Sitting at his desk in Trading Shop, Odysseus Tinker thought about John Ocean’s proposal for a master game. He was inspired by John’s idea and the enthusiasm it generated. He decided it was time to devise his own game, one expressing his heart-felt thoughts about society. It too would raise awareness about human existence.
Od surveyed his shop. The contents were the essence of his wealth and joy, his treasure trove. His passion was trading, and he had built his business on that practice, yet he was a realist. Living in a society based on a common currency, Od accepted money for commercial transactions, and money was required by government agencies and most businesses. Trading Shop allowed him to indulge in his dominant pleasure and still support his lifestyle.
Od Tinker was a trader–by nature, by desire, and by profession. He traded objects, both antique and new; and he also trad¬ed services. If he didn’t have an item or a skill someone wanted, he would put out a search for it. He was a member of the Bay Area Trading Community, a loosely knit group of trading associations. The BATC had a website for members to use whenever they were looking for a trade.
With the economic meltdown many small businesses were failing. He was fortunate. He was afloat and had sufficient funds to purchase goods at clearance sales. Many years ago before housing values rapidly escalated, he had bought the two story building that housed both his store at street level and upstairs his residence. He could endure the economic storm and survive.
Only large corporations had enough political punch to gain welfare subsides and tax breaks from the federal government. Billions of dollars of cheap or interest free money were daily handed out to the too-big-to-fail crowd.
Od remembered his father talking about the Great Depression–the total failure of the whole economic system. Thousands of Americans were made homeless when they were laid off. Unemployment surged. Food kitchens were set up in urban areas to feed the hungry. While organized crime syndicates were growing fat because of prohibition, decent Americans suddenly discovered the Great American Dream had vanished into nothingness.
From the way adults talked when he was young, he knew deep in his soul the present economic meltdown was as disastrous as the one in 1929. In the election year of 1932 Americans went to the polls and spoke loudly and clearly. They decisively rejected the economic policies of the Hoover administration and embraced the New Deal. The corporate ruling class was, of course, shocked by the audacious voters who wanted their share of the economic pie. The rulers called the people’s demands socialistic and communistic. The great corporations had employed rent-a-cops to force their control on society. All those memories now arose in Od’s mind as he watched American society fall into a third world nation and a corporate takeover in the offering.
Od had purchased many books from the bookstore on Ocean Avenue when it closed shop. While cataloging these books, he had perused each one, noting which ones he would read in the near future. Karl Marx’s Capital had been in the stack. He had heard so much about it, mainly negative rants. He had looked forward to reading it and discover for himself what the truth was. He had learned long ago too many people relied on slogans and opinions of others, repeating endlessly the gossip spread by the corporate media, never seeking the truth for themselves, willing only to follow blindly the fashionable thoughts of the day.
Over the years he had developed his own economic theory based on the ancient system of barter. The use of currency was a recent development in the evolution of trade and it was filled with weaknesses and constantly reoccurring problems. Societies spent much of their time and energy trying to maintain a modicum of trade based on a commonly accepted currency.
He thought the present economic depression would continue for many years. He perceived an up-and-down rolling economic curve. A spurt of slow growth and then a worsening and downward spin. The process would repeat itself with another spurt of growth and a falling away. His reasoning was based on what the federal government had done in the face of the crisis. Its complete faith in policies supported by corporate leaders generated only a holding action for the oligarchy to restore some of its personal wealth but worsened the situation for the long run. Now the rulers expected to be bailed out and subsidized whenever they lost money playing their silly game. Yes, it was a game on the global scale. And it was a game against nature. The fundamental assumption of their voodoo economic theory rested on a childish and foolish view of nature: a fantasy notion that the economic marketplace should be free of any human regulation because it was natural and shouldn’t be controlled, and so forth in an endless cycle. Yet the 2008 meltdown showed definitely the corporate players, when they lost against nature, wanted their workers to bail them out so they could start again. The adolescent leaders didn’t like losing even if they praised an unregulated, natural marketplace. Of course, the people were first blamed for the difficulties and punished by the destruction of their wealth and security and finally forced to give more of their wealth to the oligarchy.
When he had finally read Marx’s Capital, he found the work hard going. Besides the plodding nineteenth century prose, the presentation was dull although filled with a large amount of evidence Marx amassed to support his ideas. Much of the book Od skimmed, stopping where an idea caught his attention. Marx’s popular work, rousing and fiery The Communist Manifesto, was something else entirely. It held his attention from beginning to end. In today’s jargon it’s a page turner. Its conclusion echoed in his mind: We have nothing to lose but our bondage to the corporate elite.
Od culled enough from both works to realize Karl Marx was the father of industrial capitalism with his incisive examination of industry and capital in the nineteenth century. One of his primary theses had been confirmed several times already, but the present economic meltdown proved its truth without any doubt: capitalism as an economic policy can remain viable only if it’s supported and subsidized by the government. Otherwise, it will fail miserably as it has done today. The response of the federal government with its huge giveaways to the corporate oligarchy displayed the weakness hidden in capitalism and the free marketplace. An important prediction Marx had made was rapidly becoming true: the demise of the middle class. The United States was quickly becoming a society of one percent haves and ninety-nine percent have-nots.
