The Dancing Revolution

It's time for another of my delightful parables. Before you begin, get settled in because it's long. You have been warned. Honestly it shouldn't take you more then 2 minutes to read this, but I know how your attention spans are so I don't want to hear it. I am not going to tell any of you what it means, both because it should be obvious and because I am often fascianted by the interpretations you manage. My last parable wasn't as clear as I though so let's try this again.




There was a planet called Terpsichore. This was a planet where people emerged in the usual way in the community of life. For a time they lived as all others live, simply eating whatever came to hand. But after a couple of million years of living in this way, they noticed it was very easy to promote the regrowth of their favorite foods. You might say they found a few easy steps to follow that would have this result. They didn't have to take these steps in order to stay alive, but if they took them, their favorite foods were always more readily available. These were, of course, the steps of a dance.

A few steps of the dance, performed just three or four days a month, enriched their lives greatly and took almost no effort. As here on earth, the people of this planet were not a single people but many peoples, and as time went on, each people developed its own approach to the dance. Some continued to dance just a few steps three or four days a month. Other found it made more sense for them to have even more of their favorite foods, so they danced a few steps every second or third day. Still others saw no reason why they shouldn't live mostly on their favorite foods, so they danced a few steps every single day.

Things went on this way for tens of thousands of years among the people of this planet, who thought of themselves as living in the hands of the gods and leaving everything to them. For this reason, they called themselves Leavers. But one group of Leavers eventually said to themselves, "Why should we live just partially on the foods we favor? Why don't we live entirely on the foods we favor? All we have to do is devote a lot more time to dancing." So this one particular group took to dancing several hours a day.

Because they thought of themselves as taking their welfare into their own hands, we'll call them Takers. The results were spectacular. The Takers were inundated with their favorite foods. A manager class soon emerged to look after the accumulation and storage of surpluses -- something that had never been necessary when everyone was just dancing a few hours a week. The members of this manager class were far too busy to do any dancing themselves, and since their work was so critical, they soon came to be regarded as social and political leaders.

But after a few years these leaders of the Takers began to notice that food production was dropping, and they went out to see what was going wrong. What they found was that the dancers were slacking off. They weren't dancing several hours a day, they were dancing only an hour or two and sometimes not even that much. The leaders asked why.

"What's the point of all this dancing?" the dancers said. "It isn't necessary to dance seven or eight hours a day to get the food we need. There's plenty of food even if we just dance an hour a day. We're never hungry. So why shouldn't we relax and take life easy, the way we used to?" The leaders saw things very differently, of course. If the dancers went back to living the way they used to, then the leaders would soon have to do the same, and that didn't appeal to them at all.

They considered and tried many different schemes to encourage or cajole or tempt or shame or force the dancers into dancing longer hours, but nothing worked until one of them came up with the idea of locking up the food.

"What good will that do?" he was asked. "The reason the dancers aren't dancing right now is that they just have to reach out and take the food they want. If we lock it away, they won't be able to do that." But he was resisted by ideas like, "But if we lock the food away, the dancers will starve to death!"

"No, no, you don't understand," the other said with a smile. "We'll link dancing to receiving food -- so much food for so much dancing. So if the dancers dance a little, they'll get a little food, and if they dance a lot, they'll get a lot. This way, slackers will always be hungry, and dancers who dance long hours will have full stomachs."

"They'll never put up with such an arrangement," he was told. "They'll have no choice. We'll lock the food away in storehouses, and the dancers will either dance or they'll starve."

"The dancers will just break into the storehouses," he was told. "We'll recruit guards from among the dancers. We'll excuse them from dancing and have them guard the storehouses instead. We'll pay them the same way we pay the dancers, with food -- so much food for so many hours of guarding."

"It will never work," he was told. But oddly enough it did work. It worked even better than before, for now, with the food under lock and key, there were always plenty of dancers willing to dance, and many were glad to be allowed to dance ten hours, twelve hours, even fourteen hours every single day.

Putting food under lock and key had other consequences as well. For example, in the past, ordinary baskets had been enough to hold the surplus food being produced. But these proved to be too flimsy for the huge food surpluses now being produced. Potters had to take over for basket-makers, and they had to learn to make bigger pots than ever before, which meant building larger and more efficient kilns.

And because not all dancers took kindly to the idea of food being locked away, the guards had to be equiped with better weapons than before, which meant that toolmakers began looking at new materials to replace the stone weapons of the past -- copper, bronze and so on. As metals became available for use in weapons, other artisans found uses for them. Each new craft gave birth to others.

But forcing the dancers to dance for ten or twelve hours a day had an even more important consequence. Population growth is inherently a function or food availability. If you increase the food available to any population of any species, the population will grow -- provided it has space in which to grow. And of course the Takers had plenty of space into which to grow -- their neighbors' space.

They were perfectly willing to grow peacefully into their neighbors' space. They said to the Leavers around them, "Look, why don't you start dancing the way we do? Look at how far we've come dancing this way. We have things you can't even dream of having. The way you dance is terribly inefficient and unproductive. The way we dance is they way people were meant to dance. So let us move into your territory, and we'll show you how it's done."

Some of the folks around them thought this sounded like a good idea, and they embraced the Taker way. But others said, "We're doing fine the way we are. We dance a few hours a week, and that's all we care to dance. We think you're crazy to knock yourselves out dancing fifty and sixty hours a week, but that's your business. If you like it, you do it. But we're not going to do it." The Takers expanded around the holdouts and eventually isolated them.

