The Ant and the Grasshopper

A Fable for Our Time

grasshopper photo in orange and yellowI always liked the Aesop fable about the grasshopper and the ant. The ant spends the summer storing up grain and supplies for the coming winter while the grasshopper sings and plays the fiddle and, in some tellings, ridicules the ant for wasting the idyllic days with industry. When winter comes the ant is warm and well provisioned while the grasshopper is cold and hungry. When the grasshopper comes knocking on the ant’s door for a handout, he is in turn roundly castigated by the ant for wasting the plenteous days of summer with idle pursuits when he should have been working to store up provisions.

The grasshopper is turned away to die in the ancient versions of this story, and invited in to sing and dance in exchange for the ant’s largesse in some more modern iterations. I like the versions where the ant shares his bounty better than the ones where the grasshopper dies. This is because, now that I write entertaining stories instead of ticking and footing columns of numbers, I consider I have become more grasshopper than ant.

Trading Fabled Wisdom for Ideology

There are still more modern versions of the fable—sarcastic ones, prophetic ones, ideological ones—where government intervenes on the grasshopper’s behalf, condemns the ant for greed and acquisitiveness, confiscates the ant’s wealth, and redistributes it to the grasshopper. The finger waving re-spinners of this yarn would have us believe the left-leaning sensibilities of our modern world have turned Aesop’s wisdom upside down. I don’t think this is true, but then, like I said, I now consider myself to be in firmly in the grasshopper camp.

As a rule, I don’t believe in the forced redistribution of wealth. I don’t think it is a good idea to strip the risk-takers and innovative thinkers of the comforts they have managed to accumulate for themselves by industry and perseverance and to give it to a bunch of lay-abouts in the interest of social fairness. I think doing this is an excellent way to guarantee the end of progress and the diminution of wealth and quality of life for society as a whole.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to err in the other direction. Trends in wealth distribution prove this conclusively. Nearly forty years of so-called trickle down economic policy have led to a situation were less than one percent of our population controls more wealth than the bottom 40 percent. This too guarantees the diminution of wealth and quality of life for society as a whole.

I know this because I was an ant before I became a grasshopper. Hell, I used to be a Voldemort Republican. Look where that kind of attitude has gotten us.

But, I digress—easy when you are a grasshopper, and even easier when you consider that, in the current circumstances, the ants have not fared very well either. In fact the ants may have suffered worse than us grasshoppers. They certainly had more to lose at the outset.

Sometimes, when I think of what might have been, I am glad that I didn’t give up the life I had at the time in order to make a better one in the future. Sure, I worked hard for what I got, but I didn’t give up as much life balance as I could have in order to accumulate stores for my future. And what I did get I mostly spent when I got it—better in retrospect than denying myself for a future that was going to be stolen from me in any event. How pissed would I be then?

Trickle Down or Percolate Up? The Celebrity Paradox

As a grasshopper I depend on the ants. Their surplus is field that I till, the ore that I mine. Not all of it, mind you, just the amount they are willing to give up for my fiddling and dancing.

This is not without precedent. There are others who add no value to our economy, but still manage to fare very well on stipends the receive for their entertainment value. Tom Cruise comes to mind, Brad and Angelina, virtually all the various Real Housewives, any stars who dance, Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, the Kardashians, Madonna, Kanye West, the rappers who call themselves Doctor, the entire field of Republican Presidential hopefuls up to and including their current main attraction, Donald Trump.

There are a lot more, of course. These are just the most egregious examples I can think of off the top of my head. Professional athletes, entertainers, artists and writers, celebrities of every stripe are useless in terms of their ability to add to the collective wealth of society, even if they may, occasionally, add to our collective wellbeing. They are all paid from the stores of the real producers among us, and many of them are paid very well indeed. They are paid so well that a lot of actual productive workers aspire to be just like them.

Now, there is a world turned upside down, although the perverse aspirations of the ants among us is surely due to the fame and sex appeal that attends celebrity as much as it is to the pay scale. Who would not rather be tricked out in the resplendent colors of the grasshopper above than the drab monochromatic uniform of an ant? In the world where I live, the world where fables are mostly just entertainment, lots of ants would rather be grasshoppers. Of course, if we’re all grasshoppers, there won’t be anybody left to put supper on the table, will there?

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  1. The Wikipedia entry about the Aesop fable used to have a painting on it titled The Grasshopper by Jules Joseph LeFebvre. It was painted in 1872 and features full frontal nudity. I don’t know why. That is I don’t know why Wikipedia had it there because, except for the title, it has nothing to do with the fable, and I don’t know why it’s called The Grasshopper. The full frontal nudity is self-explanatory. It hangs in the Australian National Museum of Art, so even though the woman depicted is pretty attractive for a classic painting, it’s fine art. Appreciation of fine art is, of course, why I share the link here. Curiously, the woman depicted is waxed and polished in a thoroughly 21st century way, even though she is a brunette of the 19th Century and, as I mentioned, a classical painting. See for yourself.

  2. This really made me think!

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