As a child, I read a lot of books, and among them were fables and fairy tales, like “Aesop’s Fables.” The main purpose of these fables (short instructional stories), was to convey a life lesson, usually illustrated through the use of personification. During childhood, I enjoyed these stories that seemed to be creative ways of expressing the way we ought to aspire to live. At the time, I didn’t question them any more than I did the accuracy of the statements in other instructional books I’d read, like the Bible and Quran.
Recently, I decided to browse Aesop’s Fables again, and realized that we need to re-evaluate the decision to embrace these “lessons” across the board. Think about this before you start programming your children with these ideas.
Check out the story of “The Ass and the Lapdog,” and think about what message they’re reinforcing:
A MAN had an Ass, and a Maltese Lapdog, a very great beauty. The Ass was left in a stable and had plenty of oats and hay to eat, just as any other Ass would.
The Lapdog knew many tricks and was a great favorite with his master, who often fondled him and seldom went out to dine without bringing him home some tidbit to eat. The Ass, on the contrary, had much work to do in grinding the corn-mill and in carrying wood from the forest or burdens from the farm.
He often lamented his own hard fate and contrasted it with the luxury and idleness of the Lapdog, till at last one day he broke his cords and halter, and galloped into his master’s house, kicking up his heels without measure, and frisking and fawning as well as he could. He next tried to jump about his master as he had seen the Lapdog do, but he broke the table and smashed all the dishes upon it to atoms. He then attempted to lick his master, and jumped upon his back. The servants, hearing the strange hubbub and perceiving the danger of their master, quickly relieved him, and drove out the Ass to his stable with kicks and clubs and cuffs.
The Ass, as he returned to his stall beaten nearly to death, thus lamented: “I have brought it all on myself! Why could I not have been contented to labor with my companions, and not wish to be idle all the day like that useless little Lapdog!”
Do you see anything wrong with this story, or does it make perfect sense to you?
To sum it up, this story is really about someone who recognizes inequality of treatment, and resents it. In order to obtain favor from the oppressive “master,” the person tries to imitate the master’s “favorite.” In the process of trying to be someone who he isn’t, he makes the situation even worse on himself and almost loses his life in the process.
Now, here comes the BS…
The moral of the story is that when faced with inequality and oppression, and your attempts to alleviate the issue fail, you should blame yourself for not being content with the circumstance of your oppression. In other words, just be happy and thankful for what you have and never mind the fact that you are being mistreated. What?!?
The other subtlety here is that you should check yourself with this foolishness–it should be a self-checking mechanism, such that you don’t even try to buck up against the system. This foolishness sounds like the familiar arguments given when oppressed people speak out about their condition, and folks tell them to shut up and be grateful that the situation is not worse.
Also note the use of particular animals to depict the characters other than the “master” (the man) in the story. The main character being called the “ass” is a commentary itself, meant to also indicate the stupidity and dumbness of the character, as evidenced by his actions. In fact, the notion of an ass as a stupid person has it’s modern-day origins from fables like this. The envied character is a lapdog–a cute, well-trained beast that receives special treatment for entertaining and comforting the master. So, even though each of these characters really represents a human being, the only one actually depicted as a human is the master, the one in charge of the house–in charge of the system.
It is also imperative that we recognize that attempting to imitate the master’s favorite was the wrong move. If you can understand why this was the wrong move, then you will understand why it is completely ineffective for oppressed groups to attempt to assimilate into the mainstream culture with the hopes of better treatment. When people take this approach, they look just like that ass in the master’s house trying to dance like a damned lapdog–they look foolish as hell, and will destroy just about everything around them and will still suffer the repercussions of being undesirable in the master’s eyes!