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Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Value of Aesop

“People often grudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves. — Aesop”

When I was five or so I used to be fascinated watching my grandfather shave with his old fashioned straight razor. He would put the shaving lather on his face with a brush from the soap in a mug and then begin to carefully remove the lather and his whiskers with the razor he had sharpened on a leather strap.

One day while shaving he told me the story of the man and his monkey. As the story went a man had a very mischievous monkey. If the man was eating grapes the monkey would steal away with all of the grapes and devour them before the man cold catch him. The monkey would take things belonging to the man such as his keys, glasses, or watch and hide them. Also the monkey would imitate the actions of the man. If the man was eating with his fingers the monkey would pretend to eat with his fingers. The man was growing very annoyed with this monkey.

One day while the man was shaving the monkey was watching and imitating the man’s shaving motions on his face. The man noticed this and turned his razor over and using the backside of the razor drew it across his throat. After the man was finished the monkey snuck into the bathroom and grabbed the razor. While looking into the mirror the monkey drew the razor across his throat. The problem was that the monkey used the business side of the razor and thus ended the man’s problems with monkey. The moral of this tale of course is “monkey see, monkey do.” In other words don’t do what others do just because they do it. Sometimes this can get you in big trouble. My grandfather’s tale had taught me a valuable lesson at the ripe age of five.

In a similar fashion my Hungarian grandmother used to tell me tales from Hungary in broken English, which I understood very well. It’s strange, that at five or six I could understand her, but at 18 I had problems. Perhaps I had become too “sophisticated” or “educated.” Her tales were similar moral fables based on Hungarian folklore, no doubt based on timeless Aesop fables that had traveled around the world. In digression I have to point out that my grandmother could make the best fried pork chop in an iron skillet that I have tasted to this day and the most sumptuous chicken noodle soup from a chicken that a few hours earlier was walking around the yard. No doubt the paprika and tales added to the flavor.

At the age of four or five I can still remember my mother reading me Aesop fables from an illustrated book. Tales such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, “The Tortoise and the Hare”, “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs”,The North Wind and the Sun”, “The Fox and the Grapes.”, The Crow and the Pitcher, and “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” I did not know it at the time but the “Fox and the Grapes” was my introduction to cognitive dissonance.

There were many more allegories by Aesop, but the ones I have listed have stuck in my mind my entire life.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf taught me at an early age not to make up stories that would trick people or bring attention to myself as for one day no one would no longer listen to me or respect me. Too bad our politicians (especially Progressives) have not learned this lesson. While they have screamed for years for more money for education, welfare, and anti-poverty programs nothing has changed. Like the shepherd boy in the tale they are no longer being listened to or respected by the voters. Their cries of “wolf” are falling more and more on deaf ears.

The Tortoise and the Hare taught me that the race is not always won by the swift, but by the diligent, dedicated, and focused participant. The hare was an arrogant participant who wanted to show up the weaker and slower opponent — the tortoise. He jumped off to a quick start and then in his disdain for the lumbering tortoise he took a nap. When he awoke the slower, but focused tortoise was crossing the finish line ahead of him. James Madison may have had this tale in mind when he recommended two houses of Congress in his Federalist Papers (No.10 and No. 51). Madison believed the lower house — the House of Representatives would be like the quick hare and act on the passions of the day while the upper house — the Senate would be more tortoise-like and take a more deliberate and slower approach to legislation. This was certainly not the case with the passage of ObamaCare and the current rush to increase taxes, impose more gun control, and reform immigration laws.

The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs taught me that greed can destroy a good deal. When the farmer and his wife believing that their goose that was laying a golden egg every day had a large pile of gold inside of its stomach they killed to goose and ended up with nothing. This is tantamount to what or municipal, county, state, and especially the federal government is doing to its citizens. For years the taxpaying citizens (the goose) have been giving up golden eggs on a yearly basis. The progressive politicians along with the statist masterminds want to extract more gold from the goose and are killing it by stifling business and market entrepreneurs with higher and higher taxes and regulations. Now the state of Maryland has gone so far as to institute a Rain Tax. They are going to kill the goose and end up, like the greedy farmer and his wife, with nothing.

