Termites in the top storey

By Owen Jennings

Here is a very silly, even ridiculous scenario.  Imagine you have a looming problem.  Let’s say its termites eating through the wooden frame of your house.  You decide you have to fix the problem.  It’s a very expensive treatment. 

Your plan is complicated because various experts you have called in have different ideas on how many termites you have and how fast they are multiplying.  At one end some suggest the house is about to collapse and kill your family.  Others are claiming it’s not really a problem as the house can live with, even an increase in termites.  Yet another group are saying science and ingenuity will help solve the problem if, indeed, it exists.

After all, termites have come and gone in the past in much bigger numbers.

You are a bit confused because the more negative advisers told you 40 years ago your house only had a few years left and their termite count predictions of increases have proven to be miles overstated.

Your plan of action includes reducing your working week hours by taking an extra day off.  Just how having less income helps your situation is not apparent.  Rational thinking would suggest you need more income not less.  Facing huge costs on less income just does not make sense.

Further, your neighbours are also concerned about termites in their homes.  They have approached the well off guy down the street and asked him to help pay for fixing their homes.  He told them to “bugger off”. He isn’t the least bit concerned about the termites.  A couple of other neighbours are making soothing noises about cooperating but they are actually flat out feeding their termites. 

It gets worse.  The poorer neighbours are now demanding you pay to get rid of their termites.  And on your lower income.  They are the people who think you can penalise your way to wealth and that the collective provides all the answers and that money solves all problems.  A whole bunch of your close neighbours are planning to move in and live with you because their termites are apparently out of control. 

Your hard working wife is being told she is a major contributor to the termite problem and she has to cut back your meal sizes by 60%.  Things have turned nasty when you tried to defend her.  You are confused because she is the bread winner and you know she does the best she can with the resources she has.  You need her help if you are going to overcome the problem.

Your pre-schooler has just announced she is no longer going to attend kindy because you are not doing enough to get rid of the termites.  She says she can see termites everywhere despite you not having seen a one.  She sounds awfully like her kindy teacher – one of those ‘shouty’, placard waving sorts.

When you tried talking to your neighbours about the termites they shut you down.  They don’t want you to ask questions or raise objections. It’s far too important to talk about. It’s too late and too dangerous they say.

You have just learned that if you slavishly follow your community’s advice and make all the sacrifices you will barely make any difference to the termite numbers.   Maybe a few less of the countless numbers of termites.  Ah, but the community leaders are reminding you that doing something will make you feel better.  Sainthood is all about being seen to do something.  In fact, they want to be the first to take sacrificial action, big, bold action that will have the rest of the wider community in awe and wonder.  You might even get some sort of environmental gong, an Oscar or a Nobel prize. 

You are told not to worry that little is known about your problem and that no one fully understands the costs and benefits.  Just do it, they say.  Don’t be a pain and ask sensible, logical questions.

Yes, you have a termite problem alright.  It’s not in the foundations or the walls.

It’s in the top storey.