'WHY PIGS?' asked Nadia, a student volunteer as she watched the porcine characters appearing on the pages of this issue on Money.
I wasn't able to give a simple answer. Pigs just sprang to mind - probably for a range of different reasons.
Pigs, people and money are often connected - in Western culture, at any rate. There's the famous nursery rhyme of the five little pigs, for example, which starts with a trip to the market and ends in a squealing child's armpit. As I repeated the rhyme to myself, each part seemed to connect so neatly with crucial issues about money, I couldn't resist the conceit.
Meanwhile, developments in medical science suggest a deeper bond between pigs and people than we might like to think. Pig organs are the most compatible with those of humans and are likely to play an increasing role in transplant technology. The ethics of this may be muddy, but the biological message is clear. Forget cuddly monkeys, it's our porky cousins we are really close to.
Temperamentally too, links are often made. In George Orwell's Animal Farm it's the pigs who become most similar to humans. Like humans, they are intelligent, adaptable, omnivorous. And, whether this is fair to them or not, they are also supposed to greedy. Very greedy. So when a corrupt politician or business person is described as having her or his 'snout in the trough', the pig is the creature that immediately leaps to mind.
Then there's the piggy bank, an item that most obviously links pigs, people and money. What's that about? Is it something to do with greed and hoarding? Or is it more benevolent than that? Piggy-bank pigs do tend to have quite friendly faces, and their rotund bellies are generous, healthy and capacious. They are good providers in times of hardship. So maybe the piggy bank has more rustic origins; perhaps it's derived from the idea of meat as a store of food, just as money is a store of value.
Ultimately, though, the most appealing porcine metaphor must be that of the flying pig. This one suggests both playful absurdity and soaring optimism; that inspiring - and endearing - human capacity to dream, even if it means risking ridicule.
Eduardo Galeano, one of this month's contributors, has for decades written with unstinting fire, passion and enthusiasm - and a wonderfully whimsical sense of humour. He usually ends his letters and faxes with a little cartoon of a flying pig or one with a flower between its teeth.
I find it utterly heart-warming. With gentle self-parody it expresses the joy of hope. And it's only hope that can bring about positive change in this world we - and that includes pigs, too - inhabit.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
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