Once upon a time I lived in a tree. I was probably quite furry, because the tree did not have central heating, and I may have weighed something like 98lbs, most of which was devoted to muscle; the kind of muscle you need if you are going to climb a lot of trees, but not much use as body fat to keep me warm. I didn’t have a great deal of brain; I didn’t need it. Before she threw me out of her tree, Mummy taught me which berries were food, and the bushes on which they were to be found. Paradise, she said, is a tree that bears berries you can eat – then you never have to climb down. Apart from that, she didn’t teach me very much.
I had one asset of much greater value than my brain, and that was my speed. I could run. You see, although berries were not particularly nice, they were survival. When one of us discovered a new bush the competition could get really serious, and first there got most berries. Of course, that meant the winner got more berries than the others, and that made them fatter, so they were slower next time. From this was created the first law: Natural Balance.
There were those among us with just a little more brain. They could predict when a bush was about to yield berries, and camp out either on the ground or in trees nearby, so as to be sure to get more than their share. There was a lesson here, however: the saber-toothed tiger was cleverer than they were. He camped out there too, but he wasn’t waiting for the berries. The more scientific name for the sabre-toothed tiger was the Smilodon, probably because he always looked so happy. After all, he was never short of food. From this was created the second law: clever people are always looking for ways to circumvent the laws of nature and natural balance. They always fail. And they never learn.
When we were happy, the rule was simple. The third law: one person one tree. There were occasional neighborhood disputes, but never anything of substance, until there were more persons than trees. This shouldn’t have happened. Two persons sharing a tree did not work, because it meant one had to be underneath. Now, in those days my bathroom habits would have been less than perfect, so it was obviously more desirable to have the penthouse. With the onset of competition, the law of Natural Balance was violated. The first real evil in the world was born. The clever people learned that Might is Right.
Now I began to lament my lack of brain, because the day that clever people discovered how to use strong people was the day the fourth law was written. Why get yourself killed if you can persuade bigger, more aggressive persons whose power is physical rather than mental to die for you? Law number four, then: the most powerful force in nature is hope.
Simple people have simple loyalties: promise me four and twenty virgins and I’ll be on the next train to Inverness. Tell me this ticket is the winning ticket and I will keep on buying it. Convince me I will have a place at my Lord’s right hand and I will gladly do whatever you ask. What is more, I will be loyal. Week after week, year after year, on one last walk into the crowded market place wearing that large, rather awkward belt: as long as you never actually honor your promises I will serve your cause. I have been taught to hope.
Today I walk in a world ruled by clever people who dedicate their whole lives to contravening the natural laws. More people pay more taxes, so they continue to cram the trees with people. They dispatch the strong to the bushes that bear the thick black food of life, not caring where the smilodon lurks or how many victims that barbaric creature might take. All they seek is the power that ownership implies, and hope is their tool for controlling those who serve them; for keeping them on the knife-edge of life.
And they still haven’t learned. They haven’t understood, somehow cannot, that the first law must be observed. You can prevaricate, you can evade, you can use all the powers of paper progress to persuade; but when the trees are too full, when promises too oft repeated are unfulfilled, the decisions which finally steer our species are not made by you: they are made by those for whom hope has died: the engine drivers, the laborers, the shelf-stackers, the young with no future and the guy on the station who sleeps in a cardboard box. The Visigoths, the Vandals, the Vikings; the ordinary inhabitants of the trees will always be there, and ready to be led. It just takes another clever person with a message of hope which, however nonsensical, is new.
It is, in the circularity of reason, simply a return to that first law as written on a billion ancient graves – Egyptian, Macedonian, Persian, Roman, Mayan – all the great empires that were the dreams of clever people.
One person, one tree. Natural balance has to be observed.