A Fable on Capitalism: The Mouse and the Rat


The Fable

While collecting eatables in the forest a young mouse heard a cry for help. Following the cry it arrived at a creek in which a fat old rat was fallen. The creek was shallow, but because the rat was so heavy it could not raise itself up. The mouse felt compassion and saved the rat. The rat had a storehouse full of carrots and it was afraid that there would be gossip about the rat if it would not give anything to the mouse in return. So it promised the mouse that it could ask the rat for one favor. However instead of asking for carrots the mouse asked the rat to show it how it had gathered all those carrots. The rat was unpleasantly surprised, but out of its fear for gossip it consented.

The fat old rat took the mouse to an enormous field where only one particular kind of small plant was growing. A dozen of rabbits were working on the field. They were carrying heavy buckets of water with which they were watering the plants. “Why are you taking me to this giant field of green plants?”, asked the mouse. “What does it have to do with your carrots?” “Well”, answered the fat old rat, “these green plants are my carrots. They appear to be mere green plants when you look at them superficially, but under the surface of the earth the carrots are growing as roots of these plants. The rabbits here don’t realize that. They think that they are merely tending green plants.” “But why is it that they don’t come to realize this when they are working with the plants every day?”, the mouse asked. “Ah”, said the rat, “I simply divide their labors. The present shift is only watering the plants. These rabbits know nothing but watering. The next shift will remove the weeds from the field, they know nothing but weeding. The shift after that will fertilize the field, they know nothing but fertilizing. In this way none of the rabbits will be able to form a complete picture of what is going on here.” “But why would they work on this field anyway?”, the mouse asked. “It is not their field, it is yours.” “Well”, answered the rat, “they have big families which need to eat, and for the labor they are doing I give them a few carrots. Not many, but just enough to keep them from starving. If I would give them too many carrots they would permit themselves some free time. Then perhaps they would spend time thinking about what is going on here. So I find it important to keep them laboring as much as possible for the minimum amount of carrots.”

“So when the carrots are harvested”, asked the mouse, “how do they arrive at your storehouse?” “I will show you” said the rat. It showed the mouse a big cart loaded full with carrots. The cart was harnessed by an ass. “This stupid ass will bring the carrots to my storehouse” the fat old rat chuckled. “Why would it pull such a heavy cart?” the mouse asked. “Do you also give it a few carrots?” The fat old rat chuckled again and said; “no, this is even better. Watch this!” The rat took a long stick and tied a thin rope at the end of it. At the other end of the rope it tied a single carrot. The rat took place on the cart and when it hung the carrot in front of the ass’s nose it immediately started to move, pulling the cart to which it was yoked. The fat old rat laughed. “This stupid ass thinks it can get a carrot, and thinking thus it pulls this whole load of carrots to my storehouse.”

After arriving at the storehouse the rat and the mouse went back to the spot at the creek where the mouse had saved the rat. “Well”, said the rat, “this is the spot where you saved me. It was appropriate to give you something in return and I promised you that you could ask me for one favor. You asked me to show you how I gathered a storehouse full of carrots. This I did. So do you now know what you need to do?” “I surely do”, answered the mouse, and giving the fat old rat a big push it fell back into the creek.

An Interpretation

The fable is constructed with an opening, two major events and a closing. Let us follow these chronologically in this interpretation.

The opening starts with the introduction of a young mouse. The mouse is actually a person. That the mouse is young means that the person is young. But the person is not necessarily young in age. He is young in mind. Young in mind means that the mind is not yet crystallized in fixed concepts. A young mind is pliable and flexible enough to be reshaped if necessary. A young mind is a sound mind. So the young mouse is in actuality a person who is young in mind.

Now the mouse is situated in the forest. The forest is his environment. Forests are full of elements. There are trees and bushes with their blossoms and their fruits, of which some are eatable but others are poisonous. And there are animals, of which some are friendly and cuddly but others are dangerous and aggressive. All in all the forest is a place that harbors elements that enable one to live and dwell in it, but it is also a place which harbors elements that are full of danger. In this sense the forest is also a jungle. Now another place which may be called a jungle regards our present day capitalistic society. Like the forest does contemporary society offer elements that make it possible for us to live in it. However just like the forest is it also full of dangers. So the young mouse in the forest is a person, young in mind, who is placed in present day capitalistic society.

