The world explained by TWO COWS

the world explained by two cows

If you went to university, like me, and studied the philosophers and the political science and such, you learned that people far, far smarter than us violently disagree on (a) how the world works, (b) how the world SHOULD work and (c) who should run the world.

However: I can boil down all the major approaches to these worldly questions simply by using two cows. No joke. Won’t even charge you $30k for tuition and $25 for room and board. I’ll do it for free, and for fun.

Here we go:

ANARCHY: You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price — or your neighbors steal your cows and kill you.

FEUDALISM: You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.

PURE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.

NIHILISM: You have no cows. Who really cares, anyway? They’re just gonna die some day, and so are you. And nobody’s going to remember you. And even if they did, you’d still be dead. It’s all so pointless. You might as well be dead now.

COWS WITH GUNS: You are a cow, and humans want to turn you into hamburger. The only solution? A revolution.

DARWINISM: You have two cows. They develop opposable thumbs and milk you.

NORTH KOREAN COMMUNISM: We do not need cows. Those are the tools of the ruthless capitalist exploiters and rapists of the proletariat in the oppressed, feudal South. We will, in keeping with the principles of Juche, eat our own grass. Please do not pay attention to the mooing coming from the two large crates addressed to the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.

DICTATORSHIP: You have two cows. The government takes both and drafts you into the army.

THE MATRIX: There is no cow.

poster for The Matrix
Spoiler: the first movie is perfect, while the two sequels put the S in Suck. Image via Wikipedia

REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.

ROMANTICISM: You have two beautiful, majestic, elegant, bovine companions. You think about them daily.

PURE SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. You have to take care of all of the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.

BRITISH DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. One of your cows has a small foot infection. The government orders you to burn both cows. All the cows in the surrounding area are also burned, roads and footpaths are closed and the media throws the country into a panic. You decide to protest about not being allowed to hunt foxes on public roadways.

PURE COMMUNISM: You have two cows. Your neighbors help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.

BERKELIAN ANALYSIS: You have two cows. You put your cows in a drawer and close it. Your two cows cease to exist.

RUSSIAN COMMUNISM: You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.

VEGANISM: You have two cows, and choose not to exploit them. Everyone is happy, especially the cows.

CANADIAN CAPITALISM: You have 2 cows. The government takes the milk and puts it in a bag. You get free health care.

YODAISM: Two cows you have, hmmm?

INDUSTRIALISM: You have two cows. You dissect them both and figure out how to build a milk-factory instead.

CONSERVATIVE CAPITALISM: The poor should give their cows to the rich so that the milk will trickle back down to the poor.

BIG BROTHERISM: You have two cows. Black is white. Eurasia is ungood. Eastasia is ungood. Oceania is plusgood. BB is doubleplus good. You have one cow.

SWISS CAPITALISM: You have 5000 cows, none of which belongs to you. You charge for storing them for others. If they give milk, you tell no one.

FREUDIAN ANALYSIS: You have two cows. You dream that they come to your bedroom at night, dressed in your mother’s clothes. On waking, you initially deny that this could mean anything. On further consideration, you move through phases of intellectualisation, displacement and projection, and finally determine that the cows represent a psychic compensation for the passive/aggressive treatment you received from your father during your adolescence. Also, you have a thing for mom.

RUSSIAN CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You drink some vodka and count them again — whoah, you have FIVE cows. The Russian Mafia shows up and takes however many cows you may or may not have.

GOVERNMENT COW-ER-UP: Cows never crash-landed in the New Mexico desert. In fact, cows never even existed. You never saw anything.

UTOPIAN LIBERTARIANISM: You have two cows. You sell one, buy a bull and grow a prosperous herd of cows.

HONG KONG CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt / equity swap with associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax deduction for keeping five cows. The milk rights of six cows are transferred via a Panamanian intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder, who sells the rights to all seven cows’ milk back to the listed company.

DARTH VADER: The two cows would be powerful allies. They will join us or die.

IDIOCRACY: You have two cows. One cow is stupid and breeds with other stupid cows, while the smart cow doesn’t try to mate. Eventually, you have lots of stupid cows.


PACIFISM: You have two cows. They stampede you.

CYNICAL LIBERTARIANISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull and grow a prosperous herd of cows that your neighbor steals. He may or may not shoot you first. But we don’t need a government or police — your survivors can always sue the evil neighbor for damages.

PROTECTIONISM: You have two cows. You can’t buy a bull from another country.

FRISBEETARIANISM: You have two cows. One of them flies up on the roof and gets stuck. You hope the government provides cow ladders.

SURREALISM: You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand


Cover of The Fountainhead
Cover of The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

Howard Roark laughed. (I approve of this. It asks a narrative question – who is this guy, and why did he laugh? – and I like short sentences anyway.)

