Coconut Island

Once upon a time there was an island.  On this island there was a group of people known as the Vespuccians.  They lived at relative peace with each other.  Like people everywhere, they had squabbles, but they were united in their love for one thing- coconuts.  They ate coconuts and wore coconuts.  They drank coconut whisky and drove cars that ran on coconut oil.  Possession of coconuts provided prestige and status.  Ones with lots of coconuts were known as Big Kahunas.  Ones with moderate amounts of coconuts were known as Tree Climbers.  People with few coconuts were known as Fuck Ups.

The Big Kahunas lived on one end of the island.  They had beautiful homes that looked over the beach and fountains spouting coconut milk in their front yards.  It was considered overly conspicuous to bathe in coconut milk, but some of the newer Kahunas liked to do it anyway.  Many of the other islanders worked for the Kahunas, in their homes, or in their coconut factories, which produced every conceivable coconut product and by-product and exotic derivative.

There weren’t many Big Kahunas.  Out of every 100 Vespuccians, only 10 qualified as BKs, as they were known.  There were more FUs than there were BKs.  The vast majority were TCs.  It all related to the total number of coconuts held in coconut banks, and an islander’s number of coconuts directly related to the number of coconut trees possessed.  Coconut trees were treated as sacred objects, and regulated by Vespuccian government agencies.

Since the Big Kahunas owned more sacred coconut trees than the Tree Climbers or Fuck Ups, they were also treated differently.  Some BKs were thought to be prophets and priests, able to foretell the future and dispense sage-worthy wisdom.  Others were admired for their sense of style and panache, or their coconut steam saunas, or their ability to smoke the best dried coconut hair and drink coconut cognac, which was very expensive.  They were admired because most Vespuccians desired to be Big Kahunas and not everybody made it.  Life seemed a little less successful when fewer coconuts were accounted to a Vespuccian’s ledger.

One day a spaceship descended from the heavens, and hovered over a bay near the capital city of Coconutville.  Vespuccians gathered on the beach, watching as an anti-gravity helicopter emerged and landed on an open strip of sand near the coconut groves.  A hatch opened, dispensing a green-skinned alien, who politely identified himself as a galactic anthropologist sent to gather information about their island.  Did they mind if he asked a few questions?

After some initial trepidation, the Vespuccians decided it was an honor to be studied for galactic purposes, since it affirmed the obviously exceptional nature of their culture.  The anthropologist was able to go where he wished.  He interviewed, and counted, and measured, and calculated, and recorded his findings in a 3-D virtual journal.

Despite being small in number, the anthropologist discovered, the Big Kahunas owned most of the island.  By his computations, only about 10% of Vespuccians were Big Kahunas, but they owned 75% of all the coconuts produced.  They controlled vast swathes of coconut trees, which allowed them to stockpile coconuts in warehouses, and outbid others for the groves they wanted.  Sometimes they’d buy a tract, borrow as many coconuts against the property as possible, log off all the trees, pay out the profits as dividends, and then declare the grove as bankrupt, saving on taxes.  Or sometimes they’d bulldoze the trees and build a golf course.

He also discovered not all Big Kahunas were equal.  The top 1% of Vespuccians owned over 35% of the coconuts all by themselves.  They had even taken to stashing them on neighboring islands.  Unfortunately, that meant 99% had to split 65%, and most of that stayed with the smaller Big Kahunas.

The fact he found most amazing, when his computations were done, was that the bottom half of all Vespuccians, 50% of the entire island, were only sharing in 1% of the coconut wealth.  Unsurprisingly, their half of the population also had high rates of addiction, mental illness, suicide, and crime.  The Big Kahunas lived longer than anyone else.

Despite these facts, no one seriously complained.  There was an Occupy The Groves movement, where groups of protesters lived among the trees, claiming they belonged to everyone, but the Occupy folks mostly irritated the neighbors.  Tree Climbers ignored them, not wanting the trees to belong to everyone, since they still hoped to own some, and maybe become a Kahuna.

In the conclusion to his findings, the alien anthropologist wrote:  “There are a few very wealthy Vespuccians, and a lot of people struggling.  About 15% of the population lacks health care.  Medical costs are the second leading cause of personal bankruptcy.  Over one-fifth of the children live in poverty.  They imprison more people than any other island on their planet, mostly from poor Vespuccians.  In short, their culture has yet to figure out a way to share and play fair, one of the basic achievements of any mature society.  I would rank them as still in the early childhood level of development, along with the rest of this planet.  They all exhibit a high degree of violence and selfishness.  Much more needs to occur before we can consider admitting them to the galaxy federation.  I recommend the quarantine be continued for the next two centuries, when we can check again.”

Before he left, the anthropologist went to visit his Tree Climber hosts.  When they inquired about his findings, he mentioned the great disparity he discovered between the Big Kahunas and everyone else.  “They live longer, you know, and have far more than their proportional share.”  But the Tree Climbers shrugged.  “They deserve it.  They’ve earned it.  It’s God’s will.”

The anthropologist shook their hands and flew off in his anti-gravity helicopter, returning to the space ship, and vanishing into the blue.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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