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The Unexpected Snake

The Farmer and the Snake

A Farmer walked through his field one cold winter morning. On the ground lay a Snake, stiff and frozen with the cold. The Farmer knew how deadly the Snake could be, and yet he picked it up and put it in his bosom to warm it back to life.

The Snake soon revived, and when it had enough strength, bit the man who had been so kind to it. The bite was deadly and the Farmer felt that he must die. “Oh,” cried the Farmer with his last breath, “I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel.”

The Greatest Kindness Will Not Bind the Ungrateful.

The moral of this Aesopian fable from a mere 2500 years ago is that doing good to evil will only lead to more evil. Aiding those who kill only brings more death, not life. It is human nature to think that people will return good for good and evil for evil. This kind of thinking perversely leads some to assume that if they are being assaulted, then they must have done something to deserve it. This logic is routinely used to argue that Islamic terrorists are simply paying us back in the same coin.

But the assumption that evil exists because evil has been done to someone else, tracing back to an original primal evil of injustice that can only be healed with social justice, is itself evil.

In September 1 1939, W.H Auden responded to Hitler's invasion of Poland by penning the lines;

Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return

Those same lines have been routinely taken up by those eager to pen their own apologetics for evil. In the wake of another early September, September 11th, Auden's poem was re-embraced once again by those penning essays explaining why we were the real terrorists to whom evil had been done in return for our own evil.

But while it is easy enough to dismiss W.H. Auden as naive, snakes don't always look the way you expect them to. Particularly snakes who take refuge in the mind of man. Auden was more snake than farmer and his words were the snake-words of one scaly creature excusing the evil of another.

In September 1939, the USSR and Nazi Germany had an agreement. And the man who two years earlier had penned the line, "The consious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder" in his poem Spain, when referring to the Soviet atrocities in Spain, was not a pacifist. He was one of the snakes.

In time Auden would describe his poem as ''infected with an incurable dishonesty". The infection, the snake bite of incurable dishonesty, passes through the words. The dishonesty is a poisonous disease.

Are those who go on to quote "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return", to excuse and justify terrorism the farmer or the snake? On the surface of it, there is no clearer or simpler justification of evil than these lines. They presume that anyone who does evil, has been first sinned against. And while that may not entirely render them guiltless, it clearly spreads the guilt around and adds a touch of morally equivalent white paint to the murderous figure crouching in the center of the room.

Auden repudiated the poem, but the idea behind it is just too appealing to give up. And so we return to the farmer and the snake again. Why does the farmer pick up the snake? Is it naive pity, or is there something in the farmer that draws him to the snake? Is there something in those who feel so much pity for evil that draws them toward evil?

The dichotomy between the farmer and the snake may not be so simple after all. Because even an idiot knows better than to shelter a snake. Nor does a snake appeal to any normal person as a creature that needs sheltering. Is it only misguided pity that draws a man to shelter a snake, or something else entirely? Because the very idea that good will be repaid with good and evil with evil has something else lurking in it as we've already seen. The farmer's logic can be read both ways, the naive man who genuinely expects that only good can come of doing good until he dies of that sort of thinking, or the evil man who believes that he is safe from the snake because the evil within him and the snake makes them both victims. For the farmer to act as he does, he must believe that the snake is not evil, and such a belief is the province of the very naive or the very evil.

And so we return to September 1, 1939 again. To Hitler's tanks riding into Poland. To the inability to describe evil as evil. And we return to September 11, 2001 as well. And to so many other days. To free countries beleaguered by an enemy within its own borders, by the snakes they have taken to them, kept warm and perish, poisoned by their bites. But the curious thing is the sight of all these farmers lovingly clutching handfuls of poisonous snakes to them, proclaiming how wonderful they are, and shouting down anyone who would warn them about the deadly poison.

As Aesop knew some 2500 years ago; The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful. Virtually every civilized country affected by Muslim terror, has responded by trying to make life better for Muslims. But no matter how much they warm the snake, it still bites. The snake will always bite.

Only the fool or the sociopath genuinely believes that evil is returned only for evil. That snakes will only bite you, if you bite them first. That if you warm them and cuddle them, they will warm and cuddle you in turn. Things that are poisonous bite.