The North Wind and the Sun demonstrated that you could get more with honey than with vinegar, especially in the business world. By acting in a persuasive and humane manner you can deliver your message without acting like an tyrannical ogre thus getting more from your employees and colleagues without residual resentments.

The Fox and the Grapes, albeit at an older age, exposed the malady of cognitive dissonance to me. I began to realize that there were people with long-held beliefs based on their education or indoctrination that when presented with opposing facts would not alter those beliefs and like the fox would state that the grapes he was not able to get were no good anyway. This cognitive dissonance affects many of our politicians, academicians, and statist masterminds today. If they believe that government is the solution to all of our ills and that the socialist state is the way to lift all boats no matter how many facts of history they are presented with they will not change those closely and religiously held beliefs. As a wise man once stated;” you certainly are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” No matter how you cut it 2 plus 2 equals 4 and the laws of gravity and motion are absolute.

The Crow and the Pitcher teaches us that ingenuity is preferable over brute force. In this fable a thirsty crow comes upon a pitcher with water at the bottom too low for his beak to reach. After trying unsuccessfully to tip the pitcher over the crow begins dropping pebbles into the pitcher causing the level of the water to rise and thus allowing the crow to satisfy his thirst. This fable should be taken to heart by those wanting to “invent a better mouse trap” rather than look to government for solutions to their problems. This is what the free-market entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age did making the United States the most powerful economic power in the world.

And finally the Ant and The Grasshopper taught me the value of hard work, thrift and looking towards the future, a lesson I should have followed more diligently. The fable concerns a grasshopper that has spent the warm months singing and dancing while the ant (or ants in some versions) worked to store up food for winter. When that season arrives, the grasshopper finds itself dying of hunger and begs the ant for food. To its reply when asked that it had sung and danced all summer, it is rebuked for its idleness and advised to dance during the winter. Today the grasshopper represents government and those who depend on government for their sustenance. While the grasshopper is wiling away the benefits garnered from the production (taxes) of the millions of ants (taxpaying citizens) the ants continue to produce all they can in the hopes of building stores for the winter of their lives (retirement and health care). In the modern version of this fable, unlike Aesop telling the grasshopper to dance in the winter, the ant has little control over the grasshoppers and they go to government who then uses the power of the spear (IRS) to take from the ants.

Aesop was an Ancient Greek fabulist or story teller credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop's Fables. Although his existence remains uncertain and (if he ever existed). No writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day. Many of the tales are characterized by animals and inanimate objects that speak, solve problems, and generally have human characteristics.

Scattered details of Aesop's life can be found in ancient sources, includingDiego_Velasquez,_Aesop Aristotle, Herodotus, and Plutarch. An ancient literary work called The Aesop Romance tells an episodic, probably highly fictional version of his life, including the traditional description of him as a strikingly ugly slave who by his cleverness acquires freedom and becomes an adviser to kings and city-states. A later tradition (dating from the Middle Ages) depicts Aesop as a black Ethiopian. Depictions of Aesop in popular culture over the last 2,500 years have included several works of art and his appearance as a character in numerous books, films, plays, and television programs.

Be that as it may Aesop’s tales have travelled around the globe in different languages and through varied cultures but the lessons of the tales have remained the same. This is no doubt because over time we have found them to be relevant and true. Millions of children have been raised reading or listening to a parent read them these tales to make moral points. Those who have nor been exposed to these tales generally lack any understanding of the moral values expressed in the tales.

The fable "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is more applicable than ever in describing the environment in which we live today. Each interest group, especially those interest groups on the left, is infected with the need to describe ever more frightening futures, regardless what their interest is — environment, education, energy, medical care, or whatever else the cause du jour may be. Of course, they also try to sell the idea of submitting yourself to their tender mercies and giving them unlimited access to the Treasury (i.e., your money), with which they might be able to mitigate the horrors they are forecasting — but only if you grant them dictatorial power over you and all your labor, property, actions.

