My wife and I are lounging on the upper level of the back deck, watching and listening as a microcosmic society forms in the yard beneath us. I swear, I’m not making any of this up.
Chrissy and Ellen had their friend Ayla over, and they’ve divided the yard into resources that each of them controls. The reason I know about it and came out in the ninety degree weather to watch is that they erected a structure in the corner of the yard by raising a sheet of plywood up on the elbow of the fence, and propping it there with a two-by-four.
Yeah, that’s coming down right now, I told them, before it cracks somebody’s head open. See how all that has to happen is somebody bumbps that two-by-four, and then the roof falls on your head?
A short debate erupts while I patiently tap my foot. Interesting point, take the plywood down. Yes, I understand that, take the plywood down. I sure do love you, take the plywood down, please.
Now I’m sitting here listening as they hammer out their society. Ayla is in charge of the firewood and the apple tree. We’ll light the fire in a bit, and Ayla knows how to behave around one. Most of the wood came from her house, anyway.
Meanwhile, Chrissy is in charge of the water. She’s got a hose, and everyone needs water. It’s a niche product, but don’t think she’s above an embargo. She’s in a powerful spot.
But then there is Ellen, who is in chage of the garden and – in a crazy slant to the power structure – owns all the land. Everybody has to pay her rent in apples or water, and for some reason they’re all okay with that. Plus, that gives her control of all the food that isn’t apples.
I don’t make the rules.
So we sit there listening while they cut deals with each other for resources, and form alliances to, for instance, break the economic stranglehold Ellen immediately attempts to throw down on everyone. There is definitely a balance – everybody needs everybody – but Ellen’s got a distinct advantage. It’s like they’re playing Monopoly and she already owns everything.
So the other two attempt sanctions and embargos, and Marilyn attempts to pass herself off as the mighty Hera, Queen of the Gods, given how we’re watching from above and all. We get some looks from the neighbors as the Voice of Hera splits the sky, but we’re always getting looks from the neighbors. Hello, neighbors!
Anyway, following that logic, I descend from the Deck and light the fire for them – Enjoy, mortals! See how I didn’t make you send Prometheus to steal it? That’s cause I’m cool.
Not long after, Ellen comes in asking for marshmallows, and Marilyn locates a half a bag of them, and just as she’s about to hand them over I point out, “You know, that’s sort of CIA of you, handing out resources to one faction. Especially the Republic of Ellen – you know she’s not big on the human rights angle, yes?”
So Marilyn yanks the marshmallows back and starts demanding certain concessions from Ellen. You have to share them, see, that’s the only way you’re getting them.
Ellen doesn’t want to share them – she wants to sell them. She tries the whiny voice. Doesn’t work.
Marilyn drops into Mommy Mode. “How about everyone comes up and gets their own, and then roasts them individually, that way nobody gets control of the marshmallows as a resource?”
Ellen says, wait, I have a better idea, and then she comes right back with a small bowl of cherry tomatoes. How about we trade the marshmallows for the tomatoes?
Good idea, Marilyn says, except those are already my tomatoes. Everything in the yard is already mine, for I am Mighty Hera, Queen of the Gods! Bow down before my fury lest I smite thy borders with frogs!
Ellen sheepishly acknowledges, yes, I understand, and she goes to put the bowl on the counter behind Marilyn, then snatches the bag of marshmallows out of Marilyn’s hands and runs back down to the garden.
Not much you can do about that – Ellen doesn’t like to hear the word “No.” So she sent in a black ops strike force with ziplines and night vision goggles. That’s “Yes!”
It’s a perfectly legitimate diplomatic move – once she’s back on her own soil, she announces that if anyone comes over to try and take the marshmallows back, she’ll start licking them each, one by one.
Mutually Assured Marshmallow Destruction – the Cold War is on.
So, being a benevolent sovereign, I head to the store and get enough marshmallows for everyone and also chocolate and graham crackers. I hand out equal portions to everyone, and then the back yard erupts in s’mores and cheering, and pretty soon the entire society collapses, all interest in the intellectual side of things having been pressed into sugary sandwiches and devoured without ceremony.
Later I take another parental stab at the whole thing, as they’re all sitting around watching television and rubbing their bellies – So what did everyone learn today out there?
Watch out for Ellen, Chrissy says.