Life Is — a Metaphor for Misery
Life is a five dimensional representation of a symbolic idea presented without commentary or support notes
Most of us are in a hole. A hole being dug in an undefined material, because its name is unimportant, it is the Raw Stuff of Life. We convert it into whatever we need.
Now imagine two men, any two men will do, men because, men tend to stack the deck so they are both the Miner and the Owner, the Worker and the Boss or the Nation and the State.
One stands at the bottom of a great pit, digging at the Stuff of Life. For him, the sides of the pit are all he has ever known. He knows of the Sun but only sees it for an hour a day, when its directly overhead at lunch time.
The sides are decorated with badges to his accomplishment; being good in school, doing well in college, great exam scores, achievement awards in his vocation of choice. Images of his success fill his mind, fleetingly, longingly when the days get hard and the nights long, he remembers how much he gets from this and how his family needs him to be strong so they can move up the sides of the great Pit.
It’s only from time to time the Worker looks up and remembers there is anyone else in the world but him. They don’t have anything to do with his life, so he mostly doesn’t see anyone else, their needs, their beliefs, their ideas as all that important. People near him may show up in his immoral calculus, deciding who can get him to his next place in the Order of Things.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Hole, directly across the Metaphoric Barrier to a vast hillside with at the very top, a mansion of splendor, however you imagine opulence in your mind. A villa, a Tudor, a vast island entirely to yourself, This House is His House.
The Owner. The Master. The Overseer. The Governor. The President. The Tsar. The King. The Emperor. The God-Emperor. Hell, sometimes he imagines; he is the God.
He looks out across all he surveys and deems it good. His world is perfection. Because if it isn’t or should his opinion change, his world transforms according to his will. Invisibly, except for the flash of light which might indicate a servant has performed a much needed task, whatever it might be.
He doesn’t remember. He doesn’t need to. Someone does that for him. The world is ease. Not that challenges don’t exist, but that in the scheme of things even if he lost. He recovers. He rebuilds. He redefines. He changes the game. Changes the rules. Redefines what winning even means it the scheme of things.
His reality. You live in it. You never see him. And if you do, you don’t remember him. His image appears on your television, a cultured, well-crafted image, designed to make him look wise and powerful. Just the right amount of chin, properly lit. Sagacious stare off into the distance. He looks different than you. Less haggard, less stressed. Less challenged to get through the day.
But you don’t see him very often. In the mines, you don’t see much of anything. On the hill, you don’t see much of anything.
They pass in the street, on the road, in the store, but they don’t see each other. One has no time. The other, no awareness of the value of anyone. They are pieces on a board. Things which make stairs to other places to other riches to other piles of the Stuff of Life that they keep getting more of, without having to worry about where it comes from.
From time to time, down in the Mine, a Man, not necessarily the one we used in the earlier part of this Metaphor, a random fellow, down on his luck. He gets injured at work. Something small. He ignores it. One more pain among many. But it grows and one day he cannot work.
Alone, with limited community, his options dwindle until one day he drops into the hole. Vanishing into its inky blackness. People see him. People next to him. People who knew him. His people. And the unfortunate statistician who keeps count of how many people vanish into the Dark.
Ultimately, people drop into the Darkness for any number of reasons, but most vanish without a trace. Meanwhile up on the hill, if one has sufficient money, a spectacle was available to be had at the death of any of the people standing on the hill.
The difference in their treatment had nothing to do with merit. Though much is made of the word, the merits of the argument of merit, rarely amount to much, at least as much as the word does in any analysis of Human endeavor. What mattered more was which side of the Metaphor you were born on.
Born on the Top and it was difficult to even find one’s way to the Mines, even if you wanted to visit. Topsiders don’t want to ever find themselves in the Mines, near the Mines, or with any possibility of ever going TO the Mines to work, live or gasp, never leave.
Topsiders know the value of money. No, they don’t. I was just kidding. They don’t know the value of money. They don’t know its cost in human suffering, denigration, degradation, demeaning, demoralizing, debasement of the soul, some of us, most of us, will put up with at some point in their life. They don’t. And if they do, they still wouldn’t give it up.
Not every Topsider is clueless. It’s the ones in the lowlands who know what a life is worth. They climbed out of the Mines. They can see how high the mountains go. How far they are from having anything which resembles wealth. They have just enough time, just enough knowledge, just enough opportunity to know there is still so much more to learn.
So many more ways to exploit. So many other ways to be. It is this vast sea of people across this plain where crazed levels of communal effort create the industries, the businesses, the operations upon which the Houses on the Hills are supported.
Without them, without their work, without their efforts coordinating what comes out of the Mines, there would be No Stuff of Life at all.
Up at the top of the Rarified Air of the close of our Metaphor, we have those at the top, glittering mountain of magical efforts, unseen by them, the glow of their mountains are the lives of invisible people, moving inconsequential things, in isolated and meaningless ways to create something no one needs, few want, and most don’t know why they are buying.
Most of the people at the top don’t understand the glittering lights of their tower. Their villa. The fireflies which bring beauty to their empty lives. They don’t see the lights going out.
Fewer people. Fewer values. Fewer opportunities. This slow decline in lights, in awareness. These lights are people who are not escaping the Mine. The Mine continues to grow, with the help of technology the Mine is growing deeper, faster and with fewer people.
The bitter field between where the Mine becomes the Lowlands grows wider. Few can escape its Sprawl. Wider, faster, choking the Air and the Water with the wastes of Industry.
Industry has done all it can do with people. Soon people will be obsolete. It was inevitable. From the fields were the people stolen. From their farms, their families, their simple lives, driven t live in poverty, in cities, slaving for pennies, just enough to never be able to leave, being educated, trained, conditioned for their role in the Industry, or the Mine if their standards weren’t good enough.
Machines amplify Man. It has always been the way. Work begat work. Work begat new ideas. Work begat Art. Work begat engineering. Work begat Science.
Work has created an engine of opportunity whose capacity is so vast it has transformed this world, this Metaphor into a thing capable of consuming itself; in a Mobius orgy of Escherian proportions, an Oroboros of legend, consuming without realization. A closed circle where Man literally feeds himself on the efforts of other Men, without concern for their well-being.
Then indeed, we have come full circle. One man consumes another at a metaphoric dinner, wondering why there are no other guests.
Until there are no other Men to eat, metaphorically speaking.
Then that last Man who will hear nothing for decades before it reaches his table, he will hear nothing of the millions going into that Darkness with his every gesture.
He will hear nothing of the spread of the Mine, the Sprawl, the City, The Networks, the Psychoses of Work created to create the mound upon which his Mansion sits.
He will never hear their protests, know their suffering, remember their fears of disease, of poverty, of that last Fall into Darkness, from which no one had ever heard of anyone returning from unscathed.
He won’t hear of these things from his cohorts either. They keep their secrets dearly. So no one will know until the mountains begin to collapse all around. One after another, lights going out.
Until he is sitting in the floodplains will he question, whether it was a good idea to Eat every individual who came to his table. Metaphorically speaking. Eating being the ritual consumption of the world at large.
He will have time enough to debate it, at the end, when the machines go quiet, the cities go dark, when the Metaphor grows equally dark, while he is eating himself.
He is also the Cognitive Dissident, living in desolation, a disillusioned, and despondent essayist who has lost all hope in the improvement of the human species. But, somehow, despite it all, he still remains defiantly hopeful humanity may still escape the Sword of Damocles.
He is also a freelance journalist for Polygon.com and Panel & Frame magazine. Thaddeus is the co-founder of Futura Science Fiction Magazine and one of the founding members of the Afrosurreal Writers Workshop in Oakland.