Sadly, there seem to be a lot of people who haven't heard of the fable the boy who cried wolf. Had they ever encountered Aesop at any time in a school setting, this technique wouldn't have worked for any of the special interest groups — or the president, for that matter — who use it again and again and again.

Doubtless there is some conflict within the left-leaning American Federation of Teachers (AFT) ranks concerning whether or not anything written by Aesop should be taught at all. He was, after all, an old European, which by default means that he was an imperialist taking advantage of every innocent within his field of view. On the other hand, one could trumpet the fact that Aesop, who was a slave, overcame the stigma of slavery and become a famous writer.

But the overarching problem of Aesop for Progressives is this: his fables show that one of the linchpins of Progressivism — i.e., that humanity and human behavior have "evolved" — is utter nonsense. Reading Aesop undercuts the Progressive narrative that the behavior of mankind has progressed beyond the behaviors of the past, which was dominated by paternalism, militarism, power, greed, imperialistic ambition, and tyranny. As James Madison put it Federalist No. 51:

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.”

The problem today is that many Progressives believe they are angels and can govern men from their lofty position in the Seraph. They believe man has a malleable nature and with enough time, effort and treasure it can be changed. If this were so Aesop’s Fables would have vanished into oblivion ages ago as there would be no context for their relevance.

If people could remember "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" how effective would the campaigns of fear and panic ever be for the president, the environmentalists, the pro-choice crowd, the anti-gun mob, and all the others who want to control everything?

How much of the Progressive demand for "income redistribution" would be undercut if people had knowledge of Aesop's fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper"?

What about Progressives who are seeking to control more and more of our production, taking more and more of our incomes, and directly controlling more and more of our wealth? Might they not be tarred and feathered if those low-information unfortunates (who graduated from our public school system) had learned from Aesop about "The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs"? Might not that fable give even those low-information voters pause?

And Aesop is not unique in his ability as a fabulist to convey the real facts of life to ordinary people in so simple a way that even children can understand their messages. Hans Christian Andersen and his stories are equally effective. Who can read "The Emperor's New Clothes" (one of my favorite stories as a child) and not immediately think of our political elites? Even at the age of 6 or 7, with the help of my mother, I got the jest of the story.

On the domestic front, there was a home-grown compendium of fables made famous by a journalist named Joel Chandler Harris. Harris compiled African-American folk tales in the second half of the nineteenth century. You may not recognize Harris's name, but the name of his fictional narrator has lasted in our collective memories for 150 years. The name? Uncle Remus, of course. Due to political correct pressure Disney’s “Song of the South” has been removed from the marketplace. Only a few clips are available.

The left has effectively banned Uncle Remus from being taught as being demeaning to our black citizens, yet during the Vietnam conflict, during the buildup toward Iraq I and again for Iraq II, the left was quick to describe each of these conflicts as a "tar baby." That just drips with irony, doesn't it?

And now, those on the left who are formulating the so-called Common Core standards plan on limiting the literature that our kids and grandchildren are supposed to read in favor of more technical, non-fiction stuff. It's almost as if reading Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, Uncle Remus, et al., is considered dangerous and harmful to the welfare of a minor.

But then perhaps the left isn't interested in your kids being able to see that "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" isn't just a story with a moral, but an illustration, clear even to children, of supposed adults who are acting like children. No, they want your kids to read things like the local library regulations or some such.

It appears that our exalted teachers' establishment, in emphasizing the ability of kids to read regulations, is more interested in teaching young minds to obey the rules than consider if those rules make any sense at all.

Of course, being leftists/Progressives, they might not be able to help themselves. Don't believe it read the tale of "The Scorpion and the Frog" (doubtfully attributed to Aesop, but just a potent as one of his fables).They are just acting according to their nature as did the scorpion.

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