The Professionalization of Civil Society, The Commodification of Caring Labour: Recurrence of the Expertise in Democracy Question

In theory, nonprofit corporations answer to their members. In practice, levels of responsiveness vary considerably and few if any members are able and willing to assert their legal rights. The role of members reflects the origins of the nonprofit sector in civil society and community organizing and a certain ideal about democratic responsiveness to communities out of which organizations grow. The rights of members today reflect equivocations between nonprofit and for-profit entities and the roles of communities and shareholders.

Very often I am confronted with structures that suggest the professionalization and regulation of the sector necessarily come at the expense of communal accountability. To put it differently, it seems to become so complicated to organize that it no longer becomes feasible for the members (be they consumers of the service, as in parents at a childcare co-op or simply supporters of the cause) in their lay capacity to effectively oversee the organization. Alternatively, they appear simply unwilling for many largely uninvestigated reasons.

If any democracy is possible, it is only among the professionals themselves, and so you come to the idea of the worker-controlled nonprofit as the contemporary replacement of traditional bourgeois or communitarian ideas of democracy in civil society. I wonder if any other ideal is compatible with the demand that caring labour be justly compensated.

I can’t help but think it must be possible to reconcile contemporary complexity with democratic accountability within the nonprofit sector as we expect outside of it. Firstly, because the failure of communal accountability does not need this professionalization to happen. Lots of organizations consisting solely of volunteers operate with very similar dynamics to those more professionalized groups. I draw hope from these pathologies as evidence that the unaccountability is rooted in something prior to the complexity.

Expertise: No More and No Less

Humble Rationalism (the commitment to the full application of reason within its proper limits) entails humble experts. The humble expert is the one who knows precisely what it is the method, discipline, tradition, or craft in which they are experts gives them special license to say, and what claims may be related but to which they have no special qualifications. To claim any less would be a false humility and may rob the layperson of the benefit of one’s expertise, or else represent a form of irresponsibility for advice one really could give but does not wish to. To claim any more would be to take advantage of one’s audience who may not have thought carefully about the exact bounds of your expertise and are credulous, even eager, to hear what you have to say besides.

To stray outside the bounds of one’s discipline is negligent and potentially harmful at best and manipulative and imperial at worst.

Let us take an example. A student takes a class in literature assuming that the teacher will be able to teach them about all aspects of their experience with the text assigned.

As their initial experience with the next was purchasing at a store, they ask about how its price is set. The literature professor admits that they cannot answer that, but that the student may find an answer in the economics or business departments.

Once the student had the text in hand they examined the way it was all held together as an object. So the student asks the literature professor how is it that the pages are bound together. The literature professor, a bit embarrassed now for the student and eager to carry on with the class explains that someone with experience in publishing would be able to explain that and perhaps a chemist would be needed to explain the composition of the glue. Seeing the student’s train of thought, the literature professor explains that this class is about what’s in the text.

The student nods understandingly and so begins to ask questions about what a semi-colon is and where punctuation comes from in general. The literature professor explains that though understanding these rules might be implicitly or explicitly relevant to the interpretation of a particular passage, they are neither in expert in these rules (much less their history), nor is the study of these rules the object of their class. A literature professor focuses on the meaning of the words.

Now, the student feels they are onto something and points to a passage in which one of the characters steals a loaf of bread because they are poor and asks if this is right or wrong. The literature professor smiles, finally, a question they can answer, they clear their throat importantly and asks what the class thinks…

The story above illustrates how the lay person comes to the expert with an experience full of entangled dimensions each of which over time has become the object of some form of expertise or another. The expert needs to be careful to explain what it is they really can offer and likely will have some difficulty in doing so. When there is clearly another expert, its clear enough in our era of specialization that there is a line one should not cross, but for those dimensions of experience for which it was never appropriate to specialize or for which we have lost respect for specialists, as with morality, it can be tempting even for the humblest expert to venture into.

Virtues and Vices of Theory as Oversimplification

Theory is oversimplification. Of course, so are maps. In fact, maps would be useless if they weren’t oversimplifications. Nobody needs a photocopy of the world as it is. On the one hand this means that someone who dismisses action based on theory on the grounds that “the world is more complex”, and tries to account for everything in theory is bound to fail. This is a kind of conservatism born of perfectionism or rather a perfectionist induced paralysis. On the other hand, someone who acts based on theory and is unwilling the admit competing considerations from any vantage point but their theory is bound to do harm sooner or later.

