Gaia Calls us to Parlay

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Quote for the Day

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

--Mahatma Gandhi

There are a couple of watersheds in human evolution.
Most people are comfortable thinking about tool use and language use as watersheds.
But the ability to play non-zero-sum games was another watershed.

--Jonathan Haidt

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

alt your great walled city

You are standing on the ramparts of your great walled city. On your head, your crown weighs heavy today but it is important, today of all days, that your citizens see you wearing it. Below you, on the lower walls, your archers are arrayed waiting nervously. On the towers, the crews of the ballistas stand ready, waiting for your command. They will be the first to be called to action. Behind the lowest wall your infantry wait.

But your eyes are focussed on the army which is approaching your walls. Siege engines are rolling toward your city. Lines of infantry and cavalry and archers protect them. You are reading, in how the lines are arranged, your opponent's strategy. You are looking for the tiny details which might reveal that the way they are arranged now is a feint, an attempt to fool you into believing that one strategy will be used when another is ready.

You are so focussed that you do not hear her approach. "Little one, you are playing a game." Gaia says from right beside you.

"Perhaps I am, but it is a game in which the stakes are the lives of my people." You say as you recover from the shock of her unexpected presence.

"No little one, you are not playing that game. You are playing a game like chess. You are playing a zero sum game." Gaia seems very displeased with you. You don't need this stress right now. You need to focus or lives will be lost.

"I am not fiddling with bits of stone on a little board. I am leading my army. There is a difference." You want to yell at her but you keep in mind that she is a god and you are but a king. There is a hierarchy to be respected, is there not?

"In your mind, your army and that other army on the field are pieces on a board not thousands of lives. You are stuck in a story in which there is no option other than to fight; a story where the verbs 'heal' and 'love' and 'give' are not available." She looks at you and there is a tear in the corner of her eye.

"What use are those verbs when your enemy has come to besiege your capital?" You ask.

"Before you can answer that question, you must also explore what nouns are available to you." Gaia hands you a strange device made of glass and brass. "This has not been invented yet but look through it and you will see the beings in the fields below you more clearly. Perhaps then you will know what to call them."

She shows you how to place one end of the device to your eye and point the other at the army below and suddenly they are much closer and yet still in the fields below. But you can indeed see them much more clearly. Each is coloured with the green-blue of life thriving.

"Is not Life precious?" Gaia asks.

"It has always been precious, it will always be precious." you respond by rote.

Suddenly the tear is in your eye also. You see now that tactics is no longer the game to be played. Strategy is no longer about winning a battle or a war but about creating a future. "There is still time to parlay." you whisper.

"Yes" Gaia responds.

You turn to your body guard, a dozen knights and two score of archers and you say, "Quickly, prepare the horses, we ride to parlay."

...

Your standard bearer faces theirs, each carrying the white flag of parlay. Behind theirs, in the distance, their army is stopped; behind you, at an equal distance is your great city. Your body guard is mounted around you but their weapons are not drawn despite the proximity of your opponent and her body guard just twenty paces in front of you. Gaia dismounts from your horse where she had been sitting behind you. You nod to her and dismount also, handing the reigns of your horse to your most trusted knight.

You take the standard from your bearer and signalling to your body guard to stay where they are you walk forward to the midpoint between the two parties. Gaia walks with you.

Your opponent (Refugia is her name) also dismounts and also takes her standard from her bearer and walks forward to meet you. Another embodiment of Gaia walks with her also.

"Finally we meet." Refugia says.

"How have my people wronged you, that you come and threaten my fair city with armed force?" you ask.

"My people starve. Our crops have failed. We asked for help and you refused." Refugia speaks with barely contained fury.

"Why should my people give up what they have worked so hard to produce? Do you think that I should set a precedent, that my people will give to any who ask for fear that they threaten us with steel and arrow?" Your fury too is barely contained.

Gaia places a hand on your shoulder and at first you think she is showing that she supports you but then you feel that she is communicating something else to you. Suddenly Refugia's face is painted with the blue green of life thriving and you feel called to see her demands in another light.

"I care not about precedents," Refugia yells, "I care about my people. They will not starve if I have to kill everyone in your city." You are taken aback by her vehemence, you feel her hatred. But also you see that her embodiment of Gaia is placing a hand upon her shoulder.

You close your eyes and listen to the quiet call that you can hear in your mind. Behind the emotion, the fear and the anger and the pride, you see a child of Refugia's city weak with hunger, an empty bowl in her hand. You see a man of your own city, his lover slain in this battle, holding the cold body. It is not the future you are called to bring about. So why are you here? Why is this the future toward which you have led your people? You were not looking far enough ahead, were you?

You look deeper into your mind and you see yourself holding court but you are not alone on the dais. Refugia is there beside you on a thrown equal to your own. Another flash of vision shows you the border lands between your two kingdoms, no longer a wasteland; it is a rich mix of lush wilderness and fertile farmland.

"You are right; we have wronged each other for centuries. Perhaps it is time to find a different way." You say. The surprise on Refugia's face brings a tear to your eye. Why would that statement be so unexpected under these circumstances?

Please join me for seven minutes of quiet contemplation.

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