Last night over pasta, an old friend of mine, high up in the corporate world, told me the story of the scorpion and the frog in relation to a situation he was facing. The scorpion came to a river and wanted to cross to the other side. There was a frog nearby and he asked the frog to carry him over the water. The frog said ‘If I do that, you will sting me and kill me‘. The scorpion said: ‘Why would I do that. If I sting you, I will drown‘. So the frog let the scorpion sit on his back and started to carry him over the river. Half way across the scorpion stung the frog and they both started to drown. The frog said: ‘Why did you do that to kill us both?‘ And the scorpion replied ‘It is my nature to sting’. And so they drowned.
This story so resonated with me as its structure is rampant in so many different situations in politics today. Here are a few from across the political spectrum:
- Unions are pushing for terms that will make their businesses uncompetitive, rather than working with management to achieve the productivity that would justify the terms
- Large corporations are off-shoring manufacturing to other countries from the US and Europe, not noticing they are destroying the societies on which they and their children depend for defense security, income and environment to live in
- Low income families who lack health insurance and are about to get it under the health reform plan, are going to vote Republican on ideological or values grounds in 2012. This will almost certainly cause cuts to their social security, Medicare, Medicaid which will be used to continue tax cuts to those earning over $250,000
- I cannot quite make out who is scorpion and who is frog in the current conflict between President Obama and the Republican House of Representatives, but it feels in that territory
- China is supporting the rogue actions of Iran and North Korea which are scorpions if ever I saw them, not noticing how much its interests are now invested in global stability not de-stabilizing mavericks
- Oil companies are funding political spin to deny climate change and peak oil for short term gain, as if they live on another planet, which is not environmentally challenged. And of course they are putting us in the hands of middle east instability: quite a double sting really
- Free marketeers and banks are resisting financial regulation of Wall Street to reduce its tendency to self destruct though without such regulation the free market is massively in jeopardy as we have recently seen.
- I suppose my favorite example is from Thomas Frank in ‘What’s the Matter with Kansas’. He tells how farm prices were well supported in the early 90s by limits on how much farmers could grow. Individually, they resented the government telling them how much to grow and didn’t seem to see that was why prices were ok. So they lobbied the Republicans to end this limit, who promptly passed a bill. President Clinton met with farmer’s representatives and said: ‘This will kill small farms. They don’t vote for me anyway but I don’t want to hurt them’. The representatives said: ‘sign the bill‘ so he did and prices collapsed as everyone grew more, large numbers of small farms went bust, and agribusiness cleaned up with much lower grain prices. They had been the real hidden underlying support for the measure. Of course, the farmers probably blamed the government as their scorpion, when they did themselves in.
- I guess the most consequential for America’s future piece of scorpion behavior was by the Supreme Court in January 2010, when it ruled that limitations of corporate financing of politicians was unconstitutional. Any hope of making US politics less corrupt as John McCain among others had tried to legislate for, disappeared in a flash and with any hope of regaining American economic and political viability.
- I could go on. Think in your own life, how many behaviors of spouses, bosses, and others resemble the scorpion and the frog. How many divorces do you know that ended up in such mutually destructive behavior?
- This is probably a bit of scorpion and a bit of frog in all of us, so I don’t post this with self-righteousness or condescension to those of differing viewpoints