DIRT: A fable for the new millenium

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There was an anthill and it was home for different kinds of ants that all lived and worked together happily. They had worker ants who did all the physical labour. They had thinker ants who came up with all kinds of ideas. They had manager ants who ran everything and they all had one Queen who was in charge of everyone.
Life was happy in the anthill. Everyone could eat as much moss and fungus as they wanted. On special occasions you could even have some honey to eat – that was the best of all! They lived and worked and played together; roaming all around the anthill exploring different parts of their home.

At the bottom of the anthill they grew all the moss and fungus in the cool, dark rooms they made especially for it. Everybody lived around the middle of the anthill where they could look outside their home and see into the distance. At the top of the anthill was where the queen and the managers lived. They had the best views and the best homes. They said they needed to be able to see further so they could help everyone in the anthill live happily. Everyone thought that was fine, because everything was so good and so happy in their world.

Some of the thinker ants spent all their time looking into the distance. They said they could see other anthills a very long way away. They also said they were too far away to visit easily and they didn’t know if there were other ants living in them already. One thing they did know, that everyone knew, is that there was a beehive somewhere out there, because the bees would come to visit quite often. They would bring honey with them and take away the dirt the ants brought up from the bottom of the anthill. The bees needed that dirt to make their hive bigger and better. The ants were so much better than the bees at digging it up and they didn’t use dirt for anything.

All ants were given a small amount of honey every year to eat on their birthday. Some of the ants decided to only eat a little and keep the rest for another time. Sometimes they would give it as a present to their friends and sometimes they would just eat it when they were feeling sad. They also gave a little bit to shopkeeper ants or worker ants; who gave them something in return. This was how you could build a new home, or get yourself a new bicycle to get around or even get more food than you needed so you could have a party with all your friends!

Sometimes an ant wouldn’t have enough honey to exchange for what they wanted, so what they did instead was promise to give the rest of it later. Since all the ants knew that everyone would always have more honey every year, this was a better way to do it. Then you could save up all your honey and put it together with all the honey your family had. You could even keep it safely in special rooms at the top of the anthill that the manager ants looked after. This meant you could keep it safe until you needed to use it to get something.

Years went by in the anthill and the thinker ants kept inventing amazing new machines and toys for everyone. And the manager ants would organise to have enough built for everybody. And the worker ants would build the machines and toys for everyone. And the manager ants would give the toys to the shopkeeper ants and the shopkeeper ants would promise to give them honey when they had enough. And the shopkeeper ants would give them to all the ants and all the ants would promise to give the shopkeeper ants honey when they had enough. Everyone was happy in the anthill and would greet each other in the morning with big smiles on their faces. They would say happily “Friend!” when they saw anyone, because that was how they said hello in the anthill. Even if they didn’t know an ant, they would still say “Friend!” when they saw each other during the day.

Then one day, the manager ants wanted to have a huge party to celebrate how great everything was in the anthill and so they went to the shopkeeper ants and asked for all the honey that they had promised to give them for all the machines and toys. And the shopkeeper ants all said they didn’t have nearly that much, but they would ask all the ants who had promised to give them honey when they had it. So the shopkeeper ants went to all the worker ants and asked for all the honey they had promised to give in return for the machines and toys. All the worker ants said they didn’t have enough, but would go and ask all the other ants for the honey they had been promised for the work they had done.

So the worker ants gave all the honey they had to the shopkeeper ants and the shopkeeper ants gave all the honey they had to the manager ants and the manager ants had the biggest party for themselves that anyone could remember.

A few days later one of the worker ants went to the shopkeeper ant and asked for the newest machine the thinker ants had invented. So the shopkeeper ant asked for some honey. The worker ant didn’t have any, so he promised to give the shopkeeper ant some later. The shopkeeper ant knew he didn’t have any at all and said, you cant have the machine until you get more honey. And the worker ant got angry and said he promised to give it later. But the shopkeeper ant said he could come back later when he had the honey.

So the worker ant went to find some honey, but nobody had any at all. All of it had been eaten by the manager ants at their huge party. So a group of worker ants went back to the shopkeeper ants and said,
“Nobody has any honey anymore! The manager ants have all of it now! How can we have our machines and toys and extra moss and fungus when we have our friends over for a party?”
So the shopkeeper ants said,
“Let’s go to the manager ants and ask what to do, they will know”
So they all went to the manager ants and said,
““Nobody has any honey anymore! You have all of it now! How can we have our machines and toys and extra moss and fungus when we have our friends over for a party?”
But the manager ants didn’t know what to do, because they had eaten all the honey. So they asked the thinker ants what they should do. And the thinker ants thought for some time and then one of them said,
“We’ve run out of honey because the bees only bring enough each year to give you special food on your birthday. So we just need to stop promising to give each other honey. We can promise to give each other fungus instead!”

