Friday, February 08, 2013
THE LITTLE RED HEN: Some Eternal Lessons
The story has been used by Ronald Reagan and by George Bush and others to lay out a moralistic fable that you shall reap what you sow, and if you sow nothing: starve, bitch.
The original American facsimile is here in the Gutenberg Version:
A few other versions have surfaced, including one that Reagan told, in which the farmer forced the Little Red Hen to redistribute the bread, and she does, but loses her incentive to work in the process.
We don't quite know who first invents this story but it appears to be a Russian folk story first making it into print about 1880 (Wikipedia). Folk tales, like proverbs, illustrate hard truths, and those truths are generally conservative. Against these hard truths we have the lies of the avant-garde and the sophisticates.
There appears to be a fear among communists that only the rich HAVE something to sow, and that therefore, the rich "didn't build that," as our communist overlord has put it most recently. The People built it, and therefore everyone is entitled to the profits and we should tax the rich at exorbitant rates while offering them nothing in return but scorn for their hard work and time taken away from families to build something out of nothing.
There "is" a sense in which some folks plant purely for themselves, and reap purely for themselves, and thus they are not participating in that which God first gave to us. Jesus for instance didn't pile up goods for Himself, but tried to redistribute the gifts of God to all who would listen. So I think that The Little Red Hen is a text for everyone to ponder, and to keep before them at all times. What does it mean to work God's Will in the World? What does the Parable of the Talents really mean? Some say it means, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need," as the Commie Manifesto puts it.
Others believe it means that you care first for yourself and your own family, and if you do this, the "invisible hand" will take care of Justice, and lead to the leavening of the whole. That the Parable of the Talents means that if you invest yourself into the economy with the gifts that God gave you, all will ultimately benefit.
Insofar as we are all fallen, there is a mystery in the odd notion that if we simply follow our incentives, the economy shall somehow rise. By such delightful paradoxes God has perhaps made the world.
Others believe that there ought to be some sense that we should all put our shoulder to a "collective wheel," and that this would result in public benefits which are to be divided and distributed by a philosopher-king (akin to God Almighty) like BO Himself.
The fear of pikers and free riders, as well as those who don't care about others, is always prevalent. There are probably many ways to sarcastically rewrite the fable. But this fable is the key. I would like it if Obama were to read it, and ponder its many lessons. It's not the longest text on earth, but it is among the most profound. I remember when I was a kid I read it every day with my mother. She used to provide an addendum that seemed to me extraneous to the text: that if you were born with great gifts, you owed others the benefits of those gifts. I didn't find this in the text itself and always wondered where she got that. (My mother has been a lifelong Democrat.) I always saw the Parable of the Talents from within team sports (my father was a philosopher of sports who worked in Physical Fitness programs). My dad believed that one could compile points on a basketball or baseball team that were somehow also good for the entire team, but that there was also the sense that you had to pass the ball, or help get your team-mates into the game by encouraging them. But to be an individual star was not a detriment to the team. (My dad was a lifelong Republican.) But yet there are "selfish" players such as Kobe Bryant, who always hogs the ball, and rarely passes, raping bystanders and forcing the help to sit still and not complain, and then there are "generous" players who make a team win not only through scoring points, but by making their fellow players look good, as Michael Jordan always did, and who in turn honored his wife. Somehow I can't help but prefer the Michael Jordans of the world. Players who work hard, but also help out the poor with their earnings.
For the first fifty years of my life I saw things as my mother did. Now I'm beginning to see things as my father did. Today of course there are some within the Republican Party who believe the Little Red Hen should "outsource" the making of the wheat, and simply import it from communist China or from some wayward Republic without work protections such as Mauritius or Costa Rica. I do not think this is right. I do believe our own workers should glean the knowledge that comes from working material (whether it's a baseball or a sneaker) because knowledge as a byproduct of work lends wisdom. But should we hate other countries, or do we now participate in a global economy such that the 192 countries of the world form a "global team"?
In the last election we had the choice between BO, who has never worked a day in his life at manufacturing anything but half-truths, and Mitt, who had never been hungry, but who did work hard in various businesses while trying to shore up native business. Meanwhile, we have a complicated economic backdrop in which enormous paper companies shuffle debt around, and try to make a profit without any actual production, and go whining to the government for a handout when things don't work out. Meanwhile, we have lazybones who run to government for a handout for a mortgage or an educational loan that they insist is their right but which they have no intention of repaying. The whole notion of actual production of anything seems moot in our current economic landscape, and yet isn't this also a lie since we continue to manufacture almost 35% of the world's goods? Some say we no longer make anything and this makes the story somewhat too literal for contemporary application. But at bottom I think it still provides a relatively sound fable for study and discussion.