Planet of the Carrots

On a tiny planet there once lived some people who were hard working and others who were not so hard working. Then there were a few who were very hard working and a few who were very lazy. In a word – it was just like everywhere else in the universe. Except that the lazy ones and the hard working ones threw everything that they grew – mainly various kinds of carrots – on a pile and then shared everything from the pile. That wasn’t the way it was everywhere.

But one day a few of the hard working ones said, “We’ve had enough. We grunt and sweat all day, and then the others who just lie around on their backs all day and whistle at the sun come waltzing up and want to eat our carrots.” And instead of throwing their carrots on the community pile, they kept them in their homes and stuffed themselves till they were fat.

The really lazy ones just shrugged their shoulders and kept on eating from the big pile, and of course they ate more from the pile than they themselves brought to it.

Then the semi-hard workers and the semi-lazy ones noticed that now everybody was getting less than before because the really hard working ones had always brought especially many carrots, more than they ate themselves.

Then the semi-hardworking ones said, “So we’re going to keep our own carrots too.” And they stopped throwing them on the big pile, and instead, each one made his or her own little pile at home.

And the semi-lazy ones did the same thing. “We have no other choice,” they said to the really lazy ones.

And now they all had their own piles of carrots in front of their cottages, and when they felt like eating a special variety of carrot that they didn’t have in their piles, then they had to see if they could trade with someone else.

Pretty soon people were coming and going, and after work they were busy for hours trading carrots until they all had all the carrot varieties in their houses that they needed, or thought they needed.

“That’s a fine how-do-you-do!” said the really lazy ones among each other. For them there was no longer a community pile that they could sponge off of. But each one of them learned a different lesson from this situation. Some of them said, “All right, then I guess I’ll just have to work more.” But that wasn’t quite so easy because when such a reformed lazy person found a field to plant his or her carrots, there was usually someone who said, “Hey, I’ve always planted carrots here. This is my field.”

But others just went to the cottages of the richer ones and took from the carrot piles whatever they happened to feel like eating. “We always took from the community piles. And if there are now many piles, instead of one, then they’re all just lots of community piles. In any case, we’ll take what we want from them,” they said.

Of course, the rich people didn’t much like that attitude, and some of them started building fences around their carrot piles. And soon almost everybody had to build a fence around his or her pile of carrots because the more fences that were built around the piles, the more the really lazy ones, who wanted to keep to the old ways, went ahead and took what they wanted from the piles that didn’t have fences around them.

Before long, everybody who had a pile, also had a fence around it. Now, after work, they not only had to deal with trading varieties, but also with the mending and improvement of their fences and with watching them to make sure nobody climbed over them.

Pretty soon some of them started grumbling, “We all used to meet after work at the big carrot pile and tell jokes and play leapfrog. Now after work, we’re just stuck at home, watching our carrots and mending our fences. And the next morning we’re dead tired and can’t even plant our carrots properly. For some reason, we now have a lot more to do than we used to, but the carrots aren’t getting any more plentiful.”

And some people suggested that everybody should go back to the old ways, with the big community pile. “It’s better to feed a few really lazy moochers than constantly wear ourselves out with trading and guarding and mending fences!”

But the richest ones said, “No, if we go back to the old ways, then that means mooching is allowed. Then everybody will want to mooch, and no one will plant carrots anymore, and we’ll all starve!”

“But that’s not what’ll happen,” said the others. “It’s too boring for most people to just lie on their backs and whistle something to the sun. Believe us, there are only a few people, who are really that lazy. Actually, growing carrots is fun!”

“No,” said the richest ones, “growing carrots isn’t any fun. Only having carrots is fun. You can go ahead and share your carrots with the lazy bums, if you want to. As for us, we have no intention of tearing down our fences!”

“Heck,” said some of the semi-rich, “if the really rich ones aren’t going to go along, then we’d rather keep our fences too. We really don’t have so much that we can share it with the lazy bums.”

And the semi-poor ones said, “Well, if we’re the only ones who are going to share, then everybody’s going to have too little. We can’t go along with that. We’re afraid we’re going to have to keep our fences.”

And so this time, nothing came of it. And even though most of them actually knew that everybody now had more work to do, and no more carrots, they just couldn’t manage to go back to the old ways.

But a few other interesting things happened instead. Some of those who didn’t have big carrot fields went to some of the richer ones and said, “Listen, if each of you gives me a few carrots every day, in exchange I’ll guard your piles.”

And others came up with a different idea and said, “I’ll fix the fence of anybody, who gives me carrots!”