Everyone thought that was a wonderful idea, because fungus were the next best thing to eat in the anthill. There were so many fungus growing in the bottom part of the anthill that they could never run out so easily. So everyone went away feeling happy and when they wanted to get something from the shopkeeper or the worker ants, they just promised to give them enough fungus later.

So many years went by in the happy anthill. The thinkers kept inventing even more new and amazing machines and toys to make life better in the anthill. When they started to run out of fungus, they just made bigger rooms in the anthill to grow more. And over time they grew more and more and made more and more growing rooms. Everyone was happy, but there were so many new ants that each year they were given less and less honey. They didn’t mind it so much, because it made you like it more when you did have it.

Then one day the manager ants decided they wanted to have the biggest party for themselves that had ever been. So they went to the shopkeeper ants and asked for all the fungus they had been promised. And the shopkeepers went to the worker ants and asked for all the fungus they had been promised. And the worker ants went to all the other ants and asked for all the fungus they had been promised. And the manager ants had all the fungus in the anthill at the biggest party that had ever been seen!

But at the party, they couldn’t eat all the fungus. They played games with it instead, they threw it at each other, they even threw it in the rubbish. And they kept playing until all the fungus were gone.

A few days later one of the worker ants went to the shopkeeper ant and asked for the newest machine the thinker ants had invented. So the shopkeeper ant asked for some fungus. The worker ant didn’t have any, so he promised to give the shopkeeper ant some later. The shopkeeper ant knew he didn’t have any at all and said, you cant have the machine until you get more fungus. And the worker ant got angry and said he promised to give it later. But the shopkeeper ant said he could come back later when he had some fungus.

So the worker ant went to find some fungus, but nobody had any at all. All of it had been eaten and played with and thrown away by the manager ants at their huge party. So a group of worker ants went back to the shopkeeper ants and said,
“Nobody has any fungus anymore! The manager ants have all of it now! How can we have our machines and toys and extra moss when we have our friends over for a party?”
So the shopkeeper ants said,
“Let’s go to the manager ants and ask what to do, they will know”
So they all went to the manager ants and said,
“Nobody has any fungus anymore! You have eaten all of it now! How can we have our machines and toys and extra moss when we have our friends over for a party?”
But the manager ants didn’t know what to do, but they thought they would just grow more fungus and everyone would have some soon. But they asked the thinker ants what they should do. And the thinker ants thought for some time and then one of them said,
“We’ve run out of fungus because we can only make just enough each year to feed ourselves. So we just need to stop promising to give each other fungus. We can promise to give each other moss instead!”
Everyone thought that was a wonderful idea, because moss was the next best thing to eat in the anthill after fungus and honey. There was so much moss growing in the bottom part of the anthill that they could never run out so easily. And now the fungus would be safe, because they could just eat them and not promise them. So everyone went away feeling happy and when they wanted to get something from the shopkeeper or the worker ants, they just promised to give them enough moss later.

And years went by in the anthill and they grew and grew inside their home. They made more and more homes for more and more ants and life went on. There were so many ants now that only the manager ants were allowed to have honey anymore, because the bees couldn’t bring enough for everyone. The bees only brought enough honey to get the dirt they needed for that year. There weren’t so many extra bees each year needing extra homes, so they didn’t need as much. But there were so many ants that everyone had less and less fungus each year, because they couldn’t grow enough for everyone. But whenever they ran out of moss, they would make more and more rooms to grow it and make the rooms bigger and bigger. Soon there were huge moss growing caverns underneath the anthill to make enough for everyone to promise it to each other.

Most ants were happy in the anthill, but there were some ants who wondered why only the manager ants could have honey. It used to be for everyone. But then all the ants would explain they the managers needed to live at the top of the anthill to see further to look after everyone and they needed the honey to make sure they could think enough about looking after everyone. Most of the ants didn’t think much about this, but when they saw each other in the street they wouldn’t say anything. They were too busy trying to find enough moss for their family to live well. A lot of ants also decided to promise to give more moss than they would get in a whole year, because they knew their whole family could eventually get enough. One day they would be able to return enough moss for all the machines and toys and homes they needed.

Then one day the manager ants decided they wanted to celebrate how amazing life was in the anthill with more than enough honey for themselves and more fungus than they could manage to eat. So they started organizing the biggest party for themselves that had ever been held by anywhere. So they went to the shopkeeper ants and asked for all the moss they had been promised. And the shopkeepers went to the worker ants and asked for all the moss they had been promised. And the worker ants went to all the other ants and asked for all the moss they had been promised.
But there wasn’t enough moss in the whole anthill for all the ants to give enough back. So they gave all that they had and promised to give the rest later when they had it. They weren’t sure what they would eat until then, but they were sure the manager ands and thinker ants would help them. So the manager ants had all the moss in the anthill at the biggest party that had ever been seen!

