Coffee with Athena.
A tech executive meets with Athena, the Ancient Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War, to pitch the idea of becoming the Patron Goddess of Silicon Valley.
The children here like this stuff. Brown and bitter. Liquid. It smells like autumn just turning into winter. If they do it well.
One of my children has already arrived. He is sitting at one of those tables. They do not use individual tables now, my children tell me. They have big ones. Shared workspaces, they call them. It is meant to promote innovation. Creativity. Be egalitarian.
I suppose this is nice of them. But my children just outside the door, hungry and begging, do not seem to be proponents of this shared workspace initiative.
I decide it would be cruel to point this out to this particular child of mine, who is waving me over to a Shared Workspace. He would be saddened that I had stopped the string of words buzzing from his mouth.
“Liquid energy,” he is telling me. “Our own food of the Gods.
“You know, this guy was telling me the other day that coffee first got popular in London, back when stock markets were emerging. These guys would be up all night in these places, doing intense trading, and this stuff would keep them going. They must have thought it was such a crazy time, back when these new machines were making human development possible. I mean they were basic, basic machines, compared to now. If only they had known what was coming next — the iPod! Steve Jobs, man, what a guy. He was a disrupter. A revolutionary! And now we’re changing the world with zeroes and ones, faster than is possible to imagine. Zeroes and ones! It’s never happened before, like this, you know. Things are changing so fast. This is totally unprecedented.”
This is not true, of course. In the valleys where my children first dreamed of me, coffee was richer and more full of life. It was long before anyone would dream of lands across the ocean—they dreamed only of the stars and the sky and the Mountain where I lived. The grounds would be proportioned carefully into boiling water, flowing in endless time to the bottom of the cup. Only then could you drink. Only after endless time spent breathing in the wind, that brought with it the beauty of the hills and the sea; only after endless time spent speaking to one another, sharing words and emotions and ideas, carrying on arguments and debates and discoveries. Only then could you drink, and it was sweeter and richer and more full of life for the wait.
“Iwonder what Nicolas Tesla drank.” My child sips from his paper cup, one of many that litters the world. “Probably not the same thing as the OG stock traders, am I right?”
“Yes,” I say absently. “Those children. I remember when they died.” I do not think, when they met my Uncle Hades, that they thought the coffee and the stock trading had been the best part of living. Perhaps I am wrong, though, and this child will tell my Uncle about his latest app when his turn comes to cross the River Styx. I smile.
I am always amazed at the fashions my children have created, each time I visit them. This latest one, though, this soft cotton — each stitch carries a sharp wince of the children who created it, in sweatshops thousands of miles away. The result is like stroking a bed of sharp needles. My smile is gone.
My child is disappointed that I am not excited about his coffee drink. I think he may have drunk too much of it. His mind is racing like a mouse’s heartbeat under stress; so many ideas, so quickly, so fast. But I am thinking like the mountain. Life is not as fleeting for the mountain.
“We thought you might be interested in the position of Patron Goddess. As you know, ours is a movement which values knowledge production and intelligence more than anything. We are about innovation, and finding new pathways, breaking down walls and new frontiers. As the literal Goddess of Wisdom, we think you would be well-suited to support and promote our companies’ mission.”
“And war.” I remind my child slowly. His voice is like a humming bird, darting this way and that, so that I can barely see him. I am tempted to swat at him to restore peace.
“What?” My child asks me.
“I am the Goddess of Wisdom and War. Does your Valley not revere War in the same way it does Wisdom?” Reverence, I think to myself. That is what these younger children lack. Reverence for what is and has been sacred.
“Ah,” my child says, “Well, obviously in this particular context, we would mainly be interesting in leveraging your experience as the Goddess of Wisdom. Although, obviously, I should say, we’re open to looking at you contributing to certain projects in War, in the future. That’s another great benefit about this place, I should add. We have a lot of space for you to explore and develop your own thing, and that’s obviously something we would be interested in supporting you in. But, yeah, obviously, we’re going to, in this case, want to focus on the Wisdom stuff more than the War stuff.”
I wonder about the last time my children worried about wisdom at the expense of war. The scars of uranium and plutonium have not yet healed from my arms, and my fingers are covered with the burns of sulfur and mustard and chlorine. Still this world burns in conflict. Just not here, right now.
“And, of course, we offer very competitive compensation. Although we might have some problems with HR if you want human sacrifice as offerings, obviously. But I’m sure we could work something out if it was really a priority,” he adds hastily, seeing my anger.
“You are wrong, my child.” I tell him, “It is humanity, not I, that has always demanded a human sacrifice in the pursuit of knowledge.”
But this child of mine cannot remember those sacrifices now. He did not feel the sweat of those who slaved in the fields, nor the blood of those who built the pyramids, the castles, the skyscrapers. He did not see the skulls piled on spiked poles meters high, nor smell the dirt that had been salted. He did not hear the screams of children, experimented on and separated from their mothers. He did not sense the destruction of the indigenous Gods, who were worshiped on this very land, and whose sacred artifacts and peoples have been reduced to Reservations. All civilizations have been based on injustice. All discovery of knowledge has been enabled by human cost.
The Gods have never asked.
“And the downtrodden will remain downtrodden as long as you can keep them there, but each time the world explodes in retaliation,” I tell my child. “War has always been the punishment of the unjust civilization, and you have always brought it upon yourselves.”
“Yes,” my child says. “But technology is going to change all that. We’re going to change all that.”
As I fly home to my mountain, I wonder which of my brothers and sisters will be seduced back to this particular valley. They do not quite value beauty enough for Aphrodite, who prefers to spend her time south in the city of angels; but they are not bloody thirsty or ambitious enough for Aries. Perhaps it is my father, Zeus, who will love them the most. He always did have a soft spot for lightning.
And, besides; they want to be the next Kings of the World.