This was written June 11, 2002, and provoked by

Congress And Enron: Why The Bang Turned Into A Whimper URL: By Arianna Huffington

OK - now for a short (shorter than a novella) bedtime story.

A Sumerian Tale

Have ya ever noticed - that this is a *really* old story? These guys didn't make it up. Once upon a time, long ago (about 8000 years ago), and far away (Middle East in fact) in a sorta nation called Sumer - well that's what we call it now - they called it something with too few vowels to pronounce -- anyhow these Sumerians found a nice place in southern mesopotamia where crops grew well, fish were plentiful in both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the sea was close for more fish and other goodies. In the food department they were in good shape. The whole area was a very different place then than it is now. Lots of good fertile land, and not all these mind numbing deserts - I'm not joking. Anyhow, they farmed and fished, and as people are wont to do they got together to build cool cities where produce could be exchanged and where other people came to buy stuff and sell their own stuff. Some rich dude decided that he should be king - or something - since he was just so important, and everybody said ok, ok - fine have fun - just leave us alone, and so the rich dude became king. Actually the same thing happened throughout the region in somewhere around eleven or twelve cities. They got buried knee deep in sand eventually to give archeologists something to do - but that's another story.

So the people grew things and eventually learned to make things in arts and crafts courses at their local universities, and they were basically happy, free and productive. It turns out that the people were manipulated into becoming very religious, having been induced into having to have answers to really difficult questions, and to explain to themselves, first where they came from (nobody wrote history books then, primarily because because nobody wrote anything because there was no writing), also to explain how it was that really good things happened and also why really bad things on occasion, like great floods from storms from the south that messed their lives up.

Somebody came along and said this was the doing of their god Enki who got really pissed when the people were bad, and that basically he was a good guy, but would punish *them* when they were bad. A small number of yea sayers, and this guy went to the king (who was very important) and said, hey king! - we really have to solve this problem of Enki getting pissed at us, and figure out what bug he has up his ass - and the king thought for a while and, said - hey! Why don't you do that?! It had, of course, instantly become the king's idea. So, he went on, since this is for the common good, I'll get the people to kick in some cash and we'll all give you guys a place to figure this out. Why don't we call it a 'temple'!? That has a nice ring, we'll say that you are priests (which in Sumerian means "the guys who figure why Enki is pissed"). The people kicked in money for a good cause, the temple got built and the priests started priesting.

This was a hard problem for the priests, and they really needed to come up with an explantion, so they said amongst themseleves, why don't we look at how the people behave normally - that seems to work well - and then we can call that good and the really yuchy things we can call bad - that when the people do yuchy things, Enki gets pissed! That pretty much solved their first problem. Having realized that with a little creative problem solving their job was pretty easy, and they were getting paid pretty well to do very little.

They didn't want ruin a good thing, so the story of why Enki got pissed had to made better as more and more events started piling up, and that was also a pretty easy thing to do. Besides, they hadn't yet figured out where they and other things nifty and not came from. You don't complicate success with unremembered failure.

Now, of course, these priests didn't come from nowhere. They were from the local land like everybody else, and owned land like everyone else (yes, Sumerians had a sense of property rights - and now, the priests had taught them the concepts of sin and guilt.)

As time went on, the story went on, and the priests had to disseminate the wisdom of Enki and the nature of his pissoffedness, it started to cost the people more to pay the priests, who also needed to convince the people that they were actually doing something.

The priests hit upon a truly great idea that *they* would intercede with Enki on all the people's behalf, so they didn't have to do it themselves. This was an instant success - of course, the priests had to put on a show so the people didn't feel too left out of all this proptiating stuff. Of course, the priests made it clear that there was no guarantee - or even a limited warranty; they could only, after all, simply do their best to to catch Enki's ear. If the people were not good Enki would know, for he cannot be deceived, and that he would piss all over them in his deific ire.

Obviously, this was a cool deal for the priests, and that fact didn't exactly go unnoticed by some others, as well as the king who told them that if they didn't declare him to be the living representation of Enki that he would no longer continue getting them money by squeezing the people under threat of nasty things by his acquired army of paid thugs.

Now the *priests* were pissed and said to the king that if he didn't let *them* get money from the people they would tell the people that the *real* reason Enki was pissed is because the *king* is bad.

Well ---- now the *king* was pissed, and just a bit scared, so they wound up compromising: the king would henceforth be the living representative of Enki by definition, and the priests got to get money from the people - and they both thought this good.

