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We, the Builders

I

WE built it just to tear it back down. Again and again. Again and again.

As children we built great empires. We began as noble settlers, slowly evolving into a small collection of modest cities, followed always by the imperial impulse. Periodically we were prompted to make improvements to our palace, which began as a crude thatch hut with a dirt road leading up to it. Through cement and stone, the palace improved. The road went from dirt to gravel, gravel to brick, brick to stone, stone to gold, tracking our progress with each step. Then statues and wings were slowly added. The right wing an arch, the left wing a series of columns until they evened themselves out. This was how we traced our progression from weakness to power through the familiar accoutrement of global domination and cultural annihilation. Somewhere in the sands of artificial deserts, the remnants of our unrealized empires still lurk …

Suddenly, an order for destruction came from within the luxurious marble structure. Aerial forces, from halfway across the world, deployed in spite of, because of parental misgivings and the hand wringing of advisors: the soft contortion of the face, the furrowed brow, the shades that hid terror. For both, there remained, from the chaos of a domesticated past, a lingering, vague memory of worry, of protest, of expressed unhappiness. But what would a parent or advisor know about quelling peasant uprisings or navigating the intricate game of international diplomacy and war. And yet, what did we know, or how to react. We had seen the flaming ball of magma, the fractured and nascent earth take its shape. Slowly a green noxious cloud drifted into the hills and valleys of our territory, of our sacred land, killing crops and people. But we had won because there was only one color left: our color.

We destroyed the Earth and took to space. Then it was time to blow it up and start over. Again and again. Again and again.

II

WE not only built great civilizations, we built great cities. We built the power plants and ran the electrical wires to factories and super-markets. We built sewer systems to houses and apartments to manage the waste of the multitude. We built stadiums and airports for entertainment and revenue, fire departments and police stations for safety. We paved roads and watched simple shops transform themselves naturally, following the laws of progress, into towering skyscrapers. We built airports and watched modern birds soar through a sky of perpetual daylight.

We looked at statistics and responsed to them. Overtime, erratic financial decision-making and tax policies, which encouraged exploitative growth, turned into the perplexity of bankruptcy and blight. At that moment, we would decide to destroy what we had built, like modern day Shivas, dancing the world into and out of existence, while people still aimlessly walked the streets, the little ant-like cars maneuvering through intricate roundabouts on their way toward a nowhere home or job. A million anonymous tragedies happening simultaneously.

Suddenly, a plane crash, the puff of orange fire and grey smoke, destroys an industrial complex. Again and again the plane careens into the building, into the grass, blackening the simulacra earth. Across the city, traffic still flows, buying, selling, circulation, movement.

Or, perhaps, suddenly a natural disaster, like an earthquake.

Or, perhaps, suddenly a tornado beginning on the edge of town, slowly moving through to tear up roads and demolish entire sections of the towns.

Or, perhaps, suddenly a green leviathan. The giant monster with yellow gnashing teeth would stomp the remaining buildings to gray, fragmented rubble. Doing our biding, it would maim what we had labored for, kill what we had never loved, an intellectual and emotional stillbirth, an unsustainable creation. And then we would restart. Again and again. Again and again.

III

WE built great businesses, becoming tycoons of industry. Our pockets fat with primitive accumulation, we bought plots of land in order to tear up the evergreen pines and tame the wild grass, reshaping the land to our wants because God made the earth a common treasure for all but did not intend it to stay that way.  

We opened the doors and watched faceless singles or pairs stroll down an anonymous road toward the entrance. The slow trickle would turn into a steady stream as they seemed willing to doll out whatever the price of entry. Their yearning for joy would not be deterred.

We used consumer data. We mined data. We diversified products. Everything was customized because customization is key, the ubiquitous myth of uniqueness made manifest. Ice cream, cotton candy, stuffed animals, umbrellas for when the vertical white dashes of rain began to fall. The popping sound of pin-wheeled umbrellas opening would transition into a bobbing sea of red and white or blue and black until the rain stopped.

We managed a labor force to pick up the crumbled paper trash and the splatters of sea foam green vomit, the byproduct, the remainder of profit and entertainment. A series lone janitors tasked with a Herculian task of cleanliness. They had been displaced from the land, but were easier to appease than those pesky peasants, marked out from the crowd by the singularity of his clothes and tools, the embodied underpinnings of fun.  

Suddenly, the time would come when we would begin construction on The Loop, The Loop of Death. The anticipation of twenty cars hanging in mid-air before splintering, disconnecting from each other, crashing down in a plume of gray smoke. Death was the terminal point of our pleasure, the release after years of dutiful and successful operation, running in the red, the maximization of profit. And as the last unknown shuffler cantered back down the unknown road, it would be time to start fresh. Again and again. Again and again.

IV

WE even built lives of our own. We crafted faces because customization is key. We bought humble homes and had them carpeted, covered in the wallpaper of our choosing because customization is key. The houses were stocked with appliances: a four-burner stove, microwave, stainless steel refrigerator, automatic coffee machine, dishwasher. This was our home.  

We got jobs that would become careers and watched as cars pulled away every morning taking us away for hours at a time leaving an empty house, leaving us to marvel at the presence of human absence, the sadness that the life was not there. But then it would always return.

We made friends, married, bore offspring, and had affairs. The scintillating garbled banter of transgression, feeling the rush of nauseous excitement as we learned in for a kiss from our best friend’s partner while ours was away at work or in another room. The knowledge of proximity made us excited because we wanted the threat of being caught.

We saved money and bought jukeboxes, redid the interiors of houses, built swimming pools. Withholding at times, we made sure to defecate, urinate, shower, eat, sleep, socialize, acquiescing to necessity.

Suddenly, the impulse for destruction and death, the search for the boundary. We surrounded our creations with fake ferns, glistening bright green-leaved objects inside wicker baskets. Doors and windows were removed. We watched a house fire spread, a confused chaos, always the roar of the fire punctuated by panicked screams and death throes.

Or, perhaps, suddenly we removed the ladder from the pool during a pool party watching joyful splashing turn to fearful flailing. We manipulated time because the persistence of treading water showed a disturbing resilience that disappears when time speeds up. We watched the parent or widow grieve, too distraught to work or eat, pacing the now empty spaces of a house that had been filled with the indecipherable babble of life until this moment.

And then we would start anew. Again and again. Again and again.

V

WE came to know the world in this way. We learned to pay attention to the trappings of civilized humanity: the state, infrastructure, diplomacy, tax rates, wages, unit costs, waste management, allocation of resources, statistics, data, information. But we also learned about cleanliness, work, war, death, desire.

We learned how to stoke the delicate flame of human life and to arbitrarily and just as creatively snuff it out.

We came to know the rules of the game and how to play it. But built into the game was another game that somehow we all, collectively, played as well. There, on the limits, a game of torture and death, destruction and pain, of worry and fear, of inadequacy and futility. Late nights spent in the dark firing weapons into an unknown enemy that we would neither let flee nor forfeit. The longing for global domination, territorial domination, market domination, personal domination pushing us to continue, awaiting the realization of the unfulfilled desire in the destruction of the mind’s labor and the hand’s labor that would create the tabula rasa.

We came to know the world in this way: by building it up and tearing it down. We are the builders and we are the builders. Again and again. Again and again.

-- W.H. Holmes, As I Saw It, pg. 416-421 (1932)