Most people have heard Aesop’s fable concerning the grasshopper and the ant. For those who haven’t, here is a summary: Grasshopper wants to sit back and enjoy the beautiful summer weather while Ant slaves away preparing for the cruel winter. When winter finally comes and Ant is safe, warm, and well-fed, Grasshopper is freezing and starving so, naturally, he asks Ant for help. In the original version Grasshopper is turned away and learns a valuable lesson about hard work and preparation, in the sugar-coated version Ant takes pity and gives him food and shelter.
This fable is often used by critics of the US welfare system. They claim that welfare recipients sit back and cash in on the sweat of hard-working Americans. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the fable is fitting to illustrate that point (should that be the point one is trying to make) it seems to me , however, to be more fitting for a different situation.
Americans are trained to be consumers. This is not a requirement, but a nearly unavoidable way of life. We build houses for families of two or three that are large enough to comfortably shelter dozens of people. We furnish these houses with a flat-screen television in every room, state-of-the-art fitness machinery that does an excellent job of collecting dust, in-ground pools, video gaming devices, gadgets that peel fruit and vegetables, systems that heat or cool on command, italian leather sofas, designer hypo-allergenic carpeting, dish-washers, intercom systems, humidifiers and de-humidifiers, vcr/dvd combos, home theater systems, and microwaves. All of these things perform funcions that we would otherwise have to do ourselves. Some of us even pay someone to come in and clean it all. On top of this, it’s ALL disposable!
There is no praise for the family who plants its own fruit and vegetables, insulates its home with recycled cans or garbage, collects rainwater for bathing and drinking, refuses to own a television, recycles, composts, educates itself, i.e. self-sustaining. Self-sustaining = Bad in our society. If you make things for yourself and take care of them you are an outcast. I remember a girl in my class in elementary school whose family only allowed her to watch public television or read books. Her mother handmade most of her clothes. She was brilliant, so much so that she was reading Homer while we were reading Seuss, and she was ridiculed mercilessly. These things which should be a way of life for everyone are considered odd and anti-social. If we aren’t buying we aren’t patriotic. If we don’t swallow whatever garbage the media-machine wants to shove down our throats every day, we’re dangerous. But these people, these dangerous, self-sustaining, educated people are the new Ant.
Currently the world in which we live is a cesspool of Grasshoppers. Unlike Aesop’s fabled insect, today’s Grasshopper works his butt off. Some even work 12 hours a day seven days a week in places like factories, department stores, hospitals, and schools. They are rewarded with the almighty dollar at the end of each week (and probably some form of cancer) and with that dollar they march (by “march” I mean “drive Hummers”) straight to the carbon-copy consumer wonderlands situated conveniently near each and every residential area in America. There you can find Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Home Depot, Borders, Ikea, Starbuck’s, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, TGIFriday’s….on and on. The epicenter of Corporateland, a new country, a new world order. The hive of the Grasshopper.
And where is the Ant in all of this? Behind the scenes growing gardens, making clothes, buying hybrid cars or riding bicycles, recycling, researching, telling the truth, educating their children to be responsible, self-sustaining people, doing things because they’re right rather than profitable. They’re saving the world quietly, but consistently. They’re making sure that there will still be a world left once the winter has come and the Grasshoppers have surveyed the wasteland in their path. They are the last hope of a civilization bent on total self-destruction, and I’m with them. We either need to make being an Ant our new way of life or we, our children, and our grandchildren will probably be the last Grasshoppers to squander our summers away saying “Someone else will take care of this mess.”