In the Garden of Heraclitus

On the Innateness of Fundamentalism

We took a break from gladdening our hearts, as the ancients call drinking too much wine, to cure our hangovers by sweating them out in the garden. A gust from the sea blew a bean from my hand just as I was tightening my fingers upon it to pick it.  I sighed, stood up to stretch my back, and marveled at my headache.

“In March,” Heraclitus said, “if you do not march to war, you turn over your garden plot. They are the same thing.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” I said. “OK, yes, but no. Stop doing that!”

“My brother was overjoyed when I abdicated the throne in his favor–the throne: a footstool for Cyrus, I must say–until he discovered that conscription was his responsibility.”

“Do what now?” I asked.

“The ‘King of Ionia’ is responsible for conscripting soldiers for the Great King of Persia,” he replied. “That’s what all the hullabaloo is about, the democratic mob. The Great Tyrant is the Great Freedom, just so long as you mouth a few obsequiousnesses his direction, sending some gold along with a few girls and boys, you know, to linger behind his chariot and to run ahead of his chariot, to eat a few spears.” He stretched his back, looking toward the sea with that ever-disgusted look on his face.

“You’re making that up!” I exclaimed.

“Which part?” he asked. Which part? The whole thing! My head hurt too much to make my mouth do the argument. He continued, saying, “My brother is a fool, not just for being so eager for the throne–and I’m grateful he was fool enough to do so–but also because he kept picking poor boys and girls to carry the gold to ‘The Ones Having a Friend’s Mind.'”

“Because they kept skimming from the gold on the way there?”

“Are you daft?” he snapped. “Do you think at all before you flap your big dumb gums? No! Because the rich kids stay home to learn nothing of war and sex, spending their time onanistically, conceiving nothing except the notion to throw off the yoke of the Great Freedom.”

“The poor probably have less stable home lives,” I said.

“Indeed,” he retorted. “Divorce is rampant, death is prevalent, and unhappiness spreads like fertilizer. Those boys and girls serve now in the presence of the Great King in utter peace and tranquility.”

“Except for the forced warfare.”

“Small price.”

“But,” I said, “your brother has preserved stability, not just of the families of the nobility, but also of your fair city; he did so by preserving the stability of your most valuable citizens.”

“Did he?”

“I’m here now, aren’t I? And watching the sea, and drinking wine, and picking beans in your garden. That ain’t exactly servitude to no stinkin’ king, now is it?”

“Stick around,” he said. He suddenly looked old. “Stick around and see what foolishness the notion of ‘stability’ is become.” He practically spat the word. “The Friend’s Mind has changed, and he is already gathering his captains, and they are gathering their myriads, and they will soon march. At that time, we will not turn over a single stone in our gardens, despite our great desire to do so. They will drink our wine and throw every pot of ours into the sea, leaving our bodies to be scoured by the poor and the sun.”

giant jenga

“That’s not quite fair to your brother,” I said. “The rich kids did this. Wouldn’t they have rebelled one way or the other?”

“Oh,” he sighed. “I suppose so. Don’t you think, however, that his fixation on stability brought about utter destruction where there may have been hope for mere unrest? But you’re right: among a thousand men there might be one who is wise.”

“So,” I said, “we are rich and we are poor.”


“We are at peace and we are at war.”

“Your hangover is not doing your contemplating any favors,” he said. “Leave the conundrums to the wise.”

“At-peace-those-being are indeed warring.”

“Better,” he said, “but please stop.”

“A garden flourishes after letting the soil lie fallow for a year,” I said.

“Why won’t you stop?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m serious. Haven’t you seen a garden plot the year after letting it lie fallow? Everything grows as if under some sort of magical growth spell, not the least of which are the weeds, but also the herbs, vegetables, and flowers.”

He stood staring at me, bemused, pressing his lips together, then looking into the clouds. “True enough,” he said. “But I don’t want to let my garden lie fallow.”


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