Once upon a time, there was a little town and one guy in the town erected a really tall post. When he shimmied up the post and sat on the top of it, he could see for miles around. He could see mountains and valleys and deserts, and very far in the distance, he could see the ocean vanishing over the horizon line.
The town was really impressed by the post, and everyone wanted to go up it and look around, so they worked out a system whereby everybody got to go sit on the post for a week, and while they were up there, someone would take up their food and bring down their waste. This worked for a little bit, but then one day, this one guy was like, “I’m just going to stay up here, actually. I’m not coming down.”
Everyone was mad. And then, this other, bigger guy was like, “No, you’re not, mate,” and he shimmied up the post and knocked the first guy down.
But then, the second guy wouldn’t come down.
Brawls broke out. A bunch of people got into a huge fight over who should get to sit on the post.
A lot of people in the town didn’t participate in the fight. A lot of people were too old or too out of shape to climb the post, or they just weren’t that interested, but all those people thought that their kids should have the option of going up on the post if they wanted. These people kept sending up food and carrying down waste regardless of how whoever was on the post was acting at the moment, or whether or not they were supposed to be up there. If you asked these people why they didn’t just stop delivering food to the usurper on the post, they’d say it was the agreement everyone had made, and that agreement stayed the same on their end even if the person on the post was cheating. But deep down, what it really was was that they thought maybe some day they’d end up living up on the post themselves somehow, and if they did, they wanted to be supported.
They wanted to think of themselves as more like the fellow on the post than like the other people around them on the ground.
Eventually, two people fighting at the top of the post fell off it, and they both died, plus they fell on some other people who died, too, so a town meeting was called to address the problem.
“Look,” said the mayor. “Clearly, we can’t share the post in an orderly fashion. The only solution is to knock it down.”
Then, the man who’d built the post got really mad. (This man, incidentally, demanded all sorts of special consideration from everybody because he had built the post, even though he’d taken all the materials for the post from everyone in the town without asking their permission, and even though more than half of them never got to use the post anyway. Also, some other people had started to build their own posts, and this man and his friends went around and knocked them all down. Still, he was pretty well-liked, because, as we’ve already discussed, even though most people would never go up on the post, they liked to picture themselves up there.)
“I went to a lot of trouble to build that post,” the man said. “And I’d rather the biggest dude in town occupy it forever than to have it torn down altogether.”
“I have an idea,” came a voice from the back of the courthouse. “It’s really just those five or six assholes who are causing all the trouble, right? Why don’t we just kick them out of town, and the rest of us can go back to taking turns on the post like we originally agreed to?”
“Because then other people would just start fighting over it,” said the mayor. “It’s human nature to be an asshole who fights over everything.”
“I don’t know,” said someone else. “I think it might just be those guys.” And a lot of other people agreed, too.
“Well, we can try it,” said the mayor, so the town kicked out the five or six assholes who’d been fighting over the post, and sure enough, everyone else took their turns politely, like reasonable adults. There were a few assholes left, actually, but they felt socially pressured to keep it hidden, now that being an asshole had gone out of fashion and other behaviors met with greater rewards.
After awhile, people started erecting more posts. They found it was not nearly as difficult as the first guy had made it seem, and also that the sky could contain an endless amount of posts. There was no reason to act like one post would necessarily knock out another. And so they built posts even for people who couldn’t build their own, and contraptions to lift up those who couldn’t climb. Eventually, the town constructed platforms between the posts and moved the entire town up high above the tree line, and then people wondered what would happen if they built more posts above that, and the town moved steadily upwards, far above the ground.
Eventually, the kids of this town grew up and started families of their own, and then their kids grew up, and they were annoyed by the platforms and by all the extra steps that were required to bring resources up and send waste down. It took the whole damn day just to carry out the most basic functions of life. Sure, the view was pretty, but who the hell cared about that when you had no time to enjoy it?
“Why don’t we just go down there and live?” said one kid, and then all the kids moved back down to the ground.
Were their parents ever pissed!!!!!!
They shouted down, “Do you have any idea how hard we all worked to make this amazing life far up above the trees? And we did it all for you! It was exhausting!”
“We don’t like it,” the kids hollered back up. “It’s too hard to keep going. There’s nothing wrong with living here on the grassy fields, among all the trees and flowers, like people are naturally supposed to do. We’ll visit every other holiday!”
“Yeah, well, we’ll be interested to see how you survive down there, with the freaky animals and all that nasty dirt! You’re going to be begging us to move back up here in no time.”
“We’ll be fine,” the kids called back, and then, because all of their sunlight and their view of the mountains was blocked by their parents’ big, stupid platform construction, and because their parents had been blithely dumping their sewage all over the ground there for decades, the kids all moved far away.
Unfortunately, they ended up accidentally moving to where all the original assholes had gone to live and reproduce. It took the new arrivals some time to figure that out. When they finally got wise to it, a funny thing happened. Without really declaring it to themselves, the kids from the platform town began to sort of subtly build and climb their own posts, edging up and away from the assholes. They were pickier about their materials than their parents had been, and they hand-painted all the posts to look like trees, and hand-sewed woven grass rugs along the platforms, but it was the same basic concept.
They did make some significant improvements in waste disposal, however.