Next thing you know, the king's relatives starting becoming priests, and the priests did a very good job of collecting money for themselves. As it happened, the priests started to exact a bit *too* much money, causing some people not to be able to pay the taxes that the king had imposed, much less the payments due the priests for being allowed to grow things on the lands that they, the priests, had confiscated. This tended to cause a decline in what people produced.

The priests, of course being the ever helpful servants of the people, came up with another creative idea: They would loan money (from the now considerable temple treasury) to people who couldn't afford to pay taxes, and in return those people would collateralize the loan by giving the priests their property! The priests promised that those people could continue to use the land as if it were their own -- and so it was done.

After a while, the priests said, gee, ya know, you're making money off *our* land, and you should really pay us for that use. Now the people were starting to get just a little cranky, but the priests kept manuvering their stories so that it was a sin to get cranky at the priests of Enki, and that if they persisted, Enki would get really pissed and take all the good things from them he had given them. All good things and bad things come from Enki, of course, and all the people had to do, to avoid really bad things, was to obey the dictates of the priests.

Though it actually took 400-600 years for the people to develop a writing system, the priests (who were the only ones who kept historical records) had engineered the belief that their writing system had been a divinely inspired gift of Enki, and that was only because the the priests had been so very good, unlike the people, who were not terribly good at all.

Now, the people were also frightened - they were also very poor - and becoming desperate. What could they do? They could revolt and tell the priests where to go - yes - yes - revolt!

Not so fast. Remember the king's people who were were beoming priests? Well, they didn't stop becoming priests, meaning that the temple treasury was available to the king. As most kings, being rapscallions, he saw his incomes declining and figured a great way of restoring them. He would steal from other than his own people. Since the other people in another city didn't give a rat's ass about the king and his authority, he would have to take the money by force. That was easy since he could use the temple treasury to pay some of the strong young men - especially those who had lost land when the priests reneged on their promises - pay them, and send them off to battle at a neighboring city.

The king soon learned that plundering looked as good as producing, and besides it wasn't his ass that might have an arrow or spear up it - so he was happy again -- and now he had an army that the people knew could be used against them if they revolted. So, revolting as the situation looked, revolting was a very scary and probabaly lethal proposition after all.


The end of this tale is even more complicated, with all sorts of unpleasant things happening to the people of Sumer -- and, as you might expect, they were fairly gory, involving a network of wars of all the Sumerian cities each against the other. Captured people from other cities lead to a new idea that we now call slavery. When the priests had collected all the land, and there was nothing left for them to take, Sumerians of the city also became slaves to the priests.

The cities had become no place that foreign traders would set foot in, for fear of their lives, so trade died, agriculture became subsistence only, and died, all manufacturing and civic works died. The water became polluted by dead untended animals, dead people, etc., creating quite a mess.

All the Sumerians were weakened almost to death when a mess of people stormed in from the East and really knocked the crap out of them. Right after that, another group stormed in from the West - the soon to be Assyrians and finally exterminated the Sumerians for the rest of time.


Now, in my telling this tale, you might think I'm making it up, which I'm not - ok, there's a little inessential dramatic embellishment, but the essence is all completely true.

You might think this is just about kings and priests. You might think that I have it in for priests. Not really - this time. It's really a tale of power structures, one that really happened some 8000 years ago. Substitute CORPORATION for PRIESTS and you'll see exactly how things all make sense.

The funny part is that the tale could be set in any other time with some word substitutions, and still have happened, and be true. In eight millenia you would think that "the people" would have figured out what's wrong with this picture; they haven't - and until they do, the tale will continue to recycle until the species homo sapiens sapiens, as other species, dies out, or lives up to its arrogant assessment of itsself implicit in that self designation.

There are many lessons to be learned from the repeating tales of history, each time, perhaps, with their own little insights, but the three most most precious for me, that seem to be constantly forgotten knowledge, are:

   1) People are most happy, creative and productive when free and left
      alone, the general dictum being "Do as you will, but cause no harm."
      Modern psychology has actually rediscovered this as a genuine
      scientific result.  Cool!

   2) Never - never - never - allow political (social) power
      to be combined with either economic or religious power.

   3) Never - never - never - allow the accumulation or centralization
      of political (social) power.

      Sweet dreams,

	      -- Bill

   Why does the dog wag his tail?

   Because the dog is smarter than the tail.  If the tail were smarter
   than the dog, the tail would wag the dog.  -- Cf. "Wag The Dog"

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Created: December 8, 2004
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