9. Dominoes

Dominoes, the game, is fun to play, I’ll agree to this much, and once you’ve dusted the cobwebs from your elementary math skills, it’s pretty easy to score off multiples of 5. It makes for a good game at a smoky bar with a coupla beers and some classic rock on the jukebox, and if you wanna impress your elders, beat ’em at a game of bones.

However, when the word comes into conversation, I think not of laying pieces flat on a table, but standing them vertically like soldiers in a single-file line. I think about being a kid at my grandma’s friend’s house, setting out a few dozen dominoes across their kitchen floor in a swerving pattern longer than my fully-extended small intestines. It would take patience. It would take forever. But in the end, with one tender touch of the lead domino, the entire creation would collapse in an orderly fashion, one after the next, toppling like tiny tombstones.

It’s fitting that the word “dominoes” stems from the Latin word dominus, which means “master.”

This is what we become when we play with dominoes. We plan, we create, we destroy. We are the masters of these numbered blocks and we decide how the line will curve and we decide (unless there’s a cruel sibling or rambunctious pet nearby) when the line will crumble. There are few feelings as exciting and final as the knocking-over of that first domino. No going back now. With one goes all the others. God forbid you bumped the starter domino before you were finished.

So why do we do this? Why build and destroy?

The destructiveness makes the most sense. Why do you think we got so excited when we discovered how to harness fire? Here was this destructive element from which nothing seemed to survive. Fire became the explosive. Explosives became big, and, in turn, our thirst for destruction led to nuclear power and a few radiated Pacific islands. With one domino came the next, and the next, and the next.

Even deeper than that, take a look at how civilization is evolving.

We’re a society that builds its world like a trail of dominoes across the kitchen floor. This is how humankind has grown since Day One, when that first domino of civilization was set up to wobble proudly at the foot of our timeline. Then came another, and another, and soon we had millions of blocks stretching from the dawn of man to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. We never branched off. It’s been one long trail all along. But we don’t look back. Heck, we hardly acknowledge our history. Why would we? It’s much more exciting to just keep adding blocks.

Some day our history will catch up with us. Maybe the dominoes of yesteryear are already starting to fall, crashing through our ancestors and ancient civilizations, crumbling pharaohs, kings, and soothsayers, smashing through the dark, dim, and enlightened ages, breaking down the revolutionary and industrial revolutions, coming after us like an avalanche or a lit fuse. We’ve been setting up the pieces for thousands of years. Sooner or later, we’ll either run out of pieces or we’ll simply be crushed by the weight of all our choices, and quite frankly, I already feel the pressure. I look around and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the current result is pretty fucked up. But there’s that dominus in us that won’t let us stop. I mean, after all, what is more masterful than the feeling that all that we’ve created can be destroyed with just one gentle nudge? I think we like living on the verge of annihilation.

Unless we stop now. It’s not too late to take the lessons we learned from our first domino trail, pick the stable parts, and start a new trail somewhere else, preferably not the kitchen floor.

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