The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Editor's note; this is another guest post by the Myrmeoid ambassador's stationed on Earth.

Happy belated Groundhog Day, though I understand this is an extremely minor holiday for you. Its central superstition (and the fact that none of you denies it is a superstition) reminds us of a similar half-belief among our people—I mean my own country, the Imperial Islands, not my species as a whole.

We have an animal we call a wanderer that nests on the dunes behind the beaches of our islands. They look something like dragonflies, though they are distant relatives of ours, not true insects. Their flyers spend their lives at sea, returning only to breed, and they return at a specific time each year. For some reason, occasionally the wanderers will come in but not land, and there will be no nesting that year on that beach. Our islands are prone to tsunamis, and a belief developed that wanderers fly away because they know there will be a tsunami that year. When the wanderers land, therefor, there is a celebratory feast. Now, it has been scientifically demonstrated that there is no correlation between wanderer landings and tsunami activity, and we now depend on oceanic sensors, not superstition, to warn us of tsunamis. But the practice, if not the belief, persists, and there are still parties when the wanderers land. In fact, just as a single groundhog in Pennsylvania has come to be “the” groundhog for your whole country, even though the length of winter and real groundhog behavior must vary from place to place, a single beach has come to dictate whether people all across the country have the festival, even though wanderer nestings vary from beach to beach.

But none of this is what I wanted to address today. With all due respect to Ambassador Kilmon, we must interject to correct a misunderstanding that may result from his work. He refers to “country folk” and “Imperials” as though these were categorically distinct, the approximate equivalent of racial or ethnic differences. Actually, our kind has no distinct races. I am somewhat familiar with the country where Ambassador Kilmon is posted; I have studied its history, and I have visited it for extended stays on several occasions. I have even had the distinct pleasure of tasting the La’heli’s brandy; it is well-regarded in the region, for good reason. I am in a position to say that the description Ambassador Kilmon has made of the “country folk” is wrong.

That country—its name translates loosely as “the Green Coast Republic,” is, like most developed nations on our planet, a former Imperial colony. Its modern culture owes something both to its Imperial heritage and to the indigenous cultures that predated colonization. Today, the Green Coast, like most of the former colonies, retains some indigenous enclaves in the upper reaches of its larger watersheds, where resource extraction was not profitable until the advent of hot-air balloons. The navigable portions of the watersheds, and the coastal regions, were fully exploited, however. It is not a point of pride, but it is an historical fact; though the vernacular languages of the Green Coast are descended from indigenous languages, and though certain cultural practices are probably indigenous in origin, the indigenous peoples of these areas were either killed or assimilated hundreds of years ago. The uneducated, the poor, and the otherwise disadvantaged continue to identify themselves with these vanished peoples, as do certain more well-to-do families, either out of a misguided admiration of what might be called “the noble savage,” or as an expression of some political anger. Usually, these are rural communities, hence the term “country folk.” There is no basis to the claim that the so-called country-folk actually are indigenous people, because there is a continual flow of people between them and the more main-stream communities sometimes called ethnic Imperials. Disadvantaged youth can grow up to join the mainstream, and mainstream families sometimes produce people who later come to identify with the country people, for whatever reason.

Ambassador Kilmon lives in a community of country folk, a placement that made sense given the need to house him in a rural area away from infrastructure that cannot accommodate his large size. It is understandable that he would pick up the biases and attitudes of his hosts, and interpret these through his own culture’s history of racial and ethnic tension. He is only reporting accurately what he knows.

But the tension he observes is entirely one-sided. Certainly, there is no institutional oppression of the country folk--not that we are above such atrocities; the fact that the indigenous cultures no longer exist to be oppressed does not speak well of our species. Nevertheless, times have changed, and the Green Coast is to be commended particularly for their attempts to bring the remaining indigenous communities the advantages of modern society. Society is not excluding or punishing the country people. On the contrary, every effort is being made to include them. The offspring of poor families have preferential admission at most secondary schools. Primary schools in poor or rural areas are given tax-funded grants to bring their budgets in line with those of schools for the wealthy. If there were some ethical way to prevent these families from simply creating elementary schools within their own communities—a practice which almost inevitably results in passing the same habits and biases on to the next generation—the phenomenon of “country people” might simply go away. If all children received the same early education and the same opportunities, which is the point of compulsory education, then multi-generational poverty would probably cease to exist.

Again, I do not mean to disparage Ambassador Kilmon's work. On the contrary, he is to be commended for leaving his own biases behind to the extent that he has. It cannot be easy for him to relate emotionally to people who must look to him like insects or crustaceans--that he identifies with the La'heli's well enough to form friendships with them and to adopt some of their cultural biases is an indication of his openness to them and his empathy for them. We respect especially his willingness to live alone with almost no contact with others of his kind, something that was necessary given the expense of maintaining even one human--that he is evidently working for his keep was his own idea, and not part of the original plan. We, at least, work in teams of three and have each other--as well as easier communication with the other teams. Your culture has better long-distance communication systems than ours does.

Coincidentally, we also decided to get jobs in order to expand our circle of interaction and offset the cost of our upkeep, though we cannot earn enough to pay the invaluable Mr. Grisholm. We cannot do most human work, because of our size, but we can fly. We are therefor in charge of cleaning and maintenance of ceilings in several public buildings, as well as the U.N. We remove spider webs and dust, and replace lighting fixtures as needed. For this we are paid only a small amount of money, roughly in keeping with what human cleaning teams would be paid to do the same work, but as we do not eat very much, it covers our immediate expenses. Our rent is negligible; our house consists of two bookshelves fixed with their open sides together and access holes drilled through the side at each level. It is amusing that our residence has such humble and prosaic origins, but it works well for us. Our house is inside Mr. Grisholm's apartment.

Writing of our job, I am reminded of a genre of joke we have learned of recently, and I believe I can attempt my own iteration of it;

Q. How many Myrmeoids does it take to change a light-bulb?

A. Three; two to hold the bulb, and one to blog about it.

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