It is difficult to determine with pinpoint accuracy when my political and economic views crystallized into the sort of quasi-libertarian, right-leaning position I occupy today. But one particular memory stands out on that journey. It was in preschool. I was, perhaps, 4 or 5 years old at the time. And, as preschoolers often believe, fairness was everything to me. Young boys are quintessential Socialists. Children would divide up the Duplo blocks equally, or share the train tracks for a similar amount of time. Young children have a certain ingrained concept of justice, and violators were punished by shunning or tattling. Proctors of fairness (we called them teachers, but they weren’t really) monitored the halls for infractions against the Gods of Equality. Share and share alike.
Then snack time came. In that day and age, before the Health Nazis had their way with such industries, snacks were usually a delicious chocolate chip cookie or a soft, warm brownie. Brownies, in particular, were coveted. The “teachers” distributed the brownies fairly and equally. They were fastidious in their duty, and if any imperfections in the size or deliciousness of the snack existed, we couldn’t discover them. Over time, our “class” began to play a sort of cruel game, as children are wont to do at times. The game was to be the last child holding a brownie, so that you could eat it in full view of the other children and make them salivate watching you. Even in a world of perfect fairness, a method to engender jealousy and envy was discovered.
The game, such that it was, took darker turns. One popular method was to convince another child that you would take a bite out of your brownie if he, in turn, took a bite out of his. Theoretically, this would result in the children finishing their brownies at roughly the same time, restoring the concept of fairness and equality. Naturally, this became a variation of Game Theory, whereby some children would keep faith and others would betray. Envy, at times, broke the bounds of justice, and it was common for the final brownie holder to have his treat knocked out of his hand onto the ground by his jealous compatriots. Although fundamentally good-natured people, the “teachers” did not know what to do about The Brownie Game. Sometimes, if a child grew too egregious in his taunting, the “teachers” would take away his prize, much to the amusement of the other Children.
I participated in The Game many times. On occasion, I even emerged victorious. But a time came when I tired of the exercise and just wanted to go back to the day when everyone enjoyed their brownies, and nobody cared about such silliness. However, the final brownie holder would not leave such a person in peace. Other children would tease the first eater of the brownies and even if one managed to rise above such nonsense, it was profoundly annoying to deal with. Eventually the brownies were discontinued altogether, and everyone suffered for it.
Even in my youth, I was prone to contemplating matters of philosophy more than my esteemed colleagues, and so the memory stuck with me over the years. Even in a world of perfect, enforced fairness, mere children discovered how to create envy, jealousy and inequality to such a level that the adults were required to ban the item altogether in order to restore peace. There was something wrong about a world obsessed with complete fairness, some deep, dark secret that even a 5 year old could discover for himself.
I no longer play The Game, but it would seem that my generation is still out there doing it today. Look at me, says the celebrity, I have more brownie than you. You have too much brownie, says the politician, I will have to take some away. Screw you, says the protester, I will knock your brownie to the ground.
Children, all of them.