Two different stories originating in antiquity on the Isle of Right provided two theories about how the island had come to be.
According to one story, a giant rock fell from the sky. The rock was so big that a third of it still stuck out of the water. And that third is now the Isle of Right.
According to a different story, the earth growled beneath the ocean. Hot molten rock burst forth in great quantities. Eventually the sea and the air cooled the molten rock. And that once-molten rock is now the Isle of Right.
Sometimes, after a day of hard work, some of the people who believed that a giant rock in the sky birthed their island sat together around a fire and debated with some of the people who believed the island sprung from beneath the sea. Some of the people really enjoyed debating. But many more people enjoyed watching and listening.
And, it happened on rare occasions, that someone spoke up and said, “It actually makes little difference how the island got here. But here it is now. Here. And, in this moment, there are things that need to be done. And we could think together about how best to do those things so that they would be effective and enjoyable and cause as little harm as possible. And we all want those things. And we all know how to think and how to do things. So let’s work together on that.”
Such a one as this was met with blank stares, however. And the people went back to their debates.
Small harm done. Things were not quite as effective and fun and safe as they might have been, but on the whole, people spent the vast majority of their time working together to get things done regardless of how they thought their island was formed. Because, although the people enjoyed the debate, as a practical matter, they understood that they all needed fish and that the fish came from the sea and they traded ideas about how best to catch the fish and thus improved their fishing. So, by and large, the debates were little more than entertainment.
Those who did not themselves debate but enjoyed watching began to cheer for their favorite debaters. And since people liked a contest between bests, eventually one storyteller from each side would argue their side of the case. And, all the people listened.
The storytellers, to make the stories more interesting, began to embellish their creation myths with many further tales. For example, when the rock sank into the mud two third with only one third remaining above, that was, according to the storyteller, a sign that we too are sunk two thirds in the mud, and we must follow the “Way of the Rock” if we are to live a good life. And, by the way, the Rock makes the Sea look beautiful! (BTW, “The Way of the Rock” was something he or she totally made up at the moment).
“Oh, yeah!” Said his worthy opponent. “Well, if you follow “The Way of the Sea” you will not only live a good life here on this island, but after you die, you’ll go to a whole other island and another and another and another forever! For -EV-er! So follow the Way of the Sea! For it is the Sea that makes the Rock beautiful!”
The opponent however, was not so easily crushed, though they had to admit the unprovable claim of infinite reward was pretty cool. “Hogwash. Offering someone a reward, even if a bogus reward, doesn’t mean that if they take that reward and agree to believe as you say — that’s no argument for the validity of your position. That’s only an argument about the moral character of your followers. Not to say that that is why all your followers believe as you do. But the ones who take the bribe certainly don’t add any weight at all to the truth of your argument.”
Over time, as the storytellers became more and more skilled at rousing the passions of their audiences, they began to intimate that people who held the other point of view were not all that good at fishing, or farming, or raising children, or making love, or fixing meals. And because of this animosity, the people who believed their island came from Rock began to call themselves “The People of the Rock.” And they tended to avoid “The People of the Sea” whenever they could and for their part, “The People of the Sea” were equally loath to work or play with “The People of the Rock.”
I don’t need to belabor you with the details. You can guess the ending, right? All “The People of the Rock” and “The People of the Sea” are no longer arguing. They’re all dead.
And, they never did find out whether their island was formed by a rock from the sky or an undersea volcano. Ironically, if they had kept working together and focusing on what they could do, their science would have reached a point where they could actually and factually answer the question. It turns out, it was formed by a volcano…. But that’s kind of not the point.
There’s no-one left on the Isle of Right to care.
The coyotes certainly don’t care —just as long as there’s fresh meat aplenty.
Donnie really liked the way the sun glinted off the well-polished barrel of the giant gun.
“Oh, boy!! Look at the size of that gun! I want one of those!” Donnie pointed his teeny hand at the turret gun on the Sherman Tank. “Can we get one of those, Daddy?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m taking you off my shoulders now, ‘Shroom. You’re too old … you’re too heavy to be up there. Here you go.”
“NO, NO, NO! I can’t see from down here. Put me back on your shoulders Daddy!”
“Shut up, or I’ll give you something to really complain about.”
“I just want to see that big gun, Daddy! It’s cool. I want a tank so I can shoot whoever I want!” Donnie tried to jump up for a better look but it didn’t help much.
Fred laughed. “You idiot! These are soldiers. They don’t get to shoot who they want. They shoot whoever they’re ordered to shoot. And, by the way, people are shooting back at them! What idiots!”
Fred Junior frowned to hear his Dad say this. It seemed to Fred Junior that the soldiers were brave. But he didn’t want to be slapped by his Dad, so he kept quiet.
Donnie felt frustrated. He wanted to get a better look at the long, massive gun. It made him feel good, special, powerful, strong. I want a big gun when I grow up, he thought and for a split-second, he nearly smiled a real smile. He stopped looking at the parade; he only caught a glimpse here and there between the legs of those in front anyway. He found it was more fun to fantasize about a future in which he himself got to shoot those big tank guns at people. He began to chuckle as he saw, in this mind’s eye, himself driving that big Sure-Man tank down the street wiping everybody out on both sides. And, then, the movie in his head took a horrible turn for the worse. People were shooting back at him!
