There were once two brothers, the sons of a farmer on a modest plot.
The older blonde and the younger dark, they were otherwise identical but for the year and a half they were born apart. They grew up together, isolation making them best of friends by necessity. As they grew, their responsibilities around the farm did, too, and each year their father would pass new chores on to the elder, who would pass his old chores on to the younger.
The younger would complain to the elder about the dirtiest work - mucking the stable, raking out the hog pen, scrubbing the coop - just as the elder had once complained to their father. But the elder brother had realized something that their father had never bothered to articulate, and he taught his younger brother thus:
"Everything is made of sunlight and shit. It's true that we'd all rather be out in the sun, enjoying the fresh air and warmth, but that is only half of life, and half of what makes life good. The filth and the darkness have their own part, and it's important. Without darkness, there is no rest from the light and no hope for the dawn. Without filth, there is nothing to be turned towards wholesomeness, and soon the land would be exhausted."
The younger considered this, and resolved to learn. Through their hard work, the farm grew prosperous, and their inheritance was multiplied.
But there's another version of this story.
There were once two brothers, the sons of a farmer on a modest plot.
The older blonde and the younger dark, they were otherwise identical but for the year and a half they were born apart. They grew up together, isolation making them best of friends by necessity.
The elder was called off to war, and was gone for a span of years.
Each year, the younger's share of the chores would increase. Their father would pass the chores down, silencing complaints with a word of authority or a reminder that the elder would surely rather be raking muck than whatever he was caught up in.
After a span of years, the elder returned home. In his absence the farm had remained the same as it ever had been, a blessing in disguise to someone who otherwise felt like a stranger in his old bed.
Out of habit, he rose at dawn to work the farm with his father and brother. The younger, glad for help with the dirtiest of the work, complained of the monotony of it to the elder.
The elder taught his brother thus:
"You are right in this: the filth is never ending. Every day we shovel it out, and every night the beasts replace it. We spend the day dreading the night, and spend the night dreading the morning. The price we pay for keeping beasts is dealing with the muck, and the best we can hope for is to work in the sun in the afternoons."
The younger considered this, and resolved to escape the farm in any way he could.
I took the dog out on a drive through the countryside. There are parts of the Midwest, particularly here up North, that are exactly what America is supposed to look like.
The day was a beautiful early Autumn specimen, perfect temperature and bright sun, and the lightest of breezes. Cruising at a leisurely 30, clean country air whipping in through the windows and the moonroof, dog halfway out the window and, up til now quite solidly urban, utterly confused by the occasional horse or goat. It was a welcome escape from suburbia.
Wouldn't this be a perfect place for an ambush? Put a diversionary IED under that cattle grate and set up a textbook L-shaped ambush - a squad behind that berm to the left and a light machinegun up under the pile of logs just ahead.
I get ready to maneuver and ask my navigator for advice.
The dog does not know what an ambush is. The dog wants to get out and chase the goats, despite not knowing what he'd do if he caught one.
The dog doesn't know what a late apex turn is or why they have become so prominent in my driving lexicon. The dog doesn't know why I change lanes in the middle of intersections or why I want to counterflow traffic when the road is empty. He has no concept of spotting potential tails or observers, no fear of pedestrians idling on the roadside, no sense of dread in heavy traffic, and no compulsion to hog the center of the road to monopolize maneuvering space.
Some day, insh'allah, neither will I.
The dog is getting sleepy, and wants to lay in the sun. Suddenly, that sounds like a good idea, so I start making turns in the direction of home.
I wish I had a dog brain.
I could wake up every morning excited to see the same faces and the same places, excited to piss in the same spots and eat the same kibble. Too much variety would be a bad thing. I would enjoy curling up in a familiar safe place every night.
I would have a specific place in the world and I would enjoy being there. If I got scared or if I was unsure, I could look up to the Big Hand and the Big Face and follow its lead.
But I don't have a dog brain.
I have tried for some time now to try to live the most regular kind of life I can. I had a regular job for a while and now I have regular school and a regular house. I think about the mountains, and I think about how silly everything seems.
The rule of law is only by consensus. There's nothing in nature to even suggest it. Hobbes did a fine job with this concept, and though the concept is fundamental to the way I look at the world, I'll spare you yet another re-hash of it. That's what freshman political science majors are for.
The point is, though, that all of the idiocy and dysfunction that goes on in the world continues because enough people approve of it, at least tacitly. Anything more abstract than mathematics or its more solid applications are valid only due to human consensus, meaning that 2+2=4 no matter how many people might scream to the contrary, and the inverse square law will still get you to the Moon no matter who insists that's not how gravity really works.
You cannot pray an airplane into the air and you cannot wish a bridge to bear more, but if you can convince enough people that being sad sometimes is a problem, or that everybody should be able to vote, or that being old demands deference, then that's just the way it is.
In other words, most of things we take for granted as foundations of our way of life are totally made up. Complete fabrications, reinforced and patched up by generations of successive human fancy. Anything created in such a way, no matter how deeply it seems to be rooted, no matter how solidly founded, is also subject to dissolution by consensus. Here, though, the philosophical issue ends and the physics issue begins:
Inertia is a hell of a thing.
Doomsayers have been chanting and heaving since oh, probably shortly after the first rough speech was hammered out among the hominids.
The first generally standardized word was probably "rock". Useful for a bunch of people who are about to embark on the long journey of the Neolithic. After the word "rock" was probably the word "this", so they could be specific about particular rocks.
The third word was probably "sucks", so that they could complain about things they were powerless or unwilling to change, a grand human tradition almost certainly predating the written record. But as soon as the future tense was invented, you can bet someone got loud about the sun not coming up the next day.
Despite millenia of dire predictions backed by furious theological, teleological, and empirical reasoning, humans flourish and multiply and adapt. We raise, cower before, and then forget the same specters anew with each generation, and yet , overall, youth does not grow into the ruin of society, the standard of living continues to rise, and the level of violence continues to fall - for all of us.
The frustrations lie in the peaks and valleys that each human contributes to the overall upward curve. Each of us is a single data point, and each of us may be on the downward slope towards a local minimum. In other words, statistics favor the species, but the individual may very well get fucked.
It is a comfort and a frustration both to look at myself and my life in comparison to the rest of my country and the ways it lives.
Just as depth and contrast add subtle interest to the picturesque, so it does in the observation of human struggle. But what kind of interest? Now, that's the rub.
As an observer, I alternate between leering and admiring. Pulled in by both morbid fascination, and the kind of love that parents know when looking at a bumbling but eager child. A love-hate relationship of the kind known only by deeply wronged but reconciling lovers, and the mentally ill.
Some mornings I wake up glad for it. I feel the strength of my convictions and the foundation of my self, and am ready to build upon it - proof of my basic soundness and ability to expand to fit the needs of a changed environment.
Some mornings I wake up and want to go back to the mountains. I am undressed stone, long settled and locked in by careful arrangement and the toughest mortar, too crude and ugly for civilization, and certainly not up to code, but proof against the hardest snow.