The Special Injustice of Impossible Demands

“…if you asked a man how many are twelve, and in putting the question warned him: don’t you be telling me, fellow, that twelve is twice six or three times four or six times two or four times three, for I won’t accept any such drivel as that from you as an answer—it was obvious I fancy to you that no one could give an answer to a question framed in that fashion.”
-Socrates (Plato’s Republic)

On a daily basis, our justice system asks those among us with the fewest resources questions just like the one Thrasymachus asks Socrates. It makes legal demands on them to fill out form after form, precisely because they lack resources. They are overwhelmed by the complexity and the jargon, precisely because they lack resources. They then seek legal help, but they cannot access it, precisely because they lack resources. Finally, they turn to a community worker, someone who is there precisely to help people who lack resources. And what must the community worker say? I cannot help you because I am prohibited from delivering legal services. It is obvious I fancy to you that no could give an answer to a question framed in that fashion.

I put to you that there is a special injustice in the creation of impossible situations. An injustice that is greater in direct proportion to how avoidable it is. The question is, should any legal system that pretends to justice be allowed to make impossible demands on people?

Organizing a Scientific Revolution: Engineering Paradigm Shifts

Many people want to bring about paradigm shifts. The methods are doing research, publishing, networking, holding conferences and so forth. These are, of course, tried and true tactics. They sometimes work and they sometimes don’t and the reason is they’re horribly imprecise.

I believe it may be possible to self-consciously bring about scientific revolutions (paradigm shifts) by reverse engineering how historians of science like Thomas Kuhn say these shifts happen. That is by understanding where a field is in its development (e.g. unshakeable foundation, to seeds of out, to live alternatives, etc.), locating one’s work within that arc, and strategically applying the right kind of pressure to get to the next stage, one can possibly speed up the process of paradigm shifts and make the shift more intentional and targeted than might otherwise happen.

I realize this is a bold assertion that I haven’t tested. But what if it were true? Think of the enormous potential. For that reason alone, I think it’s a hypothesis worth entertaining by those with a systemic long term agenda in science, including funders. But even if it’s not true, I think this thought is worth entertaining because it produces an interesting way to read historians of science that highlights some very different lessons.

Below are a few initial practical insights for researchers and funders that I have derived from Kuhn’s book The Copernican Revolution

Lesson 1: How to spot potential for major change

Theoretical reforms are precipitated by material breakdowns in the practical activity that grounds the need for the theory in the first place. Theory doesn’t happen in a void, it is demanded by some practical activity. For example, astronomy was required by the practical agricultural/spiritual demands of maintaining an annual calendar. Material breakdowns in the practical activity supported by the theory offer the perfect environment for change. Therefore those who seek change must understand and emphasize the breakdown. If there isn’t a material breakdown currently, then whatever the theoretical flaws, a field may simply not be ripe for major change.

Lesson 2: Don’t accept the dataset you inherited

For centuries, astronomers relied on the same ancient datasets as well as observational accounts that emphasized different patterns. Consequently, when new theories emerged they at first couldn’t do much better than the traditional theories of making sense of the traditional data. It wasn’t until new instruments (e.g. the telescope) made new data possible that new theories that had in fact been around for millenia showed their superiority.  In the end, it was the people who did the legwork of observing the sky and making technical refinements to lenses that paved the way for the full realization of a revolutionary idea.

This is a vital lesson because this is not sexy work but it’s expensive and time consuming. This is not the kind of work that is likely to attract donors or funders, and not only does not it not appear innovative, it appears downright conservative. And yet it is absolutely vital to revolution. Desire for innovation defeats itself when it fails to do and fund the legwork of the field.

Lesson 3: Truly revolutionary thinkers present problems not solutions

One of the most important, if not the most important, services Copernicus rendered to the scientific revolution of which he was a part was to recast old problems and provide his students with new ones. This should have a humbling effect of how researchers and funders evaluate the impact of their research dollars if they are truly committed to long-term innovation.

Again, these are just a few interesting and I think highly practical observations that become obvious when we read works of history with a certain lens. Obviously, it is highly unlikely that it would be so simple to self-consciously bring about scientific revolution, but the possible gains are so great that isn’t it worth at least trying? 

On the Ideal Distribution of Knowledge: Rawls and The Moral Impetus to be as Accessible as Possible

It seems to me there is a fundamental tension in epistemic democracy that parallels a fundamental debate in the history of liberalism. In comparing the two, I think we can shed light on both. What is the ideal distribution of knowledge?

