Endless Cycle

May 23, 2008
By Richard Williams, McDonough, GA

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” --George Bernard Shaw

The tiny village has a long history.

I first hear of this history when I drag myself out of the rain and into the packed lobby of an old building that passes for a hotel, shivering and leaving behind rings of water as a walk. The man behind the bar flashes me a loaded glance, full of distrust and outright suspicion. Nevertheless, I approach him confidently and slam my hand down on the bar's polished surface. When I remove my hand, the face of President Jackson stares up at me.

“Will this do?” I ask gruffly.

The man—I assume he is the owner—takes one glance at Jackson and nods, his suspicion quickly replaced by eagerness. Of course, I know I've just been ripped off. I can see it in the surprised look on the man's face, in the greedy glint that enters his eyes as I start to turn away. I don't care, though. After hours trekking through the wilderness, I'm grateful for any shelter I can get.

Now that I am out of the rain, though, I start to focus much more on another basic need: food. Rather than immediately going back to my room, I turn back to the owner and introduce him to Hamilton. Then, I walk away, sitting down heavily in one of the few empty seats in the crowded room. Across from me, an ancient man with a long, wispy gray beard flashes me a crooked smile. While I wait, he starts up a conversation.

“You new 'round here?” he inquires in a voice like sandpaper.

I shrug: a noncommittal gesture that should have told him I was not interested in talking. He doesn't seem to get the message, though. He chats on and on about the village and its roots, while I try and fail to block him out. I grow ever more impatient as he tells me more and more of the village's history.

He tells me that the village was founded well over two hundred years ago by a bunch of wealthy investors seeking riches in the New World. He paints a beautiful picture of a glorious age of individualism and voluntary cooperation in the first years after the village's founding: an age that lasted for nearly a decade. But, as all businessmen do, the colony's owners grew greedy. From across the sea, they decided to assert their ownership of the colony, sending a governor to micromanage every single affair for the sake of efficiency. After that, it was only a matter of time before the colony's fragile economy collapsed, and the investors elected to cut their losses, turning ownership over to the King.

With the investors gone, the colony started to recover and something vaguely resembling a prosperous economy emerged. For a while, the King left them alone, and all was well. But, as all monarchs do, the King grew greedy. Hoping to extract a profit for himself by exploiting this new market in the New World, he sent a cadre of soldiers over to ensure that all the village's foreign trade went to him, and him alone. After that, it was only a matter of time before the villagers' anger boiled over and they cast off the King's leadership like a dog shaking off fleas, placing the responsibility for ensuring their own prosperity in the hands of an elected Council.

For over a century, this arrangement served the villagers well. No more did they have to worry about foreign rulers controlling them; no more did they have to bow down before the claims of businessmen and Kings. But, as all people do, the Council grew greedy. They began to act in their own interests more often than they defended the interests of the villagers. They made alliances with businessmen and Kings: shrewd alliances that often yielded massive profits. Before long, the villagers began to groan under the combined weight of businessmen and Kings; but, this time, they could not resist. After all, the villagers were the Council; to resist the Council would be to resist themselves, which would defy logic...

This tiny village has a long history, indeed. I just don't really care.

All that matters to me is the food that the owner brings, cutting the old man off in mid-sentence. I devour it quickly, no longer paying any attention to what the old man has to say, and retreat into my room as soon as the last crumb has vanished from my plate.

The next morning, I prepare to leave the hotel and the village far behind, never sparing the old man a second thought. He was old and senile; only a fool would listen to anything someone like him had to say.

As such, I never notice that the old man is nowhere to be seen as I walk out the door and into the bright, crisp morning air. I never wonder what has happened to him. I never reflect on what he told me. I never consider his tale of the village's history, or wonder what else happened over the course of two long centuries. I never entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, he was punished for telling me all that he did.

Because, quite frankly, I just don't care.

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This article has 1 comment.

Natasha said...
on Dec. 21 2008 at 4:47 pm
VERY well written: I loved the detail and the variety of word choice throughout the piece. Have you thought about writing a novel around this idea?

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