I Can’t Help Comparing

by Eric Chaet


I can’t help comparing my capital, such as it is
to Warren Buffett’s, Jeff Bezos’, the Sauds’, the sheikhs’
to others’ sitting at the counter drinking coffee
or encountered walking or in the traffic of trucks & cars
to sports & entertainment stars’:
rightly done, comparison yields how more wisely to decide
what to attempt, & how to achieve it.

I compare my little bundle
to the earthworm’s, beggar’s, telemarketer’s, tree’s
the CEO’s, employee’s, fired employee’s
to the man’s or woman’s no one will employ
whether because of character flaws or lack of skills
due to lack of discipline or of access to equipment
or to knowledge of exemplars who have found a way to thrive
or because of the insufferable habit of seeing thru pretenses.


I compare my power to Caesar’s, Napoleon’s, the Pharaohs’
Genghis’, Timur’s, Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Mao’s
to Putin’s, Trump’s, Xi Jinping’s—
to frantic mothers’, caught between violent enemies—
& to the draftees’ & volunteers’ of all ranks
living or dead, shooting, on both sides—
& to the producers’ of their rations, weapons, & ammunition.

I’m like one of the farmers
whether taking advantage & getting rich
or desperately trying to plant & bring in crops
& have enough after infestations & confiscations
to get thru to the next cycle
in the midst of a world at war.

Like everyone else
I must make the most of my circumstances
which I’d never have chosen
or else be destroyed by those circumstances—
whether or not I choose & manage to do something more.

I compare my power, also
to the bacterium’s, virus’s, invalid’s
infants’—whether in a slum or posh surroundings
cared for by calm, sensitive, intelligent adults
or having to fend among confused & angry adults—
to pet dogs’, cats’, & horses’—& zoo animals’—
to cattle’s & caged chickens’, wild birds’ & mammals’
to reptiles’, insects’, & spiders’
in the corner webs where walls meet floor or ceiling—
to the corpse’s, the stone’s
to stem cells’, & to cancer tumors’ mutant cells’.

Like a hunter, forager, cold call salesman, fisherman
sometimes I’m relaxed, composed
sometimes anxious, hungry
I’ve been waiting, it seems, forever—
will my only periodically & briefly available intuition
ever surface again & take the bait?
Does what I need exist?
Will I encounter & snare it in time?


Like the engineers
I’m constantly making, undoing, re-forming models
monitoring if this or that change is a net loss or gain
studying others’ work & methods
& the technologies that underlie their methods & products
& the commerce their efforts & my efforts are part of
the reasonable-sounding doctrines of economics
& the irrational, unconscious assumptions & behavior.

I try to avoid setting off unintended negative consequences—
I don’t want my bridge to collapse
years from now, when traffic over it has greatly increased.

The machine I need to invent
has to be simple, robust, resilient—
it mustn’t tempt the uninitiated to screw it up—
I must make it of the lightest, & least, & least costly stuff—
if it works, competitors will be bidding up the stuff’s price.

I acquire & apply all the knowledge & skill I can—
I derive specifications—what will be necessary, exactly
so that what I am doing will have the intended effect?

Are the resources available? Where, how, at what cost?
What must be sacrificed to obtain what resources?

The result must be flexible:
conditions are liable to change—
I have to weigh cost, safety, speed
marketability, producibility, servicibility
& limits of my time, attention, desire, capacities—
& the lure & urgency of other projects.


Like a doctor diagnosing or performing surgery—
there’s so much to learn & remember—
the structural & operational components
of cells of nervous, muscle, epithelial
& connective tissues, glands & organs—
the nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular,
respiratory, excretory, musculoskeletal,
integumentary, reproductive, digestive,
& immune systems—patrolling cells of all sorts
ready to rally & proliferate versus intruders—
the chemical & electrical reactions of the blood—
feedback controls in the spine & brain-stem
& decisions, wise or unwise, of the cortex—
I have to repair the engine while it’s running!

So much is known & so much is unknown—
the effects & interactions of drugs
& the patient’s real & pertinent history—
so much of what is known I don’t know
& so much that is “known” is false—
& the patients’ pleas are so urgent!

