Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Ant and the Grasshopper

A story I grew up with told of the Ant and the Grasshopper. During the summer, Grasshopper sang and danced while Ant worked, storing more food than she ate. Grasshopper said she was silly, 'There is plenty, why don't you enjoy life a little more and stop being so serious?'. Ant kept calm and carried on.

As the summer turned to autumn, Grasshopper continued to sing his song working as little as possible. Focusing on the things he loved. Ant brushed away the leaves, and worked even harder.

When winter came, the story splits in two depending on the teller. Grasshopper grew cold and hungry. Ant had a warm home and plenty of food. The harsher tellers who want the moral to be "idleness brings want" tell of the hardcore Ant believing the Grasshopper's poverty was a choice. Actions have consequences. Grasshoppers problems were not Ant's problems. Grasshopper died. The softer hearts tell of how Ant shared the bounty, despite the fact that the work was not fairly distributed. Grasshopper lived. Again the story splits. In some, Grasshopper worked harder the next summer and Ant and Grasshopper were both better off. In others, the story repeated itself with Ant being suckered into doing the work each summer, and guilted into supporting Grasshopper each winter.

South African education is very vocational. 'When I became a man, I put away childish things'. A man's key role is to be a provider for his family. There is a heavy bias toward STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Maths) because that is what puts food on the table. 'Yes, I would love to do that, but I would also like a Unicorn'. Wolraad and Racheltjie value work and duty over indulgence. If you want to do sing Mr Grasshopper, do your work first. The world owes you nothing. No one is going to bail you out. Your success or failure is of your own making. Don't make excuses, get things done. Accept reality and make the most of it. I ended up studying money because I hated money. I deferred my dreams till I could afford them.

The concept of tough love means some people believe it is right to let people fail, even if you can help them, because that is the only way they will learn.

I think this is a moral heart of some of the uneasiness with the idea of Universal Basic Income. Like grandparents who survived the war still scraping mould off stored tins of jam, saving tea bags, and acting like rations are still in force... our moral foundations last far longer than the conditions that necessitated them. Many worry that as the older generation dies, the culture that brought the wealth will disappear.

If you believe in inheritance and providing opportunities and a safety net for your children, it is hard to argue that others wouldn't benefit from the same. I don't think the objection is a wouldn't. It's a shouldn't. It is the idea that people should fight to get out of the situation just like I did.

The reality is, if the Ant let the Grasshopper die, so would the music. Where the fault lies wouldn't matter, the day the music died. While the Ant was working, she wouldn't notice. When we are really busy in a land of scarcity of material goods, we don't hear the music. Once there is enough, it may only be then we realise the long term damage of not making space for beauty.

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