Friday, October 24, 2014

The Frog and the Scorpion

I have binged on Teen Wolf, a tv-series, for a while. Guilty pleasures and all that. It brought up a fable I've always quite liked, although I never considered why. So I will now, with the series as backdrop. A small spoiler warning, although nothing will be revealed that compromises plot twists or anything.

So the setup is basically that there's werewolves and hunters, and each side has at this point its own internal bad guy; trigger happy individuals that don't go well with the others of its own group, but that is not at this precise moment a direct threat. The main characters go to each of these to find out the truth about an old conflict from before they got involved. Back then, a werewolf decided to try to mediate peace between the two groups. Both of the bad guys then use the fable of the frog and the scorpion to explain/justify what happened.

The fable, in case you haven't heard it, goes something like this:
The scorpion comes to the frog and asks it to carry it across the river. The frog is hesitant because the scorpion's sting is poisonous, but the scorpion says, if I sting you, I will also drown. The frog gives in and the scorpion gets on its back and they set out. In the middle of the river the scorpion stings the frog. Dying, and sinking, the frog asks, “why did you do that, now we will both die”. The scorpion replies, “because it is my nature”.

The hunters say, it is in the werewolves nature to kill us, they must be setting up a trap, we should attack them preemptively. The werewolves say, it is in the hunters' nature to kill us, they will attack us when we come, we should bring secret backup. The two groups meet, the hunters attack, the werewolves' backup arrives. The hunters say, look it was a trap, as we knew it would be. The werewolves say, look they attacked us as we knew they would.

If there was ever a setup to be used as an example for destiny and the inevitability of consequence, it is this one, worthy of becoming a fable in itself. Like an evolution, an extension of the fable of the frog and the scorpion, each side's respective expectations of the other's nature brings out their own; their telling of the fable becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And each side's telling of the events becomes an incentive to continue as before; a circle chase passed down from generation to generation.

So what is the fable, really? What is the purpose of the tale of the frog and the scorpion? Firstly, there's a million things it doesn't tell us. Perhaps the scorpion did sincerely not intend to sting the frog, and sorely regretted it after it was done, or perhaps that was the plan all along. Did the frog show suspicion towards the scorpion because of its species or because this specific scorpion had stung others before? Why the heck did the scorpion want to cross the river in the first place?

Anyway. At first glance, it seems all about the scorpion. It's easy to identify with the frog, perceived as the “victim” of the scorpion's nature. It seems the cautionary tale warns us to be aware of others' natures, and like the men in the story, prepare as if all enemies, or all non-friends, are potential scorpions.

But what of the frog? What do we know of the frog, and its nature? Despite the danger, the frog is convinced by the scorpion's logic immediately, without discussion. The scorpion could sting it while they're still on land, because somehow they have to get out into the water. But the frog takes what is said at face value and it trusts. Perhaps that is the frog's nature; perhaps by trusting the scorpion it has not only killed itself, but also effectively ended the scorpion's life. And then the story becomes not a cautionary tale to look out for scorpions, but a nod at inevitability, at each one's nature enabling the other's. Which one of them carried the responsibility, which one's nature was the one at fault? If each creature has its nature set, and neither can overcome it, there could never actually be another end to the fable. The frog and the scorpion are destined to die the moment the story begins. And maybe that's the lesson.

Ultimately the werewolves' story and the fable makes me consider if in our struggle for control in the chaos of life we put blame on whoever seems most fit to carry it. In this case, the scorpion. I by no means mean the frog, or any victim, is to blame for anything done either. Is one to blame for the nature one has and cannot change? The fable is strangely free from pointing fingers. Perhaps I only mean that in the grand web of things, in the great tapestry of destiny, there may not be a culprit or a victim, just a frog and a scorpion and the unfortunate way their natures meet.

Although I can't help thinking that the scorpion waits to sting until they're in the middle of the river for a reason.

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