Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Parable: The Good Mother

Peter W. Wickham, Jr.

A long time ago in a faraway land there was a good mother who always complained about her station in life. She had a good husband who provided for her and their two children and they were never in want, but she would tell all those who would listen that she wanted more. She worked at a stand in the town market selling the crops her husband raised on their farm but she would often complain about the hard work this entailed and she had to keep up their house, too. Their two children were strong, healthy, and very smart learning the lessons well that their father was teaching them but the good mother wanted more for them. And most of all, she wanted cake.

When she was a little girl her grandmother would always bake a cake for dessert at Sunday dinner. Her grandmother had passed on and now that she was all grown with a family of her own to take care of she only got to have some cake on special occasions like weddings or at a Yuletide party. It would always make her mouth water when she thought back to those days.

One day in the market when she was griping in her customary fashion to the woman running the fruit stand next to hers a handsome young man who had been listening commented that her life appeared to be atrocious by what she was saying. The other woman quickly curtsied towards the young man and saying under her breath, "It's the king's son."

"Well, it''s not all that bad, good prince," said the good mother as she also quickly bowed her head.

"Nonsense! It sounds to me that your husband should be flogged for not providing better for such a lovely woman as yourself," said the prince as he took a bite from an apple he had taken from the fruit stand. "Where is the scoundrel and I shall see that he gets the punishment he so rightly deserves."

"No, my lord, please don't," pleaded the good mother. "My husband is a good man. It's just I always thought I deserved better than he seems to be able to provide."

"Maybe I can solve that problem for you," replied the prince. "I have a room in our castle that you can live in that everything you ever desire will be brought to you and you need never lift a finger as there will always be servants to handle any task you desire them to do. My best scholars and tutors will educate your children and they will have their own special rooms to live in, too. All this and all you have to do is leave your husband and your home and bring your children to live in the castle. Well?"

"Everything I ever desire?" asked the good mother.

"Everything," replied the prince. "You need only to hop in my carriage and we will retrieve your children and you can go live in the castle. What say you?"

"Yes!" and with that the good mother abandoned her stand and rode on the prince's carriage to her home. She gathered up her son and her daughter and without a single word to her husband, she and her children went to live at the castle.

At the castle the prince showed her to her room and the first thing she noticed were that the doors were a bit narrow. She could walk through them without any adjustment to her gait but just barely. She commented to herself that a larger person would certainly have a problem getting through there.

"Here is your room," said the prince with a wave of his hand. There was fine four poster bed with the thickest mattress upon it the good mother had never seen before in her life. There were windows looking out over the entire kingdom. There was a fireplace near the bed to keep the place cozy during the cold winter. And on the nightstand was a beautiful crystal bell. "All you need do is ring that bell and a servant will appear to fulfill your every desire."

"Let's see the children's rooms," said the good mother as she headed back toward the door.

"No, the servants will take your children and show them to their rooms," said the prince blocking her path. "You need not ever lift a finger again in regards to your children. They shall always be well taken care of."

"Oh," said the good mother, "well, then good night children and let's get settled into our new home."

"Yes mother," replied the children in unison as the servant dutifully led them off to their rooms down the hall.

"Remember, anything you want, you just ring the bell," said the prince as he stepped out the door.

The good mother picked up the bell and rang it and a servant appeared in the doorway. She decided to test to see how well she would be provided for so she placed a rather large order for a big meal to be delivered to her in her room but in less time she would expect, her order was filled. And for dessert she had cake. A moist delicious cake. She was going to enjoy her new life.

She no longer had to rise to help someone with the chores on the farm and could sleep in as late as she wanted. Anything she could think of to eat would be prepared for her faster than she could have ever made it for herself and delivered right to her room so she didn't have to wander the castle to find the kitchen. And she didn't have to wash the dishes. She gained a little weight (a little?!?) from the good food and the lack of activity, but she merely had to ring the bell and a seamstress would let out her clothes and, when it became necessary, sew her a new set of clothes to cover her expanding mass. And she had cake. Lots of cakes.

She would ring the bell on occasion and the servant would bring her children to her room for a visit. They would tell her about their lessons and she realized her children were becoming fine students of all there was to learn. She considered it a little disconcerting that the songs and poetry her children would sing or recite were all in regards to praising the strength of the king's army, but they were learning to read and write and could calculate the proper angle to fire an arrow into the air so as to strike an enemy soldier outside the castle walls. And she had her cake.

Then one day she rang the bell and told the servant to bring her children to visit with her. The servant told her that her children were with the prince but he would go and ask the prince if he would bring the children by the good mother's room. In a little over an hour the prince appeared but the good mother's children were not with him.

"Where are my children, kind prince?" she asked a little anxiously.

"Our kingdom is at war with the kings to the east and your children are now serving in the king's army," the prince replied. "Your son is a brave soldier in the infantry and your daughter works in the mess tents preparing the meals. She has turned out to be a fine cook."

"I never gave permission for my children to serve in the army! Bring them to me, now!" demanded the good mother.

"They have the education we provided them and they chose to serve as they were taught." the prince answered with a stern voice the good mother had never heard him use. "Your permission was not necessary as our kingdom is in need of their service. All good mothers are prepared to sacrifice their children to protect the kingdom."

"I will not stand for this!" said the good mother quite angrily. She walked past the prince and tried to go out the door but she had grown too large to fit through it. "I can't get out!"

"And why should you?" asked the prince. "I promised you that everything you ever desire will be delivered to you in this room and it shall, except for your children as we now have need of them. You have no reason to ever leave this room again."

"Wait till my husband hears what you have done with his children," threatened the good mother.

"Your husband has become a drunkard," snarled the prince. "After you left him and took his children, he had nothing to live for so he has spent all of his time and his money at the local tavern. He is useless now to anyone who would try to depend on him."

"You can't do this!!!" the good mother shouted desperately.

"We can and we have," responded the prince as he began to walk away down the hall. "If you need anything, good mother, just ring the bell," he shouted over his shoulder.

The good mother returned to the bed and sat on the edge. She thought long and hard about her predicament and then she reached for the bell and rang it. Shortly a servant appeared and asked what could he get her.

"I'll have some cake," said the good mother...

"Brute force is not the only way to enslave Man...or Woman."

Peter W. Wickham, Jr.
AKA The Ol' Grey Ghost

For further reading I recommend The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents--The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek)


B Smith said...

"Brute force is not the only way to enslave..."

It's not even the best way.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but it is the most obvious and being so, many people are blind to other methods of enslavement because of the apparent lack of use of brute force...

Frog soup anyone?