The Game We’re In

The bank gave me a dollar bill

To give the bill to my good friend

To build my shop atop the hill

And see construction to the end.

 

I thought that I had taken care

To guess the cost to build my store.

But he replied, “I’ll help you there.

It only costs a dollar more.”

 

He had my dollar, I had none,

The bank had zero dollars too.

They gave me credit, minus one,

So I must pay them back with two.

 

He started planning up designs

And buying up the wood and bricks.

But not long after gave a sigh

And said the piping needs a fix.

 

I sought the bank for one more loan

Which filled them with anxiety

My debt was large and now had grown

So I must pay them back with three.

 

One day I asked when it’d be done

He said that it was hard to know

Since nothing’s free under the sun.

But where did all my money go?

 

He laughed and said to think it through,

“The money goes around and ’round,

And it will all come back to you,

The store will rake in pound for pound.”

 

I paid my friend, who bought the wood

From others in the lumber yard,

Who paid the grocer for the goods,

Ensuring wife and child don’t starve.

 

Then they would use that money too

Investing in their businesses

And hire one more lumber crew

To reach much further distances.

 

But then I had an awful thought

What if the money never came?

Just stopped up at the very top

By wealthy hoarders playing games?

 

If funding does not circulate

Then how will I repay the bank?

For payments which are paid too late

Will make my credit rating tank.

 

And interest fees will pile up high

Undoing everything I made

Until my value’s sucked up dry

While hoarders end up getting paid.

 

“You borrowed from the future you

And risked it on this present bet.

The banks did only what they knew

To roll the dice that you had set.

 

You’re too far in to try and stop.

You’ve got to trust the system works.

So open up your hillside shop

And gamble with those banker jerks.”

 

Of course, he egged me on to try

The risk was mine and mine alone.

The system rigged to watch me die

And suck the marrow from my bones.

 

I cannot trust that they would play

By rules so everyone would win

Because if I were them I’d say

“Well, don’t you know what game we’re in?”

 

The Most Difficult Thing to Do

When we witness the violence that people commit

We declare that these monsters we cannot permit.

Yet it’s strange that we humans will never admit

That they also are humans, not demons from myth.

 

It is humans who rip away mother from child

And the same who would trample a fellow when riled.

And the instant we glance at the skulls we have piled

We will know in our hearts that our race is defiled.

 

But acknowledging this is a beautiful thought,

Because monsters are creatures who cannot be fought.

And accepting the truth can more often than not

Redirect our attention to things we forgot.

 

That despite the injustice mankind can display

We can harness a goodness in much the same way

By perceiving each other as people who stray

And then showing true mercy as well as good grace.

 

 

Elegy of Agriculture

The tribe had torn itself apart;

A tragic end that none foresaw.

They used to eat what they had found

But then they learned to till the ground.

 

Their backs were bent to reach the soil

Their minds grew numb from endless toil

Although their crops could feed much more

Their lives were nasty, brutish, short.

 

And when a cry was raised to stop

And feed themselves no more with crops

The tribe once numbered ninety-nine

But now two hundred stood in line.

 

So half must leave to lands unknown

But who could judge the ones to go?

And so instead consumed with fear

They carved their plowshares into spears.

 

The freedom that the victors craved

Was stripped from those that they enslaved

And thus society was formed

To work the fields forevermore.

Humanity and Me

I’ve been listening to an audio book titled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and it’s been a real eye-opener. Having always had a thirst for knowing the origin of things, whether its the origin of languages or of physical matter or of psychological disorders, I jumped on the opportunity to hear a little bit about the origin of our biological species, Homo sapiens.

Since this is chiefly a section about etymology, I’ll start with what “human” means. It comes directly from the Latin word homo meaning man, which later evolved into the Latin word humanus, meaning human. The related word, humane, meaning to show compassion or benevolence, also comes from this idea that we are somehow unlike the animals from which we have descended. This superiority complex is developed from mankind’s own immodesty when it comes to our lineage, believing that we have been set apart from our distant cousins in “nature,” that mankind has achieved a more complete state of awareness. In a sense, we have, having developed such remarkable advancements as language, law, morality, and fiction. What other animal can engage in mythology as naturally as humans can? And yet, to engage in this stroking of the ego is to risk undermining the point of understanding our humble limitations.

