I remember the last night of that long trip that began with snow, sweat and altitude and ended with sun, sweat and beer. Everyone had already left the house to go back home, but my flight was scheduled only for the next day. It was a trip that also included children — amazing ones — and it was about them that I reflected alone in the house, trying not to offend the gods by finishing the huge amount of beer bottles left over. And I should say that, above all, it was that last ingredient of the trip (children, not beer) that made it a great life experience and motivated this post.
The beginning of my last vacation trip — climbing Mount Rainier — was, of course, not the antithesis mentioned in the title. Climbing is a lot like combat. The proximity of Death in both activities provides a wider vision of Life. Both can also kill you, but I would rate the kinds of possible deaths while climbing considerably more “pleasant” than the ones in combat. Even to freeze alone in a dark crevasse or to suffocate below an avalanche sound much better than falling in the hands of the enemy. Combat, more than a fact of life or a dreadful situation, is a constant feeling that accompanies me, a hidden follower and admirer always trying to engage in a conversation of flying metal. However, living under the same roof of four young bright little girls, even if during just a few days, removed all combativeness of my being. Whatever I felt during that time I refer to as the antithesis of combat. It made me think of a world populated just by children.
Imagine a fantastic scenario similar to the one depicted in the movie “Children of Men“. The devastating effects of our destructive habits towards the world ended up with women not being able to become pregnant anymore. The human race is in a countdown towards extinction. In my scenario, the problem is even worse — everyone but little kids die a sudden death.
At first, children would cry the loss of their parents and be invaded by such a feeling of loneliness that they would become paralysed with fear. The world would be silent and peaceful, even if depressing. But soon enough, they would get too hungry to stay put. They would have to get up and feed themselves. They would first consume the resources already at their disposal, but those that live in the country, and therefore know much better how to deal with nature, would quickly begin to grow crops and raise livestock like their fathers did. The complex life of cities would be impossible to be maintained by city children and all the essential services (and non-essential, for that matter) would stall. With no one to keep the industry going, there would be no more electricity and, eventually, no more fuel. Even before all the matches are used, the brightest kids would find a way to designate others to keep a perennial fire, but even so, food in the city would soon end and so would all burning matter. This weaker breed of city children would eventually migrate to the country. And they would take with them their toys, the only source of joy in an age when sex is still something that only adults do (or did) and that makes little sense.
As soon as they would arrive in the farms and settlements of the country, they would be welcomed by the rural kids. These have always felt quite alone — and even a little disdained — being so removed from the colourful high-tech life of the big cities. They would enjoy the company of their new friends, with their sophisticated way of talking and, of course, with all those fancy toys! Life would reach an equilibrium, a blissful one. The essence of life — shelter, food, water and relish — would be guaranteed. Soon, the memories of their parents would fade into a warm feeling of a distant era, almost like a cozy dream in a summer afternoon. Happy villas would spread throughout the land and the innocence of children would rule life. They would be like the original Jewish kibbutzim, an utopia flavoured by the natural ability of men to survive. And like them, the dance and the music inside would go on even below a shower of enemy artillery. But there were no enemies this time — they were living the antithesis of combat.
Let’s now deepen our fantastic assumptions and establish that these kids would never grow old. Well, they would eventually reach sixty, seventy or even ninety years of age and then die like we do, but their bodies would remain the same throughout their lives. This means that women would never exist, only little girls that didn’t elicit nor feel any sexual appeal. Boys and girls would forever attend to their chores and play with their toys. This is not to say that they wouldn’t become mature — they would. But their relish would never move from the innocent playfulness of childhood towards the lustful shallowness of an alcohol-induced hunt for the pleasures of flesh.
During the “Great Migration”, the integration of city kids into the lives of their rural counterparts would not have been based on any type of commercial relation. The surplus of food in the country and the essentiality of it for life, in contrast to the very important but not as essential city toys, could have easily generated a trading relationship, but that did not happen. There could have been formed a caste-based society where the few owners of the food could have dominated the many with toys, which would in turn soon become “toyless”, or die of hunger. But they were kids and even kids know that everyone needs food to live. And they had had enough of death. Moreover, who would ever want to play alone? They had all been happy enough to meet other kids, far from the infested cities where their parents’ bodies lay. Yes, there would have been disputes among the children, as there have always been, but they would have vanished as quickly as they had appeared and no sorrow or resentment would have remained.
Yet, time went by.
Somewhere across this world without adults, word would eventually spread that a little community across the nearest mountain pass had toys that were different from those of the children that lived in the prairies below. It was also said that these mountain kids had somehow acquired the almost magical craft of making chocolate. Of course, it helped that cocoa grew in the rainy forests of their valley. Unfortunately, not in the unfruitful grasses of the huge rangeland of the prairie kids. But they could go and check out those other kids from above, couldn’t they? They were curious and bored with the same unchanging toys. And they couldn’t avoid those recurrent dreams; time an time again around March and April, they would dream about huge chocolate eggs with candy inside, and beautiful smiles that they believed came from their parents. What harm could a little visit cause?
