Author’s note: This was originally published at RedState in February, 2009. Its high acclaim there prompted me to post it here as I expand this blog.
I was asked if the wheel was invented out of necessity, or if someone demanded it first?
Not content to simply answer the question, I wrote a story about it. When I published this story in a public forum, the usual suspects started asking the usual questions:
“Was this invention Ogg and Thag’s property?”
Since someone tried to use this as a chance to attack the idea of personal property, I have updated the story a bit as a lesson on government.
It’s kinda’ long, so get a glass of milk and some cookies.
* * * * *
Ogg and Thag had just killed a smallish mastodon somewhere in central Asia, near modern-day Astana, Kazakhstan, just a few yards from the A343 highway. Knowing their tribe was starving and that winter was fast approaching, they understood they’d have to get the mastodon back to their camp as soon as possible
“I say, good fellow,” Thag queried Ogg, “However will we get all this tender flesh back to our social cooperative? The beast trampled Ook and Gork, and it is many miles. By the time winter returns, we’ll surely have frozen to death.”
“I know not, my good man,” Ogg replied. “If we go to obtain help first, the scavengers will surely have picked it clean before we return.”
Thag sighed. “We’d best get to dragging this monstrous creature back, or there will have been no point in killing the poor thing.”
So Ogg and Thag began dragging their kill back to camp, struggling to pull its bulk over the hills and through the forests. Soon, they were exhausted but they kept pulling, knowing they must feed their family.
Soon, they saw a series of felled trees they had cut down some days before in order to make the spears.
“I say, Thag!” Ogg stated, “but we must change our course or move those terrible boughs blocking our path!”
“Oh, let us just go through them, Ogg,” replied Thag. It will take too long to find a new path through the forest, and if we move the logs, we’ll not wish to start dragging this beast again. The trunks are not overly thick, and they are close enough together that it won’t take long once the creature is on top of them.”
“Very well,” sighed Ogg, and they began pulling the beast over the fallen tree trunks.
“Did you feel that?” asked Ogg.
“Feel what, dear fellow?”
“The logs. They seemed to move as we pulled this carcass across them. Almost as though they were alive!”
“You’re imagining things, Ogg. Now come, we must drag this thing home!”
Ogg wouldn’t listen to reason.
“No, my friend, no,” he said. “Let me see something. If it doesn’t work, I’ll give it up and we can keep moving.”
Ogg went to the back and hacked the ends off up two of the logs. His massive caveman strength allowed him to cleave them quickly, despite his crude axe and long hours of exertion. He then took the logs, which were now much lighter, and placed them at the front.
“I’m not certain why you’re doing this,” said Thag. “We needn’t be wasting any time.”
“Have faith in me, my friend.”
So Ogg and Thag pulled again. They had little difficulty pulling the mastodon all the way to the end of the logs.
“My word!” cried Thag. “You were right, Ogg! That required far less exertion!”
“Now,” said Ogg, “let us cut the rest of these trees to size and begin pulling this beast home!”
Soon, the two men had worked out a system where Ogg would grab the logs at the back and place them at the front while Thag would push the mastodon’s body along the logs. It wasn’t perfect, and over rough terrain the system broke down a bit, but all-in-all pulling the beast back to camp was much easier than before. Before sunset, and after much trial-and-error, they had arrived at their camp and saved their tribe.
* * * * *
A few weeks later, when the tribe had eaten all the meat, cracked the bones for the marrow, used the large pieces and skins to build winter shelters and used the small pieces for tools, Ogg and Thag were tasked to find and kill another mastodon. Once again, they took two more men with them. This time their companions were Urk and Hon.
With the strength gained from the previous kill, the group succeeded in killing an even bigger mastodon and this time without the loss of a team member.
“Good gentlemen,” Urk urged, “show us your method for returning a mastodon with the alacrity of your last adventure. This beast is clearly too large for the four of us.”
“Absolutely, my good man!” cried Ogg.
“Capital idea,” Thag seconded.
Ogg and Thag showed the other two men how to select the right trees (which was easy since they were similar to spear trees). Then they worked out a new, four-man system for their new invention.
“My word,” said Hon. “This makes the task of returning to our camp the large game of the forest a right simple task.”
“Indeed, Hon,” replied Ogg. “With your help and Urk, the task is hardly a chore!”
Rapidly, the men returned to their tribe’s winter camp. Upon arrival, they were greeted by the whole of their tribal group. Cheers erupted as the men brought the mastodon into the center of camp. The crowd gathered close as Ogg and Thag began to cut out the choicest pieces of flesh.
Ogg noticed that the most attractive female who had not yet bonded with another male, was watching him with great interest. Her name was Suri, and she smiled when their eyes met. Ogg pulled out the choicest piece of all the meat and held it out to the beautiful woman.
The tribal Chieftan, Gorak, saw Ogg’s fortune. Gorak’s partner had died the previous winter and he had yet to find a new mate. Seething with jealousy, he cried out:
“WAIT!” came the blood-curdling cry. “Who are you that would eat before your Chief?! I have held this tribe together through thick and thin! I have kept us whole and safe, leading us through the most difficult of times! It is my privelege to have the first cut of meat!”
Ogg stood dumbfounded. Then, finding courage he did not know he had, he cried, “YOU?! You have done nothing to bring us this feast! Your leadership nearly allowed us to starve. Without Thag and myself, every member of this tribe would have died weeks ago! Thag, Urk, Hon and I killed this beast, and the pride of first cut is ours!”
“Traitor!” cried the Shaman. “The Chief, with my help, has kept the social group together! He and I deserve the first cuts.”
