THE ANT AND THE GRASSHOPPER #4: MUST WE WORK LIKE THE ANT?

By Merrill Ring

Compare how the conservative thinks of the situation of the Ant in Aesop’s fable with what a progressive, a modern liberal, would say. 

To the conservative, Ant is a hero for grindingly going on, day after day, with her/his labor.  Work, conceived of as misery, is part of the very constitution of the universe and so it is something about which nothing can be done.

To the progressive such obnoxious styles of work as that of the assembly line, the sweatshop, the slave, the salary-man, child-labor and so on – the models for the conservative picture of work - are, in their various ways, capable of improvement, even elimination.  It is assumed that we, both the progressive and the downtrodden workers, must rise up against that kind of labor, must join together to make their work and their lives better. 

The conservative prefers hero-worship – the Heroic Ant - to joining together to eliminate or change obnoxious types of labor.   (The Ant of course has no fellows to band together with – and not even an employer to rise up against.) Again, while it is not part of conservative practice to actually praise workers who have lives like that of the Ant, they ought to be doing that as a consequence of their outlook.  The failure to love those who labor shows that it is the literary expression of the view that they love, not actual people who earn their daily bread in such ways.

The number of ways in which working life has improved for human analogs of the Ant is too vast to catalog here (even if I could.)  Let me insert something here from my fellow board member, Charles Bayer.

Whether you are a fan of unions or you are not, all of us are far better off today because of the hard-fought victories they have won.  Do you covet your right to work-free weekends? Then you must give organized labor the credit.  American business did not agree to a forty-hour week out of a generous spirit. This right was the product of hard-fought organized power.

The lives of Americans (and Europeans and no doubt others too) are much better today because we progressives have supported and worked for changes in the nature of work.  We have achieved changes that the conservative conception of the place of work in the world assumes to be not possible.