But at the party, they couldn’t eat all the moss and the fungus and the honey. They played games with it instead, they threw it at each other, they even threw it in the rubbish. And they kept playing until everything was gone.

A few days later one of the worker ants went to the shopkeeper ant and asked for the newest machine the thinker ants had invented. So the shopkeeper ant asked for some moss. The worker ant didn’t have any, so he promised to give the shopkeeper ant some later. The shopkeeper ant knew he didn’t have any at all and said, you cant have the machine until you get more moss. And the worker ant got angry and said he promised to give it later. But the shopkeeper ant said he could come back later when he had some moss.

So the worker ant went to find some moss, but nobody had any at all. All of it had been eaten and played with and thrown away by the manager ants at their huge party. So a group of worker ants went back to the shopkeeper ants and said,
“Nobody has any moss anymore! The manager ants have all of it now! How can we get our machines and toys and feed our families?”
So the shopkeeper ants said,
“Let’s go to the manager ants and ask what to do, they will know”
So they all went to the manager ants and said,
“Nobody has any moss anymore! You have eaten all of it now! How can we get our machines and toys and feed our families?”

But the manager ants didn’t know what to do, but they thought the workers should just grow more moss and everyone would have some soon. They asked why the ants always came to them with their problems and they thought they should just work it out themselves. Then a thinker ant that nobody had ever heard of said,
“We’ve run out of moss because we can barely make enough each year to feed ourselves. So we just need to stop promising to give each other moss. We should use the most plentiful thing there is, dirt! We can promise to give each other dirt instead!”

Everyone thought that was a wonderful idea, because there was so much dirt in the anthill that they could never run out! And now the fungus and the moss would be safe, because they could just eat them and not promise them. So everyone went away feeling happy and when they wanted to get something from the shopkeeper or the worker ants, they just promised to give them enough dirt later. The manager ants also decided to store all the honey and fungus and moss and dirt in the upper part of the anthill – to keep it safe. So the shopkeeper ants could give them dirt and have food and toys. Then all the other ants would give the shopkeeper ants dirt for their food and toys.

Only a few years went by as the number of ants in the anthill got bigger and bigger and they built more and more homes. And when they needed more dirt, they just made bigger rooms and bigger caverns. But the ants weren’t happy anymore. There was never enough fungus for everyone and many people never got any. They spent all their time working longer and longer just to get enough moss to feed the family. But they couldn’t grow enough moss to feed everyone well, so everyone had less and less each year.

There were more and more ants who asked why only the managers had honey. And they would ask why the managers had so much fungus and moss to eat they often played with it and threw it at each other and threw it in the bin. And they would ask why it couldn’t be shared and why the managers weren’t looking after all the ants anymore.
But the managers would tell them that they had to work harder to help everyone. The managers would say that they had plenty, but food would leak down from their rubbish after they had thrown it away. So the ants should be grateful for being allowed to have the food the manager ants threw away.

Then one day the manager ants decided they wanted to celebrate how amazing life was for them in the anthill with enough honey for all of them and more fungus and moss than they could manage to eat. So they started organizing the biggest, best and most amazing party for themselves that had ever been. So they went to the shopkeeper ants and asked for all the dirt they had been promised, so they could exchange it for all the moss and fungus they needed. And the shopkeepers went to the worker ants and asked for all the dirt they had been promised. And the worker ants went to all the other ants and asked for all the dirt they had been promised. Then the manager ants decided that since they already had all the moss and fungus and honey in the safe rooms at the top of the anthill, they didn’t really need to use dirt to exchange for it. So they stored all the dirt packed down carefully in the safe rooms and the manager ants had all the spare dirt in the anthill at the biggest party that had ever been seen!

A few days later one of the worker ants went to the shopkeeper ant and asked for the newest machine the thinker ants had invented. So the shopkeeper ant asked for some dirt. The worker ant didn’t have any, so he promised to give the shopkeeper ant some later. The shopkeeper ant knew he didn’t have any at all and said, you cant have the machine until you get more dirt. And the worker ant got angry and said he promised to give it later. But the shopkeeper ant said he could come back later when he had some dirt.

So the worker ant went to find some dirt, but nobody had any at all. It was still being dug up from the bottom of the anthill or sitting in the safe rooms at the top of the anthill where the managers had moved all the spare dirt to keep it safe. So a group of worker ants went back to the shopkeeper ants and said,
“Nobody has any dirt anymore! The manager ants have all of it now! How can we feed our families?”
So the shopkeeper ants said,
“Let’s go to the manager ants and ask what to do, they will know”
So they all went to the manager ants and said,
“Nobody has any dirt anymore! You have taken almost all of it now! How can we feed our families?”
Then they told the ants that there wasn’t enough dirt for all the ants anymore, so the ants would have to work harder to get enough dirt to exchange for enough moss to eat. Most ants hadn’t eaten fungus for years, and each year there was less and less moss for everyone. Some ants couldn’t eat for days at a time.