He began to feel a warm trickle down his legs but he caught himself before he really soaked his britches. The warmth felt kind of good actually. The November wind howled through the Brooklyn streets. He hoped there were more guns. Maybe Daddy was right. It was better to have other people kill for you, because that way, if somebody shot back, only your soldiers would get hurt; not you. There were no more big guns in the parade.
This was a boring parade to Donnie. But Donnie Boy’s mind marched on. He wondered what it would be like to just read about your soldiers killing people. Would that really be much fun? He’d make them take pictures! But would they kill women and babies for him? And take pictures of it? Donnie Boy shivered. He wasn’t sure how much was the chill in the air, because now his pants felt cold, not warm — or whether it was the thrilling idea of watching a huge hole appear in a nice young woman who was holding a baby. Of course, when she exploded, she would drop the baby and maybe it would fall on its head and die right away. Maybe more fun would be to just have the baby lie there crying for its mommy but no-one would ever come. The baby would be too stupid to know its mommy was gone forever. Donnie Boy let out a chuckle.
Fred Junior looked back at his younger brother, and asked, “What’s so funny about jugglers?”
“Huh?” Asked Donnie Boy. “Jugglers? What jugglers?”
Fred Junior shook his head. “The jugglers right in front of your eyes! Never mind. Here comes another band and their majorettes are first. Watch. You might learn something.”
Donnie didn’t care much about the jugglers or the bands. He was hoping there would be more guns. Yes! Uniforms coming down the street. They…they were soldiers but they were old. And worse, they had no guns at all! “Who are those soldiers dressed in blue? They are old. And no guns? Only two of them had guns — just rifles. And three of them carry flags. What’s going on? What good are soldiers without guns, Daddy.”
Fred Senior was enjoying his view of the majorettes kicking their legs high in the air showing off their crotches. He ignored Donnie’s question so Fred Junior answered. “Those are Veterans of Foreign Wars. VFW. They used to be soldiers a while ago. It’s called a ‘Veteran’s Day Parade.’ Watch the majorettes.”
Donnie shook his head. He was still puzzled. “There’s only five of them. What’s a foreign war? Why did they fight in a foreign war? Daddy? Why did they fight in a foreign war?”
Fred Senior glanced back at his son and shook his head. “Hey, ‘Shroom, I’m watching the crotches. Ask your stupid questions later! God, I’d like to bust her up!”
Fred Junior took pity on his younger brother though and answered as best he could. “These guys probably fought in Italy, or Germany, or North Africa in World War Two.”
Donnie frowned. “But why? Why go fight in South America?”
Fred Junior tilted his head and stared at Donnie. “South America? What are you talking about? They mostly fought — I mean it was a World War, but not much in South America. They were fighting against the Nazis. The Nazis wanted to rule the whole world.”
Donnie thought the idea of a war all over the world would be pretty damned cool. “Well, what’s a Nazi?”
Junior sighed, “Don’t you know anything, Donnie. Hitler. You know. And Mussolini. Hitler was trying to kill all the Jews and take over all the other countries.”
Donnie thought for a minute. “Okay, but what’s wrong with that?”
“What wrong with that? Are you serious? You don’t go around killing people just because they aren’t just like you! Geez, Donnie.”
“Well, why not? We kill ants because they’re not like us. And we kill grasshoppers because they’re not like us. Why not Jews?”
“Because, Donnie, they’re human beings, not insects. And for that matter, we don’t kill ants and grasshoppers just because they’re not like us. We kill them because they’re pests and eat our food.”
Donnie frowned. “The ones outside aren’t eating our food. But they pop nice when you squish them.” He paused as he took in the pained look of disgust on his brother’s face. “Right, Junior?”
“Donnie, Donnie, Donnie. We don’t kill things just because we like to hear them being squished. What is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with you!? There’s nothing wrong with me!” It isn’t fair, thought Donnie. Fred knows more than me because he’s been in school longer. But he always makes fun of me.
At that point, Donnie pinched his arm hard enough to hurt. He did it between the end of his shirt sleeve and his glove so it would be visible. “OW!” He screamed. “OUCH! Junior! Stop! Stop! You’re hurting me.” Donnie held out his wrist, where a nice welt was forming from his pinch.
Several others in the crowd were staring at the boys and several in the crowd murmured, “Hush!”
“Leave your brother alone, Junior. You can hurt him all you want — but not till we get back home. Understand? Now, stand there quietly and watch the free underwear show and if I have to speak to you again, I’m driving you home and I’m going to belt whip you both!”
For a time, they watched in silence. Donnie shivered from the cold. Donnie wondered whether his brother really didn’t squash bugs just for fun, or if that was something he just said so people would think he was what people often referred to as ‘nice.’ I hate that word: ‘nice’ thought Donnie.
He edged closer to Fred Junior so he could whisper without disturbing Daddy. “Freddy, How did the Nazis kill the Jews? Did they squash them?”
“What? Donnie, it’s a horrible thing to think about. Go to the library. It was horrible what they did. I don’t want to talk about it. And if you think about it much, you’ll end up dreaming about it at night — horrible nightmares. Can’t you just watch the parade? Oh, I get it. You don’t like the parade because people aren’t watching you, right?”