I have written before that the maximization of aggregate knowledge in our society has come with the intense specialization of individuals, so that while we are collectively quite knowledgeable, individually we’re not very well rounded at all (or at least don’t need to be). I don’t mean to straw man modern society. The achievement of our society is such that even elementary education is much more robust than elementary education of past eras. Nevertheless, many of the modern (urban) person often knows little more than the first thing about the various life sustaining systems around them (e.g. how to grow food, make clothes, build shelters, etc.).

As I have said before, it’s reactionary to simply say, “well let’s maximize individual knowledge so that everyone is an expert generalist”. That is arguably greatly misunderstands all the achievements that are only possible through a highly specialized society. As I have said, the ideal is to have a relationship between individuals and experts (both in the sense of actual persons and in the sense of institutions designed to educate individuals for living and specialists for social functions) that brings out the most in each and allows each to benefit the most from the knowledge of the other.

This tension somewhat echoes the utilitarian-Rawlsian debate. In the sense that a society interested in the aggregate maximization of knowledge inevitably does not take the actualization of each individual through learning seriously. Rawls’ solution, to maximize individuals rights consistent with the maximization of rights of others would seem to favour the generalist character of education and greater investment in the fundamentals of learning, especially for those who face barriers, rather than the funding of higher specialization. The MaxiMin principle is also interesting when framed in terms of the distribution of knowledge because it implies that greater specialization should only be supported to the extent that the specialist can translate it into benefit for the generalist.

What is implied is not so much that pure theory should be prohibited, but that we should also expect of pure research some kind of looping relationship with non-experts. It need not be in the form of utility, perhaps only in the form of accessibility. And if you say some things will simply never be accessible to the non-expert then perhaps the point is simply that we expect as a condition of public support that it be made as accessible as possible.

Political and Professional Ethics and the Suspicious Nature of Specialization

Can politics be moral? It seems to me there are three basic approaches to this question existing on a spectrum, the naive moralist approach, the cynical nihilist’s approach, and the “statesman’s” approach.

The naive moralist says that yes politics can be moral in the ordinary sense of that word and it’s a great shame that so many politicians are not moral. It’s then very much the public’s responsibility to hold immoral political actors to account and promote moral political actors.

The cynical nihilist’s approach says that no politics is a dog eat dog world, and fundamentally corrupting such that no politician could ever succeed by being moral. The nihilist might encourage us to turn away from politics or merely excuse the decisions of politicians as simply the way of the world encouraging us to realize that if at the very least we don’t want the other guys to have the big red button we’ll have to learn to live with what needs to be done.

The statesman’s approach is to say that politics can be moral but that there is a distinct morality to politics. It’s not simply that anything goes or that the ends justify the means. But rather, the fact that making decisions on behalf of a public and exercising the coercive force of that public raises distinct questions from private morality. What might seem intolerable for an individual to do on their on behalf may become justifiable for reasons (whether those are rooted in the consequences, the rights of the parties, some contract, the role of a political leader, or something else) that a private individual could not access. A simple example of this might be that a private individual could never be responsible for deciding the rules of the road in a way that a public authority could be and therefore could not be justified in the same way for pursuing and sanctioning individuals for violating their preferred rules.

It could be argued that a similar spectrum follows other professions such as lawyers. Some would argue lawyers must be held to ordinary standards of individual morality. Whereas others insist that there is a morality to the practice of law distinctive to it, e.g. remaining silent about the guilt of an individual, etc.

The interesting pattern to be observed here is that when we insist on an autonomous field or professional morality, really what we’re counting on is the individual’s suspension of their individuality. That is, they cease to make decisions as a holistic individual, since to do so would invite having one’s actions subject to the holistic network of principles and rules and relationships that govern morality as a whole. Instead, they adopt the posture of a specialist, making decisions according to that role and attracting the distinctive moral code of that profession. This dichotomy is so strong that even if one makes the same decision for private as one would make for professional reasons (e.g. a politician passes a law because of his daughter’s disapproval of the alternative, or a lawyer defends her client with zeal because of a romantic relationship) one would have to conclude there was a certain immorality to the action, a certain conflict.

