Z is for Zeitgeist

You know, if there is a more perfect symbol of the times than this, I can’t imagine what it is,” Bob said. Tim grunted inquisitively, his mouth too full of meat to form a coherent response. “What I mean is, here we are. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, it’s warm without being hot, and we’re eating lunch under the shade of a… a…” Bob stopped and looked up and over his shoulder, carefully regarding the tree. “I don’t know. A willow. But the point is, there was a time not too long ago, when you were just a baby, that your average person would have killed for a day like this.”

Tim reached forward, more interested in the meat sizzling over the fire than in Bob’s musings. “Really?”

“Well, figuratively. Your average person probably wouldn’t have killed for a day like this.” He gestured for Tim to tear free another piece of meat and held out his hand expectantly. “And if we consider the population of the world as a whole, I don’t know what your average person would really look like that. Although I suspect that someone in, say, India would still be able to appreciate leisurely eating a hot meal under the shade of a tree.”

“What’s India?”

Bob chewed, considered. “It’s another place, across the ocean. If you were on a boat and you floated across the ocean, it would take you months to reach Africa. Or Europe. And then you would have to walk for many more months, and maybe sail across another ocean to reach India.”

“Is it nice there?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been.”

“What were the people like?”

“People are pretty much the same everywhere you go.”

Tim considered this. He chewed his meat in silence. “Why did you kill those people back at camp?”

Bob didn’t answer for a long time. Tim didn’t press him, still focused on separating bits of meat from gristle, but finally he spoke. “Hundreds of years ago, philosophers came up with this idea called the social contract. A contract is like an agreement, but more serious. So the social contract is the idea that people who live together have an agreement not to be terrible to each other.”

“What’s a philosopher?”

“Someone who does nothing but think about the way things are and the way things should be.” Bob grinned. “I used to be a philosopher once. I went to school for it.”

“What’s school?”

“Do you want me to hit you with a rock and take your food?”

Tim’s eyes flashed angry. “Don’t you dare.”

“Exactly. And I won’t, because that’d be breaking the contract. We don’t take food from each other. We share it.”

“We don’t share with other people.”

“We don’t have a contract with them. Or we do, but it’s different from the one you and I have. You and I share. You and me and somebody else don’t share, but we don’t take from each other, either. If we did, we’d be violating the contract. And if they did, they would be.”

“But what if we’ve never met them before?”

“It’s a philosophical concept, not an actual physical contract.”

Tim stared at Bob blankly. Bob sighed. “The social contract’s like the rules to a game that everyone’s playing all the time no matter what. Nobody tells you the rules, but everyone just kind of knows them, and you don’t want to get caught breaking them.”

“So what happens to people who break them?”

Bob threw a piece of meat into his mouth, chewed it, swallowed it. “Have you ever heard the expression, ‘dog-eat-dog world?’”

And Z makes an alphabet! As always, thank you for reading. I’ll be traveling the next few days for family stuff, and due to the way I work, I don’t have a buffer built up. I’ll try to update as usual, but there may be some late posts (as opposed to virtually late, last minute, at the buzzer, etc. posts.)

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