Fred Junior was right about that. It did bug Donnie Boy not to be the center of attention. And, Fred Junior was right that finding out more about the Holocaust would cause Donnie Boy to dream about it. But he was wrong if he thought that it would be a nightmare for Donnie Boy. No, for Donnie Boy, finding out about demonizing other people because of their race or religion; finding out more about tearing families apart; trying to destroy an entire people; experimenting on humans — these caused Donnie Boy to daydream and dream at night, but none of it was a nightmare. Not to Donnie Boy. Far from it. To him, the idea of being an absolute ruler and having people scream his name because he tore apart families and killed lots of people — that was the dream of a lifetime. And he swore to himself that some day he would realize it.
Other *purely fictional* stories about a child sociopath.
The room smelled of old money, paneled as it was with Chestnut from a time when Chestnut trees grew to 100 feet tall. The draperies hung thick, blocking out the cheery morning sun. The trappings lent an air of solemnity and useless lavishness to the proceedings. Marvin saw one of the skirts sashay in with a tray of the sundry sweets and coffees. Everyone checked out their order — and the skirt which was appropriately short. Marvin could see from everyone’s expression that they were pleased. Apparently, she had brought the treats without messing up anyone’s orders for a change. Good, thought Marvin. A good omen. Let’s get this sucker started.
“All right gentleman. I hereby call this meeting to order. As you know, we have a weighty decision before us. Who is going to run our domestic business enterprises. Our first candidate has been running our Midwestern division for three and a half years. During that time, our profits have reached record numbers. Some of his detractors say he fudged the numbers. What we do know is that we have had a record number of lawsuits and fines from OSHA, the FDA, the EPA, and the EOC. We’ve tied all these suits up in the courts and they won’t be settled till long after everyone on this board, myself included, will be long dead.”
There were appreciative nods and chuckles throughout the room.
“I know there were those among you who didn’t think we should hire a reality TV show host instead of a competent and experienced engineer. And, it’s true that he’s shaken things up a bit. But I think, on the whole, the profit numbers speak for themselves.”
Marvin could see that Mark wrung his hands and bit his lip. He ignored it and pressed on.
Matthew broke in. “Marvin, I am just wondering: do the numbers really speak for themselves? Have we done any independent auditing of those numbers? And, if the profits are up, why is it taking four times as long per unit? Why are we losing so many sales people to the competition? Why are we having a record number of customer complaints?”
Thoughtful nods surrounded Marvin. He had to nip this crap in the bud. If Connie Boy didn’t get the job, Marvin knew he wouldn’t get his promised kickback or the 13-year old virgin he’d been promised. “Look, we can delve into the details in a minute or two and you can ask all the questions you want. But I just want to go over the high points first. So, let’s review more about his actual results before … “
Now, James interrupted. “Speaking of results, doesn’t it bother you that we’ve lost almost our entire Midwestern sales force? And no wonder! Connie Boy has repeatedly dissed them. He does it with his morning ‘Pep Talks.’ He does it on social media. And, there are reports that he goes out golfing almost every afternoon with the CEO’s of some of our major competitors. Doesn’t that strike you as strange?”
Marvin chewed his lips as though he were taking the objection seriously and opened his mouth to counter this new avenue of attack against the guy who would make him rich.
Too late, thought Marvin. Damn!
Luke, who rarely spoke, had launched into a new tirade. “I hate to be the one to say this, but we cannot ignore the fact that he’s clearly skimming off the top. The books are cooked, folks. This guy said he was independently wealthy so we didn’t even have to pay him a salary. I know we thought at the time we’d save some money for the shareholders, but actually he’s stolen far more than his salary and he uses the company cars and jet, not only for his own pleasure trips but for his family’s trips as well.”
Before Marvin could formulate a counter-argument, John piled on. “And, then there are his strange hiring decisions. He fired the Director of Engineering and replaced him with his caddy. He doesn’t know anything about engineering. And, he fired the VP of Logistics, who was highly respected in the field, with his son-in-law who doesn’t know diddly about logistics. In fact…have you met him? I’m not sure he knows much about anything. Anyway, he certainly doesn’t know logistics.”
Marvin jumped in by pounding on the table, “IF YOU PLEASE, Gentleman, I would like to finish my — look, I’m not advocating for Connie Boy, but I mean, he has been in the job and — yes, he has some foibles, but … “
“Foibles?” Questioned Timothy. “Foibles? From what I heard, his disdain of safety regulations is precisely why not one, not two, but three factories burned to the ground.”
Marvin scowled. “Those were accidents and you know it! Bad luck! No-one could have predicted that using smaller gauge wires than recommended would cause fires.”
Peter sighed heavily, “Of course it’s predictable! It’s simple physics.”
Marvin felt the blood in his temples pound. His heart began to race. The vision of the beautiful young virgin clouded up. “It’s not science! He says he knows more about science than scientists do! I believe him! I don’t know what’s wrong with you people! He was trying to save us money by buying thinner wires. Isn’t saving money a good thing?”
