Part 2. The aliens’ allegory of four horses dragging a standing-room-only wagon full of Americans toward John Bunyan’s “Slough of Despond.”
What troubled me most about that vivid nightmare I originally had was the fact that a majority of Americans don’t know our leaders well enough to introduce them to curious aliens. How could we explain our leaders’ condescending and superficial human behavior in public to super-intelligent visiting strangers?
In a later dream I recall briefly scanning the contents of the aliens’ notebook. In the book they had confidentially evaluated the four powerful horses that are pulling this bulky, creaky Conestoga wagon full of bewildered and distrustful citizens over rough, unchartered terrain into some scary indebted future that one day may be referred to by human historians as our twenty-first century “manifest destiny.”
The wagon is over-loaded with humans of all ages: some experienced, hard-working, and provident, and others just along for the ride, expecting a “fun-filled” adventure. The four horses represent the scientists and inventors, the politicians and the lobbyists, the captains of industry and their lackeys, and the philosophers and the media experts. Each stallion feels that he is the most important.
This wagon nation is structured to give the politicians the most glamorous role: the responsibility for codifying all the laws that govern human behavior. The numerous business managers are happy to play second fiddle as long as their company’s profits are increasing and their individual wealth is growing. The scientists are satisfied if their research is adequately funded to investigate the unknowns in the physical world. They hope that some day they will discover a revolutionary interpretation or theory of Nature’s physical laws that will make them famous and wealthy. Practical implementation of their ideas can come later when additional money is available to develop and manufacture products that exploit their new scientific technology.
The last of this team of horses are the philosophers. They are the least involved in day-to-day activities, and the unhappiest. They have lost our respect as they quibble in some isolated meeting about the vague use of long words derived from dead languages with yet-to-be confirmed modern definitions. These experts are a vital force from the standpoint of their “after-the-fact-I-told-you-so” evaluations.
For all their wisdom and learning, however, philosophers usually lack the salesmanship and social graces necessary to become respected prophets. They try to point out the moral and ethical way to the others, but fail due to the fact that the “narrow” way is usually insufficiently remunerative over the short term. They ignore the fact that politicians and business people have little patience, seek a quick solution to any problem, and want a substantial, early return on their investment.
Each of the horses leads for awhile, but tires – or the passengers tire of their leadership. The humans have devised a social contract with the horses that allows the horses to move the humans along without much more than empty promises and off-color humor.
A horse will vie for supremacy and dominion, but acquiesce to another horse’s power in those circumstances that prove its adversary is dominant or has temporal advantages. The shifts in power can be observed during times of severe economic stress, war, and natural disaster. Only when all the horses pull together will the wagon make progress up the rutted, hilly road to tomorrow.
Some of us will jump off the wagon dissatisfied with the direction it is headed. Others will constantly bicker over the decisions taken by the horses. Then there are others who will lounge around, smell the flowers, and admire the exotic scenery, oblivious to the direction being followed.
A democratic society rotates the job of those holding the reins because it suspects that a driver will go down the paths he or she prefers. There are numerous look-outs searching the horizon for the least bumpy road. Their advice is not always followed, nor is their honesty believed. Having so many experts makes navigation almost impossible. Still almost everyone appears convinced that he or she is qualified for the impossible job of helmsman because their parents booked passage for them.
There are no maps. And if there were, I can guarantee you that no two people would agree about the shortest route to our unknown destination. (Much less agree about what that destination ought to be!) We could ask the horses to follow their instincts, but they all came from different stables and long to return to their favorite pasture – where other horses will nuzzle up and whinny about their latest great achievement. Leaders, whether they are horses or people, make strange bed-fellows!
The scientific horse shies abruptly when faced with the choice between doing theoretical, basic research and following human ethics. What may seem possible to develop, concoct, or invent may turn out to be anti-social, unhealthy, or unethical. Not being philosophers, they aren’t very excited about the virtues of ethics, mores, and justice. (Harmful weapons of mass destruction fascinate them.) Not being business people, they aren’t particularly motivated to exploit their talents for stockholders’ profit. Because they are customarily reclusive, they are seldom driven to curry favor with others as politicians are.
