Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Parable of the Pigs

One night a dozen hogs escaped from a farm. The farmer was busy and didn't have time to go after them for two days by which time they had found a nice swampy area near the river and decided that they liked their freedom. The farmer could only catch three of them. The rest soon established themselves in their new home where they did what came naturally. Within a couple of years they and their offspring became a potentially valuable amount of pork on the hoof. Hunters and trappers converged to claim that prize.

The hogs, however, refused to cooperate with the hunters and trappers. They had become wise to the ways of their enemies, to the point that it was a lucky hunter who managed to take even one of them. After a few months of that, word got around and few even tried.

Then one day a stranger came to town. He got a local lad to show him the area where the hogs lived, then went to a trucking company and reserved a large cattle truck for two months later. Everybody laughed. If he wanted to waste his money on a truck reservation that was OK with them.

The stranger hung around town for two months, leaving every day for some errand unknown to the locals. Then he told the truck driver to go to a certain location the next day. The truck made two trips to the slaughterhouse. The stranger turned a nice profit and there were no more hogs running loose, he had captured every one.

As the stranger was celebrating with a thick steak someone asked him how he did it. “It's no big secret,” he said. “I just went and put some corn on the ground in the area. For a couple of days the hogs ignored it, then a young pig approached and timidly ate some corn. The next day there were three young pigs eating my corn. Within a week some of the older hogs started taking advantage of the free lunch. Finally after a month I had every hog in the area eating my free meals every day. In fact they started to get used to me.

The next step was to build my pig pen. First I put posts in the ground, but only along one side of the food and with several feet between posts. The hogs were nervous but within a day they were used to the posts. Then I put in more posts, all around the area. I made sure to put some gate posts where I wanted the gate. They got used to that so I put poles on the ground between some of the posts. After another couple of days I added more poles, all around the food except for the gate. Then I started adding another layer of poles each day so the fence height grew slowly. The hogs got used to going in and out of the gate.

Day before yesterday the fence was high enough and strong enough to hold the hogs. I let them eat and leave that day. Then yesterday I just put more poles in to close the gate and I had myself a nice herd of swine. The interesting thing is that they didn't really try very hard to escape, just made themselves comfortable like regular domestic hogs. In fact when the truck came it was pretty easy to put down a ramp with barriers on each side. I had baited the truck with more corn and they just walked up the ramp into the truck.*

That story has obvious applications to our lives today, from politics to borrowing money. How often are we tempted to take the easy way, the free lunch or other shortcut, especially when we see others doing it? That way lies danger and it matters little if the provider of the free lunch has our best interest at heart or is laying a deliberate trap. What matters is the result, what happens after we become complacent and dependent. And I'm not talking only of going to the slaughterhouse here. Even if the hogs in the story had been kept as pets they would have lost their freedom. Likewise becoming dependent on others saps our freedom and humanity.

That is the most obvious lesson, we should not become dependent on others as long as we are able to care for ourselves. However we should also consider how to avoid that dependence. The pigs in the story were suspicious but still fell for the trap. That was because the trap was constructed gradually so they became accustomed to the fence little by little. Even then the older, wiser hogs might have stayed away except that they saw others taking advantage of the free corn. “Everybody is doing it” was the apparent perception. Well, everybody went to the slaughterhouse.

Businesses seek to sell us something on time. Lottery agencies seek our money on the implied (and very false) premise that we have a reasonable chance to win. Governments seek to help us at taxpayer expense. All make their promises look very attractive, just like the corn looked attractive to the hogs. And in all those cases it is easy to think that everybody is doing it. However all can lead us down the path to loss of freedom and sometimes worse.

*This is based on a story I read long ago. Unfortunately I cannot remember the source so cannot give credit where credit is due.

1 comment:

OregonGuy said...

It is apparent that the pigs became the unwilling victims of a corrupt insurance industry.