Marvin stood up and banged the gavel. “As Chairman of the Board, I am in charge here! And, we will have plenty of time to discuss the pros and cons later. I just wanted to review the record before his scheduled interview. It’s time for the candidate. Let’s table the discussion until we hear from him directly. I’m pretty sure you’ll be more amenable to his candidacy once you hear his plans for improving the entire domestic operation.”
He pressed the button near the gavel. Within seconds, the skirt returned. She smiled prettily and said, “Yes, Mr, Mitchell? What can I do for you?”
“Sally, bring in Connie Boy, would you?”
Susan reddened slightly. She thought to herself, I’ve worked here for four years and he still doesn’t know my name. “I’m sorry, Sir. He’s not here.”
Marvin clenched his teeth tightly. “Not here?! What the f+$# is wrong with you, Shirley? I’ve got the whole damned Board here! I distinctly told you to have him here at 9 am sharp!”
“You certainly did, Mr. Mitchell. And, he agreed to come. He confirmed when I called again yesterday. And, he texted me an hour ago that he would be here on time.”
Marvin knew that his face was turning purple but he didn’t care. “Well get him here now or I will fire your sorry ass!”
Susan reddened still more. “Am I the FBI? How am I supposed to find him. I’m not his … keeper.”
Timothy chuckled slightly. “Come on, Marvin, how is she supposed to make him appear?”
Marvin turned to Timothy. “How should I know? That’s her job! That’s your job, Sally! Or, was. You’re fired! Send in Betty! I’m promoting her. Clear out your desk.”
Susan took several deep breaths to calm herself. “There is no-one in the office named ‘Betty.’ Do you mean Barbara?”
Marvin knew he was skating on thin ice now, but he was past caring, “Send in the one with the biggest tits!”
“Certainly, Sir. That would be me.” She stared insolently at Marvin.
Marvin reddened, his blood pressure skyrocketing dangerously. “Fine. Get hold of him.”
Just then, Timothy felt his cellphone vibrate and he glanced at the face. He read it and held it up as he said, “It’s Connie. He wants to call in. Says his foursome got stuck behind a foursome of … well … of women — though that’s not the word he used. He’s going to call in on my phone. He didn’t have your number, Marvin.”
Marvin said, “Thanks. Put it on speaker.” Marvin made a sweeping gesture toward Susan as though he were brushing a fly off the desk. “Shoo. Shoo.”
The minutes went by in silence. Finally, the voice of Connie Boy came on. “Hey, guys! I hear you wanted to ask me some questions. I know it’s just a formality. But here I am. Ask away.”
Marvin tried to sound cheerful. “So, Timothy says you were stuck behind a group of … of … women and that’s why you’re late.”
Connie Boy yelled, “What? No, no. He misunderstood. We were stuck behind a foursome of pussies but I’m not late. It’s only 9:45 am.”
Marvin looked at the clock on the wall. It said 10:30. He glanced at his watch. 10:30. He checked his cell. 10:30. “Fine. Connie, can you please tell us about your plans for how you will improve our domestic operations if we make you President of that division.”
Connie thought in silence for a moment and then said, “But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done.”
Marvin put his face in his hands. He didn’t want to see the reaction on the faces of the Board.
Marvin chewed his lower lip. Maybe Connie Boy was just nervous. “OK, Connie. That’s good. Say more. How would you improve things?”
“Well, I hear there’s another candidate, and he’s a communist. And, he will literally burn down your factories. Look at the news! Turn on the news! There’s a picture of a factory burning! That’s what will happen if you choose him! He’ll burn down our factories. Turn on Fox News right now.”
Marvin, grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV. Sure enough, there was a picture of a factory fire.
Thomas walked over to the TV and pointed at the caption. It said: ‘Kenosha.’ “Connie, isn’t that our factory in Kenosha? That’s one of the one’s you’re in charge of, right?”
“Yes! Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! It’s horrible! It’s terrible! If you choose that commie, he’ll burn down factories like this!”
Thomas looked long and hard at Marvin.
Connie continued, “Look, guys, I gotta go soon. Any other questions?”
Paul asked, “Connie, can you just say a little more about what you actually plan to do to improve domestic operations?”
Connie Boy launched into another answer. “Well, I took over this job as a rookie. You know. I was famous. I should have won three, four, maybe five Emmy’s for my show, but whatever. Politics. You know. But I was not familiar. Not experienced with running factories. One of the things that will be really great — you know the word ‘experience’ is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word ‘experience’ is a very important word. I never did a factory before. I only was in the Midwest maybe I think 17 times. All of a sudden, I’m in charge of factories in the Midwest. I go to Chicago and ride down the Miracle Mile and I say, ‘This is great.’ But I don’t know anyone in the Midwest. No-one. But now I know everyone. Plus, I am a stable genius. So there’s that. Did I tell you I had a cognitive test? Yes, the doctors were like, ‘Oh, My God, this guy is a genius. He remembered the words.’ You know. Words. Like they tell me, ‘remember these words: Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn.’ Then they ask me the words and I say, ‘Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Film.’ Okay. But then, like a few minutes later, they say, ‘Hey, you know those words. Tell us them again. So, I’m like, ‘Okay, Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Star.’ And the doctors are like flubbergasted, falbergasted, whatever…amazed…they say, no-one in the history of the world has been able to remember five words like that. I got all of them. It was — I should win a Nobel Piece Prize — no-one else is such a stable genius. So that’s my plan. You know. And don’t pick the commie. Because he will set your factories on fire. Gotta go.”
