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2.23.2011

The Fable of the Bees

Many years ago, in simpler and less turbulent times, there existed a colony of honeybees. These honeybees, while industrious and social creatures, lacked a home. They flew from orchard to orchard, all throughout the territory of North America, searching for a place to raise their families and build a lasting civilization.

One warm summer day they stumbled upon a magnificent parcel of land. There were flowering trees as far as the eyes could see. There were cool brooks and temperate winds. There were green pastures and docile cows with which to share the land.

"I like it here," a young female buzzed. "I think this would be a wonderful place to make our home. Let's call it the Kingdom of Wisconsin."

The bees put their heads together and agreed. They liked Wisconsin, and they worked very diligently in creating a wonderful hive. Because she had discovered the land, they decided as one to make her their queen. Then, they elected her attendants--those tasked with ensuring the safety of future generations so the colony would thrive.

"But wait," one young drone said. "Shouldn't we at least get some assurances that this will be a fair society? We're giving power over the many to just a very few! And, if it's our sweat and our toil that builds this world, we should have every protection that the queen and the council should have as well, shouldn't we?"

The young bee was persistent, and he brought his concerns before the queen and her attendants.

"If ours is to truly become the best hive in the kingdom, there must be equality for all," the queen agreed. "The workers will be well looked after, so they and their children can get help when they are sick. Our children will be nurtured by their elders in the way of the bee, so they can take their place one day in our hive and do the same for their own children. It will be hard work to build our society, and the compensation will not make many of you wealthy, but you will be looked after and you will have rights and this will be a good life."

The drone was still skeptical. "Do we have your solemn oath? Are we really to trust that you'll do these things you've promised?"

"I promise," the queen said. "Now it's off to work with you, drone. Make the Kingdom of Wisconsin the envy of all of North America."

And so the drones began to build. There were so many of them, and with the sweat of their fuzzy brows they created a hive to rival the pyramids of the Giza Plateau. For the queen and her council, they built chamber upon chamber of lavish honeycomb. The queen even had a walk-in closet for her impressive collection of shoes (honeybees have many feet, so the workers thought the queen's collection a justifiable expense of their overall honey production).

The colony steadily grew, attracting wayward bees from other orchards until it was the largest in the area. The queen and her council lived in luxury and, while the workers never grew wealthy, they had a roof over their heads.

They built the hive. They worked to educate the younger swarms in the way of the bee. They gave their lives (and their stingers) in defense of the world they had created.

And then one day, the queen demanded more.

"We need to attract more drones to our kingdom," she proclaimed. "While I appreciate all the hard work you've done in creating our world, you'll need to get by on less. We know that it might be tough in the short term, but in the long term it will all be worth it."

The drone, who was not so young anymore, but still spoke on behalf of the workers, asked the queen for her word. "Do you promise that it will all be worth it?"

"Of course! I promise you that the future will be better!" she said.

The council buzzed their support for her plan and the drones grumbled about it, but life went on.

Only, things didn't get better. Fewer youngsters learned the way of the bee. There were fewer teachers, and those that remained lacked resources. Many of the younger bees left school early, poorly prepared for life in the Kingdom of Wisconsin.

The queen demanded longer hours from the workers, and building conditions weren't always safe. But the queen and her council thought regulating safety was wasteful, especially if the cost were only the lives of a few hundred drones.

When the drones became injured, they had to devote more of their already scant resources to paying for visits to the nurse bees, which left less pollen in the storeroom at the end of the month.

The drone didn't like the way things were going. He didn't think that life was getting better, and he started to talk with the other workers and the nurses and the teachers and the ones who protected the hive.

"We already do too much and receive too little," the bees said in unison, "while the queen and her council have the best, most comfortable lives. We are the ones that created this place!"

The drone didn't disagree. Except for their ability to use language and make speeches (and even those were often bungled; the drone dared anyone assembled during their debates to refudiate that particular claim), the council contributed very little to the quality of life in the hive.

One day he appeared before the queen. "We, the workers, have given more of ourselves to build your hive, and yet our lives are harder. You promised a better world, and yet things have only gotten worse!"

"Is this how your people feel?" the queen said?


"Hey," the drone replied, clearly offended, "what do you mean 'your people'? And yes, as a matter of fact, we do think this is unfair! It's already difficult raising a family here, and you're asking us to get by on less with every passing day. Our life cycles just aren't that long, Your Majesty!"

"I see the error of my ways," the queen conceded, bringing a momentary smile to the drone's face. "From this moment forward, you have no voice in my chambers. I decree that there will be no hive-minded bargaining on behalf of the drones. You will follow my instructions, worker, as will the rest of your ilk. It's the only way our hive will prosper."

The drone was furious. He returned to the masses and told them what the queen had said. The populous shared his anger, and life in the hive ground to a standstill. Chambers filled with debris and went uncleaned. Classrooms sat empty, young bees went uneducated, and bee crime skyrocketed.

And yet the queen dug in her heels.

One day, the drones were talking. "You know, I spoke with a bee recently from a place called Indiana," a large honeybee said. "He told me they have the same issues we do. He said they are electing a new queen. That this new queen has made promises that things will be better."

And the drones became excited. They searched high and low for a new queen--for a bee that was fair and honest, and that would keep the interests of the many in perspective as she ruled. A suitable replacement was found and the queen and her council were replaced. They grumbled and they didn't agree with it, but they soon took their place among the drones.

"Thank you for choosing me to be your queen!" she said on her first day in the royal chambers. "I will make life for you here very prosperous! Our first order of business is getting back to work, and making the hive a safe place that honors the education of our greatest asset--our youngest bees!"

She vowed to fund education, public safety, and health care. She outlined a path to prosperity that was filled with optimism and pollen.

"Do you promise?" the drone called.

"Of course I promise," she said, and a great cheer rocked the hive as the drones returned to work.

The queen retreated to her chambers and began to lay eggs. The drones went back to their jobs, and the hive thrummed with activity.

And, just as life was returning to normal, the gray skies split wide and fat snowflakes began to blanket the Wisconsin orchard.

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