And still others went from house to house and said, “Give me a few of your carrots, and I’ll go and trade them for you, if I can keep every fifth carrot.”

That’s how it went for a while, and then some of them started scratching their heads and said, “Actually I should now have more time, but now I have to plant more carrots so that I can pay the fence mender and the night watchman and the carrot trader.”

And once again, some people proposed that they should all go back to the old ways and tear down the fences. But strangely, it wasn’t just the richest ones who were against the idea, but the poorest too, “Do you want to take away our work?” yelled the fence menders.

“How are we going to make a living?” yelled the night watchmen.

“Do you want us to starve?” yelled the carrot traders.

Heck, and so they just went on doing things the new way.

The farmers who were good at numbers

Among the places the mullah Nasreddin Hodja visited in his travels was a village whose citizens were known for being especially good at numbers. Nasreddin found lodging at a farmer’s house. The next morning Nasreddin found out that the village had no well. In the morning, someone from every family in the village loaded one or two donkeys with empty water jugs, and then went off to a stream that was an hour’s walk away, filled the jugs, and brought them back again, which took another hour.

„Wouldn’t it be better if you had water in the village,” the hodja asked the farmer he was staying with.

„Oh, much better,” said the farmer. „Every day the water costs me two hours of work for a donkey and a boy who drives the donkey. That comes to 1,460 hours per year, if you count the donkey as equal to the boy. If the donkey and the boy were working in the fields during this time, I could, for example, plant a whole field of pumpkins and harvest an additional 457 pumpkins every year.”

„I see you’ve got everything nicely figured out,” said the hodja, admiringly. „Then why not dig a canal to bring the water to the village?”

„That’s not so simple,” said the farmer. „There’s a hill in the way, which we’d have to dig up and remove. If I used my boy and donkey to dig a canal instead of sending them for water, it would take them 500 years, if they worked two hours a day. I’ve got maybe thirty more years to live, so it’s cheaper for me to have them fetch the water.”

„Yes, but would it be your responsibility alone to dig a canal? There are many families in this village.”

„Oh, yes,” said the farmer, „there are exactly 100 families. If every family sent a boy and a donkey every day for two hours, then the canal would be finished in five years. And if they worked ten hours every day, it would be finished in one year.”

„So why don’t you speak to your neighbors and suggest that all of you dig the canal together?”

„Well, if I have an important matter to discuss with a neighbor, I invite him to my house, serve him tea and halvah, talk to him about the weather and the prospects for the next harvest, then about his family, about his sons, daughters, and grandchildren. Then I have a meal served to him and after dinner we have tea again. Then he asks me about my farm and about my family, and then we get to the matter at hand nice and slowly. That takes a whole day. Since there are 100 families in our village, I would have to speak to 99 heads of household. You have to admit that I can’t afford to spend ninety-nine days in a row having these discussions. My farm would go to rack and ruin. The best I could do is to invite a neighbor once a week to my house. Since a year only has fifty-two weeks, that means it would take almost two years to talk to all my neighbors. If I know my neighbors, every one would finally agree that it would be better to have water in the village because they are all good with numbers. And if I know them, every one of them would promise to join in if the others joined in too. So, after two years I would have to start all over again. I’d have to invite them to my house and tell them that the others have also agreed to join in.”

„Fine,” said the hodja, „but after four years you would be ready to start the work. And after one more year, the canal would be completed!”

„There’s one more complication,” said the farmer. „You’ll admit that once the canal has been dug, everybody will be able to fetch water from it, whether he did his share of the work or not.”

„That’s right,” said the hodja. „Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t guard the whole length of the canal.”

„Exactly,” said the farmer. „So someone who was a slacker would have the same benefit from the canal as the others, but without the cost.”

„I have to admit that,” said the hodja.

„So everyone who is good at numbers will try to shirk his duty. One day it’ll be a lame donkey. Another day someone’s boy will have a cough. And then someone’s wife will be ill, and the boy and the donkey will be needed to fetch the doctor. But in our village, everyone is good at numbers, so everyone will try to get out of doing his share. And since every one of us knows that the others won’t pitch in, no one will send his donkey and his boy to work. So the canal won’t even be started.”

„I have to admit that your arguments sound very convincing,” said the hodja. He brooded for a while, then he suddenly called out, „But I know a village on the other side of the mountains that had exactly the same problem as you have. But they’ve had a canal for twenty years.”

„Right,” said the farmer, „but they aren’t good at numbers.”