Saturday, December 20, 2008

The ant and the grasshopper, squished

Back during the campaign season, I received an email with a modified version of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. The original fable is about an industrious ant, and a lazy grasshopper; during the summer the grasshopper lives it up while the ant slaves away at storing food. When winter hits, the grasshopper starves and the ant survives. The moral, of course, is that you must defer pleasure indefinitely and live life like a Calvinist, or else you will die. And the hero of the story is the ant, a species that lives in a weird sort of feudal slave-type of social organization: something Calvinists could support.

The Unitedstatesian version
The Canadian version
The British version (with squirrels - what the fuck? - they are Brits, whatever)
The Indian version
The Nepali version
The Maltese version
The South African version
The Australian version (again, with squirrels!)
The Pakistani version
The Singaporean version (watch out, it's actually clever)
The New Zealand version

There are probably many, many more, probably even in countries that were never part of the British empire.

The basic gist of all of these stories is this: leftists in every country are like grasshoppers whose desire for pleasure (in this case, the pleasure of helping one's fellow man avoid suffering) leads them to destroy the foundations of society - laissez faire capitalism - which ultimately makes everyone worse off. The only way to avoid this dire outcome is to take the example of the rightist ant, who (with great, if subdued, consternation of course) is willing to leave some to slave, suffer and die; but only for the exalted goal of ensuring that all do not perish.

The thing about these modified ant-and-grasshopper stories that would be hilarious - had their writers intended to use absurdity for comedic effect - is the assumption that the poor are poor because they are lazy. Such is not the case, and incontestably so. But the idea is so soothing to the consciences of those doing well in any given society, that reality has a tough time intruding and displacing the fiction. Another laugh riot about these stories is the idea that tampering with the status quo would be disastrous for society. As if most currently constituted societies were not already disastrous for wide swaths of the population. Perhaps this cartoon does the best job at updating the ant and grasshopper fable for modern times:

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