This logic, much akin to the market rationale that if businesspeople only pursue the bottom line and do not cloud their business judgment with private moral concerns society will be better off as a whole, betrays the specialized structure modernity necessarily imposes on morality. In some sense, the balkanized nature of ethics among professionals stems from this conviction that through the specialized pursuit of various ends some kind of integrated public good emerges superveniently.

If that public good never does seem to emerge, it may be tempting than to subsume the specialization of the individual to a more integrated personality. Nevertheless, taking such a reductive approach to ethics it seems to me would “level the playing field” at the expense of disfiguring it and what would be lost would be the truly distinctive moral problems and features that come out of being faced with certain kinds of problems, having a certain responsibility in them.

Treating Indigenous Law as Law and Not “History”: Beyond a Fact-Value Distinction

Giving “the Aboriginal perspective” equal weight in the law means taking Indigenous law seriously as law. One of the barriers to this is the reduction of Indigenous legal claims to claims about history, which can be seen in cases such as Tsilhkot’in and Marshal. Prof. John Borrows, as well as others, have briefly set out ways to think about the distinction between law and history so as to make clear that Indigenous law must be treated separately and on its own terms.

In the first part of the paper linked below, I argue that the attempted distinctions between law and history have relied on the “is-ought” (or “fact-value”) distinction used in ethics and the philosophy of social science. I explain this distinction and analyze whether it is tenable both in itself and as a grounds for separating out Indigenous law so it can be dealt with on its own terms. I conclude that ultimately it cannot do justice to “the Aboriginal perspective” because it is both theoretically flawed and the ontology on which it relies already denies “the Aboriginal perspective”. Nevertheless, building on the distinction, in the second part of this paper, I argue for a way to think of the distinction between law and history which will offer a principled approach to separating out Indigenous law and dealing with it on its own terms. I argue for an “incapable of external corroboration” test which will offer a short-hand for the many nuanced ways in which law and history can be distinguished.

TL;DR If you want to know if someone is making a historical claim or a legal claim ask “Is the statement being made on behalf of (i.e. as an authoritative pronouncement of) a legal system by someone authorized to speak for it? Is it a statement which could be corroborated by someone outside of that legal system or is it essentially non-falsifiable except by people authorized within the legal system operating according to the rules of that system?”

You can read the paper here.

The Ethos of a Caring Organization

In her seminal work, “Moral Boundaries”, Joan Tronto identifies four elements of an ethics of care:

  • Attentiveness: Care is about responding to need, so it makes sense that it would begin by being able to spot need.
  • Responsibility: Before one can address a need, one must take responsibility for addressing it.
  • Competence: To care ethically one must do so effectively.
  • Reciprocity: Ethical care giving is not just one way, the care giver must hear from the recipient to know they have really been effective.

How can this ethic be manifested at the organizational level?

An attentive organization is an organization in a constant state of needs assessment. Needs assessment studies shouldn’t just be one off studies that an organization does occasionally, or even frequently. Rather the very structure and work flow of the organization must put it in the constant position of assessing the needs of the communities it serves. This should inform everything from how an organization takes in and stores information (e.g. what information does it ask for on its contact us page? Does it have a client relation management system built with this in mind?) to the regular synthesis and use of that information to constantly improve its services.

A responsible organization has a fluid scope of service and a networked approach. One of the classic ways in which bureaucracies fail to take responsibility for the needs of others, even when it is confronted directly by them, is by saying “that’s not our department.” or “that’s outside the scope of our work.” Of course, there are many good reasons why organizations have limited scopes and mandates, from ensuring the organization remains focused to ensuring services are indeed within the competence of the organization. A scope of work that is too flexible is a recipe for overwhelming the caregiver. How can an organization take responsibility for a need while avoiding these pitfalls? Firstly, if it is engaged in a constant needs assessment and using that information, it should be regularly questioning the boundaries and focus of its services. But secondly, and probably more realistically and immediately practically, it should be fully equipped to refer people to others and have a meaningful relationship with those others to ensure the individuals get the care they need.

A competent organization is a learning organization. Taking responsibility for a growing array of needs whether through direct service or referral means committing to constant learning, both the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and context required to deliver the services, but also building the names, relationships, and trust to discern who else can deliver competent care. Fundamentally, therefore a caring organization must be constantly learning. The idea of a learning organization is by now well developed. What situating it in an ethics of care framework does is give a direction for the learning as well as priorities for who to learn from and how to learn from them.

