Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Chinese Parable

Once there was a man who had many monkeys, whose speech he could understand. All these monkeys were very expensive to maintain, and so he knew he would have to ration food or go broke. But he also knew that monkeys are not the sort of creatures that simply accept a restriction like that, so he decided he would have to reason with them.

"So that there will be enough food to go around," he said to them, "we will have to make it so that each of you gets three chestnuts in the morning and four in the afternoon."

The monkeys, however, were very angry at this.

"Fine!" said the man. "Then I will improve the offer, and give you four in the morning and three in the afternoon!"

And the monkeys were happy.

Thus the Chinese have a proverb, "Morning, three; afternoon, four," which is used of cases where clever deceivers take advantage of silly people who do not really know their own minds. That sounds like politics. But that means the monkeys are....

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