Some Problems With the Farm Analogy

Column by Paul Bonneau

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Recently, STR linked to a video of “The Story of Your Enslavement”. While I largely agree with his view on this, and while I think his exposition is effective in breaking through all the lies we have used to enslaved ourselves, still there are some points about it that bother me.
What Molyneux is using here, is analogy. Analogy is a method of clarification that makes one thing understandable by casting it in terms of something else we already understand. In this case, he is using a farm to describe our past and current political and cultural reality.
It is not only his analogy; we all use the same one. Every time we utter or write the word “sheeple,” for instance, we are using the same analogy. I have used it too, many times.
Here are some problems with it.
1) It’s not our analogy--it’s their analogy. It’s the analogy that the ruling class would use, undoubtedly does use. Nothing would please them more than to see everyone adopt the notion that we are dumb animals being taken care of by our betters. It’s exactly the way they look at us, and they would like for us to see them as “Old McDonald” on his farm, taking care of us.
2) It’s an analogy that does not uplift us, nor degrade the rulers. Instead, it does the reverse.
3) It’s not very accurate, because people are not the same as farm animals. Sheep do not communicate, do not plan, do not do battle, do not research, read and write, do not by and large resist. All analogies fail at some point; the question is, do they fail on fundamental points, or on details? Do they mislead rather than enlighten?
4) This analogy leads us to dismiss other people. When we call someone “sheeple,” are we likely to want to depend on them, or they on us? Does it make them more likely to listen to our arguments? One of the ruling class’s primary tools is “divide and conquer.” They want us squabbling among ourselves. In dismissing others as “sheeple,” we are doing no good for ourselves, except perhaps for a little stroke to our own ego, by looking down on them. But we are also, at the same time, aiding the ruling class.
There are other analogies that might be more helpful for the cause of freedom. For example, how about the “parasite” analogy?
The ruling class are parasites on us, sucking the juices of the productive class. This would be our analogy, not one the ruling class would be likely to adopt! It does not reflect them in a pretty light. It’s more accurate because it is we who are the people, unlike the farm analogy. And it does not help their aim of divide and conquer, except that it tends to divide us from the parasites.
Another possible analogy is one I call “The Seven Samurai” analogy. If you’ve seen this Kurosawa epic (highly recommended), you will recognize the productive class, the farmers (here we identify with the farmers rather than farm animals). Then there were the bandits living in the hills, who swoop down to grab stuff from the farmers, and rape, pillage and plunder. Those are obviously the ruling class. Then there were the Samurais, hired by the farmers to protect them and help them protect themselves. The analogy breaks down here a bit, but these might be veterans who know how to fight, or people who train others to handle rifles and handguns; and the analogy might extend this group to people who write and argue in support of freedom (e.g., samurai Lew Rockwell). In other words, those who work to save the Remnant. At any rate, there are human advisers out there for the farmers to access, to protect themselves from the bandits. And that is true in our society too.
Yet another analogy is the “Mafia” analogy. Calling government a protection racket, or the Fed a bunch of counterfeiters? That’s the Mafia analogy. Rothbard put it well: “For if the bulk of the public were really convinced of the illegitimacy of the State, if it were convinced that the State is nothing more nor less than a bandit gang writ large, then the State would soon collapse to take on no more status or breadth of existence than another Mafia gang.” Again, this analogy does not suffer the drawbacks of the farm analogy.
Much as I think Molyneux has done a great job opening peoples’ eyes (he certainly has opened mine), it may be time to give the farm analogy a rest. Personally, I have attempted to erase the word “sheeple” from my vocabulary--other than to discourage its use--to avoid any mindset that unnecessarily separates me from a fellow member of the productive class. That’s one of the reasons I so objected to calling virtually everyone my enemy recently.
No, we aren’t farm animals.
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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Evan's picture

Excellent points. I think Molyneux can come off as sounding condescending sometimes, and I think many people who haven't come across liberty ideas before might find the farm analogy to be offensive. The state is a parasite and a criminal gang, not good Old McDonald who takes care of us.

Gwardion's picture

Excellent point.

I completely agree.

Cooperating with the ruling classes divide and conquer tactics will never win the battle for freedom.
We must take control of the debate and the language used and unite free humanity against those that would move to kill/maim/destroy all that will not follow their random and quite often stupid edicts.

If someone is so angry that they need to fight someone, they need to direct that anger at the root of the problem (the ruling class) and not the branches of the problem (the duped cooperative citizens).

helio's picture

I prefer the Antebellum South Plantation analogy.

Paul's picture

Unfortunately it suffers some of the same problems as the farm analogy.

rita's picture

I like the farm analogy up to the "seeing it is leaving it" part. (In truth, Paul, those I call "sheeple" I pretty much don't depend on anyway.) And I don't think it's necessary for an analogy to be "uplifting" -- there's nothing uplifting about ignorance.

Paul's picture

Ignorance is curable. Anyway, saying we all live on farms, as farm animals - even knowing the score - degrades us and glorifies the ruling class. It's not an analogy helpful to the cause of freedom.

Michael Kleen's picture

I think there's problems with any analogy. For example, it's tempting to talk about a ruling class being a parasite on a productive class, but things are not as simple as that, especially in a "democracy" or a republic. The fact is, in the U.S. system, many collective interests compete to drain resources from each other, and they elect representatives who they believe with further their interests. So, these people are "hidden" from the public eye, but they are never the less the origin of much of the legal plunder in our society. It's no coincidence that the size of government expanded along with the voting franchise. So, you can't just blame a small class of people.

Paul's picture

Yes, all analogies fail at some point. Personally I consider parasites anyone who benefits from government other than those benefits government has forced on us (e.g., road users are not parasites).

But the point of the article was to move us away from an analogy that aids the ruling class.

Samarami's picture

I have a natural human tendency to want you to believe that my particular philosophy is logical, correct belief. If I'm not careful I'll insult you if you don't agree ("sheeple", "slave"). Molyneux is good at attempting to turn folks around through insults. I don't totally disagree with him -- or you. I'm an advocate of Murray Rothbard's "Anatomy of the State"

All of us want to promulgate the "message of freedom". The nature of freedom is such, however, that you have a right to believe as you believe without interference from me or anybody else. So we often disagree on exactly what freedom is -- or how far "we" have to go to achieve it. But what is a libertarian/anarchy discussion forum if not to air views with an eye toward coming to greater understanding?

Per Bylund kicked over a bucket some time back with a column insisting that anybody who gives a tiny sliver of legitimacy to state is "our enemy" (I may be over stating that). That was good for a lengthy thread that might finally have run its course for now. But Per gave rise to a number of us taking personal inventory as to just how committed to freedom we are. Is not a little bit of state something like a little bit of pregnancy?

Good article, Paul.


Suverans2's picture

Point well taken, and very well stated, Paul Bonneau.