I don’t have much time to inquire or get a sense
of his or her mental or financial condition—
hospital, insurance, & government
pharmaceutical & medical equipment
bureaucrats & sales people & representatives & executives
must turn a profit, stat—
the investors behind them eager for return on investment—
& bacteria & viruses are on an exponential schedule.

The patient has just so much fight in him or her.

And now it is announced that this has unexpected benefits
or that that has unexpected detrimental side-effects.

I’m on call all the time for decades.

My education & liability insurance cost a fortune.
My colleagues have fancy homes & cars—
they go on exotic trips, buy boats & private jets
they are prominent in this or that organization
some of the old ones retire or die—some not so old—
my wife & kids are infected by their peers’ indulgences—
they imagine that they need what they don’t need
& resent my unwillingness to allocate scarce resources
to satisfy their appetites—
my family & home become unstable—goodbye, homeostasis!
My sleep is disrupted before delicate surgery next morning.


Like a teacher, nurse, general, admiral
politician, saint, burglar, rebel, prophet
like a president governing without authority, from below
opposed by a mocking, hostile, all-destructive zeitgeist
like an orphan, or child of parents in conflict—
heir to the unappreciated treasures my imperfect heroes left
for the benefit of anyone who takes advantage
& their delusions, too—
& nature’s treasures—& its storms, plagues, winters.

I’m like a troubled divorcee, widow, or widower
wounded veteran or victim of some scam no one will ever remedy—
everyone has sorrows that can never be shared—
like a prisoner released with nothing after a bitter long term—
it was all a misunderstanding, & the misunderstanding persists—
like a husband or wife or one of their children
in times of upheaval, or of making-do under oppressive regimes
for months or years or decades—or generations.

I compare my role
to the roles of the prominent
& of the terminally marginalized & defeated—
to predators, drones, & parasites
among whom I struggle to rise, rather than sink.


I try to temper the insane over-confidence
that sometimes comes over me—which yields tragedy—
or the insane delusion of incurable incompetence
so many would encourage me to share with them
to which I’ve yielded again & again—
therefore missing opportunties
at least to provide for my own survival a while—
& achieve my righteous purpose
without deluding myself that it’s more than it is—
at least to some extent.

I am like the psychopath whose way of seeing the world
is so different from most people’s way of seeing the world
& as far from the way the world is as that consensus norm.

I’m like the sage who sees thru both the norm & psychoses
how the world really is, but others pay no attention
& he or she learns not to be taken for a crank or a threat
& to keep what he or she knows to him or her self
til it becomes appropriate, on some rare occasion
to say or do what is otherwise never said or done—
when it is briefly possible to have the necessary effect
blocked so long til just this moment
by opposition of those with disproportionate wealth & power
whether inherited or struggled for, for years, or both
& by others’ nearly universally unexamined resentments
& resistance to understanding what’s happened & is happening.

If only the long waiting, refraining til the moment
has not made me incapable of effectively acting, then!


Each one enables the continuation of injustices
or exacerbates, or diminishes them—
or, maybe, plays a part in their un-doing—
real work with really advantageous effect—
plenty of frustrations—no mere wishful fantasy.

The cat assesses traffic on the road she’d cross—
the ant scouting for crumbs for the colony
in the house he’s entered thru a crack between door & frame
counts & remembers his steps
& counts, measures, & remembers the angles of his turns.

Good & bad people count & compare—
of course, no one is entirely good or bad—
we spend most of our lives buffering or hiding ourselves from
or daring ourselves to do good or do evil.

Clever & dull people, big & small
woman, man, young, old
of every degree of sophistication or inexperience
every race, ethnicity, class—
those who others imagine & who may themselves imagine
that they have succeeded once & for all
& the discouraged, weak from prolonged deprivation.

We make small or great, advantageous adjustments
or begin to die—
with varying degrees of grace or anxiety—
really choosing, really deciding
not just reacting per our programming.

You can’t see my, & I can’t see your
earthquake, tsunami, eruption
stroke, heart attack, or the world war within you
your tyranny or escape
from those among whom you must live shoulder to shoulder
who would shoot or crucify or starve you
if you made the slightest honest move
your insurrection, wise or foolish
your planning or the realization
you can’t postpone initiating a moment longer
tho—even after all your life so far—
you can’t clearly conceive what it is
toward which you must commit yourself
or the steps, 3, 2, 1 that would take you there—
upon which everything beyond this moment depends.


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