The Ants and the Grasshopper

13+ One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm suns
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Kevin Maillet
1 year ago

Why “share”?? Why don’t we couch this in terms of “sell”?? Surely the grasshopper has some valuable minstrel services that he can provide to entertain the ants while they work…no?

Demonetized
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Maillet

That’s certainly the ideal solution here! Particularly in the case of a single grasshopper. Actually, as far as metastability is concerned, in the fable’s base case involving the ants and a single grasshopper, it’s perfectly fine to just let the grasshopper starve. A moral philosopher might challenge that view, but the moral philosophy of this is a whole other issue. In fact, you can easily imagine the Ayn Rand version of my “extended edition,” where all the insects are strict utilitarians. Here there’d be no need for any “metastability insurance” because of a strong consensus around libertarian utilitarian values as the organizing principles for society. Likewise, you can imagine a Scandinavian “extended edition” where all the insects are social democrats or whatever. That society may have a very different set of consensus values and an entirely different level of metastability. This is what I’m driving at when writing about metastability as a reflexive process, and why the social contract is necessarily something that’s negotiated. The obnoxious, twenty-five cent word for this process would be “dialectic.” Outside of relatively small, culturally homogenous communities, it becomes increasingly difficult to establish a strong consensus around values. The example of Prussia used in the post is a prime example. The Prussian “solution” to the problem of forging consensus around shared values at scale was to bind cultural identity to the state. It worked pretty well. Too well, in fact. Anyway, for the purposes of this post I’m not concerned at all with whether libertarian… Read more »

Mark22
1 year ago

I usually say I have a strong libertarian lean – which prompts calls of “weakling” or “traitor” from my hard-core libertarian friends. My entire argument back to them is captured (in a much better way) by this piece, which requires several reflective readings as it’s just that smart and important (I’ve been through it twice and plan to go back). My reason for “leaning” libertarian is that I’m fine with a hardcore ant-grasshopper world where we, literally, let grasshoppers die in the streets. I’d do my best to work – offer value in return for value – save, struggle and survive in a libertarian society, in part because I believe in its philosophical integrity and superiority and, in part, because I believe I’d succeed. But if I didn’t, I think (you never know until tested), I’d accept dying in the street as the outcome. I also believe advanced private charities would evolve, but that’s a separate piece of the philosophical puzzle. Okay, so why the “lean?” Because libertarianism is not politically viable in any country I’m aware of. As I tell my Randian friends, that’s a beautiful philosophy you got there – but from a practical point of view, get back to me when you’re no longer <5% of the population. Politics is often defined as the art of the possible; if so, pure libertarianism is an intellectual parlor game – fun, even impressive, but not practical – not possible. But its ideas can be incorporated into the discussion and… Read more »

Demonetized
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark22

Thank you for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful comment, Mark. This is a wonderful enhancement/extension to the original note!

Victor K
1 year ago
Reply to  Demonetized

‘Ants’ produce our food and energy. Grasshoppers pontificate at best. Grasshoppers want to dis-arm the ants, both literally and via Electoral shenanigans. Long live the ants!!

Victor K
1 year ago
Reply to  Victor K

And at the risk of being ostracized, I suspect we of the ET Clear Eyes and Open Hearts are not ants but actually Racoon Grasshoppers.

Jane VanFossen
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark22

Was unable to give a “thumbs up, so let me commend: high-quality thoughts, admirably expressed.

Mark22
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane VanFossen

Thank you.

Wraith
1 year ago

Excellent note, this was great. A thought: “I don’t believe it’s possible to divorce the expansion of the Prussian welfare state, and the Prussian state more generally, from the subsequent arc of German history. Prussia is a cautionary tale.” Absolutely. And to expand a bit on how complex and interweaved history, culture and sociology can be in determining outcomes that used to happened on relatively longer time frames in at least the 18th and 19th centuries: recall that some of these ideas toward a Prussian/German ‘welfare state’ came from events and ideas formulated from Prussian history. Particularly in education. The Prussian movement toward subsidized education had its seeds in a series of military shortcomings, including the Napoleonic wars, which led to ideas about decentralized command (Auftragstaktik) in military units through (initially) officer education among other things. This education system wasn’t limited to intent to military leadership principles, but to enhancing the collective cultural symbols, stories and traditions (Kulturnation) intentionally. The education reforms came significantly prior to many of the other welfare state initiatives, but as you said, they are part of the history arc pre German hegemony and are related to what happened with other social reforms later. So why I am making this point? The idea is that especially in history, that while ideas and history arcs that promoted major shifts in social metastability in various states happened at different paces (the Prussian example versus say the Russian experience of Marxist revolution – also undivorceable however from Russian history),… Read more »

