The Dark Desire
Listen to/Watch entire show:
This is Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man for KCRW.
As most people are aware, life is not fair. And of course, in recent years, we are often reminded not to whine about it—sometimes by radio talk show hosts, sometimes by bestselling authors, and sometimes by important national leaders. Nevertheless, despite the failures of "fairness" over the years, despite its mathematical impossibility and political misfortunes, the dark desire persists.
Once, the Urban Man took a three-year old son to play in the sandbox at a park deep in the mysterious heart of Beverly Hills—just the boy and two small plastic buckets, one pink and one green. Me, I sat on a bench reading: only glancing up to re-assure myself that my kid was a budding genius in landscape architecture or perhaps, gestural sculpture.
After a while another plump and overpampered three-year old arrived—but foolishly, without a bucket of his own. For a time he observed my boy's brilliant manipulation of a difficult medium. Then he sat in the sand a couple feet away. Thirty seconds later, without a word, he reached out and appropriated the pink bucket.
I waited for the reaction, but lo, for a time the two played side-by-side in perfect social harmony and a balanced redistribution of wealth: one with a pink bucket, one with a green. The other kid's mother, hovering on the far side of the sandbox, shot me a slight smile, and I saw my boy not just as a collaborative artist, but a leader who might someday feed the hungry, solve the debt crisis, and save this grim world from its competitive self.
Until, of course, he wanted his pink bucket back.
"That's mine," he said, establishing the underlying facts.
"I'm playing with it," countered his fellow citizen, trying to argue from common law.
"No, it's mine," said my kid, confident in centuries of legal precedent.
"You have to share," said the other, introducing overtones of both religion and the Platonic ideal.
"No I don't," returned my lad, drawing on Bentham, Locke, and Mill.
Only then did the other boy speak the metaphysical words which define the very tragedy of the social compact. Only then did he say, "It's not fair."
At this, my son showed nothing but scorn. His look said, as plain as words: "Dear Stranger: ‘fairness' is a meaningless concept. What is 'fairness' but the misplaced longing of an imperfect soul?"
Meanwhile, the other boy's mother and I locked eyes in a wordless duel. As ethical authorities, one of us would have to act. Would I go over and insist that my kid create a better world? Or would I force this woman to destroy her boy's illusions? Would I make her go over and say, "Give it up, Dexter. Life is not fair."
At this point you're probably recommending any number of contemporary books for this woman to read. Books with titles like: Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life or You're Broke Because You Want to Be! or Your Success or Failure is Your Own Damn fault!
But I was feeling old-fashioned. I smiled sweetly at the woman and called out to my son, "Darling, you can only play with one bucket at a time, anyway."
My son was more advanced. He understood that "sharing" would weaken both his character and the other boy's, not to mention the nation at large. So he threw sand in Dexter's face and grabbed the pink bucket out of his hand.
There was enough yelling to satisfy any modern radio host, but the Urban Man felt his heart grow warm: Okay, my kid needed to learn about the balanced use of force, but I could see that his social principles were solid and up to date.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY