Crab Bucket

I was reading a Terry Pratchett book the other day (Unseen Academicals) and I came across the phrase, “Oh, it’s all crab bucket down there.” Fortunately, Terry Pratchett was so kind as to explain this to the character in question (although not until later in the book.) It was an expression I hadn’t previously heard, although after it was explained, I got something else. I’ll get back to you with that.

Anyway, later in the book, the character is purchasing fish, and the vendor offers her a crab, and says, “Oh, you can keep crabs in an open container, because as soon as one starts to climb out, the others all drag them back in.”

The character then starts seeing the crab bucket all around her, and the ways in which she tries to keep other people down, because of rules that don’t really exist. It is the power of the unwritten rules, also (in more academic terms) termed discipline. Foucault talked about the ways in which we develop a little prison guard in our own heads, because at any time we might be watched. We follow the unwritten rules out of fear of imagined repercussions. And it becomes all crab bucket.

And what finally clicked for me was what the heck this song meant. Or at least a little bit of it. And a fine song it is, too.


Happy Saturday. I have a party to go to!

4 responses to “Crab Bucket”

  1. Although there is no doubt in my mind that the unwritten rules change, at least over generations, how does that happen? (and, how can it be accelerated, and how does it get accelerated in the ‘right’ direction?)

    • That is the key question, at least in my mind. How do we foster social change intentionally… and how do we counter the desires of many to impose written rules in place of the unwritten ones?

  2. I found your blog through the kerfuffle that happened on FB re urban homesteading. And that’s pretty interesting, of course, but then I kept reading and you’re interested in a lot of the things I’m interested in, and I LOVE Terry Pratchett! So nice tameetcha!

    • Nice to meet you too. I am also fond of the word “kerfuffle.” In fact, the original version of the post on the trademark issue contained the word kerfuffle. 🙂

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