When I was a child, I had a balloon. I enjoyed the balloon. Whenever I met another child who also had a balloon, I would say, “This one is like me, he also has a balloon.” There was an immediate bond between us. If he asked me a favor, I would comply, reasoning that he would reciprocate in the future if I was in need, and even if no such situation ever arose, I could still feel satisfied doing the right thing. It was part of the brotherhood of those who had balloons.
Whenever I met a child who had no balloon, I would say, “This one is not like me, he has no balloon.” Between he and I, there was always mistrust. I vehemently opposed any proposal that one without a balloon receive a balloon. After all, those who have balloons at the present moment are those who deserve balloons. If the set of those who possess balloons were to change, it could only be because the set of those who deserve balloons had changed—if the change occurred naturally. If, however, the change occurred artificially, then the sets of those who possessed balloons and those who deserved balloons would diverge, and that would be unfair, as I believed if anyone who had no balloon was to receive a balloon, it could only be by having mine taken from me. I reserved to myself the right to distinguish between natural and artificial changes.
When I met such a one, I would speculate on why he had no balloon. It was probably, I thought, because he had been bad. Just as I had acquired my own balloon through my own good action, so had the other lost the possibility of a balloon through his own bad action. There was minor dissent when some in the brotherhood observed that we ourselves had sometimes been guilty of bad action, but most of us knew there were subtle distinctions between the bad action of the outsiders and our own apparently bad action. We excelled at inventing such distinctions.
We who had balloons knew we possessed these balloons securely. We knew nothing could take our balloons from us. Because a balloon is not something that simply comes to one by chance, but is an expression or manifestation of internal qualities. Unless those internal qualities changed—which was impossible—we would not lose our balloons.
Yet sometime one of us lost a balloon. If this happened, that one was no longer one who was like us. We who had balloons could no longer abide his company. From the loss of his balloon, we could deduce he had lost the internal qualities that enabled him to acquire and possess it up until that point.
Sometimes a balloon lost by one was recovered by another who previously had no balloon. Just as the one who lost his balloon was immediately expelled from the brotherhood, so was the one who found a balloon immediately welcomed. At every moment, the brotherhood was exactly coterminous with the set of those who possessed balloons. In this way we maintained our high standards.
Then I attended a birthday party, and everyone had balloons. I was consumed with rage at those who walked about with their balloons, absurdly unashamed at having received their balloons through illegitimate means instead of earning them as I had. Only those who’d had balloons prior to the party truly deserved them; only they had received those balloons through the natural mechanism, whereas the others had received them through an artificial intervention. Though I still possessed the same balloon as had been mine before the party, I knew this new situation was grossly unfair.
I decided to revenge myself upon them by giving them everything they thought they wanted, and watching as the plenitude of balloons destroyed them. Eagerly I took my position alongside the gas tank and inflated balloon after balloon, handing them out to the revelers. Unfortunately, before my plan could come to fruition, the entire birthday party, buoyed by the extra helium, floated away.