The “kids” on the other side of the valley were very surprised, but welcoming. Decades have gone by without seeing anyone else. They gave the prairie kids chocolate and they let them play with their toys. They also heard about the different types of toys those kids from below had and they were more than happy to taste the beef they brought. Their valley was too narrow to allow the husbandry of cattle and all they had was goats and poultry. Only now they realised how fed up with goat meat they were. They offered more chocolate if the prairie kids could bring more beef and they gladly accepted. But when the prairie kids asked for toys in exchange for even more beef, something strange happened. They didn’t want to trade their toys. In fact, they offered more chocolate in exchange for those of the prairie kids. All of them were bored by their respective toys, with which they had been playing for ages, but they were their toys. Toys are not born out of other toys or grow in the fields or on trees. If they let go of them, they would be lost forever.
The prairie children left for their homeland full of chocolate but with no toys. At home, the other children were very excited, but also envious. There was not chocolate enough for everyone and what about those new toys? They ought to see them. Another expedition was organised, and then another. And another. They always took a lot of meat with them and returned with a lot of chocolate. But they didn’t take with them their now essential toys. They had never realised how essential those toys were, but now they couldn’t help avoid the feeling that they were indeed. They couldn’t explain it, but, for some reason, even though they felt no will to play with their toys, they would never let go of them. Specially, not for those children with all those nice toys they wouldn’t share.
After some time, the prairie children learned how to make chocolate and established a trading scheme where they would get cocoa in exchange for cattle. They also got seedlings of cocoa and built greenhouses where they were able to grow them. Soon, they would learn how to make those big eggs and the dreams would stop. The mountain kids, in turn, raised their cattle in large pens at the lower slopes of their valley and had all the beef they could eat.
But no toys switched hands — they were their property.
And when both chocolate and beef became trivial, when there was no more need for further trading, when life was even better than before, and stable, they shifted their attention once more to the toys they didn’t have.
And, soon, there would be war.
Whoever recognises Plato’s Republic in this metaphor, even if just a small glimpse of it, with incomparably less philosophical and literary quality, is not seeing a mere coincidence. I have always admired Plato’s construction of a state from scratch in Book II of the Republic, and I guess it came to my mind when I realised how inferior to children adults are and decided to get rid of them (us) in my “state”. The point of all that might be seen as a cliché, I must admit, but not quite as one might imply. On one hand, I do believe property and sex are the cause of all evil (although I indulge in both). But on the other, while I believe children is indeed the solution for all problems, if simply let alone under the umbrella of any educational system they will eventually fall back to their flawed and biased nature. Specially, if that system of education is life itself. Our educational system teaches them how to raise cattle or even how to make chocolate, but it hardly teaches them the true importance of their toys.
The few that try to save the world focus on the education of children. That’s fine, of course, but how do we know what’s better for them? What kind of education have we had that entitled us to decide their education? Probably not a good one, because look at how the world is — that’s the world our education built. I challenge our right to decide on the education of children, just like Mandela challenged in his First Court Statement of 1962 the right of that court to judge him. It is easy for us to remove the problem from our shoulders and place it on the children’s. We didn’t save the world with our education, but if we give the same to the kids they will figure it out. No, they won’t. We are not guilty of the education we had, but we are guilty of the education we give to children. The problem in the previous line of thought is that it eradicates any necessity on our part to become better ourselves. We might say that it is too late for us, but it is not. We still have many decisions to make before we die (you probably more than I do, if I keep trying to dodge bullets and climbing like I do), but one single decision might be enough to change a lot. In combat, one slight press of the trigger at the wrong time might kill you; but it might also kill an innocent child. Any decision counts and, sometimes, abstaining from deciding is even more important. So we’d better not be wrong.
Unfortunately, if we let our nature decide, we will make all the same errors again. Even without sex in the equation, like in my simplified tale, our materialistic self will spoil everything eventually. Some argue that the need for power is the problem; I say whoever strives for power only does so for sex and property. I was once told by a male chauvinist woman that “women like men with status”. I say that status is like the feathers of a peacock; it elicits mating and that’s it. In the end it will be property that will be determinant — property, much more than sex, since we all age and get bored. All we want are more toys.
What must we do to learn how to live with property instead of for property? How do we educate ourselves? Only after answering these questions, or at least making an honest effort to answer them a part of our everyday lives, just like we eat and shower and sleep, can we decide on how to best educate our children. Yes, I guess I am saying we must all be philosophers. Our nature is flawed and we must make a deliberate effort to counteract it. I chose to remember it all (we always ask for more in a bargain, because we are sure to receive less), but there might be easier ways. What I saw on those ten days with those four little girls gives me hope. Their parents never engaged in a mnemoriam-style search for growth and salvation. Instead, they worked their asses off and grew beautiful children. But I know they are a tiny minority of the world who had access to the best there is (even if not close to as good as I think it should be) and made the best out of it. But, even so, I wonder what these kids will become. I wonder if they will have a clear moral lexicon carved in their souls like the words in the Rosetta Stone, that will forever guide them in understanding and judging what they see and hear in a world where words are fuzzy and usually much less than moral. I wonder if one day they will inspire the coinage of a word that means the antithesis of combat. I believe they will, but we must do more than believe. We must keep learning and evolving and caring for them until one day, when we must die, we can look back and realise we have not simply decided on our children’s education — we have educated ourselves and, in the process, taught by example.
1. “I challenge the right of this court to hear my case on two grounds. Firstly, I challenge it because I fear that I will not be given a fair and proper trial. Secondly, I consider myself neither legally nor morally bound to obey laws made by a parliament in which I have no representation”