The business horse also spooks when faced with any obstacle that impedes smooth cash flow, gouging clients, evading taxes, and abusing employees. Monopolistic business practices are a bane to the politician who is supposedly looking after the public welfare, unless the business manager shares some of the spoils with him/her via contributions called campaign pledges.
Philosophic horses are skeptical of the economic motives behind successful industrial growth, noting that the disparity between wealth and poverty is the major source of social conflict: jealousy, envy, and theft. An intellectual horse of course is reluctant to ambrace the activities of the unscupulous, be they scientists, business people, or politicians.
The political horse prances until it encounters roadblocks in the form of dissident supporters, thorny issues, complicated legislative decisions, and unruly members of the opposition. Even with the best of blinders they are distracted by money, beauty, flattery, and the posturing media. The politically oriented are constantly disputing with the philosophers over the difference between what is just and what is expedient. This Socratic dialogue gives both of them the opportunity to practice their rhetoric and mendacity.
Political contact with the scientific community is limited because the theoretical world is often expressed in algebraic terms quite removed from the practical world. Business types tolerate the politicians knowing full well that in the economic bridge game called “Adult Human Life,” the cards of the famous “unseen hand” that guides capitalists always trump the aces in the hands of the political bridge players.
Despite its calm demeanor the philosopher horse is the most easily frightened. From their university towers philosophers spot all kinds of terrifying possibilities that must be avoided. There are hostile Indians at every bend in the road seeking to upset the wagon, slay the occupants, steal their possessions, and burn all traces of civilization.
The nerdy scientists are lost in their reveries peering into telescopes or trying to focus their microscopes. The business managers are huddled in the back corner adding up their profits from the current quarter and forecasting the next. The politicians are waving bottles of rum and smiling at the Indians with hopes that they will be able to trade “fire water” for the wagon’s safety. Or negotiate a compromise or a formal treaty which can be broken at a later date.
The philosophers warn of the unpredictable consequences of following the other horses into oblivion or some other disaster, but no one listens. There are so many words coming from so many humans, that the unfocused occupants of the wagon pay little attention. Everyone seems to tolerate the growing level of noise being generated by obnoxious extremists.
Cooperation of the horses is the most we can hope for today in our democracy. But that may not be enough to get the four of them going in the same direction. Frankly, the cynicism reflected in so much idle human conversation continues to undermine the social institutions that require cooperation to thrive.
Our present drivers are not aware just how wide the gap is between opposing elements. In so many issues there seems to be no common ground, no acceptable direction, and no meeting place to begin to discuss serenely what needs to be done. The leaders of the groups of humans that represent each horse-orientation are either deaf or dumb, and most appear to be out of touch with the general public’s desires despite all the polls they subscribe to and supposedly follow.
I often wonder about why the aliens came to visit America. What was the conclusion in the aliens’ notebook? What was the message being conveyed to other aliens? Why wouldn’t I give the book to that girl? Who did I really plan to give it to, if I had the chance? The scientists, the business people, the politicians, the philosophers? The perfect solution was to wake up as I did, because I could never have resolved this dilemma.
I couldn’t trust anyone with that prized possession. I wasn’t that sure about any human leader’s “agenda.” Would they hide the whole story from the public? Lie about the contents of the book and the facts about the visit? Publish whatever details that might be “marketable” about alien UFOs to shock the public and make money? Stir up a controversy about some alien conspiracy to overturn our government, overheat our planet, spirit away our talent, or destroy our civilization? Or would they just order the usual Roswell cover-up?
I’d better not go there! I could be blamed for trying to get my 15 minutes of fame, appear on TV, write a best-selling “true confession” story, or pull off the biggest hoax since Orson Wells.
Yet, could that visit have taken place sometime in my distant past, and now I am just remembering it in my dreams? I’m no psychic, nor do I pretend to have had a valid “vision” about some future visitation by aliens. So, what do our dreams tell us? Anything?!
Can anyone explain to me why my subconscious decided to awaken me when I was so close to reading what the aliens’ confidential report had to say in that notebook about us Americans?