One of these holdout people were the Singe, who were used to dancing a couple hours a day to produce the foods they favored. At first they lived as before. But then their children began to be jealous of the things Taker children had, and they started offering to dance a few hours a day for the Takers and to help guard the food storehouses. After a few generations the Singe were completely assimilated into the Taker lifestyle and forget that they had ever been the Singe. Another holdout people were the Kemke, who were used to dancing just a few hours a week and who loved the leisure this lifestyle gave them. They were resolved not to let happen to them what happened to the Singe, and they stuck to their resolve.

But soon the Takers came to them and said, "Look, we can't let you have all this land in the middle of our territory. You're not making efficient use of it. Either start dancing the way we dance or we're going to have to move you into one corner of your territory so we can put the rest to good use." But the Kemke refused to dance like the Takers, so the Takers came and moved them into one corner of their land, which they called a "reservation," meaning it was "reserved" for the Kemke. But the Kemke were used to getting most of their food by foraging, and their little reservation just wasn't big enough to sustain a foraging people.

The Takers said to them, "That's all right, we'll keep you supplied with food. All we want you to do is stay out of the way on your reservation." So the Takers began supplying them with food. Gradually the Kemke forgot how to do their own hunting and gathering, and of course the more they forgot, the more dependent they became on the Takers. They began to feel like worthless beggars, lost all sense of self-respect, and fell into alcoholism and suicidal depression. In the end, their children saw nothing on the reservation worth staying for and drifted off to start dancing ten hours a day for the Takers.

Another holdout people were the Waddi, who spent only a few hours a month dancing and were perfectly happy with that lifestyle. They'd seen what happened to the Singe and the Kemke and were determined that it wouldn't happen to them. They figured they had even more to lose than the Singe or the Kemke, who were already used to doing a lot of dancing for the sake of having their favorite foods on hand. So when the Takers invited them to become Takers, the Waddi just said no thanks, we're happy the way we are. Then, when the Takers finally came and told them they'd have to move onto a reservation, the Waddi said they didn't care to do that either. The Takers explained they weren't being offered a choice in the matter. If they didn't move onto the reservation willingly, they'd be moved by force. The Waddi replied that they would meet force with force and warned the Takers that they were prepared to fight to the death to preserve their way of life.

They said, "Look, you have all the land in this part of the world. You don't need this little part we're living in. All we ask is to be allowed to go on living the way we prefer. We won't bother you." But the Takers said, "You don't understand. The way you live is not only wasteful and inefficient, it's wrong. People weren't meant to live the way you live. People were meant to live the way we Takers live." "How can you possibly know such a thing?" the Waddi asked. "It's obvious," the Takers said. "Just look at how successful we are. If we weren't living the way people were meant to live, then we wouldn't be so successful." "To us, you don't look successful at all," the Waddi replied. "You force people to dance ten and twelve hours a day just to stay alive, and that's a terrible way to live. We dance just a few hours a month and never go hungry, because all the food in the world is right out there free for the taking. We have an easy, carefree life, and that's what success is all about." The Takers said, "That's not what success is about at all. You'll see what success is about when we send in out troops to force you onto the land we've set aside for you."

And the Waddi did indeed learn about success -- or at least what the Takers considered success -- when their soldiers arrived to drive them from their homeland. The Taker soldiers weren't more courageous or more skillful, but they outnumbered the Waddi and could bring in replacements at will, which the Waddi couldn't. The invaders also had more advanced weapons and, most important of all, unlimited supplies of food, which the Waddi certainly did not. The Taker soldiers never had to worry about food, because fresh shipments arrived daily from back home, where it was being produced continuously and prodigiously. As the war dragged on, the Waddi force became smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker, and before long the invaders wiped them out completely.

This was the pattern not only for the years ahead, but for the centuries and millennia ahead. Food production increased relentlessly and the Taker population increased endlessly, impelling them to expand into one land after another. Everywhere they went, they met peoples who danced a few hours weekly or monthly, and all these peoples were given the same choice that had been given to the Singe, the Kemke and the Waddi: Join us and let us put all your food under lock and key -- or be destroyed. In the end, however, this choice was only an illusion, because they were being destroyed whatever they did, whether they chose to be assimilated, allowed themselves to be driven onto a reservation, or tried to repel the invaders by force.

The Takers left nothing in their wake but Takers as they stormed across the world. And it finally came to pass, after about ten thousand years, that almost the entire population of Terpsichore were Takers. There were just a few remnants of Leaver peoples hidden away in deserts and jungles that the Takers either didn't want or hadn't gotten around to yet. And there was none among the Takers who doubted that the Taker way was the way people were meant to live. What could be sweeter than having your food locked away and having to dance eight, ten or twelve hours a day in order to stay alive?

In school, this was the history their children learned. People like them had been around for some three million years, but for most of that time they were unaware of the fact that dancing would encourage the regrowth of their favorite foods. This fact had been discovered only about ten thousand years ago, by the founders of their culture. Joyously locking away their food so that they couldn't get at it, the Takers immediately began dancing eight or ten hours a day. The people around them had never danced before, but they took it up enthusiastically, seeing at once this was the way people were meant to live. Except for a few scattered peoples who were too dim-witted to perceive the obvious advantages of having their food locked away, the Great Dancing Revolution swept across the world without opposition.

Uploaded 06/13/2010
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