A reciprocal organization is governed or at least accountable to the people it serves. Joan Tronto’s more recent work has built on this fourth point to talk about how ethical care is democratic. Indeed, this resonates more directly with caring organizations than with individuals I think. Not only do organizations needs to constantly “evaluate” how they’re doing (part of being engaged in a permanent needs assessment), but they need to actually be accountable to the people they serve. The most robust way to manifest this accountability is indeed democratically, i.e. the people served should actually have governance rights either directly as members or in some other capacity. In this way the governance-operations divide should be broken down.

Ultimately, this is just a theoretical framework. Practice is the hard part.

The Beast Along the Way

My child, you are old enough now that I can tell you the fire is getting closer. Soon, our village will be completely consumed. You, no doubt, feel it. The young are intuitive in that way although they do not really understand what it is they feel.

So you have come to me because you want to know about the Golden City? Perhaps you are right. There is no hope for us here, but they say that the light of that pure place will cleanse the world if only one can attain it.

You were smart in coming to me. It’s not so much that the old know better. There is not a living soul who has seen the City and I am no exception. Yet we are closer to the legends and have failed longer than you. It is more from our failure than anything else that you can learn. The young are foolish to think that because they have not yet failed they have some special insight. Good then, with the time we have left together, let me tell you about the time I tried to reach the Golden City.

As it happens, I was about your age and there was a famine in the entire world. It is a wonder anyone survived at all. Like you, I had grown up with the stories. I knew that at the edge of the world there was a chasm so vast and so deep that even an eagle could fly all its life and not even see to the other side. It is a vast sea of nothingness and there is no way around it. The wise ones have concluded that there are only two ways across it. One must either ride the Beast one meets along the way or one must raise one’s own Beast.

Now, as a youth, I certainly tried to raise my own Beast. At that time it was quite fashionable. But you understand they get so hungry so very quickly and I spent my time dreaming of its great powerful wings and what the wind would feel like as we lifted up. I could hear the cheer of not just our village but every village everywhere as the shadow of my great Beast engulfed them all. As I dreamed, my Beast quickly starved to death. It did not occur to me that perhaps I needed help.

But raising Beasts was a mere childish hobby. It was not until the famine took hold that I realize I had no choice. I set out to go meet the Beast along the way. I had barely left the village when I could already hear its breathing miles away. I shuddered at the thought it. My child, there are only two types of people who ever go to see the Beast along the way: those who are desperate and those clever and sly devils who believe they can turn it to their ends. As it happens, I was both.

The journey was long but the path was clear. I sometimes forgot my hunger to marvel at all the places where people used to live. The closer I got the stronger the walls of the towns seemed to get. One seemed ravaged by the famine. Another seemed ravaged by those Creatures that come from the woods, or perhaps it was the Beast along the way, or perhaps it was both. The Beast has an odd way, you know, of sometimes protecting us and sometimes destroying us.

Days and nights passed before I reached it. At first, I could see it from far away as just a heaving mass. Its sheer enormity made me weak. As I came closer, with slower and slower steps, more and more details became apparent, though these details did more to obscure the Beast and the way than to reveal either to me. One day, I finally reached it.

I looked at it, unsure of what to do next. It looked at me too. Well in a way it looked at me. You see it has more eyes than I could ever count. Some were dozing, some were grinning, others seemed to be fixed on a point in the distance in every direction, still others looked at me suspiciously.

I stood there for a little while like a fool. I could hear the sound of a thousand voices, barking orders to birds, musing calmly with foxes, laughing and singing to an audience I could not see. Somehow, through this cacophony of voices, I heard one that seemed to be directed towards me. Since the Beast had more mouths than it had even eyes, I could not be sure at all where the voice was coming from or where I should address myself. Since I could not seem to pair most of the voices with most of the mouths many of the voices seemed to come from nowhere. The voice said as follows, “What have you brought me?”

You understand, my child, Beasts are always hungry. One must know precisely what to feed a Beast if one is to have any hope of getting anywhere with it. Yet when I asked, none of the elders in our village seemed to know what the Beast along the way actually eats. I made my best guess and brought along what I like to eat, which is a special dish of our people. I took it out from my bag to show the Beast but could not understand if there was any response at all.

I summoned all of my courage and began to approach it. What was to stop it from eating me, I wondered. As I got closer, I began to notice under its thick glossy coat of fur, how many legs it had. And what strange legs they were– almost human with feet pointed every which way. It was a wonder the Beast moved at all. And though it may have just been the light, it seemed to me it was growing more feet by the second. I did not know what to make of any of this my child at the time, and even now all I have are theories that you do not need to hear.