Paul spoke up. “Before you go, why are we having such an unusually high number of employee complaints?”
Connie Boy said quickly, “Oh, that’s fake news. Nobody and I mean nobody has done more for our workers than I have! Nobody. Look it up. Everyone knows it. I’m the best friend any of those employees ever had. But now, I really have important stuff to get to. Bye.”
The line went dead. Marvin drew in a long breath. He felt like hiding under the table, but instead, he put on his most steely look and decided he may as well brazen it out. “Well, there you go. I say we vote him in. We don’t really need to waste time listening to the other candidate. You heard Connie. The other guy is a commie! We don’t need a commie running our factories.”
Marvin pushed the button and a dark-haired woman came in. “Where’s … who are you?”
“I’m Barbara. I’m Susan’s replacement. How can I help you?”
“What happened to Sally?”
“There is no-one here named ‘Sally’ — Susan — who was your secretary for four years — you fired her and I’m her replacement, Barbara.”
“You’re not … well, get Sally back! Anyway, never mind. Doesn’t matter. Cancel the other candidate. We’ve heard enough. Connie is our man. Right guys?”
Marvin kept his eyes glued on the gavel ready to shout anyone down who disagreed with him. “All in favor of appointing Connie Boy as President of domestic operations, signify by raising your right hand the ayes have it. Next order of business is….”
Peter spoke in a calm quiet voice. “Marvin. None of us voted for Connie the Con Man. Actually, you didn’t even raise your own hand. No-one thinks he’s competent to do the job. No-one.”
Marvin bit his lip so hard it nearly bled. “But. But. Sure, no-one’s perfect, but he was a TV Star! You heard him! He should have won Emmy’s!” Damn. I’m going to miss my chance on that virgin! thought Marvin. “Come on, guys! We’ve never had a porn star run one of factories before. He turned out pretty good though, right?”
Peter frowned, “Did you say ‘Porn Star’?
Marvin shook his head, “No, no. I said TV star. I didn’t say ‘Porn Star.’ Don’t be ridiculous.”
When Many Paths awoke, she felt strong, as though the life force within her had replenished itself. She glanced over at She Who Saved Many Lives and frowned. The old Shaman’s rapid shallow breaths rasped. Her skin appeared to be covered with chiggers or orange bloated deer ticks. The rash of the red plague — that’s what really caused it. Many Paths swung her legs out and stood. A momentary dizziness swept over her. She remembered the healing medicine. Hopefully, Tu-Swift had left some on the porch as requested. She pulled aside the skins from the entry door but nothing had been prepared. Maybe Tu-Swift had also fallen ill, she thought.
She decided to gather the necessary plants herself and ask those she met along the way whether they had seen Tu-Swift. She met surprisingly few on her way to the riverbank and none of them had seen Tu-Swift. As she crested a small hill and began her descent to the stand of yellow dock, she heard crying. The voice of Tu-Swift. She came upon him silently. He sat on the bank of the river, his arms cradled tightly across his knees. He rocked back and forth slowly and sobbed quietly. She whispered his name, first softly and then more insistently.
He remained unresponsive while she sat beside him and put her arm around him, rocking slowly with him and softly singing one of the grief songs of the Veritas. After a time, he began shaping his sobs into song and singing with her. At first, his voice cracked a lot, but soon his voice grew more even and rhythmic.
When the song drew to a close, Tu-Swift stopped rocking and spoke to his sister, still staring into the roiling waters of the nearby river. “I killed her. I should not have left her. I thought…I thought maybe Cat Eyes had returned. So, I left Suze. And now she’s dead.”
“She is and I am very sorry. It is not your fault, however. She died from this nasty red plague. And, I hate to say it, but She Who Saves Many Lives may be next if we don’t get her some medicine. And soon. Did you gather any of the ingredients already, dear brother?”
“Ingredients? Oh! That’s why I came here. I thought of — Suze and I — we played together here. Right over there in the pond. When I came here, I thought of her and — I could not think of else. But you’re right. We need medicine.” He arose, wobbled a little, and then went down to the stand of yellow dock.
Many Paths spoke to him, “Tu-Swift, you gather the yellow dock, I’m going up that hill to the elderberries. I still have rose hips. I’ll go back and minister to She Who Saves Many Lives. You should continue to stay distant. Tu-Swift, I know you miss Suze, but now we need to concentrate all our energy on saving those who yet remain alive. I am worried about the mother of the tribe and also about Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker. They may not return — all the more urgent to save such lives as we can.
Tu-Swift did not turn to look at Many Paths, but he nodded his head silently and began harvesting the yellow dock. Many Paths climbed the small hill and began using her hands to rake the entire umbel of elderberries from one stalk after another. As she did so, she imagined that each stalk was a different tribe. What might it be like, she wondered, to sit down and talk among six tribes. How it could not just be chaos? There would have to be rules, she decided, and everyone would have to agree to the rules and to kick out any tribe who did not follow the rules.
