Rabbit in the Box

If you have lived in rural America for any length of time you’re probably seen, perhaps even made for yourself, a rabbit box. Traps and snares are almost as old as humanity, but the rabbit box evolved out here in the country where lumber and wood working tools were common, and the need to protect the garden while adding some protein to the diet was great.

Whoever made the first rabbit box was surely thinking outside the box. The design is as simple as it is elegant, consisting of a rectangular box closed by a sliding trap door triggered by notched stick attached to a string connected to a lever. The rabbit enters the box and pushes against the trigger, lured by the safety of the dark warren and drawn by the bait inside. The stick releases, allowing the gate to drop down behind the rabbit, which can then be humanely released to plague someone else’s garden or served up at the supper table.

I’ve considered crafting my own box lately. For years we rarely saw a rabbit in our neck of the woods, and a bit of electric fence was enough to keep the deer out of the beans. There were so many coyotes in the area, the rabbits didn’t stand a chance. In recent years, however, the coyote population, at least where we live, was drastically reduced, and then came the unintended consequence: Last year the rabbits came back with a vengeance, hopped right through my electric fence and wiped out three successive plantings of beans.

Food for rabbits is food for thought. In some ways we’re very similar to the task oriented rabbit intent on following the lure of its desire all the way to the loss of its freedom and perhaps even its life. We frequently come up short in considering the consequences of our actions beyond the hoped-for results.

It happens every day to the angry and the greedy, and to anyone who surrenders to the needful emotions, but even the thoughtful can get trapped in the box after carefully and scientifically rationalizing the need to go in there. Someone once told me that smart people are difficult to counsel because they’re so adept at rationalizing their mistakes.

When I take a long look outside the box I can see some interesting times ahead. The “box” in this case is the one we carry as if our life depended on it, always within reach, even as we sleep, like a pack of cigarettes, or the box that sits across our lap like a child or the one that dominates the living spaces. These boxes entertain us and they feed us information. They tell us what to think and what to buy and what we should value. They tell us who we should fear and what we should be angry about, and because of that information, our culture is ailing. It suffers from an imbalance in its value judgments. Emotion has ascended to supplant reason, and there are millions who seem to believe that reality conforms to our emotions, and facts will transform to accommodate feelings.

If we are counting on being led safely through the hazards of this age, we may share the same fate as the poor rabbit, baited by our emotions and lured by the promise of safety from the coyotes. The entire political class is almost completely devoid of leaders. If they tell us the truth, they may lose power, and they are so habituated to watching polls and maneuvering for position, they may have lost their grip on what is true as well.

The last two years have been an object lesson in unintended consequences, but also in how easily we can be both driven and lured. The ascendancy of fearful and fragile rabbits among us has led to an almost unprecedented dependency on government, which is ready to step in to protect us from the dangerous coyotes, and make that dependency permanent. The traps are set, and the lure is powerful. Be wary of free carrots and the promise of safety in a box from which there is no exit.

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