“Wanna know a secret? Promise not to tell? You are standing by a wishing well…” – Snow White in Disney’s Snow White
“I believe in fairy tales and serendipitous encounters…” – “Dreamer,” by Elizaveta from the album Beatrix Runs
“Why grandmother – what big teeth you have
The better to eat you with, my dear…” – the last bit of dialogue in “Little Red Riding Hood”
The Wisdom of Crocodiles (A Creation Story)
Once upon a time, there was a world. No one can really agree how it came to be, but after centuries of arguing and assaulting one another over the right to be correct, it’s kind of a moot point now. The point is, the world existed. And at some point, that world came to have people in it. I don’t know how many people there were initially, but I imagine there were only a handful. That made things both easier and harder, kinder and crueler. Eventually, the number of people grew. And as the people grew (both in age and number), they began to change, as all life does. That created the world’s first issue, and the issue was Difference. Now you shouldn’t assume that everyone recognized the issue as a problem right away. After all, Different was a good thing – it made for an assortment of fruits and vegetables and after – school snacks; it meant you could live in a tree, or on a mountain, or along a beach; it meant that, if you were wise, you could find a thousand ways to survive the Beginning (because beginnings are exciting, but nothing is quite so challenging as the start of a thing, even a thing as grand as a world).
Spoiler Alert: this story can be told much faster if I tell you up front that Different has an easy solution that a devious mind quickly figures out. The solution is an Institution. And this story is about creation, not of the world, but of the Institution, which is the most sinister, pervasive and sickening invention known to man. Also, it’s not a real thing – it’s an illusion. But more on that later: first, we have to meet the crocodiles.
One of the things that makes a beginning difficult is that nothing exists already – everything has to be thought of or made. At first, people were too busy making, thinking, meeting, and discovering to notice a Difference. But eventually, inevitably, somebody noticed. Though the Early People may have been wise, they probably wouldn’t meet the modern definition of learn-ed (which of course means they were much smarter than all of us). Still, they quickly discovered that there was no consistency to the experience of Difference: sometimes it was exciting, sometimes unremarkable, sometimes terrifying for no discernible reason. One thing was certain – Difference was beyond the discover’s ability to control. And as the number of people grew, and the potential for encountering Difference increased, that lack of control became, for some, the world’s first real problem. It was that very moment when the very first Institution crawled out of the belly of a crocodile.
When I said earlier that the Early People may not have been learn-ed, I might be projecting the plight of modern man onto them. You see, modern people are not terribly observant. We assume that if we can’t see a thing, it doesn’t exist, that the entire world is a lot like our little corner, that animals and spirits all think like people, and that all people want exactly the same thing (they don’t – people want essentially the same thing, not exactly, and that is an important distinction). But while most people were busy being clueless (and I mean that more kindly than it sounds – how can you know what you should be looking for, after all, until you learn?), there were some living things that were Watching. The earliest watchers, unfortunately, are always hunters because hunters are the only beings that want something that might Hurt. And the greatest of these hunters, at least in their section of the world, were the crocodiles.
I hate to pull a Herman Melville here (let’s be honest – he wrote Moby Dick as a poorly disguised display of his interest in whales, with some themes and literary elements thrown in later as after thoughts), but at least I’m giving you a warning. Here are some things you should know about crocodiles. They are part of a group known as Archosauria, which means “ruling reptiles.” It is a well know fact that crocodiles are aggressive, keenly intelligent (insofar as its suits their purposes), unbelievably fast in water and on land, and enjoy relative longevity. They are the most social (they have a hierarchy), vocal and biologically complex of reptiles, and they tolerate each other’s presence when it suits them to (like during “basking and feeding”), and turn on each other when it doesn’t (like during mating season). They have a cerebral cortex and a four-chambered heart. They have excellent hearing, night vision, and adaptability (they can exist in saltwater, freshwater, and there are even some species that can climb trees if there’s no shoreline near the water where they want to sunbathe). They set good traps, and they know when to set them. They have the eyes of a dragon (ok, probably a dinosaur if we’re being strictly scientific). And they always show all of their teeth.
The very first council of crocodiles was no doubt an informal gathering, probably more a haphazard assembly of scaly bodies, temporarily sated with meals they had individually caught, sunning themselves near a convenient watering hole. They were quiet, thinking their crocodile thoughts (which invariably involve dinner, sunlight, and if that crocodile across the way is picking up on how sexy they are), when somewhere, I’m told, a voice most likely said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. But there was also dark, and it was the Dark that made one crocodile say, “You know, this hunting thing is getting old. We are a pretty strong set of reptiles (and not a bad – looking bunch). Why are we doing so much individual work? Let us form an alliance and waylay various harmless souls to our mutual satisfaction and engorgement. We can split the plunder and then go our separate ways, agreeing to reunite when the desire for the hunt is upon us.” It was a sound plan, and if that was where it had ended, I’m sure everything would have been fine (well, not for the birds and other animals that crocodiles eat, but maybe for everyone else). But that was not the end of it.
