The Parable About Tigers

Male Tiger Ranthambhore Long ago, before humans had civilization, even before last Tuesday, humans spent most of their time trying to run away from tigers and–very often–becoming tiger food. But then a few legendary heroes who could, among other things, consistently outrun tigers joined together and said to each other, “Come, we should build a wall to shelter us from tigers so we don’t have to run away from them nearly so much!” And this was a thing accomplished: they built a great tiger-proof wall and invited all of the other humans to join them in the safety of their wall. And with the other humans safely inside the wall, a city arose and civilization was born.

With the rise of civilization, people spent more time tending to their elders and their infants, and some to agriculture and others to architecture, inclusive of maintaining the tiger-proof wall, for which they praised the names of their legendary heroes, now the masters of the city. And they all remembered where they came from and continued to run as a recreation of their legendary heroes’ defining quality. And humanity flourished.

But then one day the legendary heroes joined together and said, “Come we are bored of the peons jogging about. Running for recreation is not the same as running for survival. Let us unleash tigers in the city so that we will all run like we really mean it again.” And this was a thing accomplished: the legendary heroes went out and captured a dozen tigers and turned them loose in the city. And lo, all the people really could run faster and longer when pursued by tigers. But in so doing, they neglected their elders and their infants–who were quickly devoured–and sustained neither their crops nor their tiger-proof wall.

The people ran and ran from the tigers that their great city was supposed to protect them from because the masters of the city couldn’t let go of the one behavior to which they credited their success. And the city fell to ruin and decay, and the names of the legendary heroes were lost to the ages.


Related reading: Hochschild, The Commercialization of Intimate Life.