight of the crows, the rustle of leaves in the trees and through making arcane connections – or “correlations” – between the profusion of numbers printed in the Fox Times. They would, for a fee, use their special powers to utter oracles and divinations for those animals seeking to know how the Snout would bestow or retract its favours.
Nor was this entirely illogical. The harvest from the seed sown today was dependent on the vagaries of the future that would decide how the seed would grow tomorrow, and hence any fox who through divine intercourse with the Snout could gain insight into its workings, would be worth a great deal of corn indeed. So over time, such punditry became among the most important and well-paid of all the activities on the farm. The agronomists were paid vast sums to predict the coming of the rains and the size of future harvests, or where the next barn might appear or how many dominos an acre of land might be sold for two seasons hence.
Of course they could do no such thing, and although some undoubtedly were more accurate than others, this was in no greater number than the rolling of a dice would have predicted. The more honest among them knew it, although the more arrogant believed their uniquely sensitive ears and bushy tails were proof of their divine ability. Remarkably, the more ignorant or unlucky agronomists were able to maintain this belief in spite of the fact that, on average, they were demonstrably more often wrong than right. Nor was this failure of any consequence among the animals at large. Just the slightest chance of the oracles being right was enough for the lucrative punditry to continue. And the more the other animals were stupid or desperate enough to believe in the agronomists’ mythmaking, the better, from the agronomists’ point of view.
Of particular interest to the agronomists was the Chief Rabbit’s nose. Since the rabbit was now central to overseeing the flow of dominos, and since a rabbit’s nose was the equivalent of a pig’s snout, it was logical to conclude that the Chief Rabbit’s nose in its official capacity must resonate here on earth with the ethereal workings of the Snout. As a result, a great deal of the agronomists’ time was spent in divining the oracular import of the various twitchings of this particularly pink and fluffy appendage.
Paradoxically, the myth of the agronomists’ occult faculties was even strengthened by the fierce theological debates they engaged in, which showed that they could not agree on anything. They argued over the propitious direction of the wind, whether a crow’s flight had truly been straight and the exact meaning to be accorded to the slightest sniffing of the Chief Rabbit. Although, in the joke of the day, agronomists were so productive that two agronomists would always produce at least three different opinions on any given subject, the confusion all added to the aura of mystery surrounding the divination process, which simply made the animals clamour for more.
Furthermore, the agronomists’ disputations were feed and drink to the puppet masters and rag writers, who would eagerly entertain their audiences with appropriately simplified versions, which even the silliest chicken could understand, usually rounding off with very practical advice, such as “buy” or “sell”.
Yet this again created a great paradox, for this free flow of apparently enormously diverse opinion from the agronomists, that was served up daily by the entertainers and puppeteers, led to an even greater herd instinct among the animals than that to which they were in any case inherently prone. For the most obscure reasons, the animals would all of a sudden flock to one particular agronomist, and simultaneously follow his divinations. Then, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, they would lose faith in him and turn to another, and on and on. This led to a constant stampeding into and out of certain areas of the farm or certain types of barn or crop, sending prices soaring and plunging without rhyme or reason.
It was almost only among the foxes themselves, it seemed, that an individual could buy in anticipation of the dramatic rise, or sell before the equally dramatic fall, in prices. Whether this was because they were indeed able to make more accurate predictions of the future than the farm animals, or whether it was because they knew in advance what the agronomists would say, was open to dispute. Fortunately, however, it was not a dispute that was even given more than cursory attention on the farm, busy as the animals were. Even more curiously, it was not unknown for an agronomist who had made a prediction in one direction to nonetheless bet his dominos on precisely the opposite outcome. Indeed, this was very often the case, if truth were told, which it never was.