Explaining All Political Theory Using a Short Children's Story
In June, the family would gather together at the large, Victorian building of one of the great grandmothers. Their sons and daughters, their nephews and nieces, would gather together into a tribe and claim the woods as their village. It was the family reunion of the youth, even if they didn't always know how they were related to each other. Their conversation was the opposite of what their parents were discussing: the children talked about adventures in the wild, while the adults exchanged their recent histories among themselves.
"Let's go to Strawberry Hill!" one of the young girls tells one of the boys upon his arrival to the family home. There would be many more families with many more children still coming.
The boy's eyes lit up, "Are they ripe yet?"
"I don't know," she said, "Let's find out."
Strawberry Hill had become a ritual for the children. They herded together and talked while making the hour walk up a hill to an endless field of wild strawberries. It was still too early, and the plants were just flowering, but they were excited. The adults discussed matters like who is a more honorable governor, toasting success or cursing failures with awful gestures, while the children sat out among the hill with those tiny white and yellow flowers. Soon, the other families would be among them, and there would be an army of children camped out among the wilderness, dispersing at the sound of the dinner bell like a drill sergeant's whistle.
All of the children loved strawberries. But they didn't all love the strawberries at the right stage. Some enjoyed the tartness and sourness of those early strawberries, those which dangled somewhere between light red and bright pink. Others despised the sourness, and instead, preferred the fully ripe berry -- when its sweetness had reached a peak, and its sourness had almost completely gone. There were still others who even liked it beyond this stage, when it had become overripe, when digging your tongue into the berry produced an instant jam, with a curious blend of both sweet and sour.
There were only two or three children who liked this very late stage, though, while the majority all enjoyed somewhere between the early sour and the late sweet stages. Early on, they had made an agreement to let parts of the field come to certain ripeness, before altogether tackling them. This way, every child was able to get the berry they liked, whether it was the sour ones bursting forth in the middle of June, or the sweet ones, perfectly ripened by early July. Some even had their own plots for those who liked the late, late berries that were overripe. The agreement was encouraged by the parents, who often had to hear the complaints of their children.
But after some time, the agreements broke down. One or two of the children started picking the berries when they were sweet, ignoring the patches intended for overripe berries, and soon, others did, too; and beyond that, some who liked the sour berries over the sweet ones started to raid the patches intended for the other children. Each child could see that by waiting for patches to ripen for others, they were only allowing other children to get ahead of them. The parents were naturally no help, since they had difficulty distinguishing the children from each other once they had drank enough.
One summer, the children were sitting out in the field, amidst the proliferation of green and white strawberries -- they were tiny little specks, without any juice at all, almost entirely just a clump of seeds. One of the children who had enjoyed the overripe berries, but didn't enjoy them now because of the other's selfishness, had an idea. To the bemused eyes of those watching her, she picked a green strawberry, plopped it into her mouth, closed here eyes, and slowly chewed. "Eewwwwwwwww," a chorus of the tiny voices uttered. But then she opened her eyes, and kept chewing, with a slightly calmer face: "It's not so bad."
Another one of the children who was being excluded picked one of the berries, and ate it, too. "Yeah, it's not so bad," he responded, "It's not as good as before, but it's not bad." Several children who loved the sour berries grabbed handfuls and shoved them into their mouths. They all spit them out. "Disgusting!" -- "Awful!" -- "Horrible!"
"Better than waiting until there are no berries at all," said one of the excluded children, who kept eating the green strawberries.
"Stop that right now!" another child screamed, "If you eat all of the green strawberries, then there won't be any ripe ones in a week or two. Don't they taste better?"
"They certainly do!" the girl said, "But for you, they taste better. They taste worse for me, because I never get to taste them." She swipes another handful of green strawberries, and continues munching on them. The other excluded children had started taking the same tactics.
"So, you agree that the overall outcome is greater for everyone when you wait?" one of the other children said.
"No, the overall outcome is worse for everyone, and the most important of all everyone: me," the girl replied.
"How are you more important than us?"
"And I respond, how are you more important than me? Did you wait for me? Would you listen to my clamoring for fairness?"
"But there's more of us, and we have more benefit from it than just you."
"And to me, you're another 'just you'. If you didn't believe in being selfish, you would make a better argument against my selfishness. But exactly what is it that you are trying to get, by making me passive? You're trying to widen your own grasp, so that you can take ever more from me. If all you do is self-serving, then that's a pretty good lesson to take. If you sacrificed for me, I would consider reciprocal and mutual behavior, but you never did."
"You deformed creature!" screams one child, "Look at you -- eating green strawberries! You're a deformity!"
"The one thing about me that terrifies you is the one thing about me that is the result of you -- I wouldn't want to eat green strawberries if it weren't for everyone around me who ate strawberries before I have a chance to eat some."
"Well, then what happens?" the majority asks the few who are consuming the very last of the strawberries in the field, before any of them had reached ripeness.
"If you care about your interests, you'll learn to care about mine."