Monday, February 20, 2012

Big balls and angry bees.

Denzel came charging around the corner of the house as if helplessly possessed. He was the first of many part time gardeners, all of whom absconded after falling victim to the effects of regularly consuming large quantities of moss, a home distilled “wine” that gets sold here in 2- and 5-liter plastic containers.

So for a brief moment I was convinced that Denzel had simply succumbed to delirium tremens. His arms were flaying about in all directions. His legs were pumping like pistons dislodged from their cylinders with his knees passing his ears as he desperately tried to take the biggest steps as fast as possible. As this apparition headed straight for me, I heard before I saw the real cause of his frenzy…an exceedingly loud, electronic like hum which was followed by a thick black cloud trying to engulf the hapless man. It was a swarm of angry bees and Denzel was bringing them straight towards me!

Not having Denzel’s youth, fitness or agility, I froze as they swarmed around me. Mysteriously, the swarm simply parted as if intent only on getting Denzel and treating me like some irrelevant minor obstacle. I could not trust this subterfuge to last, so I “ran” – if that’s how one can describe an overweight near septuagenarian making haste like a threatened walrus trying to get back to the ocean. Before reaching the front door, I noticed a strange, fairly large “log” on the lawn. It was making a puzzling “putt-putt” sound which I realised afterwards was the abandoned idling engine of the petrol lawn trimmer. The swarm had attacked and covered every inch of it, imbedding thousands of kamikaze stings in every non-metallic part and covering previously black plastic in a white blanket of tiny venomous bubbles.

It took hours for things to settle down. Denzel had found refuge in the garage and needed coaxing with a litre of the good stuff before being convinced that he could emerge safely. I never saw him again after that day. If he had returned I could have shared with him the fruits of a neighbouring farmer, Pottie Potgieter, removing the hive from where it had illegally squatted too close to my home for comfortable co-existence. Pottie is known as the Red Ants to bees here. He left me with a bucketful of honeycomb dripping with the clearest, sweetest and most palatable honey I have ever tasted and certainly never with the store bought stuff.

clip_image002One simply cannot beat nature at its benevolent best. Bees are a good example. Apart from nutritious and tasty honey as their unique product, they are also the chief pollinators on the planet and are the prime enablers of most of what we consume. It is estimated that about one third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans are directly or indirectly dependent on bee pollination. So it is understandable that panic close to a natural disaster is inflamed when strange fungi or parasites threaten the hives.

Reflection on the wonder of bees makes one realise how benevolent our world has been structured – indeed how important benevolence is to our very existence. I am by nature a pessimist, sometimes to the point of dysfunction. But even in my darkest hour, I cannot escape the logic that our world would simply fall apart if by and large, good did not outweigh evil, if benevolence did not exceed malevolence, if generosity did not overshadow greed. While popular media more often report on acts of malevolence and anti-social behaviour, it does not prove their prevalence over goodwill. Indeed it more likely proves the opposite because news by its nature is driven by the unusual, the unexpected and not by the mundane and routine.

So surely the structuring of things on the basis of benevolence and generosity will be affirmed by creation; ensure its sustainability and likely success? This makes the assumptions about the self-interest motive in economics rather puzzling and counterproductive. Of course, followers of this column will know that I believe the assumptions themselves are wrong, and that economics and all transactions have a benevolent basis. But I must concede that behaviour too often counters the caring underpinning of business, which explains the global mess we are in.

It was procrastination in staging my own small protest against such behaviour that saved me from a million bee stings on Denzel’s day of doom. Pottie said the mysterious behaviour of the swarm in ignoring me and going for Denzel was because bees get terribly riled up by unwashed human bodies and the musky smell of days old human sweat and will attack the source. They also get very mad at the smell of petrol or diesel fumes, and tractors have on occasion been disabled by their ire.

On the morning of that fateful day, I had decided to discontinue using underarm deodorant. I was tired of changing brands in following my own preference for the small-ball roll-on. The small ball allows you to be far more precise and conservative in applying the fragrant liquid. But knowing this, and clearly dissatisfied with sales volumes, all brands have opted for the big-ball roll-on, creating a wet underarm mess from elbow to hip and depleting twice as fast. The container is also shaped like something from the shelves of an adult shop (or so I have been told). But the Scrooge in me decided to finish the bottle I had, before taking my protest further. So the bees left me alone on that day. Sweltering heat and prolific perspiring subsequently tempered my resolve. I am changing to the stick applicator, having tried the spray to the disgust of every benign insect in my bedroom.

The devil is indeed in the detail. Millions of rand spent on PR spin get trashed by constant small reflections of selfish, profit driven intent. Like those chocolate bars that shrink from 50g to 46g in the same wrapper; a covert increase in bank fees while the CEO gets a multi-million rand bonus; badly explained increases in medical aid premiums; and, and, and. It’s not only the big headline events such as bread price collusion, large scale corruption and gulf oil spills. It is the death of trust by a thousand cuts. It is also more real and tangible to the person who experiences it and as we have seen, can get a life of its own through the social media.

There is a very simple condition to the granting of trust: you earn it by having the interest of the other at heart. Behave as if you do, for it affirms your value in a world structured on benevolence.

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