Just like there are species of crocodile, there are species of human. And not all of these species are generous of spirit (who am I kidding? Some species of humans are born entitled and mean – spirited. And like dragon – eyed crocodiles, they always find each other). One such human happened to be listening nearby when this idea for an Alliance crawled out of the satisfied belly of a ruling ambush predator, as tiny and misguided as a male sperm, and landed in the fertile and ovulating mind of a disgruntled and greedy species of early human that later came to be known as an Aristocrat.
(Ah, you’re very clever – you see where this is going now, don’t you? Still, let me finish. Well, because it’s good manners, sugar).
While most Early Peoples were out making, thinking and discovering, this particular species, itself a natural predator, was also Watching. And what it was seeing was that there were a lot of people working and thinking and making. In other words, a lot of effort was being put into Living. And this species realized that this effort could be harvested in some advantageous way – it just hadn’t figured out how. This human (his real name was something normal like Tim before he changed it to something pretentious like Preston Wilcox Beaumont Gerard the 15th, bishop/earl/lord of wherever) waited until the crocodiles had disbanded. Then carefully, so as not to damage it because it was most powerful when it was whole, he picked something up and wandered slowly back to the desert outcropping that housed him and some like – minded fellows. They had segregated themselves from the activity of normal humans, and the normal humans did not miss their presence since they lacked the motivation to add anything to the Life experience. As he walked, protecting his totem, he continued to Watch and that caused him to Notice. He saw the richness of the land that surrounded him; he noted the types of trees and plants and rocks and minerals; he witnessed the growing skills of the people, and with terrible and brilliant insight, saw a great deal of Potential. The gestation period of an Idea in a devious mind is incredibly short, and by the time *Tim arrived home, the Idea had developed into a Plan – a very small, very powerful germ of a Plan.
Calling together his – sure, let’s call them friends – he told them about the meeting of the crocodiles and how he was certain this notion of the alliance held the key to capitalizing on the issue of Difference. As they reverently surrounded the Thing he Brought back from the Water, he said he had an Idea that had grown into a Plan, but he wanted their input about how to start.
“My brothers,” he began, “look at us. We live in a small and undesirable section of the world while our fellow man is Making Strides and Taking Steps. Gaia/Freya/God/&Odin only know where they’re going with these steps, but that is not stopping them. And all the while, they are having Encounters with Difference and drawing their own conclusions. This will not do. And I think I know just the thing: let us make these humans in our image, and to our liking, and forever alter their perspective and experience of Life with our own form of alliance. We should call it the Institution.”
Well, that caused quite a buzz among his peers. It was a fancy word, but also a new one. How would this work?
“Easy,” Tim continued, the pupils of his eyes narrowing to dragon slits as he warmed to his topic. “We create a series of Ideas that govern what people want. From the time they are born until the time they die, everything they do will be in the service of these ideas, created by us and existing only to further our ends. But they won’t realize that, not for their wholes lives. They will think they are still enjoying the real Life experience.”
“That’s brilliant!” shouted the small gathering. “What should we make first?”
Well, there was some discussion, with many critical ideas tossed out in this first brainstorming. Someone suggested Money, while another came up with Class. One shifty-eyed fellow mentioned Gender, which prompted his twin to outdo him by suggesting Law, Education, and Religion. One especially oily crook mentioned Race, which could also be simplified to Color. These were all powerful ideas (we have the evidence of that now in our time), but none of them was really a starting point. The Early People had to buy into these inventions, and how was this band of renegades to make that happen? The gathering fell silent while the wisdom of the crocodiles bred its own ideas inside their minds. I will say this for that devious group – they were not possessed of the impatience that has ruined modern man. They sat for quite some time, for once participating in a Live activity, with their razor sharp, keenly intelligent ambush predator minds. Finally one said, “The very first Institution should be called Other.”
As is the intrinsic response to a truly remarkable idea, everyone sat up a little straighter.
