Thursday, February 3, 2022

Aesop on "The North Wind and the Sun," Old Rabbis on Stolen Bricks — and Junk Mail


    I grew up on Aesop's fable of "The North Wind and the Sun" and the rabbinical parable of the bricks. In the fable, the North Wind and the Sun get into a contest to see who can get a man to remove his cloak.

    The North Wind blows and blows and then blows some more and harder, and the man just wraps his cloak more and more tightly. Then it's the Sun's turn, and the Sun turns up the heat, and the man takes off his cloak. MORAL: The same as the one that went into English as "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," which I'll throw in since what interests me isn't that MORAL but the behavior of the North Wind: failing in a ploy and then repeating it and repeating it more strongly.

    The rabbinic parable has a guy thinking about moving into a city and meeting and being treated very nicely by his future neighbors. So he decides to build a house there and gets materials, including a large pile of bricks. Then the night before he's to start construction, the neighbors come over and each one steals a brick — one brick — until the pile is gone, or pretty much. Next day the guy comes over, sees the theft, and laments the loss and demands tracking down the thief. The neighbors come by and ask, rhetorically, "What thief?" And the first one adds, "I took one brick. Surely you're not such a petty cheapskate you'd make a big deal over one lousy brick?!" No simple MORAL here, but a traditional conservative view about social responsibility and how little misdeeds for individuals can add up to a significant social evil. (Also an important idea for questioning the right of each individual gas-station owner to determine who may or may not use his toilets if the upshot is that Black families had problems finding convenient toilets when driving, say, from Florida to DC. Or each arguably legitimate refusal to cooperate with a public health measure if the cumulative upshot is the spread of disease.)

    There's much less at stake here. Here it's my repeated complaint about the repeating and repeating and repeating of individually okay or even admirable e-mail and US-mail appeals for money and support if the cumulative upshot is to overwhelm people (e.g., me). In my case, with rare exceptions, I've just stopped responding, tossing them all (all such mail: into paper recycling or MacTrash): doing without in the case of commercial appeals; just repeating my past donations with charitable appeals; and putting almost all my political money into a local political group that doesn't often bother me for money (and has long since sold my contact information).

    So: Sending me more electronic or hard-copy junk-mail appeals isn't going to help you, gals and guys — you're just doing the North Wind thing. Plus kind of the opposite of stealing bricks: piling up (figuratively burying a guy in) appeals.

    I see no solution here, although it's another reason for better public financing of public services so we need fewer charities, plus public financing of elections, with spending limits. Well, and the US Postal Service should charge junk-mailers more than publications, people mailing bills, and actual letter-writers — and there's got to be some way to charge people per item of electronic mass mailings.
    Taking as a funding model the idea of Constant Contact — actual name of actual firm — may not work so well. 

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