Has anyone actually played a game of Monopoly to the end?
It never really happens, because at some point, people realize they will lose, no matter what, and they kick over the board, or go grab a soda and never come back.
But there’s this interesting point that happens just before that. Right toward the end of the game, it can suddenly become a competitive game of stealing money from the bank without getting caught.
Of course, the game never recovers from that point.
This is, of course, a metaphor for what has happened to the United States government: our much-vaunted “system of checks and balances,” our self-correcting republic, our “balance of powers.”
Once upon a time, our government was playing Monopoly. The game has changed.
Two simple things about the “information economy:”
- You can’t eat information.
- You can’t sell information to people who have died of starvation.
It is never okay to lock children in cages.
The only people who ever claim God is on their side, are people who already suspect they are in the wrong.
People who are doing the right thing don’t invoke God — they don’t need to. It’s clear to them — and usually to everyone else — that they are doing the right thing.
People who invoke God for their cause are invariably running a shady operation, if not simply working for the powers of darkness. They claim God is on their side to firm up wavering support from people who have already started to doubt them.
All wealth comes from finding a new use for something that was already being used for something else.
Mining for gold digs up rocks that were already in use holding up the ground above them.
We brace the mine with timbers that served as the backbone of a tree.
Trees extract nutrients from the ground and carbon from the air, which were already engaged in their own chemistry.
Ultimately, we return to the soil, to feed the trees and hold up the ground.
Wealth is a great circle woven of many strands.
Two simple truths are obvious from this.
- Wealth is relative
- Wealth is temporary
Wealth is relative: its accumulation is always marked by a depletion elsewhere. We humans rationalize this away with elaborate fictions: that gold is more valuable than silver, that timber is more valuable than trees, that humans are worth more than the whole of the world, that some human lives are worth more than other human lives. We do this so that we may discount the wealth that is depleted as “worthless.” Common stone is worthless; an unlogged forest is worthless; an “undeveloped” ecosystem is worthless; a Muslim, or an African, or a woman, or a homosexual, or a homeless person is worthless. So taking anything — or everything — from what is “worthless” and using it ourselves is called “creating wealth.” But nothing is created, other than a rationalization.
Wealth is temporary: in the end, we all die and return to the soil. Our family lines fail. Our civilizations crumble, and are forgotten. Cities are reclaimed by forests. The land itself is recycled in the great, slow movement of tectonic plates.
Most of the noise in the US today has to do with avoiding, denying, or lying about the simple truths. Things that are obvious, like “water runs downhill,” or “nature abhors a vacuum,” or “you must eat to live.”
Some of the simple truths have been lied about for so long, that the lie has become a “cultural value.” Who would we be if our cultural values turned out to be lies on the order of “water runs uphill,” or “we can all live on air and empty platitudes?” We would be fools, to start with. To stop being fools, we have to let go of our foolishness, and that means — in some cases — letting go of our cultural values.
Unwillingness to let go of foolish cultural values is perhaps the greatest foolishness of all.
So it might be good to remind ourselves, from time to time, of some of the simple truths.
To be continued…