Was the farmer's crime, pity or identification with the snake? Think of Auden identifying to some degree with the grievances of Hitler's stormtroopers. Or Israel's Barak saying that if he had been born a Palestinian Arab, he would have become a terrorist as well. That is the snake speaking from inside the farmer. The voice of the snake that says the only difference between us and evil men, is that they have suffered and we have not. That sees not a moral continuum, but one in which deprivation releases and justifies our worst impulses. That says evil is actually proof of righteousness.

Every atrocity is proof of suffering. Every crime reveals a tormented soul. The worst monsters must have endured more abuse than we could possibly imagine. Evil is saintly and good is privileged.

That is the problem of the farmer who believes that inside he is really a snake, and the snake who believes he is really a farmer. For if there is no difference between good and evil, but that those who do good have had good done to them, and those who do evil, have had evil done to them-- then we can welcome in the snakes and all will be well because we are all snakes inside. And it is only by warming snakes, that we change that. This in essence is the worldview of liberalism. This is the key to much of its madness. And so they pick up the snake, and are bitten and die, wondering why their worldview which seemed so right, proved to be so wrong. And we die with them. For the farmer has carried the snake home, made a nest for it, and filled his home and the homes of his neighbors with snakes. And it may be hard to know where the farmer began and where the snake ended.


  1. Anonymous28/4/16

    Torah forewarns us that 'being kind to the cruel ultimately leads to being 'cruel to the kind'. Today's liberalism (radicals) with its warped thinking actually believe it's okay even with its obvious consequences (moral relativism = immorality).
    Common sense no longer exists.

  2. Anonymous28/4/16

    I see I am not the only one to recognize the ancient wisdom of Aesop. Apparently our do not read the ancient wisdom any more...

  3. Anonymous28/4/16

    I trust it is not lost on you that Donald Trump uses EXACTLY this fable/story repeatedly to express his view on islam....

  4. Infidel28/4/16

    Thanks, great article! One of my favorite parables ...

  5. Anonymous28/4/16

    The real poison is the guilt instilled into infant minds;
    the Eden forbidden fruit lie.
    An infinite series of causal tit-for-tats ensue.
    How monstrous.

  6. AesopFan29/4/16

    I don't see how I can pass this one up -- the world would be a lot better off if we made every political leader memorize Aesop's Fables and penalized any who failed to put them into practice (that was his original mission, in fact).
    As Daniel explains so well, "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return" IS NOT THE SAME AS "those who do evil / have had evil done to them."
    He said: "Only the fool or the sociopath genuinely believes that evil is returned ONLY for evil. " (caps added because I can't do bold). One of his earlier statements is clarified by making this contingency explicit rather than implicit: "But the assumption that evil exists ONLY because evil has been done to someone else, tracing back to an original primal evil of injustice that can only be healed with social justice, is itself evil."
    The attempt to justify doing evil by claiming prior victim-hood is (literally) as old as the story of Cain and Abel. That story is in the Bible for a reason, and it's the same reason that Aesop tried to get across: some people are going to do evil regardless of what is done to them, and you have no obligation to enable them (in fact, you have an obligation to stop them).
    I think it is interesting, though, that the Moral of the Biblical tale is primarily "Take responsibility for your own actions" but the Moral of the Fable is "The Greatest Kindness Will Not Bind the Ungrateful."
    Cain (according to common interpretations) acted out of envy and anger. The Genesis account suggests that Cain could have controlled his emotions and NOT have done evil to Abel, despite his feeling offended (the first Special Snowflake looking for a Safe Place?): Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it."
    Jews and Christians, taking this lesson, teach that the proper response to kindness is, indeed, gratitude, and go further, teaching that the proper response to having evil done to them (alleged or actual) is to do good in return: being responsible for their choices and actions.
    The Snake simply acted according to its nature: it had no concept of responsibility toward the Farmer, and thus no gratitude to guide its choices.
    And herein lies the application to Islamic terrorists doing evil in (alleged) return for (alleged) evil done to them. Islamic terrorists (and frankly, any other kind) see no reason to be grateful for kindnesses done to them because it is their entitlement and due to them. They think they are already acting righteously (in accord with Allah's commandments, not contrary to G-d's as was the case with Cain), so that the evil they do to non-Muslims (including their own selection of apostate Muslims) is not something to be controlled, but is exactly according to their nature.
    (INSERT required caveat that not all Muslims are Islamic Terrorists, that many repay kindness with gratitude and forebear to repay offense with violence, but they are NOT THE ONES who are going around killing people all over the world.)