He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. (Whoah, whoah, hold up. So far, it was all tight and Hemingway-esque. “The pants fit him. They felt good.” Now you suddenly switch to purple prose, with granite bursting in flight? I didn’t know that granite rocks flew, or exploded when they did decide to take wing. No.) The water seemed immovable, the stone flowing. The stone had the stillness of one brief moment in battle when thrust meets thrust and the currents are held in a pause more dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays. (More purple prose. Hate it. Though I do smile at all the double-entendre action. Let’s try again.)

The lake below was only a thin steel ring that cut the rocks in half.  The rocks went on into the depth, unchanged. They began and ended in the sky. So that the world seemed suspended in space, an island floating on nothing, anchored to the feet of the man on the cliff. (What? I think Ayn Rand was smoking a bowl here.)

His body leaned back against the sky. It was a body of long straight lines and angles, each curve broken into planes. (Things are either curved, straight or angled. That pretty much covers it. Maybe the only other people in this book are Flat Stanley and the Blob.) He stood, rigid, his hands hanging at his sides, palms out. He felt his shoulder blades drawn tight together, the curve of his neck, and the weight of the blood in his hands. He felt the wind behind him, in the hollow of his spine. The wind waved his hair against the sky. His hair was neither blond nor red, but the exact color of ripe orange rind. (No man would ever describe his hair as “ripe orange rind.” He’d say, “I’m a red-head” or “I’m blond” or “I don’t know.”)

He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning (Oh, right. So funny!) and at the things which now lay ahead. (Yes — also hilarious. I laugh at that all the time. Maybe let’s use different ways to hint at backstory and do foreshadowing.)

He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. There were questions to be faced and a plan of action to be prepared. He knew that he should think about it. He knew also that he would not think, because everything was clear to him already, because the plan had been set long ago, and because he wanted to laugh. (Enough with the laughing about things that may or may not have happened, and difficult plans, and thinking about not thinking. We can go to this well once or twice, but not every sentence.)

He tried to consider it. But he forgot. (Or maybe we can jump into that well and stay there forever.) He was looking at the granite.

He did not laugh (Oh, we’re NOT laughing now?) as his eyes stopped in awareness of the earth around him. His face was like a law of nature— (You have got to be kidding me.)

End of Page 1

Notes from The Red Pen of Doom

I believe the readers of today – like me – don’t want (a) tons of purple prose, (b) paragraph after paragraph of character description or (c) 3.4 metric tons of purple prose that’s all character description and internal dialogue.

But there are bigger fish to fry here, both in the literary sense of Is This A Good Page One? and in the story sense.

Ayn Rand is a deity among conservatives, because her novels underpin what she calls the “philosophy” of objectivism, which says it’s quite unselfish to be selfish. This is obviously counter-intuitive and quite appealing in a juvenile kind of way, because hey, it’s now my moral duty to do whatever I want. The best way to take care of others is to only care about yourself. The surest path to aid the poor is to cut taxes for the rich. And so forth.

This philosophy intrudes upon the story. Roark, the hero of this novel, roughly has his way with Dominique, the heroine, when they first meet. She later describes it as rape. Dominique makes Sylvia Plath look mentally stable. To show her undying love for Roark, she marries … some rich man. Then she tries to destroy Roark, divorces that rich man to marry another rich dude, keeps on trying to destroy Roark, then finally divorces that other rich schmuck to marry Roark in the end, but only after Roark TRIES TO BLOW UP A BUILDING that he designed.

If you said “This is a book that makes a hero out of a selfish architect who’s a strong-willed, good-looking rapist and terrorist,” you’d kinda sorta be accurate. And yes, I read the entire book. Twice. I WROTE A PAPER ON IT.

So the first page does foreshadow a lot of things. Ayn Rand has “a frozen explosion of granite” in the second graf. She has a whole bunch of imagery and descriptions of Roark’s perfect body.

HOWEVER: If I hadn’t already read this book, I’d see this first page and think it was some kind of historical romance, with Roark’s kilt and dirk sitting over on that rock, his trusty horse waiting for him after he took a swim and rode off to rescue his favorite maiden, a red-haired beauty held captive by the twisted and disfigured Baron of Whateverthehell.

Otherwise, I don’t hate her writing per se. I merely despise it.

Usually, I can fix a line or a paragraph. Big chunks of this first page simply need to die. The best thing is to cut them out.

Does that whack about half of this first page? Yes.

Would that make it better? Yes.

There’s a weird mix of styles going on here. You get short, clipped sentences, tight and hard, with zero fatty modifiers. But then Ayn the Rand switches to long stretches of not only purple prose, but outright wackiness I expect from college sophomores writing flash fiction at three in the morning on the deadline day after hitting the bong FAR TOO HARD.

The Verdict:

There’s a reason 12 publishers rejected this novel before it found a home. Hate the first page. Hate the hero, and the heroine who tries to destroy Roark because she loves him so much. Hate the story. Hate the “philosophy.” It’s a tough call, whether THE FOUNTAINHEAD or OUTLANDER are more deserving of being thrown across the room. But I’m going with THE FOUNTAINHEAD.