Monday, October 16, 2017

"Neigh! Neigh! Neigh!"

They were following one another around the playground, astride stick ponies, chanting, "Neigh! Neigh! Neigh!" Around and around they went, stopping periodically to create agreement among themselves.

"Let's pretend we're fire fighters, okay?"

"Yeah, these are fire fighter ponies."

"There's a fire right over there!"

And off they rode, "Neigh! Neigh! Neigh!"

These games that three-year-olds play are touching to me. They've played together before, of course. Some of them found one another last year, playing in pairs, side-by-side, but this is new for them, banding together in a larger group to play stories together. Most of them have older siblings, so they've seen it done, and now it's their turn to start their sentences with "Let's pretend . . ." and see where it goes.

It's touching because there's the promise of paradise in their play, a peek at a world we all know ought to exist, one in which free humans of goodwill come together in search of common ground; a world created by agreement rather than obedience or competition, the two-headed Frankenstein's monster we've built in it's stead. Some argue that this monster is likewise an aspect of human nature, but I'm not so sure. Anthropologists tell us that there is little evidence that our hunter-gatherer ancestors expected obedience or valued competition. Indeed, they tell us that these are artifices that came into being alongside the invention of agriculture as a way for some humans to "own" land and, by extension, the labor of others. For a good 90 percent of our time on the planet, we were free people of goodwill, coming together to agree rather than compel or defeat.

The girls rode their stick ponies around and around, "Neigh! Neigh! Neigh!" I was sitting on a table just watching them play their ancient game. At one point they came to surround me, their faces red with their game, their hair wild, their eyes lit from within.

"My pony is a girl pony."

"How do you know?"

"It has a girl face."

"Mine's a boy pony. Look!" She turned to show them the stick protruding from between her legs, "It has a penis."

"Mine has a penis too!"

"They all have penises."

"None of them have vulvas so they are all boy ponies."

And they all agreed before riding off to fight another fire, "Neigh! Neigh! Neigh!"

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