Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Clan of the Cave Banker

[I used to write short stories all the time, but lately I've been either too distracted or depressed to write any fiction at all. This is probably the last "short story" (really a parable) I've written, and seeing how it's even older than this blog and seems to be particularly relevent these days, I thought I'd post it. It's not my best work, but I hope you like it anyway.]

This is the story of Arg, Og, and Ug ... three powerful men of prehistoric times. Arg was the mighty leader of the Mammoth Clan. Og was the fearless leader of the Bear Clan. Ug was a wimpy but crafty smart guy.

The Bear Clan lived where there was a lot of flint, and they made great arrowheads. The Mammoth Clan lived where there was a lot of clay, and they made excellent pots. So, it would often happen that a representative from the Bear Clan would turn up at the Mammoth Clan's camp to trade arrowheads for pots, and vice-versa. At first, this arrangement was great, but as the two clans started to grow, diversify their products, and trade with other clans, things started to get a little complicated ...

"Say -- that's a nice spear, Og. I'll trade you two of my finest water jugs for it!"

"I'd have to see them first, Arg."

"Gee -- they're a bit heavy for me to bring to the Bear Caves without some kind of commitment."

"Hmm ... I've always admired your witch doctor Gorg's snakeskin rattle. Why don't you give him the pots in exchange for the rattle, bring the rattle to the Bear Caves and I'll let you have my spear?"

"But Gorg already has a lot of pots!"

"He does? Well, maybe he'd like this spiffy flint knife. I'll let it go for two dogs and a fishing net ..."

Things got so confusing, Arg and Og were grateful when Ug stepped in with his solution - a huge pot of little red shells.

"Wow!" exclaimed Arg. "These look just like the little white shells that pile up on the beach by the thousands, but they're red!"

"That's because they are the white shells that pile up on the beach by the thousands. I painted them red with my own special dye."

"So what do you want us to do with these useless, funny-looking things?" said Og, picking up a shell and examining it.

"Assign them a value that you both agree on: one shell for an ordinary pot, two shells for a fancy pot, three shells for a Mammoth hide ... "

"I get it!" shouted Arg. "Instead of lugging all our stuff around whenever we want to trade, we can use these little bitty shells to represent what they're worth!"

"Exactly," said Ug, wiping Arg's spittle from his beard.

"Great idea," said Og. "You give me half the shells, and Arg gets the other half ... "

"Now just hold your three-toed horses!" cried Ug, drawing back the pot. "These shells are mine. I'm the only one that knows how to make them. I'll let you borrow them, but you have to pay them back. With interest."

The clan leaders grunted, torn between clubbing the little twerp and scratching their beards with confusion.

"Let me get this straight," said Arg. "You give us a bunch of dopey red shells and so that we can say they're worth the same as a pot or a knife. But then we have to promise to give back even more of these shells than you gave us in the first place? Just how are we supposed to do that, if you're the only one that can make them?"

"Don't worry ... !" said Ug, in a voice that was even oilier than his hair. "I'll never call you on your interest. How could I? But I promise you - if you go along with this deal, you'll never go a month without me giving you a very nice present. It will be just like your own little money tree. How do you like them apples, boys?"

Arg and Og looked at each other, shrugged, then nodded in agreement. After all, it was just a worthless bunch of shells ...

Thus, Ug (and vicariously Arg and Og) became very rich. The shells were, in fact, a great idea, and trade boomed between the clans. Unfortunately, so did debt. For every thousand shells the Mammoth or Bear clans borrowed, they had to give Ug a thousand-shell "bond stick" that promised to pay him back the thousand shells plus whatever interest had accrued in the meantime.

Obviously, this gave Ug quite a bit of say in Arg and Og's respective governments. After all, he controlled their economy. All he had to do to throw a clan into poverty was raise their interest rates. Arg, worried about the power and influence Ug was extracting from his people, journeyed to the Bear Caves to hold a secret meeting with Og.

"I don't know about you, Og," said Arg, munching a roasted duck leg by the crackling fire, "But I'm getting pretty sick of Ug telling me how to run my clan, telling me who should be my successor, dragging off every young lady that catches his eye ... "

Og burped and tore into a mammoth rib. "That's the cost of doing business," he said between chews.

As if wielding a club, Arg smacked the ashes with his duck. "Now see here, Og! There's nothing special about Ug's shells except the fact that they're dyed. We both have our own dyes. Why don't we make our own money and give it to our people interest-free?"

Og sputtered and choked on his mammoth. "Are you crazy? And give up all of this -?" He gestured towards his zebra-skin rug, harem of Tiger Clan beauties, and carved rhinoceros horn.

"I don't know if you remember, but we never had it this good before Ug's money."

"We don't have anything. We're in debt up to our armpits. All this stuff is imaginary."

"Feels real to me!" laughed Og as he grabbed his Tiger Clan masseuse and swatted her bottom.

"Before, at least, we had our clans. Our people were proud and we'd earned their respect," lamented Arg, picking the skin off his spoiled bird. "You know, our best potter gave up potting to form a franchise. He hires pimply-faced kids to make cheap knock-offs that break after two weeks. Gorg the witch doctor won't dance for poor folks anymore. Now they have to see his first-year apprentice. People used to defer to my skill as a leader. Now, when they want something, they just throw money at me. My clan is sick, Og. I can't bear to see our culture die this way."

Og's face grew serious. "You know, if you try to get rid of Ug and his system, he'll have you removed, even assassinated."

Arg swallowed his duck with great difficulty, then nodded. He left the cave with his head hung low.

Og smirked the minute his rival was gone. "What a wuss." In truth, Og was just as sick of Ug's meddling as Arg was, but he didn't harbor any nagging worries that he had been reduced to a mere puppet. After all, who commanded the mightiest warriors of the Universe, the spear brigade of the Bear Clan? Og, and Og alone! First, he'd get into Ug's good graces and borrow a boatload of money on the pretext that he was going to get some non-borrowing clans "in-line;" then (oh glory!) Og would begin his predestined march to rule the world!!!

But, as mentioned before, Ug was a crafty smart guy - too crafty to let a borrower get too big to collect from. The minute he sensed that Og was becoming a threat, he threw money at Og's enemies inside the Bear clan to undermine him from within and financed Arg's war machine to menace him from without. There's nothing Ug loved more than a conflict! What better way to make a Clan borrow more than they could ever pay back? Not that they could pay him back anyway... as Og already pointed out, there was no way to pay back the principal on Ug's initial loan. The game was rigged, and the guy who made the money made the rules. The clans kept borrowing and borrowing (Ug liked to install leaders who spent more than they took in), their debt grew and grew, until it finally reached the point where every family owed Ug their land, their living, and their first-born child.

Sad, but that's about where we are today. In the United States, the part of Ug is played by the Federal Reserve. I read recently that each one of our children is born $100,000 in debt to this gang of unelected, unconstitutional private bankers. I doubt your house is worth more than the total debt accrued by those who live there. Obviously, these monetary forces have the power to send our children to die in unnecessary wars for bogus reasons. But it's not just the U.S. - we've had it pretty good for a number of years - the entire world has been enslaved to the likes of Ug, and his worthless pile of shells, stained with blood.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

It's a pity most folks lack a taste for allegory these days. You're a pretty fair writer, cuz!

It's a pity as well that Arg and Og will never see that it is only their differences which keep them from coming together and telling Ug where to get off.

For being such brilliant animals in some regards, we can be just dumb as rocks sometimes.