As I approached, I was surprised to find that there was nothing monstrous or rotting about the smell of its breath. I could only describe it as stale, as if the air had been all used up. My child, I tell you these things because many people tell stories of the Beast who have not really met it along the way and though there is more in it that is grizzly and monstrous then could ever be told in a story, yet story-tellers have a way of adding still more. Still others perhaps did take some road to it that came to an entirely different more monstrous face. For my own part, I think it is fitting that you know my small experience of it exactly as I have met it. But understand there are others.

I came right up to it when it occurred to me that I still had no clue what mouth to offer my modest offering to. Did they all go to a single stomach? I looked in one mouth on what was very much like a human head. Its tongue was dry and teeth rotted out. It seemed to lazily hang open and I wondered if it was dead. I looked in another mouth much larger than the first. It seemed to constantly gnash whether out of hunger or compulsion. Though it opened and closed rapidly, I noticed that its teeth appeared to once have been sharp yet they had been filed down by someone.

It was then I realized I wasn’t alone. A jackal whistled at me, as if to say “do you like my work?”. I began to notice all around the Beast were wolves and deer and birds of different kinds. Some suckled at its many teats. Others seemed to whisper secrets in its ears. They seemed somehow to take refuge with it. The posture of each animal was one of reverential submission. And yet, as soon as one of the Beast’s many eyes closed, a bird would steal the food right out of its mouth and a wolf would swipe at it. My child, all my life I have lived with the ordinary deceit of human beings but I have never seen anything so brazen before or since.

A friendly enough mouth opened wide and I was called back to my task. I gently tossed the food into it and waited. It seemed to be months before I saw some legs shuffle and much excrement emerge that gave me the feeling the offering was the cause. In truth though, my child, I do not really know. I wondered then how I could ride a Beast if I could not discern what my actions had to do with it.

If the excrement was indeed due to my offering, then it appeared I had made a mistake. Just because we like a dish, does not mean it will agree with the Beast’s digestive system. If you are going to feed a Beast, it is that system above all else that you must understand. So I began to experiment. I would search for different things from the woods and surrounding places and feed the different mouths at different times my various goods. Months passed and I began to discern that the wolves and birds seemed to be doing the same thing. I wondered occasionally about the famine but above all needed to find that recipe that would get the Beast to move. For now, it did not matter where so long as I could understand it. Indeed, I did not even know where I would take the Beast if I ever succeeded, but that could be figured out later.

One night, as I slept (some ways away from it), I dreamt of murdering the wolves and the birds. How much simpler it would be if it were only the Beast and me. Yet then I remembered my poor little Beast and how quickly it had died.

I awoke that morning feeling sorry for it. Surrounded as it was by traitors and hangers-on. What did they want from it? They did not seem to be on the way to any Golden City. Why torture the poor Beast with their constant prodding and feeding? This is what you must know my child, there is no creature stronger than it and no creature more fragile than it.

As I looked on the poor Beast filled with its sadness and pain, I noticed at its feet emerging out of the dust all the bones. There were Beasts before it that it had devoured and many people besides. Indeed, surely any youth with enough vigor and cunning to raise their own would have had to come this way. No doubt this Beast consumed them all.

Perhaps an eye had fixed on me and seen all these thoughts because a voice again came as if from nowhere, “Clever child. Perhaps it is time now that you join me.” And in that moment I thought two things. I wondered what the world would look like from atop the Beast and remembered our village that I had so quickly forgotten. It was winter now and the famine was surely as bad as it could be. Indeed, though I fed the Beast much, very little of what it ate was suitable for me. I realized that I could not carry this on much longer so if I planned to ever reach the Golden City, I must move now.

I ran to its side and gripped its strange oily fur. A strange look of pleasure seemed to cross each eye I stared into as the mouths around me licked their lips. The fur was warm and the Beast’s body broke the wind. Indeed, within moments it seemed I was making the right decision.

And yet, as I climbed higher, I began to notice arms of other creatures caught in the Beast’s fur. Just like me they seemed to climb with the idea of perhaps riding it somewhere, commanding it, and yet here they were. I could not stomach it and fortunately the Beast along the way seemed to lose focus. I slowly climbed down and returned to the village.

So you see my child, I do not really know how to get to the Golden City, But you know, we also have a much older tradition that the Messiah will come riding on a donkey.