“All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.”
In far off Moladavia there was a village called Climatesan.
Now Moladavia was a poor country and most of its citizens struggled in a subsistence economy. But Climatesan was more fortunate than most. Whereas most of the land of Moladavia is resource poor, the folk of Climatesan lived in a quite prosperous area. They had a much greater per capita income than their fellows in other towns and settlements in the struggling country. As a result of their greater wealth they had a few more wells and a few more bicycles. Their huts were more substantial – some even had concrete floors and steel superstructure.
Most of the residents of Moladavia were pretty satisfied with their lot. They were able to look back and marvel how much better off they were than their forebears. The local school was well-attended and they were happy with the growing literacy and numeracy of the village’s children.
The local chief was called Juliano. He was proud of his community but understood he must continue to work at improving the welfare of his subjects if his tenure as chieftain was to be a long one. In order to achieve this he hit upon a marvelous strategy. Moladavia is a tropical seafaring nation. Much of its wealth came from the abundant waters of the nearby ocean. Traditionally its principal currency was the trochus shell. At regular intervals Juliano gathered together a dozen or so citizens and questioned them as to their ambitions for the village and items they believed the administration might provide to improve the lot of the villagers. To encourage attendance each participant was given a handful of trochus shells from the state coffers. Consequently these consultative gatherings came to be called “trochus groups”.
The good citizens of Moladavia were on the whole a contented population. They asked for little from the state but to look after the disadvantaged, the widows, orphans and those without the wherewithal to harvest from the bounteous sea.
Oft times the trochus groups gathered and could provide no guidance for Juliano because of their great contentment. But unfortunately for Juliano all this was to change.
One of the brighter young men, who was called Tan, became obsessed with the issue of hygiene. He read voraciously on the subject and attended conferences in nearby countries to advance his knowledge. He was so passionate about hygiene that he formed a political party to help further the hygiene agenda. He named his party “The Cleans”.
Now many of the trochus groups contained members of the Cleans. After a time they became obsessed with the problem of flies.
“Wherever we go,” they would complain, “we can’t get away from the flies. And everyone knows how flies transmit dirt and germs. And their numbers are growing unduly. We must be rid of the flies.”
They asserted, and it was largely true, that the good citizens of Climatesan were always beset with troublesome flies.
But Juliano wasn’t convinced. “There have always been flies,” he thought. “Ever since I can remember there have been flies.”
“Tan,” he asked, “how do you know there are more flies?”
Tan looked at him contemptuously. “Are you a fly increase sceptic? How could you dismiss the evidence of our best shamans who have been assiduously counting flies for decades?”
Juliano shook his head. He could not fathom how flies could be counted in any meaningful way. But Tan seemed so convinced that he did not question him further.
“Well that may be the case Tan, but what good is there in us reducing the number of flies in our village when those around us do not. Every time a westerly wind blows myriads of flies arrive from our neighbours. If we are to attempt this enterprise we must gain cooperation from them. To act alone would be folly.”
“It does not matter,” said Tan, “what our neighbours do. We must show the way.”
“I disagree,” replied Juliano. “We must seek the cooperation of our neighbours.”
Hence at the next council of chieftains Juliano laid out his concerns. “If we are to lead healthy lives,” he asserted, “we must reduce the number of flies.”
It was hard for the chieftains to disagree, albeit few could see any evidence of an increase in flies. Nevertheless they rallied behind the cause.
“We are not as wealthy as you and your people Juliano,” said one, “but we will do the best we can. I will make a pledge to try and reduce the flies in my precinct by 5%.”
Juliano nodded. It was not a huge amount but it was a start. Similarly other chieftains nominated targets of various amounts according to their capacity. The chieftains felt smug. They had agreed to a nebulous goal with no firm commitment and very little certainty that their contributions could be objectively measured.
Still, buoyed by the outcome Juliano went back to the village and proclaimed, “We shall reduce the flies and it will be all the better because our neighbours have committed to attacking the problem as well.”
But things weren’t good with the neighbours. Their economies weren’t as resilient and for a number of reasons including droughts, flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, problems with debt and terms of trade, it wasn’t long before the neighbouring chieftains had forgotten their pledges about flies or because of other pressures the fly problem had been relegated down the order of priorities.
But Juliano ploughed on! He consulted with Tan on ways to mitigate the problem. He looked at ways of killing the flies. His first inclination was to spray all the affected areas with an insecticide that had been proven in other countries called “atomract”.
Tan was horrified. “You can’t do that,” he said. “It has an ongoing residual impact. You must use more natural means.”
Juliano was by now beholden to Tan and his supporters and meekly enquired, “What would you suggest.”
“We need to enlist the help of the natural predators of flies.”
“And what would they be?”
Tan shrugged his shoulders. “Well, I suppose frogs and lizards.”
Juliano, believing he was beholden to Tan, felt he had no option. Soon they began importing frogs and lizards from the neighbouring communities. This had two major impacts.
Firstly frogs and lizards became a commodity in great demand and as a consequence the neighbouring precincts began capturing and breeding them for sale to Juliano’s village. As a result they became very expensive and their purchase began to draw down considerably the village’s coffers.
Secondly the relocation of the frogs and lizards, whilst having some impact on the number of flies in Juliano’s village caused the number of flies in adjoining areas to increase. So when the westerlies blew the flies were more numerous than ever.
But then Tan said, “We have to attack the problem at its source.”
“What do you mean?” asked Juliano.
“Well we have open sewers and refuse tips that enable flies to breed. We must be rid of them.”
This sounded like a sound proposition to Juliano. So in the next little while Juliano attended to these issues. Unfortunately he exhausted the financial resources of his village. So the once prosperous village was now poor. But never mind they had various strategies in place to deal with the flies. And yet the flies, the concentration of the ubiquitous flies seemed hardly to have changed. It was some consolation that the village now smelt better.
Juliano wondered what had happened to him. Some time ago he had determined to do something about the flies. His peers in other places had made assertions about their contribution to the issue but they had never delivered on their stated goals. He and his people had made a significant effort to try and deliver a reasonable outcome. They had committed substantial resources but the outcome seemed paltry. There were fewer flies for a time about the village but it only lasted for a day or two and when the westerly winds blew the fly population was restored.
But it didn’t take long for the people to become dissatisfied. All their resources had been used up in trying to reduce the number of flies. The school was falling into disrepair. Many of the communal huts and meeting places needed attention. But Juliano was never aware of the growing discontent because the Cleans stacked the trochus groups. And they had moved on from flies and were now prosecuting a case against the husking of coconuts because of the health impacts of breathing in the fibres.
So it came as something of a surprise to Juliano when he was ousted by Abbama his long-term rival.