The Island of Cheese

on Sunday, February 27, 2011

Once upon a time, in an imaginary land far away, there lived a group of people on an island. These people lived happily and traded their very tasty cheese with neighboring islands for other things they needed, like spices and wine.

One day a neighboring island decided to attack. The biggest cheese makers defended the island successfully, and were welcomed home as heros. Everyone loved them. Unfortunately the large cheese makers soon realized that they were very large and powerful. No one on their island, or neighboring islands, were more powerful than they. They created armor and helmets and weaponry, and they resolved to begin going door to door, demanding “protection money" to pay for their swords and shields. They asked that each home give them 20% of all the cheese they made each week, and suggested that if they refused, something bad might happen to them or the island. After all, large men need to eat, and they need an arsenal of spears to defend the poor helpless islanders.

And so it went. Each week the large men collected 20% of every islander’s cheese and traded it for weapons, wine, spices and exotic foods. They lived a lavish life, but were content in knowing that it was they, the sole defenders of the people, who deserved a life of luxury and wealth. The people, whom they protected as if helpless children, that must pay to support it.

From time to time an islander would refuse to pay, and from time to time the large men would drag the poor man out into the village square, where he would be locked in a cage for several days and be made to eat rotting bread and water. Most islanders felt supportive and happily gave up 20% of their cheese, knowing that it was the big men who protected them and made a life of freedom possible for them. And after all, the large men settled disputes, policed the island, and built a road from one side to the other (to transport weapons and luxury goods more easily.)

One day the large men became bored with the weekly cheese collections, and hired a few of the islanders to do it for them. They paid the men with the cheese they collected from the rest of the island, but it wasn’t enough. Soon they demanded 30% of all the cheese in order to pay the collectors.

The collectors were paid well but had an idea. They decided to get together and threaten to quit their jobs as collection agents if the big men didn’t pay them more cheese. After all, they had families of their own. They also wanted to retire at a younger age, and continue to be paid during retirement. And they demanded wine and spices and many of the luxury goods that the big men enjoyed. The big men, feeling generous, simply instructed them to collect 40% of all the cheese, and with the extra money, were able to pay the collection agents handsomely.

After a couple of years, the collectors now became accustomed to their lavish lives and were beginning to want for more. They demanded more luxury items and full pay during retirement, which would begin at age fifty. The big men had had enough. They began slowly replacing the collectors with other islanders, who happily accepted less, and were happy to have a good job working for the big men with spears. This was very upsetting for the original collectors, who saw that their luxury lifestyles would be destroyed if this continued. They met with each large man in private, inviting them into their homes, and convinced them to pass a law. The law would be that no one would be permitted to work for the big men unless they were accepted into the group of original collectors, which would now be called the collector’s “united circle.”

From then on, many of the islanders applied to be part of the union of collectors, but it was a sad situation. New collectors were only allowed to join as old collectors retired, and the new positions were always given to friends and family, and never to the sick, or handicapped, or to any of the islanders who did not have blue eyes, like the original collectors.

Life continued in this way. Every few years the collectors demanded more cheese and threatened to stop working if they were not paid even more cheese. Soon one of the big men, Whawker of Scottland, became angry with the previous agreement. He did not like what the united circle of collection-men had become. He wanted to remove the law banning the big men from hiring normal islanders. He saw that the united men were abusing their positions, and he saw that he could hire many of the islanders who needed jobs, but all of their money was going to the collectors. He was not pleased, and began to speak openly with other big men and with the islanders themselves, apologizing for his previous decision to hire only united men, and traveled around the island, trying to show the people that it was a mistake to allow them to live this way.

The united collectors also traveled, and asked for support. They declared that if the people did not support them, they were supporting the big men, who had previously abused them with their big muscles and spears, and who were always taking their cheese and living in the huge huts on the hill, and playing with their weapons and spices and greedily keeping it all for themselves.

Some of the people were convinced. They hated having their cheese taken from them each week, and they traveled to the hill and stood outside the big men’s huts in the cold for weeks. They demanded that the collectors be allowed to keep the old law, forbidding normal islanders from working for the big men. They demanded that the big men recognize the rights of the common worker, and saw this as an opportunity to fight the big fight, and make a real change. Many of them had heard about a neighboring desert island where the people had also become very angry with their big men and taken to that island’s streets in a rage. “Good for them,” many thought as they stood in the cold on the hill of the big men, “I will stand here for as long as it takes... as long as it takes to show those horrible abusive big men that they can’t push us around like this anymore.”