Many Paths finished quickly and plod back down to the riverbank. Tu-Swift had finished as well. He did not look cheerful, but he did look as though, at least for now, he had decided to rejoin the world of the living. They strode back up to the village and boiled more tonic for She Who Saves Many Paths. As they worked, Many Paths related to him the plan to get all six tribes together in a single Great Dialogue.
“I have been imagining, Tu Swift,” she explained “that we should contact each of these tribes separately first, to see whether they would participate and to understand what each tribe sees as a possible benefit and also so that we might know of any concerns they have.”
Tu-Swift agreed that this approach made sense. “Do you think it matters which tribes you contact first?”
“I do, but I am not sure yet of the right order. I do think though that we should start with the Veritas beyond — I mean — the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Peaks.”
Tu-Swift tilted his head at this comment and looked at his sister quizzically.
“Yes, I think you should definitely be one of those to visit our cousins. But first, we need to get those Veritas of the Center Place healthy — those who can be. Some considerable thought is needed to … to build … a plan about how to conduct such a large meeting.”
Many Paths continued. “All tribes must agree to meet and to tell the truth, and of course, not to fight, or give such “gifts” as those the Z-Lotz last gave to bring sickness and death. I have been thinking also of how our lives relate to the lives of others. We are like … each of us has a different path. And, we learn along these different paths and we come to Dialogue with each other and we learn from those who took different paths and we teach others about our paths.”
Tu-Swift nodded. “Yes. And — and even when someone — even when someone dies. They have changed our life and taught us things and shown us things…. I learned so much from Suze. I miss her, Many Paths. I miss Suze. And, I also miss Cat Eyes.”
Many Paths spoke gently. “I know. I know you do. Cat Eyes you may see again in the flesh but Suze you will meet only in your dreams and in your heart. And there is a part of you that is her. By being aware of how we are all inter-connected, not just all of us within the Veritas, but how also the Veritas — we are not — we would not be what we are except for other Tribes. And humanity itself would not be humanity without the trees, the birds, the vines, the fish. Just as we cannot put ourselves as more important than our tribe, we cannot put our tribe above all of the tribes. We cannot put humanity above all of the rest of life. It makes no sense.”
The tea was ready so Many Paths asked Tu-Swift to prepare more for others who may be in need but to keep his distance from those who were ill. Many Paths herself set off for the Old Mother and as she walked, she sang a new song.
“It is foolish to put Humanity above The Great Tree of Life.
It is foolish to put Tribe above Humanity.
It is foolish to put your own Family above the Tribe.
It is foolish to put your own Person-Life above your own Family.
It is foolish to put your temporary pleasure of a moment above your own Person-Life.”
She pulled aside the curtain and She Who Saved Many Lives had apparently propped herself up to take tea. Her voice cracked as she spoke, but there was still a lively child’s twinkle in her ancient yellow eyes as she said, “Indeed you are right, Many Paths. It is childish, foolish, or crazy to put the part above the whole.” The Ancient Shaman laughed a laugh which was part cough, but no less genuine for that.
The Old One spoke again. “And indeed, you are the leader this tribe needs. If you please, a little tea, and then I must rest again. I cannot say for how long.”
A truism we have all heard is that “form should follow function.” I tend to agree with this as a good general principle, but only if the designer has given more than 30 milliseconds of thought about what the actual function is. Even better is to observe function being used in practice. Below, I give examples of how form may look like function but not actually follow (actual) function.
The first comes from the complex and technical domain of nail clippers. My nails are tough and I actually need to use toenail clippers to cut my fingernails. But the same principle applies to both fingernail clippers and toenail clippers. I see many many examples where the designer has attempted to curve the surface of the nail clipper to “match” the curve of nails. This is a brilliant idea, but only if every nail on every human being on the planet has the same curvature. A priori, I would tent to think this is not the case, but being empirically oriented I decided to test it out by actually looking at real nails. I looked at my thumbnail and the fingernail on my little finger. Sure enough, my hypothesis was borne out. They are NOT the same. What this means is that a nail clipper that is curved so that it fits my pinkie will wreak havoc when applied to my thumbnail. I am probably going out on a limb here, but I suspect that if one were to include fingernails from other people in this sample, one might find an even wider variation in curvature. What are people thinking when they make curved nail clippers? I can only speculate that they have never looked at the fingernails of more than one person and that, indeed, they never looked at more than one fingernail on that one person.
If only there were a solution. Sigh. Oh, wait! There is a solution. Make the cutting surface of the nail clippers flat. This enables the person to clip nails of any curvature. It does, of course, require multiple cuts. It has the added advantage, that if you so wish, you can sharpen your nails so they resemble cat claws.
Cats bring me to my second example. When we moved to California amid a large garden, we wanted to let our cats to spend most of their time outdoors, partly so litter box cleaning would be at a minimum. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that while the outdoors here offers many opportunities for cats to be hunters of lizards and mice, it also offers even more opportunities for them to be prey for bobcats, cougars, eagles, and especially coyotes.
Now, here is a beautifully shaped litter box (a gift). It even has a place for the cats to clean their paws before they track litter back into the living room. Nice. Unfortunately, this is a beautiful shape by someone who has never cleaned a litter box, at least not by litter box shovel. Perhaps they clean litter boxes with their bare hands? Anyway, this curved shape does not jibe well with the typical litter box shovel. Of course, the cats could choose to do their business along the gently curving side of the litter box. And, of course, they never do. They choose instead the places along the edge of the litter box where there is maximum curvature.