In this forest the mouse is gathering eatables. And with gathering the eatables the mouse is obviously trying to avoid the dangers. However when it hears a cry for help it drops its activity of gathering eatables and it deliberately turns and moves towards the danger, following the cry of help. This is also the case with a person who is of sound mind. In society he searches naturally for the elements that help him survive, trying to avoid all dangers. However when a cry for help is heard the person of sound mind drops his focus of self-interest and follows the cry for help towards the dangers of society. And when confronted directly with the suffering of the endangered fellow-being a compassion arises. The compassion motivates him to even step himself into the danger that terrorizes his fellow-being and give the help he can give. This is what the mouse does. It steps into the wild creek in which its fellow-being has fallen and helps it upright.

The mouse’s fellow-being in question is a rat. Now ‘rat’ is also a name that is used for a very immoral person. An exorbitant liar and cheater for instance is not rarely called ‘dirty rat’. However the rat of this fable is not just any rat. It is a fat old rat. That the rat is old denotes that the lying and cheating person whom the rat in actuality is regards a person who is not young in mind. His mind is already crystallized in fixed and unpliable concepts. The rat is also fat. This means that the person in question is very wealthy. His wallet is as fat as the rat’s belly. This fatness of the rat’s belly is of course rooted in its storehouse full of carrots. The fatness of the wallet is similarly rooted in a big bank account. The storehouse full of carrots is a very well figured bank account.

Now the rat has fallen into a shallow creek and its fatness withholds it from getting up by itself. Streaming water cleans and purifies whatever is placed in its stream. In society it is the ethical current that cleans and purifies whatever is placed in its stream. As the creek runs through the forest without truly belonging to the forest, so does the ethical current stream through society without truly belonging to society. It cleans off the dirt that sticks to those who need to move about in the jungle of society, and it refreshes them when they are thirsting for a true quenching. And in this stream the rat has fallen. It is placed in the stream of ethics. Its fatness however withholds it from getting up and it is bound to drown in the stream. Similarly does a too fat wallet prevent one from keeping a stand in an ethical stream. For a too fat wallet can ethically not be justified.

That the mouse saves the rat is full of meaning. The mouse does not look at the rat’s fatness. It does not think: “the rat is fat, let it drown.” The only thing that the mouse has in sight is the suffering of a fellow being. It is compassion that motivates it to spring into action. Similarly will a person of sound mind only be led by compassion for a fellow being in suffering. Such a person will not distinguish between the particulars of the fellow being in question. The fellow being may be rich, poor, fat, slender, or of any particular kind. But when suffering is seen a person of sound mind will spring into action. And thus does also the mouse. It steps into the creek to help the rat. In contrary to the fat rat does the mouse however not have problems entering the stream. This goes also for a person of sound mind who enters an ethical stream. Persons of unsound mind get into trouble when an ethical streams grips them. For persons of unsound mind are unethical persons. A person sound of mind, being an ethical person, does not have such problems obviously.

After being saved by the mouse the rat promised that it could ask for one favor. This it did not out of gratitude but because it was afraid that there would be gossip. It did not have a spontaneous inclination to share any of its carrots, even though it had a storehouse full of them. Gratitude shall also not be found with unethical persons. Their possessions may be beyond imagination but nothing will arouse a spontaneous sharing of their wealth. The only thing which they care about is their own wellbeing. Wealth, status and power is their prime concern. Only this may move them. This is also the case with the fat old rat. It fears loss of status if there would be gossip when it does not give anything in return after being saved. Thus it consents in granting the mouse one favor. It measured in its mind that the loss of a couple of carrots would be less loss of power than the loss of power which would take place if it would lose its status in bad gossip. So the granting of the rat was a measured one focused on itself, and not a spontaneous one focused on the mouse.

The mouse however does not ask for carrots. It asks the rat to show how it had gathered all those carrots. This makes clear that a person of sound mind is not primary interested in gaining mere possessions. A sound mind does not follow the stimuli for direct enjoyment. It does not satisfy itself with the superficiality of appearances, but it is drawn to discover the realities that may lie behind the appearances. This is the mouse’s primary interest. It is drawn to discover what lies behind the appearance of the storehouse full of carrots.

The rat is unpleasantly surprised by this question. If the mouse would find out how the rat gained so many carrots it might become equally successful. The rat actually doesn’t want this because it might lose its monopoly. It wants to keep itself big and it can only succeed in doing so by keeping all others small in comparison. This is also in the mind of an unethical person. He will also want to keep himself big by keeping all others around him small. It is only out of fear for gossip that the rat consents. Gossip might break the silent status quo in which the rat has a powerful position. Gossip might stir up what the rat keeps hidden under the surface of appearance. Thus the rat finds it less risky to consent to the mouse’s question than to risk an upsurge of gossip. Similarly will an unethical person who is positioned in a powerful status quo do anything to keep up the outer appearance by avoiding risks that may lead to a stirring up of what lies hidden behind the appearances.

