The parable of Laketown

Once there was a small town in the mountains called Laketown. It sat next to a small lake in a deep valley. The lake was drained by no stream or river, and so its level would fluctuate up and down. But it never raised very high, because the people in Laketown would prevent that. Long ago, their ancestors had built a clever bucket-carrying system at one end of the valley. Volunteers would gather there when the lake rose too high, and together they would carry water up high enough to spill it over into the next valley. In fact they didn't really have to lift the water very high - that end of the valley was split by a deep canyon. Some people said that the canyon had been cut by water, and that was proof that in the prehistoric past the lake had been higher. But most people pooh-poohed such talk, pointing out all the land that would be flooded in the valley if the lake were to rise even a tiny bit above its current level. No, they said: the lake must stay where it is. Too much is at risk. In any case, they said, it's no big deal. Just a few days each year, and a few people can prevent any flooding.

Time went on, and Laketown prospered. But there was a problem. The climate around Laketown changed and became wetter. (Some folks said that the new farms and roads that people were building affected the weather.) People had to spend more time each year carrying water to prevent flooding. In fact there weren't enough volunteers, and the town flooded several times. What panic! So the people got together and made flood control mandatory.

It was called the Mandatory Volunteer Lake Control Program. Early on, helping out was only required for the biggest farmers, and the ones nearest the lake. But they weren't enough. More days of rain came, so they extended the Program to everyone. First for a few days each year, which everyone thought was OK except a few grumblers. But then it rained, and rained. And it became 10, 20, 50, 100 days each year. The people groaned, but nobody could see anything to do. If they let the lake rise, wouldn't they be ruined? Sure it was objectionable to be forced to spend half your life carrying water, but wasn't that the price that one had to pay for civilization?

Pretty soon everyone was working 200 days a year, just bailing the lake.

One man rose to address his fellows. He said, My Friends, we're attacking this problem in the wrong way! If we just let the lake rise a little bit, then it will be high enough to once again spill down the canyon where it once ran. Then we won't have to spend any of our time bailing!

He was, of course, shouted down. Everyone knew that the only way to prevent flooding was hard work. So they exiled the man, and returned to their work.

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