Once Atop the Mountain

“Fidalius,” began Kartaena, sadly, “the Human Condition has an infinite capacity for suffering. A man’s ability to torture himself pales the gamut of physical or emotional pain another could mete. History is written on the backs of men and women who ignore this at their peril, societies lost to antiquity, flush with philosophers or kings suffused with their own righteous insights. Even great empires that once spanned the world and ushered a new era of inspired debate and progress lay as dust, forgotten by all.”

“But Master,” wondered the boy, confused. “How then, do we learn?”

“We do not,” said the man. “What you must understand, is that a man confronted with turmoil can ease his suffering with but one sufficiently enticing outlet. A mother, solace in reading. A brother may engage in arranging our garden. Time and again, you shall find men and women subverted by habit, and as their inner misery is boundless, so minuscule can their salvation be. This is how one can truly capture and posses a people. So long as an outlet is provided for their frustrations, they shall ever be–if not content–manageable.”

Fidalius thought for a moment. “Yet you say human suffering is infinite! Does that not imply enlightenment of society is impossible?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Kartaena, nodding fiercely. “The true lesson of history, is that oppressive regimes eventually fail because they cross some invisible line forcing their subjects to revolt. But though a man or woman may never learn from his own mistakes, oppression is ever vigilant. Where previous attempts failed, a better plan for rule may be forged, and for a tyrant equipped with this one insight: that the tiniest entertainment or mental escape, if sufficiently addicting or distracting… can inspire a man to imprison himself.

“Surely, this must be false!” cried Fidalius, shocked. “People can not possibly subsist on bread and water when ambrosia stands at their fingertips!”

“That is where are you are wrong,” sighed the old man. “Beat a woman within an inch of her life, dehydrate her and feed her not, and a filthy trough of water will seem a basin of silver honey; a hunk of stale, moldy bread, succulent as fine cake. If ever the means exist to provide a universal diversion, we are all damned–all will stare, entranced, while the skin is flayed from bones, and wills broken to tatters. Human suffering is indeed boundless, but so too, is its folly. I fear enough greed and avarice exists within the heart of Man, that subverting his fellow is as natural as breathing. The great Leviathan of history uses people as slow cells, manipulating itself into something wholly ignorant of its constituents, building a fearful creature with its own agenda not affected by our fulsome pleads for respite.”

“Then why persist, oh Man?”

“That is the question you must answer, child. One who seeks enlightenment understands the world as it is, not as she wishes it was. Hidden in that hoary complexity of conflicting futures driven by human inclinations writ large, is some solace. Pray or meditate as you will, but I can not give you that answer. The question of life, or progress, or whatever you seek, is entirely personal.” Kartaena rustled and stood, adjourning the meeting, perhaps indefinitely.

“I shall remember,” whispered Fidalius.