  7. The whole radical paternalism thing as pushed by Christianity and now the secular community is unworkable and always has been. Generosity like everything else has to be rationed or it gets used up. And once it is gone all hell breaks loose.

  8. It takes one snake to know another. Man tries to escape God's judgment of his sin by attempting to atone for his unrighteousness through choosing the sacrifice. The problem is that sin is rooted in every human heart, so "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts." (Proverbs 21:2) God is not interested at all in the stinky sacrifice of self-righteousness, but rather in this: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

  9. Anonymous29/4/16

    Authorities in Sweden invited snakes to a whopping five percent of their population, mostly to teach Israel a lesson on ‘farming’. They are by now the rape capital of the world. We will see when they reach the seventeen percentage of Israel…
    Turning their country into a test lab speak volumes about the much praised Scandinavian paradise. Frau Merkel and the Pope are green with envy.

  10. A brilliant analogy Mr. Greenfield--and once more you are absolutely on target.

  11. Of all people, Whoopi Goldberg made this point in what has always remained for me one of the most brilliant and memorable moments in the history of Star Trek. The topic is this very one - Picard giving safe harbor to a murderous Borg ---


  12. Anonymous29/4/16

    A very fine essay indeed .One to keep in mind
    Dave S

  13. And the child. I used to catch wild animals in my shirt and turn them loose in my room believing I was going to feed and raise them so they would be safe and healthy. So many snakes bit me, I thought wrongly that only poisonous ones bit. But I had no idea what poisonous ones looked like even.

  14. Anonymous30/4/16

    The Leftist has a special self-hatred.
    Seeing moral superiority in phony humility,
    He refuses to exercise judgement,
    discarding his key to survival.

  15. Then there are the farmers who wouldn't touch a snake with a ten-foot pole themselves but instead build moats around their farms and enact legislation mandating that all their neighbors warm snakes.

  16. Anonymous30/4/16

    Anonymous, our young only read People magazine and airport literature, if they read at all.

    Personally, I am tired of presenting the other cheek. Yes, I know being a Christian I should not say that. Well, I do. And I'm ready to sort it out with the Lord when my time comes.

    It's one thing to pardon your offender. Another very different one is to put a target on your chest and stand in front of a murderer and say "Shoot me. I deserve it." The former is noble. The latter is stupid. There is no virtue in stupidity, no matter what the left tells you.

    I'm all for giving ISIS, radical Islam, or whatever denomination they prefer, a taste of their own medicine. It's the only language they understand so speak to them in their own language.

    Now I could expand my opinion to great lengths, but it's the weekend and it's a lovely day where I live, so I'll put aside the insanity of politics and go and take some fresh air.

    Great post, as usual, Daniel.

  17. Anonymous30/4/16

    You've said it all.
    Now let us return this snake to its place of origin, along with it's foolish bed pals!
    And next time VET the Bastard.

  18. I'm sorry to say the West needs horrific shock therapy to change the thinking of a sizable minority away from such ego-based dismissal of evil. A majority of Leftists will never make this shift, but I sizable enough could to make the difference. Seriously, if you have 10 misguided Liberal/Left friends, at best 1 or 2 are capable of proactive change. Every Aesop fable has multiple novels embedded in the psychodynamics involved.

  19. "Humans are born with a susceptibility to that most persistent and debilitating disease of intellect: self-deception." from the Bene Gesserit Coda

  20. Anonymous1/5/16

    "Things that are poisonous bite."

    Think it is we bite things that are poisonous. Venomous creatures bite us.

  21. Mr. Greenfield, I understand the purpose of this article, but your snake metaphor reveals your ignorance of the natural world and perpetuates a pernicious myth. This idea that snakes spend all their waking hours wanting and seeking to bite human beings is ridiculous. Snakes are wild animals which will defend themselves when threatened, like almost every other wild animal on the planet. A snake wants nothing more than to be left alone by humans.

    Try picking up and hugging a raccoon (or a squirrel, or a fox) and see what happens. But the snake gets the reputation and the raccoon doesn't.

  22. Daniel - this is one of your best articles and written for the likes of these people in this video:


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