A Note on Capitalism From the Perspective of the Tortoise and the Hare

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Disclaimer: any resemblance of the characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

Hare: So you say you’ve heard the story of the tortoise and the hare, huh kid? Well, I’ll bet you today’s portion of carrots that you haven’t heard the story of the hare and the hare. Hare to the second power, as I like to call it. And you know why? Because it sounds a whole heck of a lot more like reality, and reality sucks. And I’m sorry that I have to be the bearer of bad news, but I just say it how it is, so don’t shoot the messenger. In either case, if this is your first time hearing it, fasten your seat belt because boy are you in for a ride. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time in a land far from here, where hares could speak and pigs wore pants, there was a competition of speed and agility. For all intents and purposes, everyone viewed it as a competition based on merit: the animal with the longest stride and the fastest pace, factors purely determined by practice, would be crowned the winner. The competition hailed animals from farms across the valley and beyond the mountain range, every kind you could think of—sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, horses, and, most famously, tortoises and hares (this is usually where the original tale begins). Now, the competition wasn’t much of a competition. Historically, hares consistently captured the title. Ten years ago, it was my great grandfather, Fluffy Ears I; four years later, my grandfather Fluffy Ears II picked up the title; and three years after that, my father, Flufbal Gangsta (self-named and self-made) returned the trophy to the bloodline. And now, my turn was up. To my recollection, there were only two animals in that race who knew how to play the game—that is, euphemistically, how to cheat the system—and I was one of them: Beff Jezos.  The other was Melon Eusk (probably German). Don’t get me wrong—there was a tortoise in that race who had some sense left in him, and while he’d had a good streak in the first few laps, his engine, just like any tortoise’s, gave out (he should’ve gone electric). I think his name was Gill Bates; it’s hard to remember now, but he was a good fellow—picked up philanthropy later in life, tried to better the lives of other animals who didn’t stand a chance in that competition, worked on plumbing-free toilets and reducing carbon emissions, all-in-all a pretty accomplished guy: that’s what I call redemption. In any case, in a row of about 50 of the fastest animals at local farms, I had only one competitor. I studied everything about him—his pacing, his technique for endurance, the angle at which he rotated his back feet to achieve an effortless and efficient turn. I knew that hare inside and out—probably more than he knew himself—but nothing could have prepared me for that race. And it took me a few laps around the haystack and a timely glance at the roadside to realize that I was being set up for failure, that before I even set paw on the competition grounds, Melon Eusk had known that the title was as much as his and that his worst competitor was himself. But what he didn’t know was that the competitor of my competitor is my ally. Therefore, Melon Eusk was, all along, my greatest ally. 

Needless to say, I lost the race (in as much as a second place finisher can be called a loser) and won a town-wide sigh of disappointment. You see, news had broken not long before that Melon Eusk had hired a team of muskrats to do his bidding, menial tasks that he couldn’t dirty his paws doing. I heard from a former employee—a family friend, actually—that Melon would brainwash his muskrat henchmen with 3:00 a.m. emails and sketchy contracts that were often signed before the muskrats were even pointed to the signature line. They loved what they did out of fear. I imagine that Melon put them up to it—planting an invisible wire in the middle of the course to trip up everyone else and then paying off the referee to declare that there was “no evidence of tampering” in the race because that’s just how things are. But I always wondered if that wire had chipped away at the value of the trophy for Melon. Had the feeling of “winning” been worth the blow to his dignity?

At any rate, in the grand scheme of things, Melon Eusk was my greatest ally because he had pushed me faster and harder than anyone else had—made me crave the metallic luster of the prize and the esteem that shrouded it—but he also showed me that pushing to be faster and harder in a race like this is a lost cause when the competition chooses its winners before they even grace the starting line; and coincidentally, all of its selections were hares (and all of the other animals, incidentally named Mommon Can, were always the losers). 

Soon after my revelation, if it can even be called that, I gave up the competition; I didn’t give up on it, I just gave it up, became a convert of sorts, like a Good Samaritan. I tried to demystify the aura of the game, recently took a shot at philanthropy with my old pal Gill Bates (although, in truth, I’ve never directly referred to him by what I have surmised to be his name, since it would be dishonest to give the impression that I had even known it to begin with). I created a charity called “Amazon Smile” to help our endangered cousins across the lake in the Amazon, and I’ve come around to the idea of being “second best”; sure, it destroyed my family knowing that the winning streak had been broken—the news literally sent shockwaves through our rabbit hole (rabbit, not hare)  and it would be a while before we could rebuild the foundation and cement the walls—but things eventually returned to the way they were. So, no, there is no happy ending to this story like in the tale of the tortoise and the hare, and I won’t pretend I’m leaving you with a cryptic, meaningful message because let it be known that I am not. But let it also be known that I will continue to run, even if not in the competition, and no wire can knock me down this time around. 

That’s all folks!

Tortoise: What did we say about ominous endings and Porky Pig references, Beff?

The Takeaway

There is an inherent inequality in any human-run system because, in the words of the hare, “that’s just the way things are.” It is not the product of the actions of any single individual, but rather the work of the collective. The American democracy is rooted in a trust in the “majority” to exercise valid or moral judgement. This creates a fallible assumption that the majority is always right. And while there are certainly perks to life under a democratic government, it’s that inherent flaw that allowed slavery, nativism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and systematic racism to thrive. But if history is any indication of the trajectory of justice in our country, it is clear that we are moving upwards; and we’re doing it by re-evaluating the views of the majority—essentially, mending the majority with the views of the minority. Capitalism is similar to democracy in that way: in theory, it is a system that generates social mobility and equal opportunity for the “rags to riches” dream, but in practice, it breeds inequality. To quote a bumper sticker, “The rich get richer, the poor get welfare, and the middle class pays for it all.” While this is a gross oversimplification of things, it gets at an important point: capitalism infiltrates democracy and creates a government that supposedly works for the poor but from which the rich stand to benefit the most. The result is that the white-black wealth gap continues to live on, college students walk out with a degree and exorbitently high debt, the top one percent contribute little to government in taxes but exploit its loopholes the most, and the average American is left to pick up the scraps.

Opportunity in America should be determined solely by the willingness of an individual to capitalize upon it. That is the America my parents fought to immigrate to two decades ago, and the America that I will continue to fight for today.  

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