In some ways, the book appears to present the argument that we have gained the awareness now to realize that we have evolved far too rapidly such that our genetics have not been able to keep up with the development that our culture and technology has provided us. One such development is language itself. With the growing minds and more fine-tuned vocal chords that the great apes stumbled into, language itself in the form of warnings and mating calls began to take shape, but those were single, solitary calls. The truest advancement in language happened in mankind when we were able to string together words into complete sentences, capable of expressing extremely complex thoughts and instructions with a small, efficient vocabulary. It’s one thing for a monkey to cry that there is a lion approaching, but a completely separate thing for a hunter-gatherer to declare that a lion was seen by the river at daybreak.

Another possibility arose as to the need for more advanced language, and that is the growing necessity for social structures. Neanderthals, our brothers and sisters on the evolutionary tree, did not hunt in packs or establish very complex societies, preferring instead to live peacefully and simply. Homo sapiens on the other hand were starting to undergo different evolutionary pressures. As our heads increased in size due to the need for more powerful brains, and an upright posture for running and balancing our gross, swollen heads, and narrower hips for improved running, childbirth became increasingly dangerous. Thus, children with softer, smaller heads, more underdeveloped coming out of the womb were selected for, meaning mothers were pre-occupied caring for their young, requiring the need for a tribe to assist in raising children.

On top of this, there was a need to know who could be trusted since one’s social circle was going to extend beyond family and into members of the tribe who may be less familiar or have less extensive contact. The primary driver of language development may have been gossip. People are so predisposed to gossip that it seems to be something we need to become consciously aware of doing else we’ll never stop doing it. Just now, when speaking with a colleague, I found myself immediately discussing the whereabouts of different colleagues not a part of the conversation whatsoever. It’s practically a genetic impulse.

And on another more interesting note is the primary means by which early Homo sapiens overcame his competitor human species like the Neanderthals, and that is with greater organization and cultural adaptation. An animal’s behavior is beholden to it’s genes, with the environment only slightly affecting the details. A human’s behavior is beholden to his or her culture, a difference that affects everything in adaptability. A human tribe that suffers defeat from a Neanderthal tribe need only change its culture or mythology, reorganize, and in time, over perhaps a few generations, the more adapted culture would triumph over the more slowly evolving Neanderthals. A woman born in 1900 eastern Germany and living for 100 years would have gone through 5 different political systems: the monarchy under Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Weimar Republic of post-war Germany, the Third Reich of Nazi Germany, the communist bloc of East Germany, and finally the democratic Federal Republic of Germany of the modern day. That is all within one lifetime, and the sheer difference in behavior between all five systems far surpass the adaptability of any other animal on Earth.

Now, to discuss everything the book covers would be overwhelming and most certainly an exercise in futility, so I’ll end with this. As a member of the human race and a member of the human species, and a member of the human culture, there is something deeply unsettling and yet comforting about recognizing our place in nature, how we are an aberration and yet no such deformity at all. There is no true distinction between the way we operate back then and now, save for this difference in culture. We still laugh, love, hate, fight, make peace, trade, and create. We still pick flowers to share with the person we love, touch hands to show affection, speak about and with others to pass the time, dream of the unsearchable at night, and eat together. So long as we have this connection to our ancestors, this shared set of behaviors built into us, we’ll still be human. Perhaps its in losing this that we lose our humanity.

Intersection

“Come on,” the mother tugged at loose, plaid sleeves,

The other daughter watched across the street.

My brakes in anticipation squeaking,

Glances from all three plus me at the wheel.

A quiet intersection of our lives.

She then waved, urging me to drive around,

At this moment, more in command of me

Than the daughter too scared to cross the street.

And two parallel lines met just then,

Touching briefly before we all moved on.