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The Only Way to Change Current Capitalism is by Leaving Selfishness Behind. Period!

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

The grasshopper and the ants

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

“What!” cried the Ants in surprise, “haven’t you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?”

“I didn’t have time to store up any food,” whined the Grasshopper; “I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone.”

The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.

“Making music, were you?” they cried. “Very well; now dance!” And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.

Moral 1: There’s a time for work and a time for play.

Moral 2: An idle soul shall suffer hunger.

Moral 3: Work today to eat tomorrow.

Moral 4: July is followed by December.

Moral 5: Hoarding is folly, enjoyment is wise.

The point of view in most retellings of the fable is supportive of the ant. What say you?

I heard this fable as a child many times. I was always in favor of ants. They worked, the grasshopper did not. They deserve what they have, so does he. Effort, hard work, foresight, management. Virtuous. That were the ants. Looseness, revelry, distraction, fantasy. Vicious. That was the grasshopper. Therefore, the ironic answer and turning their back to him seemed to me the least they could do before that shameless and cheeky grasshopper.

Time went by and several questions arose: Were the ants fair? What place do compassion, and charity have in this fable? What example do the ants and the grasshopper set us? Who would be responsible if the grasshopper died? Himself or the ants? What can each represent according to our interpretation? What if a third party took out from the ants to give to the grasshopper? How should ants react if this happens every year? Will they produce more or less? Would it be fair if a third party did that? What if all the grasshoppers died? Would the ants be happy? What would happen to the grasshopper if the ants decided to migrate?

Were the ants fair?

Let’s see. Justice is giving each one what is due, distributing equitably between everyone and the common good. What is due to each one? Fulfill a role, a job, a trade to survive and thus each one gets his part. What compels us to do that? That duty is a moral obligation, that is the reason telling the will that it has to do something worthwhile. What is valuable? It is the quality that people, or things have. What gives them those qualities? Extrinsic factors: the interpretation or attributions that someone gives to the object or subject. Or intrinsic factors: the own conditions for being and existing.

The ants judged that the one who works deserves their sustenance. They attributed and interpreted that the grasshopper, having not fulfilled his duty, had what he deserved: hunger. In their attitude towards the grasshopper was the duty, the value of work, qualities such as effort, foresight and management, and an extrinsic interpretation prevailed. This was the logic or hermeneutics of the ants. For this criterion, Morals 1 to 4 apply. But beware, justice without charity or compassion can turn into cruelty.

What place do compassion and charity have in this fable?

Mercy does not have a space in this fable. For La Fontaine the ants lacked generosity, compassion and charity, that is, they were selfish. The grasshopper asks for “something” that the ants apparently have plenty of. It seems, under this gaze, that ants act more with the hard heart of Ebenezer Scrooge than as understanding, altruistic or philanthropic beings. Was it just that one time? Was it every winter for years? It is not just to maintain the sluggard. But that is not the same as helping the incapable or needy. Charity, generosity, or mercy without justice lead to dissolution, chaos, and loss.

What example do the ants and the grasshopper set us?

A Utilitarian look would tell us that the Hymenoptera represent hard work, foresight, effort and management, while the Orthoptera is lazy, permissive, irresponsible, unproductive. Now a Romantic look will tell you that ants are selfish, self-righteous, conceited, and bitter. For its part, the grasshopper is free, artist, lives without ties and creative. Moral 5 will apply here. A moral sieve could judge the ants of being hardworking and selfish and the grasshopper of being lazy and helpless.

Who would be responsible if the grasshopper died? Himself or the ants?

Responsibility is a value that is in the conscience of each person. Each person is responsible for his own life. If we see life as an absolute value, each life is valuable. If, on the other hand, we interpret existence as something relative: each one is free to do what he wants with his life without anyone being able to interfere. If we notice that each life is worth it, it is more likely that altruism, which is love for the other, will arise from the person who interprets it this way. If instead, each one depends on himself, possibly egoism will rule in those who believe this. A lot of self-love leads to contempt for others. Self-contempt leads to loving others more. What will define responsibility: misanthropy or philanthropy? Is it a duty to help and serve those who cannot, do not want or do not know? Until when, until where?

What can each represent according to our interpretation?

I am going to choose to interpret the fable from the point of view of relationships in an economic system. Seen this way, ants would be the creators of goods and services, production, capital, labor and land, the generators. The grasshopper would represent those who, due to inability, stupidity, parasitism, bourgeois lifestyles or lack of will, do not collaborate with the productivity of the whole.

What if a third party took out from the ants to give to the grasshopper?

As an Argentinian I cannot help but see this in a very personal and subjective way. The subsidy is an economic aid to promote development, through social policies, that is given to a person or institution. Argentina has -at least- 20 years of an abusive culture of government incentives. Going back to our fable, another character would appear, let’s say a rodent, who would steal the ants against his will to procure the grasshopper.

Draft version (A) Wait But Why style— 3x3 Table of Winds of Change inspired in so many books, so many.
Draft version (B) Wait But Why style— 3x3 Table of Winds of Change inspired in so many books, so many.

(X) axis: SELFISHNESS: behavior that contributes to one’s own well-being at the expense of others.//ALTRUISM: behavior that contributes to others well-being at the expense of its own.//COOPERATION: different forms of agreement that are oscillating on the border between altruism and selfishness. (Selfishness, Cooperation and Altruism, 2002)

(Y) axis: EXPERT: person recognized as a trusted authority on a matter or topic.//WORK: human activity that produces goods and services in a community.//INACTIVITY: negligence or carelessness to use vital energy.

How should ants react if this happens every year? Will they produce more or less? Would it be fair if a third party did that? What if all the grasshoppers died? Would the ants be happy? What would happen to the grasshopper if the ants decided to migrate?

How do we leave selfishness behind?

To be continued…

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Pol

Pol

Writer. Pic of abuelo (c.1930)