In the middle of a fallow field owned by Farmer Brown there was once a large anthill, teeming with burly red ants. Highly intelligent, sophisticated creatures they were, maintaining a modern civilized society complete with centralized government and a university which taught history, science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and political science.
One gentle spring afternoon a strange ant approached a black ant. Scout ants watched, scrutinizing every move. He climbed the hill slowly, sideways, favoring an injured leg. The presidential complex was alerted, and a special contingent was sent out to meet the alien. Being intelligent, highly educated, well-bred, and peace-loving ants, they were courteous and hospitable to any newcomer. They offered him food, medical assistance, a place to stay. But the new ant refused everything. His antennae were waving excitedly, and his mandibles were clicking at an abnormally high rate. He insisted that he had no time to waste but had an urgent message for the whole hill.
“Can’t you tell us the message and let us pass it on?” he was asked.
“No!” he insisted, rearing up on his four hind legs. “I must tell all the ants at the same time, and I must tell them now!”
At this the ants called a top-level conference, and decided that under such an unusual circumstance a special assembly of the whole hill could be called. The colony, after all, had been working very hard, and the meeting could, perhaps, take on a festive air. And besides, it would give the president ant a chance to make an address he’d been planning for some time.
Assembly call was sounded; and soon red ants, pleased with the opportunity to suspend work, began swarming from every cell and passageway until they completely covered the hill, looking like a great pile of living red beads shining in the warm spring sunshine.
After the traditional protocol and preliminary introductions, the impatient black ant was finally given the summit from which to tell his story.
Opening his mandibles to speak, he told them that he too had lived in a hill very similar to this. His kinsmen too were intelligent, highly educated, well-bred, and peace-loving ants, living together in a modern civilized society complete with a centralized government and even a university which taught history, science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and political science. Yet they were all taken unaware by a terrible tragedy.
Just yesterday he and his fellow ants were going about their usual business when he had heard an ominous rumbling that had kept increasing in intensity until it had become a deafening, earth-shaking roar. He had rushed outside just in time to see a monstrous black mass rolling with high speed directly toward the hill.
There was no time to do anything but rush out of the way. He had run stumbling down the slope, looking back just in time to see the black mass crush the hill hopelessly into the ground. So great was its force that it had sent great boulders hurtling across the earth, one of them hitting him, injuring his leg.
An enormous shiny knife-like object had followed, ripping the earth into a great canyon. It had slashed into the flattened hill, tearing it open and exposing all the carefully stored eggs to the birds. The horrible monster had come again and again, gouging out row upon row of canyons, destroying the whole earth before it finally went away.
He had stayed there with the few survivors, all of them dazed with shock, until great floods had come washing down the canyons, carrying away the eggs and dead ants. Then they had decided to abandon their one-time home. But before parting they had sworn a pact to warn all other anthills.
“That’s why I’m here,” the alien ant told his audience. “And that’s why I can’t stay. This place is going to be destroyed!”
The red ants listened, but although seemingly interested, made no sign of real excitement aside from occasional mandible clicking and antenna waving. The alien ant insisted there was no time to lose. The hill must be evacuated immediately, he told them, and the eggs transported to a safe country. All ants must leave or face destruction.
In a hurried, on-the-spot meeting, the president and his advisors decided all ants should go back to work while the professors of the ant university subjected the problem to intensive study. Then another assembly would be called, at which time the professors would report their findings. Meanwhile the alien ant would be taken into custody for further questioning and to prevent him from inciting a possible riot.
At the reassembling of the ants, the president announced that a decision had been reached. Five noted ant professors were to read their reports, after which he would announce the decision.
Enter: Historian ant. Cited the many and sundry crank ants who had come and gone throughout recorded ant history, each propounding some nonsensical theory which had later proven untrue. Stated that in all the annals of ant history, no account of any such catastrophic destruction and flood had ever been substantiated by hard evidence.
Enter: Scientist ant. Demonstrated with the use of audio-visual aids that such phenomena as a “monstrous black mass” and “an enormous shiny knife-like object” could not be produced by ant science, could not even be envisioned by ant science, were outside the realm of ant science, since they clearly were of a supernatural character. Stated that in his personal opinion the phenomena were miraculous and therefore unthinkable to the scientific mind.
Enter: Psychologist ant. Explained how physical injury to an otherwise healthy ant might work to dement the mind, bringing on phobias, obsessions, delusions, and realistic hallucinations. Stated that this could explain the “vision” of the alien ant.
Enter: Sociologist ant. Pointed out the absolute necessity of maintaining societal stability, of preventing mass hysteria by use of group denial. Stated that in order to preserve the healthy well-being of an ant civilization it was imperative to disbelieve anything which might upset the status quo and create chaos.
Enter: Philosopher ant. Set forth the theory of the relativity of truth. Stated that what the alien ant believed, was truth for him, and that he could shape his own life around it. But what the red ants believed was just as much truth for them and that any change of belief was unnecessary as long as the red ants stayed within their own culture.
Enter: President ant. Extolled the virtues of the red ants. Revealed the decision to maintain the status quo. Publicly instructed the alien ant: he was to be released, but only with the stipulation that he was to leave never to return. And, were he to return, he was hereby officially notified that, upon his return, he would be immediately placed under arrest.
A salute was rendered to the future of the red ants. The ant creed was read, and the ant pledge of allegiance repeated. The assembly was dismissed, each red ant going to his own cell.
Set at liberty, the alien ant began to limp his solitary way across Farmer Brown’s pasture, engrossed in his thoughts. What had he done wrong? Why wouldn’t they listen? He didn’t even notice Farmer Brown sitting serenely atop his tractor, preparing to plow up his fallow ground, figuring how much water it would take to irrigate the field where that particularly large red ant hill was located.
Poor, foolish ants! So, why didn’t they listen? Why didn’t they realize that they must totally pull out? Why didn’t their learned scientists agree? Why was the voice of a solitary prophet neither heard nor obeyed? Why was everyone so intent on preserving their wealth, power, reputation, or comfort? Poor, foolish ants!
But are we any different? Are we really able to hear and obey the voice of the prophets at Earth Day? What are those prophetic voices saying anyway? We hear of different solutions to the big, looming disasters threatening the whole earth. We hear that programs are going to be put in place to hopefully keep the ecological balance of the whole earth from collapsing. We hear that America needs to secure its economic survival by becoming increasingly independent of Third World countries’ resources. But is there anyone speaking about our need to totally pull out of a wasteful and destructive lifestyle, unequaled the world over? Isn’t this the prophetic warning we hear (but somehow ignore) every Earth Day?
Yes, but where would someone go if they wanted to leave? Where is there a real place where we can be part of the solution, not part of the problem? Where is the place where selfishness and wastefulness can be taken out of us? “A Brand New Culture” describes just such a place.