Eris’ Apple

I had a different Easter Sunday thing in mind, but it got too angry. I’ll see if I can post it later.

Today’s Pez-sponsored Easter-egg hunt was canceled because of a riot of unruly parents. As is a common practice in large Easter-egg hunts, the kids were let in according to age. Younger tots were admitted earlier to get a head-start over older ones.* Sadly, some parents were having none of that and overwhelmed the officers and stormed the grounds. The hunt got closed down and rules-following latecomers were given consolation candy.

I don’t know the particulars of the Pez-sponsored event, but parents getting unruly is a common occurrence in Easter-egg hunts. I suspect it comes from the injustice of aggressive egg-finders or (or parent-child egg-finding teams) sweeping up and leaving more casual egg-finders with nothing but a field of frustration.

But the way to assure your hunt is going to turn sour is to include prize eggs that are too valuable. Say, if your egg-hunt is part of a reality-TV show or you want your sponsored egg-hunt to lead on the Monday news, you might want it to turn into an Easter disaster. Yes, you can do that. For a common easter egg hunt, a one-hundred dollar bill tucked in a plastic egg should be enough to assure an altercation between parents of different kids, especially if sangria was served at the morning brunch. You’ll also be sure to ruin the day (if not the week) of the poor toddler who discovered the offensive egg in the first place.

This reminds me of a wedding. A particular wedding.

The sea nymph (and water goddess) Thetis and hero and Argonaut Peleus got married in an extravagant gala affair. All the Olympians were attending.

All, that is, except Eris who was intentionally uninvited.**

I’d say they never learn, but this was the classical age. This may have been the first time an uninvited guest decided that this bullshit ain’t gonna fly. Eris’ response was so catastrophic that it paved the way for all future wicked fairies and sorceress queens and misunderstood aunties who would get snubbed regarding familial engagements.

Eris grew and polished (or forged at the bottom of a volcano — stories differ) one of the earliest MacGuffins in history, a golden apple powerful enough to deserve it’s own Wikipedia page. She then arranged that Zeus would find it during the grand feast.

For some reason Greek chicks and Olympian goddesses really dig golden apples. This won’t be the last time a golden apple will appear and women in Greece go completely gaga over them. Eris’s apple was inscribed To the Fairest. And like that, the big fat Greek wedding was transformed into the first reality-TV-style beauty contest. All sense of decorum and politeness collapsed into general dissension then to calamitous bickering and finally to a grand drunken toga-ripping melee of goddesses.

It was the best wedding ever. It was the worst wedding ever.

Civility is a delicate state that we all agree to sustain. And it only really takes one or two of us to break decorum and ruin everybody’s day. And the human ape is not very good at behaving appropriately in the best of circumstances let alone the worst.

So if someone wants to turn a soiree into a debacle, it’s not hard. If someone wants to manipulate someone else into behaving like a complete asshole, that’s not hard either.

I really want to believe I’m different. I want to look at someone else’s atrocious behavior and imagine I wouldn’t be triggered by that situation. Or I wouldn’t ever be triggered to behave that horribly. But I have, and I will. In this case, my own crazy is somewhat of an advantage because I’ve been required by necessity to take hard looks at what sets me off. So that when I do have a public meltdown (and I do, and will), I can at least work out who said what or who did what and how I got triggered. And then I can watch out for similar circumstances.

But pretending we’re immune — that’s how they get us. That is the super-happy fun slide that plops us unprepared, right into the hands of Zyngas and Jerry Springers and Donald Trumps.

This isn’t to say the parents at the Pez Easter-egg hunt were manipulated or if they were that it was a witting decision on the part of Pez or the organizers. This is to say that the human animal is an animal nonetheless, and operates on instinct and emotion more often and on rationality and decency less, and when we stop exploiting these tendencies for personal gain and company dividends, and start exploiting them as best serves the community at large (or as best serves the individual being exploited) we’ll actually be moving towards something we can call civilization.

Preferably, it’s a change we’ll make before another city has to burn.

* Some communities choose to base it on height. Other times larger or brighter eggs are more easily hidden and smaller eggs contain a higher caliber of candy or prize. I grew up in a community that got pretty scientific about ways to distribute egg-discoveries evenly across the age spectrum.

** The marriage was political. Peleus was a mortal and beneath Thetis’ station, but there was a prophecy that her son would rise to be greater than his father, and Zeus didn’t want someone on Olympus to be rocking any boats or introducing disrupting technology, so he and Poseidon arranged to hook Thetis up with a mortal (albeit a hero) to assure her fateful son would only meddle in mortal affairs. Because that always works. Thetis was not thrilled (read: tempestuously infuriated) with this arrangement. Eris, who did not shy from scandal, was exactly the sort of outspoken auntie that would raise this point at the wedding. Ergo, they uninvited her.

Farmville became the exemplary social game that played on common human susceptibilities to habit, obsessive behavior and peer pressure to make Zynga gazillions of dollars capitalizing on the same devices that our casinos use, but legal because you couldn’t win money (but could lose plenty). I didn’t fall prey to this manipulative monster of a game because I, long ago, bankrupted myself on Magic, The Gathering instead. (The nightmares haunt me to this day).

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