“But why do you have so much honey and fungus and moss and we cant even have enough to eat?”
“You must be lazy, you should work harder and become a manager ant like us, then you will have enough”
“But we only have dirt now and almost all of that is gone. We cant eat dirt!”
But the managers didn’t have any ideas. And the thinkers said the managers were right, that everyone should work harder and receive less. That was the only way.

Now almost none of the ants were happy in the anthill. The manager ants were very happy. Some of the thinker ants who worked for the manager ants were also happy because they could get honey and fungus and moss whenever they wanted to. Everyone else spent their days working longer and longer for less and less. When they passed each other in the street they would look at each other angrily and yell “Thief!”, because every ant thought every other ant would take their dirt.

That year when the bees came to deliver their honey, the ants had no dirt to give in return. So the bees asked,
“But you have so much dirt! How can you have used all of it?”
And the ants replied,
“There will always be more dirt for us ants, but no more for you bees.”
“So you don’t want honey anymore?”
“We haven’t had any honey for a long time, so we don’t care. Only the manager ants have honey, talk to them.”
So the bees went to talk to the manager ants and asked,
“How can you have no dirt left? What can you give us for our honey?”
And the manager ants said,
“We have plenty of dirt, but it’s only for us ants now, not for you bees.”
The managers wanted to keep their piles of dirt to be able to give to the other ants so they would keep working hard for them.
“So do you have something else to give us for our honey?”
“We will promise you that we will give you some dirt next year, if you give us the honey now.”
The bees looked very confused, they had never heard something so silly in their whole lives.
“We cant do that! In the beehive we always exchange when we have enough to get what we want. If you keep promising then soon you will have promised away more dirt than there is in the whole anthill!”
But the managers knew the bees must be very stupid. Everyone knew there would always be plenty of dirt in the anthill.
“Well, we don’t need your honey, you should take it away!”

So the bees were very sad, but they took the honey to the other ants and gave it to them as a present.
“You must have a hard life if there isn’t enough dirt in the anthill to give it to us for honey. But we always make enough honey for ourselves, so we don’t need this.”
And the bees flew back to their beehive and told all the bees what had happened. And the bees said,
“Those poor ants have promised too much, if they don’t do something new, the whole anthill will collapse.”
The bees also decided they needed to get their own dirt from now on and started learning how to do it as well as the ants always had.

The ants were very happy for a while as they ate the honey and remembered how good it was. But soon they forgot the bees as they were too busy working to find enough dirt to exchange for moss to feed their families.

Then one day, one of the thinker ants went to travel around the anthill. He saw so many unhappy ants and wondered what was wrong. He went to visit the growing rooms only to discover they had become one enormous cavern underneath the entire anthill. In the middle of the cavern was one pillar of dirt holding up the roof. And there were hundreds of ants working furiously to take the dirt away and carry it to the top of the anthill to keep it safely. The thinker ant saw this and realised the whole anthill would collapse if they kept taking the dirt away from the pillar.
He tried to tell the worker ants to stop. He tried to warn them that if they didn’t stop the whole anthill would collapse and nothing would be left. But the worker ants wouldn’t listen, they said,
“We need to get this dirt to the top of the anthill or we wont have enough moss for our families. Go away and ask the managers what to do.”

So the thinker ant went to the managers and told them about the pillar and how it would collapse the whole anthill if they kept taking the dirt away. But the manager ants wouldn’t listen. They said,
“It’s never been a problem ever before, we’ve always found another way to keep digging for more dirt and growing more food. So there is no problem now. Go away and get back to work.”
But the thinker ant asked them to come and see the problem for themselves. Manager ants never went to the growing caverns because that was work for the ants from lower down the anthill. So they refused to go and see the pillar. Then another thinker ant said,
“The managers are right, it’s never been a problem before. This is just a natural process and everything will be fine. We’ve always made bigger growing rooms and built more houses and dug out more dirt when we need it. So go away. There is nothing to worry about.”

And at that very moment the ground started to shake. And the walls started to shake and the manager ants started to scream at the thinker ants for them to explain what was happening. But the thinker ants just said,
“It’s just temporary, this is a natural cycle, it will go back to normal soon”
And cracks opened in the ground. And cracks opened in the wall. And the whole top of the anthill shook as it crashed down into the middle of the anthill and then through the massive cavern at the bottom. The pillar had broken and now the whole anthill was finished – along with all the ants.

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