“County fair, county fair, Everybody in town’ll be there, So come on, hey we’re goin’ down there …” Thus begins the chorus of Bruce Springsteen’s little-known song “County Fair.” (It is one of the bonus tracks on The Essential Bruce Springsteen.) The haunting melody of what might otherwise be a carefree summer song is enhanced by the fact that my wife has been staffing a couple of 4-H County Fair booths over the past weeks and I don’t get to see much of her with the long hours. While at a recent fair she pointed something out to me that, not having much experience on a farm, I had never known. Abattoirs employ goats in a specialized animal herding role. The animals in a stockyard, usually sheep or cattle, get familiar with the goat and learn to follow it. The goat is trained to lead them to their deaths while it is spared. The industry term for this animal is a Judas Goat.
Although the origin of the name is obvious, the practice strikes me as insidious, if justifiably biblical. Training an ignorant animal to lead more gullible animals to their premature demise — it sounds a little too much like Pat Robertson to me! Is this sending in a goat to do a man’s job? Then to saddle the poor creature with the title of Judas, as if the poor thing planned it! Yet another reason to be glad I’m a vegetarian!
The Bible is pervasive in and paradigmatic for our culture. I might even term it endemic. As many children grow up without the biblical force-feeding that many of those in my generation had, these images and metaphors may eventually go extinct. Or perhaps there will always be a goat to lead them back to a Bibliophile culture. The county fair itself might be instructive. Originally instituted in Roman times as periods of relaxation from labor (rather pointless for those of us not gainfully employed), fairs evolved into opportunities for individuals and companies to display their wares and goods. From a practical point of view there is little you can see at the fair that you can’t find quicker or cleaner on the internet. But the internet lacks that human element. Perhaps we are really all just glad to go with the crowd sometimes without even asking where the goat is leading us.