Hearing the door chimes, Od paused in his musings and directed his attention to the front door. A lady of uncertain age entered the shop and waved at him.
“Good morning, Helen,” he said.
“Beautiful day, it is,” she replied as she walked toward him.
“I haven’t seen you recently. How have you been?” he inquired.
“Oh, just the normal aches and complaints for my station in life. No more, no less.”
“No serious health issues–that’s good.”
“I need a new comb and brush. Where would they be?”
Od led her to a table with personal grooming products. She set her bag down and began inspecting the combs and brushes while Od returned to his desk.
Helen was a longtime resident of the neighborhood, yet she had no permanent residence. She stayed with friends, a few days here and several days there, a round of temporary homes. Most residents of the neighborhood were delighted when she visited them. She received a small amount of social security and took part-time jobs. She frequently assisted Mary Rainbow at the Inn as a chef. Her dishes and soups were excellent, often prepared with ancient recipes she had learned from her grandmother. Helen owned few things, and all her worldly possessions were contained in a cloth bag she always carried with her. Her mind was agile and her thoughts clear–one of the sharper seniors Od knew. Like Hank, her male counterpart, she was a respected member of the community. Technically, according to the government, both Helen and Hank were homeless persons. But Od recognized them as itinerants, wanderers who journey through life on a personal quest.
With comb and brush in one hand and her bag in the other, Helen walked to Od sitting at the desk. Od conducted the financial part of the business there. He maintained his business records and transactions in a laptop located on the desk. For the few cash transactions he kept a metal cash box in a desk drawer.
Placing the comb-brush set on the desk, Helen said, “I don’t have much to trade.” Reaching into her coat pocket, she retrieved a small brooch. “I’ve had this for years, but I don’t wear it much.”
Od took the brooch and examined it. “This is an antique and quite valuable besides the many memories it holds for you. Do you still have your old comb and brush?” He returned the brooch.
“Only the brush. The comb had lost too many teeth, and I threw it away.” She rummaged in the cloth bag and removed a brush, handing it to Od. The brush had some of its bristles missing.
Od took the brush and inspected it, holding it up to the light. “Okay. Your old brush for the comb-brush set you selected. I can use the brush for cleaning. What do you say?”
Helen laughed. “You’re silly, Od. I do appreciate your kind offer. Yes, I’ll trade.” She placed the comb-brush set in the bag. “I’m chef at the Inn for lunch today. The soup will be based on a recipe my grandmother taught me. You best be there.” She smiled and turned toward the door.
“Thanks for the invite. I’ll plan to have two bowls.” He waved as she left the store.
He smiled inwardly. Both Helen and Hank exuded a spiritual light. His musings started up with a religious flavor. He considered several of the books in the religious section that touched his mind deeply.
During the first, second, and third centuries CE many Christian denominations arose and spread their own interpretation of Jesus and his teachings. Some of the groups vied for leadership and control of the new faith. During the fourth century a set of beliefs became the official Christian creed supported by the Roman Emperor. The beliefs and teachings of all other Christian communities were declared heretical by the imperial religious establishment. The name ‘Gnostic’ was often applied to many of these ‘heretical’ Christian churches. And it was the heresy that captivated Od, having followed a less traveled path most of his life.
The word ‘gnosis’ is the basic term, derived from the Greek and meaning knowing or knowledge. The way these Christians applied the word was to denote an inner knowing, a direct spiritual knowing rather than a belief based on faith and worldly authority.
In the religion section were several books on Gnostic thought. One in particular had caught his attention, The Secret Revelation of John (or Apocryphon of John). It was an early Christian work, written in the second century CE, that gave a comprehensive account of the nature of God, origin of the world and human salvation. The cosmology was complex and, from Od’s modern temperament, extravagant, yet he felt an affinity. Many of the work’s ideas paralleled some of his social and economic concepts.
The Secret Revelation presented a cosmic system with a hierarchy of divine beings. The creator god Yaldabaoth, often imaged as a serpent with a lion’s head, was also called Demiurge after the creator god in Plato’s Timaeus and had many assistants or administrators. The cosmic system reflected the governing structure of the day, the Roman Empire and many small states with a king and aristocracy. The favorite form of government was a dictatorship pure and simple. The idea of democracy would have been considered treason and heresy.
At this nexus in time Od had a moment of enlightenment, the idea of a game. Because the political government reflected the religious cosmic governance, Od understood the parallel to the contemporary economic system. Those at the top, the one percent, controlled all those below, a pyramid structure, which has been the dominant social form for a long time.
As he considered a design for the game, a name for it emerged into his awareness: Archon Empire. Archon was the name for Demiurge’s chief administrators, who were often viewed as the seven assistants involved in creating the cosmos and ruling it. But the Gnostics who used such symbolic allegory had a deity towering over Demiurge and its Archons: the true, unknown transcendental deity, the source and origin of all.
Here was the seed for his game; it would be not only a board and digital game but one that he would live. He had sought a new direction and he had found it.
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