Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Fisherman and the Farmer - A Tale About Overexploitation

Ilaria Perissi and Nicola Calisi playing the fisherman and his wife in a theatrical piece shown in Florence in 2017. The piece was based on the story told below (text by Ugo Bardi). The origin of this story is told here.

Once upon a time, a fisherman who lived on the shore of the lake went to visit his cousin, a farmer, who lived in the countryside.

“Cousin,” said the fisherman, “I am glad to see you and that God blessed you with a good wife and many children. But I also see that your children are thin, and they look hungry, and the same is true for your wife. I am sad at seeing that, cousin. Why don’t you make bread for your children with the grain that I saw you keep in the granary? Don’t you trust God to provide for you in the future? I can tell you that God gives me abundant fish from the lake where I fish, and my good wife and my children don’t starve.”

“Cousin,” said the farmer, “I am glad to see you, too, and I am sure that God blessed you in giving you abundant fish so that your wife and your children do not starve. But you are right when you say that my children are hungry, and it is true that we haven’t had much bread to eat. But the land sometimes gives us plenty and sometimes not so much. This year, times were more difficult than usual and the harvest was not so good as I hoped it would be. Yet, I must follow the rules that my father followed, and my grandfather before him followed, and the ancient fathers of all of us followed. And I follow these rules not because I don’t trust God to provide us with food that, but because I think that it is what God wants us to do. Every year, some seed must be kept for the new harvest and this is the seed I keep in the granary. No matter how hungry we are, this seed cannot be eaten. And that the same for everything we have: from mushrooms to the berries of the woods. Whatever we take from the land, we must not take too much of it, so that there will be more of it in the new season. And this is the way of the farmer and I will follow it.”

“And so be it, cousin,” said the fisherman, “I will go back to my family on the shore of the lake, and may God bless you and your family and keep hunger away from all of you.”

“And so be it, cousin,” said the farmer, “I wish you a good trip back home on the shore of the lake and may God bless you and your family and keep hunger away from all of you.”

Some years later, the farmer went to visit his cousin, the fisherman, who lived on the shore of the lake.

“Cousin,” said the farmer. “I am glad to see you again, but I see that your children are thin, and they look hungry, and the same is true for your wife. What happened? Why can’t you fish enough to feed your family? I remember that the last time I saw you, you told me that God had blessed you with abundant fish from the lake.”

“Cousin,” said the fisherman, “I am glad to see you again, too. And I told you the truth, some years ago, when I said that God had blessed us with plenty of fish. But since then, many fishermen have been fishing in the lake, and they all have children, just like me. And the more we keep fishing, the less fish there is in the lake. And now that the lake is almost empty of fish, we can’t feed our children.”

“But, cousin,” said the farmer, “why didn’t you and the other fishermen fish a little less when there was still plenty of fish? You should have waited for the new fish to be born, just as we farmers wait for the new harvest to grow. In this way, you wouldn’t have emptied the lake of fish and your children would not starve now.”

“Cousin,” said the fisherman, “you are right and what you are telling me is something that I thought myself. But I also thought that, if I fished less, then the other fishermen would catch the fish that I wouldn’t catch. And I think that every fisherman thought the same and we all went fishing as often as we could, and we fished as much as we could until there was almost no more fish in the lake because we fish the young fish just as the old. And now we don’t have much food to feed our children, but we still must follow the way of the fisherman, as my father did, and his father, and the ancestors of all of us. And this way is to fish and to keep fishing and hope that God will keep hunger away from us and from our families.”

“And so be it, cousin,” said the farmer, “I will pray God for you that He may keep hunger away from you and from your family. But I am afraid that God may not help those who caused their own ruin.”

“And so be it, cousin,” said the fisherman, “and I thank you for your prayers although it may well be that God will not help those who caused their own ruin. But I wish that God will help you and the other farmers who wisely keep the seed of the present harvest for the future harvest.

Below, the announcement of the play.


  1. "The Fisherman and the Farmer" is a useful introductory fable for a complex issue. "Introductory" because, as my Father used to say, "A fable, myth, analogy, whatever, can be a useful vehicle for a range of purposes, but like a tired old horse, it can’t take you very far.”

  2. The Farmer and the Hunter-gatherer

    Once upon a time, the Farmer kills the Hunter-gatherer.

    The End.

  3. Add debt into the equation and they are both toast in short order.

  4. God didn't give anybody anything - so the "story" depicts much more then just the imaginary cornucopia of endless food - it also depicts the dangerous fantasies of stupidstitions. And the unwillingness of the author to actually attempt to deal with reality.

    By mixing in religious idiocy into factual science and facts, you're just perpetuating human stupidity and religious ignorance. It's not "useful" at all - because everyone will either see right through it, or if they're stupidstitious, not care anyway. Quit pandering to the morons among us.

    We don't tell imaginary stories about aliens feeding humans, or ice castles on the Moon do we? Then why tell an imaginary story about how life really works on planet Earth?

    This article is about US - and our constant willingness to accept the mediocre and imaginary.

    1. You're sorely mistaken about human nature - and likely about your own "rationality" :

      (If that's too long, search it for "metis" - what you call "stupidstition".)

  5. And the fisherman said: Stuff this! I'm going to become a Viking coastal raider!' :)



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)