Whether Aesop’s personage is of history or legend, the Greek fabulist, which legend dates to the 7th century BCE archaic Greece, is credited by posterity with numerous allegorical tales, known collectively as ‘Aesop’s Fables’. These fables represent wisdom thousands of years old; probably long predating Aesop, and certainly long predating their current truncated form.
The fables are characterised by animals that take on human characteristics; they interact, solve problems, and are used as a vehicle to impart fundamental truths, not merely about what it is to be human, but, more pertinently, what it is to live in a society constructed by humans. Over thousands of years the context may have changed, and the technology, the wizardry, the gadgetry has certainly changed, but the types of methods used by the predators who live amongst us, against the naïve, have not.
There are a number of fables that really do pertain to our political situation. I thought I’d share one of them today and cogitate a little on how it reflects on our current reality.
There was once a house that was overrun with Mice. A Cat heard of this, and said to herself, “That’s the place for me,” and off she went and took up her quarters in the house and caught the Mice one by one and ate them. At last the Mice could stand it no longer, and they determined to take to their holes and stay there. “That’s awkward,” said the Cat to herself. “The only thing to do is to coax them out by a trick.” So, she considered a while, and then climbed up the wall and let herself hang down by her hind legs from a peg and pretended to be dead. By and by a Mouse peeped out and saw the Cat hanging there. “Aha!” it cried, “you’re very clever, madam, no doubt; but we will not trust ourselves with you, even if your skin was stuffed with straw.”Moral ~ If you are wise you won’t be deceived by the innocent airs of those whom you have once found to be dangerous.
In our personal lives we tend to observe, to judge, and if it so happens that we should fall foul of some trick, we will generally not trust that person again. The above fable speaks of that. But when we apply this basic wisdom more abstractly, say, to an entity or an institution, the whole of society seems to be at odds with it. Take statism and all those who participate in the sacrament of voting. Politicians have rarely if ever shown themselves to be trustworthy, the entire political system even less so, but people will still queue at the voting booth, ready to have their good faith be taken advantage of.
Ironically, the more cynical amongst us, who rightfully question the legitimacy of this process, by way of an answer, invariably endorse a politics that will extend and not subdue the powers of the state. They seem to forget that in a society where power is proportional to wealth, and not official position, and where power is an extreme state of inequality, extending the powers of the Cat is therefore something entirely different to extending the powers of the Mice.
On countless occasions the official version of events has proven bogus. Indeed, a complete inversion of reality. Often at the direct expense of all those most caught up in the entanglements and iniquities of social life. Yet when we question and probe such matters – as we should – we are usually met with condescension and scorn. Immediately, our abilities are questioned, and we’re associated with names that have a bad smell. In light-hearted scenarios, the term “conspiracy theorist” is aired, in more serious ones, an ‘ist or ‘ism or ‘obic is thrown, forever to our detriment.
But if we were to ask the name-callers to prove some official dogma, without a referral to higher authority, they would be quite dazed, like somebody who was asked to defend their name. Because they haven’t really thought about it at all. Their knowledge is built upon taking things for granted; when in fact, if we’re being more observant, there’s every reason to not take things for granted. As long as honesty is rare, suspicion should be common.
To doubt the truthfulness of those who show themselves not to be trusted is wisdom so basic even a young child can grasp. But we need not be surprised if it’s repudiated by upper society and its sycophants; like an abusive lover repudiating a spouse’s well-grounded concerns by deceitfully flipping them on their head. Because it is simply gaslighting to denigrate timeless human wisdom as peculiar. As strange. As hateful. As suggestive of paranoia or even psychosis. Of course, gaslighting doesn’t work on all people. But it does work on enough of them to keep the Cats in business.
Honesty will always rankle with dishonesty. Whenever power is corrupt – and it is an abiding feature that it is – innocence and integrity are sure to be targeted. Such attacks will deter the thin-skinned amongst us who are unduly stung by opprobrium. But the thick-skinned, who are impervious to rebuke and ridicule, know that an attack on the person is never a reliable barometer of ultimate truth.
Nor is the schooling system and the various institutional frameworks through which society works itself, for they are in the image of Cats, and not in the truth which is independent of them. During an arduous, prohibitively expensive and time-consuming period of re-education, each Mouse is trained to think like a Cat and to be one that pretends ignorance when it comes to the threat of the Cat.
They no longer have the wisdom of the uneducated Mouse, which thinks for itself. They begin to have too much of the knowledge of the half-educated Mouse, which allows the Cat to do its thinking for them. Put together, they are no longer unsophisticated Mice that are sceptical of the Cat’s entreaties, they are sophisticated Mice that are trusting of them.
But whether the Cat is harmless or not is almost always to be ascertained. It requires an intellectual autopsy to see whether its skin is indeed stuffed with straw. If we are really to find out what power intends, we will surely find it, not in the self-examined fur which is sold to the public, but in the innards which the public examine.
Aesop’s tales still have relevance and meaning, and can impart wisdom all these thousands of years after they were first conceived. That probably says something; something about the immutable fabric of human organisation and management, and something about the type of things that are excluded from our attention, and the reasons why they are kept at a distance. Instead of being swept up in the hysteria of new political movements, we should take pause and reconsider what humans have always understood.