Turns out, board games are ancient, the earliest one named "Senet" being pictured in a fresco in an Egyptian tomb from 3000 BC. "Patolli" was played by the ancient Aztecs, and the Royal Tombs of Ur contained the "Royal Game of Ur."
But let's go back to Monopoly for a second. If board games represent microcosms for cultural mindsets, it behooves us to understand the origin of this game. The game that taught me capitalism was, according to the BBC, a redesign of a board game first published by (wait for it) a woman who was a Quaker and a political activist. Her name was Elizabeth Magie. The original name was "The Landlord's Game" and it was intended to teach people how monopolies end up bankrupting the majority, while enabling a small minority to amass an ill-gotten fortune. On January 5,1904, the game was awarded U.S. Patent 748,626.
In 1933, three years after the start of the Great Depression, the game was reinvented as "Monopoly," and it has become the most popular board game ever played. More than one billion would-be millionaires have passed Go and collected $200 in the eighty years since it's invention.
But something very strange seems to have occurred along the way from "The Landlord's Game" to "Monopoly." Life has begun to imitate art. We, as a planet, have begun to treat life as a board game, and the earth as the board.
Right now, as I write this, the greatest environmental disaster on the planet is transpiring. An explosion on an oil rig, due to lax oversight, shortcuts on materials and research, and exceptions to regulations, is causing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil to pour into the ocean.
That's a catastrophe. Now, imagine that the explosion had taken place in a building in Manhattan... and a fire is raging, destroying PROPERTY (keep that word in mind). Fire trucks and ambulances show up. But imagine government officials sending them home. "No, this explosion has occurred in a building owned by Widgets, Inc. and it is their responsibility to deal with it." And then, of course, Widgets, Inc. who is in the business of making and selling widgets, has to scramble to get in the business of firefighting and rescuing people... for which they have little expertise, less budget, and miniscule motivation... because the bottom line of a corporation is producing profits for their shareholders. Actually, there will be a certain tension between this firefighting/lifesaving and the interests of the stockholders. And, meanwhile, the fire rages on, spreads through the city, and destroys lives.
That would seem crazy, wouldn't it? As soon as the explosion occurs, the model changes. There is a full-on mobilization to deal with the disaster.
But that's not happening in the Gulf. Everyone is standing around and waiting for Widgets, Inc.-- in this case, British Petroleum--to stop the destruction and save the lives. And this mission is definitely in conflict with their bottom line. We can see that. They immediately began to pour millions into public relations and lobbyists, because that's the kind of damage they understand: government regulation. That's the fire they are skilled at putting out. They have mobilized to keep the press away from the coastal areas. They understand company secrecy. They have raced to pour chemicals more toxic than oil into the ocean in order to sink the oil, get it out of sight. They understand the PR value of that, also... never mind that these chemicals will kill sea life. Out of sight, out of mind. And their CEO has complained about wanting his life back. Thousands of folks on the Gulf Coast have permanently lost their livelihood and with it the life they have always known, but the BP CEO has gone off to the yacht races in England, because, in his words, it's one of the biggest races in the world!
And is this their fault? They are, after all, a corporation. They do what corporations do. There is an unforgettable documentary The Corporation, which you can watch for free (and legally) on Hulu. It lists the characteristics of a sociopath, who is, admittedly, a menace to society... and then it goes down this list, showing how corporations exhibit every one of those characteristics... that, in fact, those characteristics are built into the very definition of a corporation. And how absolutely disastrous to society this is, and especially, now that the Supreme Court has granted them the legal rights of an individual (human).
Corporations view the world as a monopoly board. There are opponents and allies in the game, but no real people. There is property, but no real planet with nature and ecosystems. And the reason why there would be a governmental response to an explosion in Manhattan is that this explosion would be impacting private property. But the explosion in the ocean...? Well, nobody owns the ocean. Nobody owns the floor of it. Nobody owns the water rights to the ocean. It's up to BP to fix it.
This seems crazy to me. And there were immediate offers of funding and expertise from other governments. These were turned down. Hands off! This is a corporate problem! Goddess forbid anyone do anything that infringes on the territory of a corporation. The last thing this administration needs is more hysterical press about socialization, government takeover of business. Which is odd, because we have certainly nationalized a ton of banks and other financial institutions in the wake of the mortgage crisis. Isn't the "failure" of the ocean as an ecosystem something that would warrant a bailout?
But, the ocean is not a property. And the billions of ocean creature lives lost in this disaster do not form a voting constituency. And life is, after all, a board game.
Except it's not. We need to remember this. We are not the lords of the planet, we do not have rights over other forms of life. We act as if we do, but the day of reckoning, when we realize our interdependence, is upon us. Life is not a board game, much as some of us would like to believe that it is. If it was, all of us would be drawing the "Go Directly to Jail" card.