“FRAUD IS REAL! NEWS IS FAKE!” So reads a colorful hand-painted sign I drove by the other day.
Fraud on the part of whom is real? Which news is fake? Does the artist want us to make up our own minds?
I would amend the sign thus: “Fraud is evil! News is something we didn’t necessarily know yesterday, but we’d by God better be confident of its sources today!” Not so easy to read at thirty miles per hour, though.
Fraud! What a coincidence! It seemed a good year to re-read The Divine Comedy, by the 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Last week amid the election-count uproar I came to the part in the Inferno where Dante and his guide, Virgil, reach the 8th Circle of Hell, just over the rim of Nether Hell. Ten sections of Nether Hell punish the souls of those who in their lifetimes committed fraud. Dante considers fraud a worse offense against God than violence because its effects run all through society and ruin so many lives. In the section of the Flatterers, he recognizes someone he knew. The man is covered from head to foot in excrement.
Why don’t our kids get to read this in school? Why only Italian kids?
Dorothy Sayers’ translation comes with diagrams of Dante’s Hell. Nether Hell is shaped like an inverted cone. The worse the sin, the farther down the souls go. Among them are the panders – we would say pimps – and seducers; next are the flatterers, the ones swimming in…you know; barrators – they sell high offices or bring baseless lawsuits, or both; hypocrites; thieves; counselors of fraud; sowers of discord; and falsifiers – liars.
I skipped ahead, curious to see what happens to the liars. Oooh, gross! They are stricken with hideous and disfiguring diseases that make them smell bad. This is the punishment, says Dorothy Sayers, given “every kind of deceiver who tampers with the basic commodities by which society lives.”
A great assignment for a civics class could be to replace the people Dante puts in his Hell with corresponding well-known names in the news today. In Maryland, public school students would have two chances for that: 8th grade American History and a high school course in Government.
The definition of fraud would get hammered in. But would they learn to tell the real news from the fake?
Margaret Barton Driggs