Democratic Underground

Fristian Fables: The Ant and the Grasshopper Revisited

April 1, 2005
By Mark W. Bradley

One afternoon in late autumn, a grasshopper sat in the shade of a crabapple tree, stuffing his face with cracked wheat and watching in amusement as a tiny ant labored diligently to transport a sizable stash of grain, one kernel at a time, past the grasshopper's place of repose.

"Where ya goin' with all that grub?" the grasshopper asked.

"I'm taking it to the colony," the ant replied. "My six-legged sisters and I have been working our appendages to the exoskeleton for weeks now, and we've accumulated a rather prodigious pile of the stuff."

"What's the point?" the grasshopper asked scornfully. "Why not just take what you need for yourself and screw everybody else? That's the way we grasshoppers do it! Self-reliance, individual initiative, the entrepreneurial spirit, that's what made this garden patch great..."

"Well, that may be so, Mr. Grasshopper, but in the old days it was every ant for herself, and the spider take the hindmost. Oh sure, there was the odd worker who managed to eke out a meager existence for herself, endlessly hoisting and toting twenty times her own weight in a working career spanning eight grueling weeks, after which she might be able to retire in modest comfort to the compost pile, spending her final days feasting on banana peels and mango pits.

"Unfortunately, countless thousands of us were not so lucky, and our lives were upended by calamity and misfortune. Some of us perished in pebble avalanches or were swept away by rainwater tsunamis. Others had their thoraxes punctured, their internal organs liquefied, and their entire insides guzzled by praying (not to say sanctimonious) mantises. Even worse, many of those fortunate enough to avoid such grisly fates were destined to live out their days in humiliating slavery, laboring without rest in the hellish sand mines of plastic ant farms, malnourished on sucrose-water and forced to dig endless tunnels leading nowhere. I tell you, Mr. Grasshopper, it's enough to bring tears to your compound eyes..."

"Heartbreaking," the grasshopper offered dolefully between bites. "A tragic waste of invertebrate life."

"Indeed," agreed the ant, "but all that changed one day when about 40,000 of us pooled our microscopic minds and came up with something vaguely approximating an idea. It dawned on us that the youngest, healthiest and most productive among us were in a unique position to promote the general welfare of the colony by providing a nutritional safety net for the least fortunate, while at the same time ensuring sufficient retirement benefits to carry us through our declining weeks."

"Sounds like communism to me," chirped the grasshopper disdainfully, as he pulled another grain of wheat from under his wing and eyed it with relish. "By the way, have you checked the status of your collective food pile lately? I was inspecting it just this morning, and I'd say it's dwindled considerably. In fact, by my calculations, it's likely to be completely gone in a couple of days, if you don't get your arthropodic abdomens in gear and replenish it quick."

"But how can that be?" the ant murmured in disbelief. "We've been contributing steadily to that pile everyday of our working lives. Where could it have disappeared to?"

"Look, we might as well face facts here," said the grasshopper earnestly, as he wiped the wheat crumbs from his mandibles. "According to statistical analysis provided by the "Leaf-boat Veterans for the Unadulterated Exchange of Trail Pheromones", when this socialist boondoggle of an investment scheme was first misconceived, there were 13,000 active workers supporting each surviving retiree past the age of 65 days. But due largely to a steady increase in the life expectancy of the average ant (with the exception of black ants, of course), that ratio has declined to less that 9,000 to one. And to compound the problem, a few days from now the larva boom of mid-February will arrive at retirement age within minutes of each other."

"What can we do?" cried the panic-stricken ant, wringing her antennae. "We're doomed!"

"Not necessarily," purred the grasshopper, in soothing tones. "I've worked out a bold plan to bail the whole system out."

"What is it? What is it?" pleaded the ant, beside herself with fear.

"The plan is build around a new type of retirement account we in the insect investment community call ‘Personalized Investment Stock Securities with Annually Negotiable Treasury Supplements' or ‘PISSANTS' for short."

At this point, the grasshopper's voice took on the slightly premeditated (but decidedly sincere) tones of a well-rehearsed sales pitch.

"Here's how it works: For every three grains of wheat, corn, oats or barley you and your fellow workers gather, you deposit one into a personal retirement account managed by one of my trustworthy colleagues at the investment firm of Locust Brothers and Associates. The account manager then designs a custom portfolio, tailor-made to meet your investment needs. There is no simpler, more reliable way to ensure your financial future. And, best of all, upon your death, any accrued and unused portion of active funds remaining in your account will be passed on without tax penalty to your spouse and/or children (but since all you worker ants remain sterile and sexually inactive throughout your adult lives, I guess those provisions don‘t really apply...)."

"But then who will inherit my accumulated assets?" she inquired.

"Why worry about that?" the grasshopper replied. "You're an ant, remember? Within a few seconds of your insignificant demise, you'll be unceremoniously cannibalized by your friends and neighbors, thereby erasing all trace of your existence forever. Of course, we here at Locust Brothers and Associates will continue to handle your assets in perpetuity, and promise to do so in a financially responsible manner, which should give you a certain peace of mind..."

And so, despite certain reservations, the ant (whose mental acumen was less than half that of the average Bush voter) made the decision to open up a personal investment account, as did the majority of her co-workers. The grasshopper showered extravagant praise on the wisdom of their choice, and immediately set about gathering from them the seed money (so to speak) needed to jump-start the whole operation.

Periodically throughout the next several weeks, the ant contacted the grasshopper regarding the status of her personal account. Each time she did so, the grasshopper (who seemed to be gaining weight so rapidly he was forced to molt his carapace three times a week) assured her that the value of her account was growing with the gusto of an aphid infestation on a rose bush. "The sky's the limit!" he bellowed with exuberant confidence.

Imagine the ant's surprise, then, when two days before her retirement party she picked up a copy of the Weevil Street Journal and read the headline "Locust Brothers plagued by accounting scandal - CEO's take flight to avoid prosecution" and saw the accompanying photo of Mr. Grasshopper (whose wings were now quite unequal to the task of getting his corpulent body airborne) being lead away in three pairs of handcuffs. The caption read "Grasshopper pleads innocence in fraud investigation - claims to be the real victim."

The moral of the story: If you're a grasshopper, make your bundle quick and move on to greener pastures. If you're an ant, tough shit. Better get a night job and learn to get by with less sleep.

Mark W. Bradley is a history teacher and political satirist in Sacramento, California. He can be contacted at markwbradley@comcast.net.

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