The idea that there is a place for the cats to clean their feet before venturing back out into the living room or pouncing up on the kitchen counter is a sweet idea. It is an idea that would never occur to the owner of an actual cat, however. Here are two cats we obtained from a shelter (Tally on the left, Molly on the right).
They are cute, but defective in that they do not speak English, nor so far as I have been able to discover, any other language. So, despite my explanations that they are supposed to wipe their feet on the way out of the litter box, they do not. Instead, they do their business on the foot-wiping section of the litter box. So, apart from the annoying high curvature, if you are unlucky enough to get a cat who either does not understand complex sentences or just doesn’t care, this is probably not the litter box for them either. It might work for cats who: 1) speak your language fluently and 2) are cooperative. (Recent estimates indicate the total number of such cats is zero).
The third example comes from health care and is a bit more abstract. On my insurance ID card is a field which is labeled: “Identification number.” In order to use this, I have to go to their website and “register.” In order to register, the website says I need to enter my “identification number.” But in actuality, that does not work! No. Instead, I am supposed to leave off the first three characters in what is labeled my identification number. The website doesn’t say this. But the help desk is quite familiar with the issue and will happily explain it to you after you listen to musak for three or four hours. This is not so much shape not matching real function, but label not matching function.
The fourth example comes from some of our “bookcases.” Why, I hear you ask, are there scare quotes around bookcases. I will tell you why. I put scare quotes because although the shelves are flat and just the right size for books, and although this piece of “furniture” is sold as a bookcase, in fact, it is a nick-knack shelf. My wife and I foolishly tried filling it with books and it collapsed. So, in this case, the label and the shape lead one to believe it serves a particular function but the underlying functionality is insufficient to fulfill that dream of ours (that the “bookshelf” would actually hold books).
The fifth example comes from my experience with companies who want to simplify things for their customers. That sounds worthwhile. So, they launch major efforts to make their products “consistent.” But they soon learn that making products behave consistently years after they were independently developed is way too expensive. So instead, they focus on making them look the same and using consistent terms across products, while leaving the underlying functionality behave quite differently. To me, this is quite akin to the bookshelf case. Making things look the same while continuing to have them act differently is actually worse for the user than having things that act differently also look different!
The moral of the story? It’s fine to have form follow (and signal) function, but you need to understand how users actually behave. They won’t necessarily behave as you imagine they are supposed to any more than a cat will read your mind in order to please you. Of course, if you see yourself, not as a partner of your users, but rather out to deceive them into thinking they are buying and using something different from what they really are…
Much of our education trains us to make distinctions. Little of it trains us to see similarities. Both are important. If you are in the business of foraging for berries, it’s a very good idea to eat the edible ones and not the poison ones. This means that it’s a nice skill to be able to distinguish them.
On the other hand, for many purposes, it’s important to see similarities as well. When it comes to human beings, most of us spend far too much time noticing differences between people and far too little time noticing similarities.
In a large organization, focusing on differences among employees is often used as an excuse for keeping ineffective, inefficient processes, procedures and tools. For example, a manager might insist that all programming be done in a particular language that might have been state of the art decades earlier. As the organization continues to face deadline after deadline, it looks to the manager as though changing tools or processes will simply delay things further (indeed, it likely will for a time). So, year after year, the management delays a look at better equipment, tools, and training.
Part of their rationale is that some people are still very productive so it can’t be the tools and systems. It’s just that the other people aren’t working hard enough or aren’t smart enough so they promote the really good programmers to managers. Many of the best programmers will none-the-less eventually see themselves as getting more and more out of date in their technical skills and “jump ship” before it’s too late.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t real differences in programmers. Of course there are. But those differences are too often used as an excuse for bad management. Quite likely, everyone would be more productive if there were changes, but individual differences serve as the “proof” that none are needed.
It isn’t just in programming. When we meet someone, we are much more likely to notice how they differ from others. Are they unusually tall? Short? Striking blue eyes? Or brown? Are they more muscular than average? More obese? Unusually skinny? As they begin to talk, we tick off other boxes: are they smart? Well-read? Do they have an accent? Where were they born? Where do they live? What job do they have? Are they well-off financially?
Very seldom do we take the time to reflect on how very similar this person is to every other human being and to us, and for that matter, even to other life forms.
Perhaps we should think more about trajectories and less about points.
For example, let’s say you meet someone and they are older than you and bald with a salt and pepper beard. His young son is with him. The son is neither bald, nor bearded, nor older than you are. The three of you are all different! — at this point!
What if you perceived these features, not in terms of points, but in terms of trajectories? For example, age is a moving target. Some day, if he is lucky, the son will be the same age as the father is now. He will likely also grow bald. He might or might not grow a beard but he could. If he did grow such a beard at a young age, it would likely start out all dark and gradually turn to white — not uniformly in time, but with a trajectory that will very likely look a lot like that pattern of change experienced by his father’s beard (and the beards of many other males).