The genius, whose name was probably a letter, like J, continued. “This will work best if, instead of inventing right off, we simply shade something that exists. We already have Difference – everyone has met it and doesn’t know what to make of it. All we have to do is establish the concept of Other, and then we can redefine Good, Valuable, and Desirable. These are the foundation upon which the Life experience rests. We will use words like ‘us’ and ‘them,’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly,’ ‘perfect’ and ’tainted,’ ‘success’ and ‘failure.’ We will take things that exist and assign meanings to them that they don’t have, and train people to make connections between things that are not related. And once this is embedded in the human psyche, we will not even have to work hard to maintain any kind of control.” This was met with immediate approval.
“But who is “us?” asked the shifty-eyed man.
“That’s easy,” replied J, making a nasty vocalization that I’m sure was meant to signal reptilian amusement. “WE are the only us – this circle of men right here. Only us and our descendants. There is no breaking into this circle of Privilege, sealed amongst us with an Oath and a Sign.”
They took the solemn Oath, and then, each received the Sign, brought back by Tim from the river. By some magic that I don’t understand or really want to delve into, it imprinted on them in that indiscernible way that is Dark. That is, it was always visible and actually very obvious but only if you knew what to look for and how to See.
Well, there’s not much more to the story. As we can see, the plan was an unqualified success. The Aristocrats turned their unsightly den into something called a Gated Community simply by renaming it (it’s not like there were any gates) and pronounced it untouchable except for to a special Elite. I’m not sure how they convinced everyone to buy into their nonsense – to be more accurate, I’m not sure how they convinced everyone of their authority to Rename and Define…it must have been simply brutal. After all, not everyone would have been taken in by their illusion, that first submerged nothosaurian body waiting, just waiting for the first person to take the bait as his eager fellows crouched nearby, panting like dogs…as crocodiles can. Not everyone would have missed the Signs that something was off: the too – convenient placement of an object of desire, the placid calm that was just a little too still, the watching watching Watching dragon eyes, and the horrible gleaming unbroken line of those perfect pointed and matchless Teeth. Somewhere the mangled remains of those insightful first resisters are ignobly obscured in the Dark (evidence is always concealed by a Hunter: they need to be your only source of Information). Somehow the Early People were taught to discount their instincts (it certainly helped when Ruthlessness was renamed Ambition, and the horror one felt when confronting it was rebranded as Admiration). And by some black magic, thick pervasive and insubstantial, Imitation crept in and took over the world. Whether it was bit by gleeful bit or all in one savage rush, the Institution came to Life. And once everyone (or enough people) believed the Aristocrats, the Institutions multiplied and did all the work for them, and continue to do the work for them to this day (new ones have been added, like Politics and Marriage, Prison and Government, Industry and Capitalism). Eventually, those early con artists left their desert outcropping and claimed the best and lushest of every land, turning the rest of the world into a desert and leaving it for everybody who was not the Elite to scrape an existence out of as best they can. Their descendants are quite fond of this hoarding tradition, and have added new words to replace the more antiquated ones that justified such piracy (think of terms like “manifest destiny” and “zero-sum game”and “colonialism”). The wisdom of the Early People to see and live and understand now is found by only a few, those brave souls who wake up from the Illusion and see the Institutions for what they are – brilliant, but imaginary (or sometimes perverse reimaginings of things that were meant to be good), and always in the service of someone else’s personal preference. The descendent of an Aristocrat doesn’t always live in a gated community anymore, but they still carry the Sign (I imagine it’s something handed down for generations, in secret death-bed confessionals). Modern man has been trained to be distracted by the outward appearance of a thing at all times, forgetting that it never matters what a thing seems – it only matters what a thing is. And only the few who are awake see the Sign because they know to look for it. It is always in the thenar space of the right hand (which comes from the Greek for palm of the hand, and is between the thumb and index finger). It is the often submerged but unmistakeable outline of a full set of Crocodile Teeth.
O, wait! I forgot to tell you about the Oath. It’s very short, and wasn’t that impressive when it was told to me. I’ve cleaned it up for you and put it in a rhyme. It’s kind of repetitive and a little childish (and also some of what they said just doesn’t translate well into English). So sorry – I did my best.
The Oath of the Aristocrat
“May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if…” (Ruth 1:17, 1 Sam. 14:44, 2 Kings 6:31)
J and Tim on reckless whim
lead one and all with grit and gall
to loudly proudly cumulous cloudly
denounce the right of all to Life
We will not share (we wouldn’t dare)
our room and board and golden hoard
our tracts of lands and finest brands
for them, all men we’ll sacrifice
By Teeth and Dark, we bear the mark
of those who rule, so cold and cruel
no sense of shame as bold we claim
this destiny; it is our right
from the womb of reptiles was begat
that dragon, the Aristocrat!
Sources: a quick Wikipedia search yields these fun facts about crocodiles. I do love the internet.