The Shaman and chief exchanged glances. While not happy that the shaman would be sharing in his cut, the shaman’s support was convincing the rest of the tribe.
“Traitor!” cried one tribesman.
“Greedy!” screamed another.
“Get to the back of the line, thief!” yelled another.
“But this feast was our doing!” Thag said in support of his friend.
“You can join him!” the crowd roared.
Faced with a growing number of angry tribesmen, Ogg and Thag backed off. They moved to the back of the crowd, waited, then finally took their turn. They each got a mediocre cut of meat. Suri was sharing the liver with the Chief. Ogg and Thag were shunned by everyone.
“Covetous malcontents!” said one.
“Miserous letchers!” said another.
Thag and Ogg sat back and looked around. Nearly every member of the tribe was glowering at them as they ate. Only Urk and Hon looked away, not wishing to blame them as the tribe had done but fearful of defending them.
“My friend,” Ogg said to Thag, “this sucks.”
* * * * *
Weeks later, the tribe was out of food again.
“Ogg! Thag!” cried Gorak. “You must go on the hunt! Bring us back another beast!”
Ogg looked at Thag.
“Why should we?” asked Ogg. “Two weeks ago, with Urk and Hon at our sides, we risked our lives to hunt down a great beast. Its meat has filled our bellies since, and its bones and skins make our clothes and shelters. Yet when we brought it back, we were shunned! We were excoriated as greedy miscreants because we wished to enjoy the fruits of our labor!”
The Shaman stood. “You violated our social contract! No member of the tribe is greater than any other! As your leaders, those of us who make the great decisions are given the small benefit of choicer meat. It was your greed that harmed you, nothing more!”
“No!” said Thag. “We will not hunt! There is no benefit for us. Why should we risk our lives hunting great beasts when we can sit here and eat what the other hunters bring back? What benefit do we get from risking our lives? Let someone else hunt!”
“Very well!” cried the Chief. “Urk, Hon, choose two men and bring use another feast!”
Urk and Hon looked at each other.
“We do not wish to hunt either,” said Urk. “We were happy to go along last time, but we’re not really leaders. You’ll have to find someone else to hunt this time.”
“Fine!” screamed the Chieftan. “I shall lead this hunt! We shall bring back the largest, most fearsome beast of the forest!”
The Chief had not led a hunt in many years, but he was certain he still remembered his techniques. With five men, he tracked a massive megaloceros elk to a clearing. It stood majestically on the other side of the clearing, its huge antler rack stretching twelve feet across.
“We shall rush across the clearing with our torches and scare the elk into the trees, where its antlers will become entangled in the branches,” stated the Chief. “We’ll then be easily able to spear it.”
“My dear Gorak, we are upwind!” said one of the party. “We’ll certainly spook the elk long before we get close enough to light our torches! We’ll be trampled to death!”
“Nonsense!” replied Gorak. “We’ll take this stag by surprise and have ourselves meat for a week!”
Reluctantly, the hunters fanned out. They entered the clearing slowly, to avoid being detected by the elk’s black-and-white, movement-based vision.
Suddenly, the elk’s nostril’s flared. It’s head came up. It looked one way, then the other. In an instant, it was charging. Urk and Hon were directly ahead. Urk was knocked aside by the elk’s antlers, then seconds later Hon was trampled under its hooves. As the other members of the tribe began to react to the elk’s charge, it sensed their presence and chased them down.
The Chief turned and ran. He never saw the other five members of his tribe gored and trampled to death by the angry elk. He simply ran all the way back to the camp.
“Where are the others?” asked Suri. “Where is our food?”
“I don’t know,” said Gorak. “We tracked a beast, but it attacked. The others are likely dead, and it’s all Ogg and Thag’s fault!”
The crowd turned and looked, bewildered, at the two men.
“They would not hunt!” cried the Chief. “They forced inexperienced men to go out and hunt! We were slaughtered!”
Ogg stammered. “But-but-but… YOU led them!”
“Don’t distract us from the point! You should have gone on the hunt!”
“Why?” screamed Thag. “Risk our own lives and get the scraps? What’s the point?”
“It is your responsibility!” the Shaman chimed in. “You owe us!”
“Yeah!” agreed one member of the tribe.
“How can you be so greedy?” asked another.
Ogg and Thag looked each other in the eye.
“That is the last straw!” exclaimed Ogg. “We are done. We owe you nothing. We’ve brought you full bellies and strong shelter, and you repay us with name-calling and recriminations! We are leaving!”
Stunned, the crowd watched as Ogg and Thag turned and walked away. They stood there as the two men walked further and further .
Gorak, not knowing what to do, felt rage swell up within him. “GET THEM!” he screamed, and chased after Ogg and Thag, picking up rocks and throwing them.
The Shaman picked up a mastodon rib and began chasing after Ogg and Thag. Quickly, the whole tribe picked up bones, sticks and rocks and chased after them. Ogg and Thag didn’t know what was happening until it was too late. The crowd was upon them, beating and stoning them to death.
* * * * *
When the dust settled, the tribe went back to camp. More hunting parties left, but with more than half the men dead it was a futile effort. In time, members of the tribe began to get sick and die. Eventually, the last few members of the tribe met up with another, more successful tribe. In exchange for food, they agreed to become slaves of the other tribe.
Suri, who had barely survived, described Ogg’s and Thag’s invention to the members of her new tribe. For this information, and for her beauty, she became the betrothed of the new Chief’s son. Ogg and Thag would be forgotten, but The Wheel would become one of the most important of mankind’s tools.