In general, we have more commonality in our trajectories than in our momentary status. For example, your bone density might be greater or less than mine, but the bones of both of us will generally become less dense as we age. And that trajectory is true for virtually everyone. Furthermore, if any of us go up in space, our bone density will lessen quickly. Conversely, if we stay on earth and do weight-bearing exercise, our bone density will increase.
Trajectories are typically more diagnostic than statics.
For example, would you buy a used car based on simply looking at it, or sitting in it? Of course not. You want to make sure the car actually works. You want to take it out for a test drive.
For your annual physical, the doctor might look at your fasting blood sugar level. If it’s too high or too low, he may order a more sensitive test — a glucose tolerance test. How your body reacts to a sudden influx of sugar is more indicative of underlying health than is static level.
Similarly, your Doctor might simply “listen to your heart” or take a resting cardiogram. A stress test is more revealing of function though.
Aristotle is credited for saying “Character is revealed by choices under pressure.” This is the great truth of literature. It isn’t one’s current status that reveals one’s character. They might have been born rich or poor or blind or in peace or in war. It makes a different to them, of course, but what the reader wants to see is that they make of what they are. How do they bend that trajectory to inspire others, save lives, learn from their errors, reform themselves, or prove their loyalty. Or, on the other side, how do they exhibit mindless selfishness, or betray others, or refuse to change, leaving disaster in their wake.
It isn’t the challenge, per se that’s critically important. It’s how a person either bravely met a challenge — or how they showed their essential cowardice and refused to see the problem; refused to admit the problem; and blamed everyone else for their inevitable failure to solve the problem.
Sunday, after our two-hour tennis lesson, we had occasion to walk by our nearby pond. Nine turtles bordered themselves (socially distanced, by the way) around the rock perimeter. The most direct path home led within 18 inches of one of the turtles. Of course, I knew I bore no ill-will toward the turtle. But what would the turtle think about the situation?
Two basic alternatives presented themselves.
First, we could take a longer path around the pond and never approach closer than ten feet. We could let the turtles be.
Second, we could simply walk right by which would be the most “efficient” method of getting home. This would certainly have sent all the turtles along the path scurrying into the water.
Naturally, we took the third option. We crept carefully and slowly along the path. I have found that nearly every species of animal gets less spooked if I talk to them gently and calmly so I did that.
As we approached, the turtle tensed, swiveling its little reptile eye to see whether we were predator, prey, or simply curious co-inhabitant of this precious world. His rear right leg braced for a plunge into the nearby murky water where he would be safe.
It’s worth remembering that I am much more massive that the turtle.
Suppose an alien species, as tall as a thirty story building went lumbering by you and passed within a foot and a half. Would your curiosity outweigh your concerns for your safety? Would you dive into a nearby haven of safety? Or, would you hold your ground — ready to bolt, but watchfully waiting? Would it help if the smallish skyscraper murmured while they ambled by?
Everyone experiences some fear. And everyone experiences some curiosity. Often these two tendencies stretch us in different directions. Do we dare to try sushi? Do we worry more about the weirdness of raw fish? Or are we more curious about what it will be like?
I don’t think that this tension is something that only exists in humans. In fact, it’s reflective of one of the fundamental dances of life. On the one hand, life repeat what works — what is “known” to be safe. On the other hand, life keeps trying new things — recombinant genes, mutations, adaptations, explorations. Too much randomness and it is not life. Too much rigidity and it is not life.
Life, like the turtles, and like you and I, lives on the edge.
This particular turtle, on this particular day, allowed his curiosity to overcome his fear. We passed quite close. We praised him for his courage.
It’s important for turtles — and for people like you and I — to realize that not every encounter between two sentient living beings need necessarily be a life and death struggle. Sometimes, peaceful people travel intersecting paths. Kindness and mutual respect allow people to learn about each other without the need for deadly force.
(It’s easy to get confused after someone has told you 22,000 lies. I thought I might just put together one of the many threads. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe a series? The theme of this one is the continuing and widespread contradiction between a man pretending to be an upstanding “Law and Order” person yet that same man continues to spend most of his energy hiding and lying about what he’s doing defying, tradition, the Constitution, the courts and Congress).
DJT: “I’m perfect! I’m perfect! I’m a business genius! Don’t let anyone see my finances!
Don’t let them test my DNA for a rape case! I’m innocent!
Don’t let anyone in the US government find out what I’m talking to Putin about! Don’t have me come and testify in criminal investigations! Don’t let anyone else in the White House come to Congress and testify under oath!
I’m perfect! I have nothing to hide! I’ll sue any school who releases a transcript of my grades!I I’m a stable genius! I’ve nothing to hide.
I pay money to porn star partners not to reveal anything. And, then I use the power of the Presidency to cover it up! But there’s nothing to hide! Nothing to see here! Look over there!
Look at the people looting! Look at the people who look different from you! Look at them! Don’t look at ME! No need! I’m perfect!
Here! Look at this me as you imagine your hero be: strong, healthy, competent, good looking. Don’t see the confused, frail, obese, bald, old guy I really am. No, you can’t see my medical records! I’m fine. I’m better than fine! I told my doctor to say I was the fittest President in history! No need to see my medical records!
Don’t listen to the truth! You can’t bear the truth! Listen to me instead!”
Perhaps this purely fictional series about a child sociopath will shed some light on how this man thinks.