Demonetized
1 year ago
Reply to  Wraith

Thanks for taking the time out to share these comments! In particular this struck me: “I hope I am wrong that the velocity of mythology/narrative/social contract is inherently accelerating, and a certain level of velocity becomes incompatible with metastability. It seems that way right now, and while historically speaking my measurement period is very short, there are lots of examples over the last several hundred years that could generally support this idea.” I share your view of accelerating velocity. And the inevitability of this process (or not) is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Another way I’ve been thinking about all this, which I didn’t spell out in this post, is through the lens of calculus and the “option greeks” from finance. So take a given society. We can then assess its social stability or rate of change. Social stability is the first derivative (a.k.a delta in options-speak). Metastability then measures the acceleration/deceleration in social change. It’s the second derivative (a.k.a gamma in options-speak). Critically for this metaphor, gamma is convex. It changes at an increasing rate relative to moves in the price of the underlying. In my view, social systems are inherently short gamma. They’re negatively exposed to change. The more significant the change, the more rapidly change accelerates and the greater the existential risk. In finance, the solution to this problem is simply to hedge. I doubt it’s possible to gamma hedge an entire social system at the scale of a large nation state like… Read more »

Peter
1 year ago

Excellent article and discussion.

I worry unfortunately, that the “Grasshoppers” have long figured out they can force future generations to pay for the food they eat today,
since future generations don’t get to vote and millenials don’t understand it’s implications (perhaps the Fed has anesthetized us all?) .And the ants lost so many elections fighting that “scam” that they went along with their own “scam”, repetitive tax cuts, i.e. “supply side theory”

I believe the original fable was harsh to prevent long term society breakdowns, not create them.

Protect future generations, not enslave them to debt repayment.
Never seems to be much discussion about that immorality.

Demonetized
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter

Thanks Peter. I think you are right to point to debt-financed “can-kicking” as a key dynamic here. I’ve spent a lot of time (probably too much time) thinking about whether societies are inherently meta-unstable in the long run, precisely because of the seemingly irresistible temptation to engage in debt-financed can-kicking. Personally, I lean toward “yes”, and tend to view this as a cyclical process as Will and Ariel Durant describe in The Lessons of History. But it’s a moderate-confidence view, and something I still spend a lot of time thinking about.

BobK71
1 year ago

Let’s face it, ‘capitalism’ is dying from inequality and its political fruits. But is this real capitalism? Is the supposed idleness of the ‘losers’ of globalization the major cause of its sickness?

Since there is no free market in money and core financial assets, there can’t possibly be a free market in the economy. What we really have is a hidden form of socialism. For just one example, you can draw an arc from the central planning of money, through the geopolitical games played to stabilize this system, to the global monetary and financial imbalances that lost millions of US jobs to outsourcing.

There is absolutely nothing new here. The twilight-of-the-gods for the British Empire was ‘fixed’ in the mid-19th century by a monetary game called the international gold standard (i.e. by declaring silver, which was used by most of Britain’s economic competitors, non-money.) The imbalances grew again (surprising how they always seem to!) until a second ‘fix’ was implemented by World War I in the form of transferring the British bubble to a relatively debt-free America, by first crushing Germany’s hope of hegemony.

Sadly, most people argue over socialism vs. capitalism. Reality has been an imperial-bubble system over the modern centuries.

Tedd Potts
1 year ago

Politics come from morality. The fundamental question is this: what is the morality behind the forced redistribution of wealth? And should those of us who disagree with it be compelled to participate, for the supposed benefit of “society”?

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