civilizational inadequacy

By Laura Gao • 2 min read
October 2022

Front Street West
Downtown Toronto
Every 30 meters a homeless guy
An eye shut
Cardboard sign frayed edges
Coffee cup several quarters
"Any cash?"
A woman shakes her head
A three-piece-suited man walks faster
My coins alone won't buy bread, so
I walk by.
Avoid eye contact.

But I think about 7-year-old me
Asking Ms. Vulic
Why do the homeless starve?
Hundreds of daily passerbys
Each giving $1
A trivial cost
But combined, would be prosperous food funds.
I think about USA’s $1 trillion+
If each country halves their military budget
They’d all be better off
Yet no country dares to
By itself.
I think about prisoner's dilemma
Players defecting
To avoid being defected on.
All three:
A nash equilibrium
That leaves everyone worse off
The cause:
Thinking, I won't make a difference
Then walking by,
Stocking missiles,

Cooperation in prisoner's dilemma
Must be almost a categorical imperative
Or else
It won't be done consistently.
I sigh
Turn around
Fumble with my wallet
Perhaps, after seeing me donate
Someone else will be more likely to.

Whether it’s
Biking to class
Subway guitarists
Creators on Patreon
Or bringing coins downtown
I despise inadequate equilibria.

Hiking on
Crothers Woods trail
A flat plastic bottle
Cruising along the stream
A crushed coke can
Stuck between rocks
Soil in its edges
My hands, so clean

But I want a world where
People pick up litter
My laptop sticker reads
“Against civilizational inadequacy”
I sigh
I obey my categorical imperative.