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Rant #205
(published December 16, 2004)
In Defense of the Hare
by P.F. Loyd
Faster, but never finished: this is the definition of the Hare. He does not just run the race, he is running incarnate. The Hare is the act of running itself. In that sense, he is defined by process and not by product. Winning is beside the point.

Finished, but never faster: this is the definition of the Tortoise. He does not run at all, he only races. He is without process, he is without a nature, except insofar as he is directed toward a goal. He is nothing but the goal. He is the race itself. He is the definition of winning for the sake of winning. If he does not win, he is nothing, because he has no being aside from that fact. If the tortoise loses, we never talk about him, we never dream of him, he is never apprehended by school-children. And so he is defined by the product of his endeavor, always trapped by it.

Imagine the Tortoise now. He is the long-standing symbol of American industry. He is General Electric. He is Microsoft. Slow, steady, he slips down the hill, plodding, unsexy, lacking both style and substance, really. He simply progresses. He is Progress, one foot in front of the other. There is nothing Mercurial about the Tortoise. He may always be late, but he always arrives. He collects all in his path, he digests, he encompasses, grows in mass, in size, market share, dominance, seducing the fleet-footed into the race by virtue of his immensity. The Tortoise is almost always the subject of ridicule, but not only does he not care, he does not even comprehend what it means to care. He is beyond self-image. He is beyond impression or ingenuity. He is only unstoppable progress, irrevocable growth. He is the definition of winning at all cost, at any cost, for only the sake of success itself. He will sell you toilet cleaner if it moves him forward. He will sell you stealth bombers. He will sell you sitcoms. He will sell you toothpaste and ice cream and nuclear breeder reactors and oil management services. If sales move him forward, he will sell you selling. He is Amway and IBM, General Motors, Con Edison. The only thing he will not do is pause, or do anything that might make you pause, consider, grow, change. Sales are his motion and consumers his road. Good roads lay flat, are straight, cutting through farm fields, moraines, wetlands and mountains. He will always win. Only other Tortoises are really in the race at all.

The Hare is nothing like this. He is the long-standing American symbol of decadence. We know him as Mercury on some flight of fancy; as Icarus upon waxen wings. He is the joy of running; he is the joy of speed, the joy of process. He does not win because he does not conceive winning as his project. He has made the running into the thing itself. There is no destination. There is no goal. There is only whim and fancy. He can live apart from the win. He is not defined by it. He can sleep whenever he wants, and does. He can run faster than any creature, and can pause for breakfast, the long strides cross great distances, up hills, through feathered meadows, along the delicate edges of mountain peaks. He leaves no trail, follows no path, feels neither ahead nor behind. He can measure himself against no known course, because he cannot conceive of a course; he cannot apprehend the very notion of victory because he contains a more perfect win.

I contend that Aesop was a Tortoise, that he held aloft that old story of his long plodding race as a lesson for other Tortoises. We do not know how that day unfolded. We only have Aesop's say so that the Hare was boastful, that the race was his idea. The source cannot be trusted. Could it not also be that the fact of the Hare's speed was itself a kind of challenge? Could it not also be that this fact, this law of the world so irked the Tortoise that he perceived it as a direct challenge only because he so greatly wished defeat the Hare? I say this because what Hare could imagine a race? What Hare would be able to define a single path, a single end point, the very notion of discretion beyond the grasp of any Hare? If the Hare is, like Prospero's Ariel, a fleet-footed creature of light, than he could not have imagined what a contest was with its rules and boundaries. Singular determination, direction, steady adherence to laws, these are both the virtues of a Tortoise and the very nature of the race. I do not think this coincidence. A race, a testing of limits, is by its nature antithetical to the being of the Hare.

Only a Tortoise, cool and calculating, could have in his reptilian brain determined such a thing as this contest. Aesop only dresses up the resentment of the Tortoise by placing the challenge in the Hare's mouth.

The Hare is the victim, and we, by taking Aesop's word for it, have all become victims as well.

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