** This Old House **

AT ONE TIME THE PEOPLE HAD LIVED APART, each clan in its own house. If an individual felt that he couldn't abide by the clan rules, he would either move to a different clan house, or sometimes, if he could abide no rules at all, he would move a short distance away. Then that individual faced the decision of either founding a new clan and building a new house, or wandering further away, away from the rules and way of life that he found oppressive.

There were thirteen clans then, and they owed allegiance to a much larger clan that had founded, then tried to rule them. As the rules emanating from the absentee founding clan got harsher and harsher, the thirteen clans chafed and grew increasingly restless. Eventually they rebelled and drove their absentee masters away from their settlement altogether.

For thirteen years, the thirteen clans lived together, each clan in its own house. But each clan didn't always get along together. There were the quarrels between the clans involving how large would their garden plots be, and how some clans treated their servants. Eventually they had to face the question as to whether the clans should each go their separate ways, uniting only against a common enemy if each clan decided it was in their own best interests, or whether to abandon their living apart in communal houses and build a great house, a mansion, and live in it together. Live separate or together? Free to leave or under the mastery of the whole?

The great leaders of the clans disagreed. George, John, James, and Alexander wanted collective living arrangements; Alexander thought the bigger, the better. Patrick wanted no part of it. Tom played both sides, initially supporting it while out of town, then cussing it later when he got back. But after much haggling, fussing and conniving, the clans agreed to dismantle their free-standing houses, use the lumber to build rooms on the bottom floor of the mansion, and provide a few boards for constructing a small cottage on the second story, in the middle, to serve as a debate hall for clan leaders. And so the decision was made. Each clan agreed to live together in their own rooms in one big house.

IT WORKED FOR A WHILE. New clans formed from previously restless individuals who had decided to settle down. These new clans moved into the mansion and built additional rooms in which to dwell. But cracks began to form in the mansion's foundation.

The small cottage on the second story that served as a debate hall for the clan leaders now had a bank and counting-house added to it. Some of the clans who lived on the northeast side had threatened to leave at various times but now wanted to use the financial apparatus to protect their interests. Also, they kept on picking at the problems that some southern clans had with their servants. Malcontents on both halves of the house exacerbated the normal strains that come about due to communal living.

Eventually, the eleven clans who lived in the southeast corner of the mansion decided to leave. They believed it was their right. They proposed living apart and forming their own great house. But the other 24 clans said that a house divided against itself couldn't stand and after a bloody quarrel, they forced the eleven clans to return.

NOW THAT THE QUESTION OF WHETHER CLANS COULD LEAVE had been answered in the negative by the shedding of blood, there was nothing to prevent the expansion of both the first story and the second. Clan after clan joined until there was no more physical space on the large lot. Only by annexing neighbors who had small, dingy, weedy lots would the mansion be able to expand, and the clans who were already part of the mansion wouldn't have it. "They're not like us! What can they bring?" was the feeling.

Since there was no more territory to annex, the clansmen living on the bottom decided to work hard to make their lives easier and to gild their living quarters. The ones who didn't like to work so hard and who had no problem living off the efforts of others decided to move upstairs and live like squatters, paying no rent, but bossing around those who worked hard. The productive clansmen allowed them to do so, if for no other reason than because they didn't think it would hurt too much and because someone had to take care of shiftless relatives and it sure wasn't going to be them.

So a long period of prosperity came and it started leaching away the character of those who lived on the second floor. One hundred and forty years after the founding of the mansion, prosperity left for a decade, and the second-floor people said that only they could solve the problem and only if the first-floor clansmen gave them sufficient power and some of their money. The foolish clansmen did so, and the First Squatter built an almshouse and a retirement home atop the first story. He took the people's gold and gave them a promise to pay in paper. Then he shaved a goodly portion away from the timbers that formed the framework that enclosed the first story and supported the second story, glibly saying, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

A barracks was added to the second story when the mansion inhabitants got into a fight with some nasty people who lived across the pond. The nasty people were duly whipped, but some even nastier people took their place and the mansion dwellers didn't dare mess with them; they only tried to keep them on their side of the tracks.

THE NEIGHBOORHOOD HAD DECLINED AS A RESULT OF THE FIGHT, so the relatively untouched mansion dwellers were the richest, most powerful people around. A shower of success came and it leached out the character of the clansmen who lived on the first floor. It got so bad that they allowed legal workers from the second floor to come down with chainsaws and gouge out sections and cut their initials in the timbers that propped up the mansion. Some of the more stupid and/or corrupt clansmen professed to see great beauty in the newly scarred woodwork.

The amount of squatters living on the second floor increased to the point where they had nothing else to do but get into mischief. They tore up the floor and tossed chamberpots topped off with paperwork onto the heads of the working folk of the first story. If that wasn't enough, they expected to get praised for it. To pay for their lavish lifestyle, it became necessary to mortgage first the very lives of unborn generations, then the young, the furnishings, and lastly the mansion.

Two hundred some years after the building of the mansion, the most foolish, corrupt and last First Squatter proposed to add a hospital on the second floor. By then, the second floor had spread to the point to where it hung over the first floor, a massive, malevolent, dead weight. There could be heard a creaking noise as the original framing timbers, now reduced to the size of furring strips, groaned under the strain. All the gold leaf on the second floor had been replaced by lead, where it wasn't rubble. The roof leaked. The cement foundation crumbled due to mold. The place was unfit for human habitation.

The attitudes of the squatters on the second floor had spread to the first floor. Only a few people bothered to work anymore, since there was no sense in working if the proceeds would be taken away to give to the idle.

No one bothered to fix the mansion, although a few people warned the many about the necessity to dismantle the second story and start remodeling the place. These people were told to shut-up by the squatters on the second floor and the motion was seconded by most of the inhabitants on the first floor. "This is the greatest house that ever was, and it's still good," they told the alarmists, as they pointed with pride to the framing timbers sporting a shiny gloss of dirty yellow wax buildup applied over the dry rot. They drove away the more vocal of the alarmists. A few of the ones who had silently agreed with the need for change began to secretly dig holes and tunnels for their own use in an emergency.

Abruptly one day, with a great cloud of dust, the great mansion collapsed under the weight of the second story, killing most of the people inside. Some of the ones who got away blamed others for causing the collapse and they killed one another. Some of the people who had made provision for the future survived, although they had to kill or be killed in order to protect what was theirs. And, like most preventable human tragedies, a few of the survivors remembered everything, while most learned nothing.

This article first published in The Southwestern Missouri Libertarian, Issue #7, Sept.-Oct. 1994