The Rip Van Winkle Caper

by Hugh Mungus

Self-awareness can be tampered with by brainwashing, psychoactive drugs, electrical stimulation, political or religious propaganda, even advertising. A lifetime in front of a TV set may be the equivalent of a self-transplant.

- Chet Raymo

If you're of the mindset gold is extraordinarily valuable, watch episode 24, season two of the original Twilight Zone series. The segment in question - The Rip Van Winkle Caper - goes a little somethin' like this:

Introducing four experts in the questionable art of crime: Mr. Farwell, expert on noxious gases, former professor, with a doctorate in both chemistry and physics; Mr. Erbie, expert in mechanical engineering; Mr. Brooks, expert in the use of firearms and other weaponry; and Mr. DeCruz, expert in demolition and various forms of destruction.

The time is now, and the place is a mountain cave in Death Valley, U.S.A. In just a moment, these four men will utilize the services of a truck placed in cosmoline, loaded with a hot heist cooled off by a century of sleep, and then take a drive into The Twilight Zone.

- Rod Serling

Brainwashed into believing gold is priceless, four criminals steal $1,000,000 of it from a train headed to Fort Knox. This band of thieves then hide out within a cave in Death Valley, California.

It's here Mr. Farwell has placed state-of-the-art sarcophoguses - human-sized pods - in which the men can sleep indefinitely, remain alive, and not age a day. After a century, their crime will have been forgotten. At that point, the felons can awaken, sell the gold, and amass a fortune.

Following 100 years of slumber, the men arise, only to discover a skeleton in Mr. Erbie's chamber - a rock having dislodged from the ceiling of the cave, shattering the housing of his particular pod.

Awash with avarice, DeCruz runs Brooks down with the moving truck the team are employing as a getaway vehicle. Immediately afterward, the maniacal motorist drives the lorry into a gully, rendering the rig inoperable.

DeCruz and Farwell - the two remaining criminals - are thus forced to walk through the desert, in searing heat, lugging as much gold as they can carry in backpacks.

After the latter misplaces his canteen, the former sells him water, at one sip per gold bar. As the liquid dwindles, DeCruz demands two bars per sip. In response, Farwell pummels his rapacious cohort with one of the bullion, thereby killing his sole remaining partner.

Farwell is then left to wander alone, burdened by the excessive weight of the metal attached to his back. Exhausted, but driven by cupidity, he reluctantly abandons bars of the commodity, incrementally. Eventually, the man passes out, too debilitated to continue.

The felon regains consciousness, only to discover a futuristic figure standing above him. In desperation, Farwell bestows the one remaining bar he possesses, for water.

Before this newcomer can reply, Farwell expires.

Returning to his car, the stranger informs his wife the person they've discovered on the road has died. The unnamed character notes how bizarre it was the convict had offered him bullion, since gold is now manufactured in this futuristic society. Thus, this metal hasn't been viewed as valuable - let alone priceless - for eons.

In closing, Rod Serling imparts the following:

The last of four Van Winkles, who all died precisely the way they lived, chasing an idol across the sand to wind up bleached dry in the hot Sun as so much desert flotsam, worthless as the gold bullion they built a shrine to.

Tonight's lesson - in the Twilight Zone.

- Rod Serling

Known as the paradox of value - often termed the diamond-water paradox - it's premise is simple. Even though water is imperative to survival, and diamonds aren't, the latter is exceedingly more expensive than the former. You'll pay an exorbitant fee for a diamond, but you'll typically receive a glass of water for free.

This lapse in common sense was presented not only by philosopher Adam Smith, but also Nicolaus Copernicus and John Locke.

Such an inconsistency in logic exemplifies the demented nature of the current human psyche, and how brainwashed we've allowed ourselves to become.

Muster up a sizable breeze. Toss 100 dollar bills into the wind, and watch people risk their lives, chasing these useless pieces of paper into speeding traffic. This is lunacy, and if you can't see such, you're brainwashed, as well.

Conversely, toss gallons of water - vital to all our survival - into a busy motorway, and people won't look twice.

In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith stated:

The word VALUE, it is to be observed, has two different meanings, and sometimes expresses the utility of some particular object, and sometimes the power of purchasing other goods which the possession of that object conveys.

The one may be called "value in use;" the other, "value in exchange." The things which have the greatest value in use have frequently little or no value in exchange; on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use.

Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarcely anything; scarcely anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarcely any use-value; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it.

- Adam Smith

"I'd never kill anybody over inanimate objects," you proclaim.

Yet you hasten your own demise every time you "work," in exchange for useless pieces of paper called cash. Thanks to your blind pursuit of money, you perpetuate this system that's been enslaving and executing us all, since its inception.

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