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  • Writer's pictureChristopher G. Moore

Elephants and Ants

The main thing I look for in any society/culture/country is how power is restrained, controlled, managed. Otherwise, the elephant smashes the ant. Let’s face it 98% of us fall in the ant category. Years of schooling, TV, newspapers and magazines instill in us the goodness, generosity and kindness of elephants in their care of ants but that mainly creates delusional thinking. Accepting our ant-like status ought to make us far more sensitive to the rules of the road for the elephant, where they can walk, and where they can run and what happens when they decide to have a little fun and get the herd to stamp on an anthill. Just to bring the fear needed to keep the ants marching in a straight line. For the ant, his hill isn’t a molehill but a mountain to be protected. For an elephant, mountains are, well, mountains with ridges and gullies, forest and snow. This difference in perception leads to odd results.

Social stability usually means the elephants are left to graze when and where they please and to erect rules that prevent foreign elephants from coming into their pastures. Elephants also have all the powerful weapons to keep the ants walking single file from work to home. At least this is how a well-ordered jungle ought to work. As a sideline, elephants sometimes sell a bunch of ants to foreign elephants and this can be profitable for both herds, though not so good for the ants. That’s life in the jungle. Should an elephant be banished from the herd, the rule is such a creature is to be forgotten. A banished elephant is a non-elephant. Any ant bold enough to talk nice about such a disgraced elephant would do well to look up as that shadow above his head shaped like large hoof and ask why it’s falling so fast? Although elephants seem to be born with an immense hide, as they are actually quite thin-skinned creatures whose feeling are easily hurt.

Recently there was a flutter on the Twitter channel about someone who had been asked by a small school administrator to fill in an evaluation form. A young Thai graduate asked her foreign friend to complete the form so she could include it with her application for a teaching job. The form included a frank opinion on her hair, teeth, and beauty—remember this is for a teaching job. Those in power can run an informal beauty contest for teachers. You might have brilliant marks, the kind of personality that makes students want to learn, but if your teeth are crooked, your hair cut short, you might not make the cut. This is an example of the elephant pretty much deciding on factors that are important to elephants and of little importance to the small ants that sit in classrooms and want to learn about the jungle. Also when a foreign ant tries to help a local ant, it is bound to lead to trouble. As foreign ants just don’t understand how elephants think.

The assessor (see Thai 101) was asked to comment on these factors:

Outer personality 1. Hairstyle 2. Face 3. Teeth 4. Weight 5. Attire 6. Jewelry/accessories 7. Shoes and socks

It seems quite important to the elephants that the ants wear the right socks and shoes. You can’t just be any pocked faced, short, crooked tooth, sock less hag, dressed in a plain smock no matter how brilliant and stimulating you may be in teaching a class. Weed out those who wouldn’t look at home on the catwalk. It’s not necessarily that elephants don’t like smart ants. It’s more likely that they are distrustful of any ant that is too clever. Elephants prefer a good-looking turn of the calf to the turn of a clever phrase.

In the West, laws prohibit job discrimination based on appearance. Western governments decided a long time ago the only way to keep harmony in the jungle was to hire a mahout and put him on the elephant’s back to stop the beast from rampaging, eating all of the best bits, and shitting on anthills. It hasn’t always worked out all that well in the West. But they at least made an effort. In Asia, elephants roam around pretty much free. No one tells an elephant that making a list of outer personality is wrong; mahouts try to pretend they are in control of the elephants but mostly every ant agrees they are no more than pretty decorations. Even the most dimwitted ant knows that the mahouts are by and large elephants in disguise.

It is one of those hard lessons of life: Elephants are obsessed at finding and hiring pretty young ants. The catwalk look doesn’t apply only to teachers, but includes doctors and nurses – especially nurses – who must pass beauty contest requirement before admitted into the profession. Elephants, when they get sick, want to look up from their hospital bed and see an angel-like attendant hovering nearby.

Another case involves a student who applied to medical school with a 3.8 grade average and otherwise with sterling qualities, but her application was rejected. Why, because (and this is after the deadline) she is informed that she failed to include all 5 copies of her photograph. Let me repeat that number: 5. The elephant side said they’d only received 4 copies of the photograph. The ant side, i.e., the student, who has subsequently brought a lawsuit, says she indeed included all 5 photos. The committee representing the elephants obviously had five people and no photocopy machine. As in the first case, the photograph allows for an assessment of the beauty element of the applicant. We don’t know what this student looks like. Is it possible that if she wasn’t beautiful enough, her application was kept in the pile of brilliant but not quite catwalk quality applicants, one of the five photos was conveniently ‘misplaced’ and her application therefore was tossed into the incomplete pile. We may never know.

Nurses and doctors also must meet height and beauty requirements along with the usual academic qualifications. You won’t find many short, ugly Thai nurses. Beauty and ugliness are obviously in the eye of the beholder. Those ants wishing to become doctors and nurses must undertake a physical examination. The checklist for admission includes: no mental illness, no sexually transmitted diseases, no crooked or missing teeth, at least 150cm in height, no ugly marks on the face, and in a fairly narrow weight range. It may be easier to pass the physical requirements become an astronaut for NASA that getting into medical or nursing school in Thailand. Sometimes you wish that you were making up this stuff. But inside the anthill, this is how things work.

An elephant’s view of beauty to be sure, but they are the ones running things and what they want, they usually find a way of getting. Democracy is quite dangerous for the elephants as one ant gets to vote just like one elephant only there are a lot more ants and that can be a problem. The next thing is that ants what to make elephants accountable and get them to stop shitting on anthills or at least give a little advance warning before those enormous bowels open. We live in a world where the faint hint of such a possibility is enough to get the whole herd of elephants trumpeting and bellowing. That makes quite a noise. Democracy works because many ants have been taught that elephants act to help ants have a better life. In other words, ants are easily tricked by elephants into believing their well-being depends on the happiness of the elephants. Always has been, always will be as long as there is a jungle home.

Another way of keeping the ants working the jungle floor is to convince a large number of ants that they too are the same as elephants. Now that seems flat out crazy, right? Wrong. Luxury watches, cars, clothes, perfume and glasses an elephant does make, and before you know the whole colony of ants are working furiously to buy the stuff that normally only elephants possess. Come election time, the elephants strike fear into the ant colony that anything smacking of anti-elephant policies would smack down the dreams and aspirations of ants. And of course, any ant who would dissent from the point of view or, God forbid, criticize elephants directly, should be ‘stepped on.’

From an early age children are taught that it is a dog-eat-dog world. That is elephant propaganda. The kind of thing that ants are taught by very beautiful teachers to worry about when in fact what children should really be worried about isn’t about dogs eating each other, but about the right of elephants to condemn all the non-beautiful ants to a life on the edge of the colony. One crooked tooth or a cross-eye can be all that separates you from medical school and a life sweeping streets. Ants really ought to think about that.

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