The parable of the snacirema

Once there was a happy town filled with people called snacirema. The snacirema were peaceful people, but occasionally a snacirema turned bad and hurt or killed his fellow snacirema. These incidents were well-publicized, and they made some snacirema fearful. Those who were afraid decided they needed protection, so they started to breed sreraebnug for protection. Sreraebnug were powerful creatures that usually did their master’s bidding, but sometimes the sreraebnug turned bad and attacked their masters or other snacirema. Although the sreraebnug made their masters feel protected, the many sreraebnug patrolling the town made the snacirema uneasy.

The more sreraebnug that people bought for protection, the more people heard of other snacirema who were hurt or killed by sreraebnug gone bad. Sometimes the sreraebnug would get confused and kill good snacirema or sreraebnug. This scared the snacirema even more, so many bought more sreraebnug to protect them. Soon the snacirema were afraid to go outside without a sreraebnug to protect them. And there were so many sreraebnug that deaths caused by confused or bad sreraebnug became common.

Finally the snacirema became so frightened that they held a town meeting. “How has our town become so dangerous?” someone shouted. Another chimed in “I used to buy sreraebnug to protect myself from bad snacirema. Now I have to buy more sreraebnug to protect myself from other sreraebnug. But I don’t feel any safer.” Arguments raged through the town hall. Then one young snacirema stood up and asked, “Didn’t we all feel safer before everyone started buying sreraebnug? Didn’t we have fewer deaths and injuries without the sreraebnug?” The crowd murmured for several minutes before the snacirema standing next to her said “The girl is right. Using sreraebnug for protection has made our town more dangerous, not less. The sreraebnug have made us more frightened, not less. I wish we could get rid of all of the sreraebnug, and then maybe we will all feel safe again.”

It was decided; the snacirema herded up all of the sreraebnug and put them in a zoo, promising to keep them well fed. They didn’t have to do that for long, though, because the sreraebnug fought and killed each other until none were left. “Good riddance” said the townsfolk. They were no longer afraid to go outside. Without the sreraebnug, they learned to trust each other again instead of being afraid of each other. And the snacirema lived happily ever after.


About johncayers

John C. Ayers is a Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University. As a geochemist he specializes in sustainability and also the chemistry of natural waters. He has been PI on 5 and co-Pi on 2 grants from the National Science Foundation, and has a publication h-index of 14. He has been Associate editor of American Mineralogist and Geochemical Transactions of the American Chemical Society, and does GIS consulting for the ERS group. He is currently writing a book titled " Sustainability: The Problems of Peak Oil, Global Climate Change, and Environmental Degradation."
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