Animal House or Animal Colony? Or Neither?


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“Tomorrow, we vote.”
– Gander, the goose, to his son in Animal Colony,
by Thomas Rexroth and Mark Olsen, 2009

animal-colonyIn the 1978 movie classic, Animal House, John Belushi (Bluto) and his misfit fraternity brothers ended up getting the best of the political establishment and politically correct college President and prestigious, elite “Omega” fraternity boys by sheer audacity and guts. It was messy, and not very pretty, but it worked. On June 5, Wisconsin voted and re-elected Governor Scott Walker, also by sheer audacity, guts, and in opposition to the union-controlled political establishment.

In the book Animal Colony, doctor and Iowa resident Thomas Rexroth and co-author Mark Olsen have crafted a tightly written parable about audacity and guts, combined with voting. A group of over-worked and under-fed farm animals is contemplating a long, cold winter as the property of inept British colonists. After a barnyard fight over a single kernel of corn, and the realization that many of them would be killed and eaten over the winter, a wise goose (named Gander) and visionary horse (Hoss) propose that the animals escape.

After a long journey and struggle, they find a home and settle the animal colony. The colony was founded on the premise of personal liberty and self-determination, of being wild animals instead of kept slaves. “The thrill of liberty led to success, and prosperity.”[1]

“Our Creator wrote the knowledge in our minds.”[2] This idea, along with other statements by the animals, recalls the words and actions of our United States Founders. As the little group goes on, it establishes a government and institutes voting as “free and equal citizens.” It has many successes, prosperity, and some failures and losses.

Critical to their success was the establishment of personal property and self-responsibility for working and caring for their families. In doing this, the animals established four operating principles: 1. Any animal that refuses to work should not eat; 2. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity; 3. The harvest belongs to those who toil for it; and 4. Whatever behavior we reward will increase and what we punish or penalize will decrease. Another key concept was that the leaders should think of themselves as servants of the group, not the masters.

The animals fight off an attempt by humans to re-enslave them. They have children and their colony expands. They develop money and the concept of commerce. New species ask to join their group, and they invent new technologies and ways of working productively. In general, liberty proves all it promised to be.

Unfortunately, during one of the periods of difficulty (a flood, followed by drought and harsh winter) – things change. Under the guise of a temporary help to those in need, who have by this time become “victims,” a “sharing” system is implemented. Each family is forced to give a “small” portion for a short time to help those who can’t, or won’t, help themselves. As a result the pigs, known for their intelligence and eloquence – but lack of barnyard usefulness – take over, and the sharing soon becomes permanent and small soon becomes large. This is because the “huge inequities between the rich and the poor” were thought to be unfair. Those who have become successful are denigrated and their resources are taken from them by force.

Gill the pig is elected leader of the colony and puts himself in charge of redistributing the sharing. As a result of keeping an undefined “token” for himself and his family for the effort and only hiring family members, they soon become fat and corrupt. The pigs basically become the union forces of the animal colony. The dogs, previously the colony’s watchers and guardians, are enlisted to become the enforcers. There are several very nasty incidents. And, as one can anticipate, those who previously worked hard and willingly shared with those in real or temporary need became less and less willing to work. The denigration of their efforts continued and forced redistribution increased. Seeing the results of their hard work and success taken from them by force did not encourage them to continue.

On the other side, those who now didn’t have to work for their food and shelter continued their self-indulgent ways. Environmental regulations were put into place, preventing increased productivity and economic growth. Health care was centralized, and became bureaucratic and low quality. Children were allowed to run wild and educational standards changed. The colony quickly fell into disrepair and poverty.

Anyone see where Dr. Rexroth and Mr. Olsen are going with the story?

The final insult to the original leaders comes when the four ultimate truths, are re-written by the pigs; 1. All eat, whether or not they work; 2. Equal results, not equal opportunity; and 3. Harvest belongs to all. Truth number four, unfortunately, held true. The rewarded behavior, now of sloth and indulgence, did increase.

Fortunately, the sincere, honest animals did not resort to Animal House-type behavior as a revolt against the political structure. The colony probably would not have been able to withstand that sort of chaotic takeover and destruction. But they did take actions to protect themselves and their families.

Finally, things came to a climax, with Gander the goose and many of those who originally settled the colony taking a stand against Gill the pig and his minions.

“Tomorrow we vote.”

The story doesn’t tell us the result of the vote; however, Gander was not expected to win.

Animal Colony is a parable without an ending, though effectively done. It raises important questions about the nature of liberty and the direction of our country. Rexroth and Olsen have created study guides for both small and large groups, detailing the issues raised and offering a structure for discussion.[3]

In the recent Wisconsin recall election, even with millions of dollars spent and thousands of man-hours, turnout was still only 58 percent of those registered.[4] This was up about eight percent from the original 2010 Gubernatorial election. The high turnout came in Ozaukee County, at almost 75 percent. Still, on average, four of every ten registered voters did not vote.[5]

The basic issues in Animal Colony were the same as those in Wisconsin: reducing out-of-control government spending and cutting government employee pay. In the book the situation had become so drastic and out-of-control that the vote actually represented the continuation or ending of the colony itself. Hopefully anarchy and destruction as the only remaining options – as in Animal House – will not write our ending. Instead, hard work and persistence will write the real ending, as in the results of the Walker recall election and the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. American citizens need to think long and hard about both the direction of their own future and the direction of our country. We must take an active role in determining both.

Finally, in November we vote.

Endnotes
[1] Thomas Allen Rexroth and Mark Andrew Olsen, Animal Colony, 2009.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Animal Colony Study Guide, accessed on June 5, 2012.
[4] “Analysis of voting across Wisconsin shows how Walker won,” The LaCrosse Tribune, June 7, 2012, accessed on June 7, 2012.
[5] Ibid.