First Major Event
In this first major event the fat old rat takes the young mouse to a giant field. On this field green plants are growing. Rabbits are tending these plants. In this tending the rabbits have different tasks and different shifts. One shift is watering the plants, another shift plucks the weeds and still another shift is fertilizing the field. The field is in reality the field of factories in present day capitalistic society, and the green plants that are grown on the field are the products that are made in the factories. The rabbits are the workers who produce the products. These products are produced by means of division of labor. Factory workers do not individually make full products from scratch to completion. They all work just on one specific detail of the full product. In this way factory workers are prevented from relating to the products as a whole. They only know their specific action.

Now these green plants appear to be nothing more than green plants when they are looked upon only superficially. However when a rabbit would dig under the surface of the earth then it would discover that the green plants are actually only the visible sprouts of the much more valuable carrots that are growing underneath. Similarly do products appear to be mere products when looked upon superficially. In reality however, underneath the surface of appearances, products are value and power. Products are merely the visible sprouts of the invisible value and power from which they actually sprout. Workers in the factory may think they are manufacturing products (to which they do not even relate as a whole), but in reality they are producing packages of value and power. The workers however do not tap the value and power underneath the surface of the manufactured products. Because of their divided labor and their inability to relate to the products they can’t get a glimpse of what products are beneath the surface of their appearance.

So where would any worker find the motivation to produce mere appearances? The fat old rat answers in the fable. The rabbits, who are in reality factory workers, have big families which they need to feed. In return for their labor on the field the rat gives them a few carrots. Similarly does the rich capitalist give the workers some packages of value and power, calling it ‘pay’. The pay is for a worker just enough to keep his family and himself from starving. So if the worker wants his family and himself to stay alive, then he cannot work any less. And just as the rabbit’s continuous labor keeps the rabbits from thinking over their situation, so does the worker’s continuous labor withhold him from thinking over his situation. Laborers produce products for a small pay without realizing that the pay which they are receiving is actually a tiny part of what is produced under the surface of the products. The fat old rat in the fable and the rich capitalist in our present day society are both profited by a laborer who has no time to think over his situation and who has thus no time to discover what lies beneath the apparent products of his labor.

Second Major Event
At the introduction of the second major event the mouse asks the rat how the harvested carrots arrive at the rat’s storehouse. As an answer the rat showed the mouse a big cart loaded full with carrots, harnessed by an ass. That the fat old rat calls the ass ‘stupid’ shows how unethical rich persons often look down upon others with contempt. Now this second major event tells a story by itself. The carrots on the cart are being brought to the rat’s storehouse. This is after some of the carrots have been given to the rabbits in return for their labor. Similarly are the value and power that lie behind products transferred to the rich capitalist’s bank account, after a small pay for the laborers is deducted.

So what is the role of the ass in this fable? The ass is yoked to the car full of carrots, and it brings the carrots to the rat’s storehouse without receiving any carrot for it. It is purely motivated because the rat holds a carrot on a string in front of the nose of the ass. The ass wants to grab the carrot, and without being aware of it, it brings the cart full of carrots to the rat’s storehouse. Now the ass of this fable is the capitalist who has not made it to the top. The carrot is the money by which he is tempted. The ass believes that it too can get carrots, and the poor capitalist thinks that he too can become rich. Thus does the poor capitalist follow the same ideal as the rich capitalist. But in following this ideal he does not get rich himself. He actually only maintains the system that keeps his idol rich. Many people’s greed for the richness that is attainable for a few in the capitalistic system maintains this system. Those propagating capitalism without standing at the top themselves are like asses who by following their greed maintain the wealth of a few rich persons.

At the closing the rat and the mouse return to the spot at the creek where the mouse saved the rat. The rat tells the mouse that it has fulfilled its promise by showing the mouse how it got a storehouse full of carrots, and it asks the mouse if it now knows what it needs to do. The mouse acknowledges. It watched and listened attentively and has learned about the reality behind the appearances. It now knows how the rat could gather a storehouse full of carrots. Similarly will those who watch and listen attentively surely discover how the rich could become rich. Only because there are many working for a few can value and power be hoarded up at a rich man’s bank account. And this system is maintained by those who stretch themselves pointlessly towards becoming rich themselves, propagating capitalism.

The mouse has seen and heard it all, and it knows with certitude what to do. It does not follow the fat old rat’s ways, but it gives the rat a big push by which it falls back into the creek. That the mouse pushes the rat into the creek shows that an ethical person who has seen the ways of the capitalist will not follow these ways. When possible he will instead bring the rich capitalist in an ethical stream. It is there that capitalism cannot raise and maintain itself. In an ethical stream pure capitalism must die, as it should.