Rat Race

Do you know what a rat race is? It’s when a bunch of animals compete in a game in which they all lose.

It’s like a horse race, or a dog race. These animals are incentivized either by pain, through a little whip on the rear, or a little reward like a rabbit. They run around a circle as hard and as fast as possible. They compete with eachother like it’s a matter of life and death. They’ve been trained to do this, afterall. Some of these animals even die from exhaustion at the end of the race.

And what do they get at the end of it all? Do these little animals ever get what they’re racing for? Does it ever occur to them that the race is rigged? That the incentives are bullshit? That the only people making any kind of reward off their painstaking efforts are merely spectators betting on their performance?

This is precisely how business and economic markets operate. There are millions of people competing with eachother, wading through the cesspool of meaningless work and routine trivia, while wealthy people spectate, speculate, and place bets on their pathetic performance. They call these bets “investments” and buy and sell at the slightest whim, never minding the consequences.

The businessmen running the companies are the trainers. They’re not the ones making the real money; that is, until they’ve accumulated enough capital to make bets themselves on their animals and other animals, their company and other companies.

A rat race is inherently a losing competition, for all competing participants. The rats are placed within an arena, a track, a maze, and they compete with one another for the cheese, for the gold, for the green.

The walls have been erected for them, the incentive has been placed before them. They’ve been conditioned their entire lives to respond to cheese, like a drug, so when given the opportunity, these rats go wild with competition. They do everything they can to outrun and outsmart the other rats. Only a few get the cheesy rewards.

Almost none of these rats question the rules of the game, the situation of glass cages and cardboard mazes that they compete in daily. None of these rats think at all. They accept their circumstance and call it “duty” or “honor” or being a “good citizen”.

But one rat has developed quite a distaste for cheese. He’s won plenty of cheese in his life and it’s always left him feeling dissatisfied the next day. He observes all the competing rats, and even when they win and eat the cheese, they’re no better off than any other rat. They’re just fatter. They still live in glass cages.

This one rat, this one exception, has an aversion to his other rat friends. He’d rather play by himself than compete and run in circles all day with all the other rats.

One day, while all the other rats are scurrying around the maze, looking for the cheese that’s been placed or hidden somewhere else for the day, this lone rat looks upwards. He notices fluorescent lights. Although he’s never seen anything other than these artificial lights, today their appearance strikes him as odd. Something inside of him doesn’t sit right, but he can’t be sure what exactly. He notices that the walls of this maze are wearing at the edges. He peeks his nose through and is greeted with an all consuming, over powering aroma of otherworldly scents.

His curiosity grows hungry and his mouth becomes moist and drips with saliva. The cardboard grows soggy and loosens with every drip of hunger. He wedges his head through the opening and his eyes are greeted with dry air.  And more scents. And sights.

So strange. What is this place?

He spots giant figures bent over the maze. They don’t notice him, but their large appearance and rapacious grins startle the small deviant rat. What are they looking at?, he wondered. He pushed until his body wiggled the cardboard free and he popped onto a white enamel counter, into the open air for the first time in his life. He kept his eye on the giants looming above him. What are they staring at? Why are they so preoccupied, so transfixed?  The little rat crawled stealthily behind the maze and then on top of a large stack of green bills.

Then he saw the horror: these giants, with their snarling grins and veiny noses, were staring at his fellow rat friends. But his rat friends did not notice that they appeared to be in the maze, that they were sealed in a glass box. They were too consumed with competing. It never once crossed their little rat minds that they were not free. His poor little rat friends hadn’t the slightest little clue.

Sadness overtook the little rat. He thought of his rat friends toying along day after day. He thought of all the stories of rats winning and making it big and achieving the “big cheese” and how it had been all a game. But his sadness was temporary. Soon he grew resentful that none of his rat friends possessed the same curiosity to follow him, that they were too busy running the rat race. He felt less and less bad, and soon he decided that he would stage his own rat race and own his own rats.

If they’re so willing to be slaves, then let me be their master. Better a rat running rats than pigs, no?

But that’s not the end of the story. Just the beginning.

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