A reporter is sent on an assignment to cover a feud between the Azag household and the Learsi household. Her assignment? Find the person or people responsible for the feud. As her editor puts it to her- “find the asshole.” Once the asshole is located, then surely whatever mayhem is afoot can be stopped. Before the reporter goes to investigate further, she does some background research. Here is what she finds:
Two houses, and their plots of land, sit next to each other near a lake. The Azag house borders the lake and has 2000 square feet. The Learsi house, which surrounds the land of the other house, and borders the lake on either side, has 7000 square feet. The Learsi household is wealthy. The Azag household is poor. The two families who live in these respective households hate each other. We’ll get into why later
The Azag household, despite their poverty, has constructed some badly conceived pipe bombs. They start lobbing them over the property boundary. Some explode and damage some outlying structures on the Learsi property. A few of the Learsi family are panicked by the sound and threat. They want the Azag household to stop throwing pipe bombs. So, it seems like the Azags are the assholes.
The Learsi house buys grenades. They use sophisticated launchers to aim them at essential structures of the Azag house. The Learsis say they will shoot the Azag house with grenades until the Azag’s stop the pipe bombs. The Azag house continues throwing the pipe bombs. The Learsis launch some grenades. A few destroy a bathroom and the plumbing system. Some others land near the lake and kill a child in the Azag family. So, maybe the Azags are still assholes, but what about the Learsis who killed a child? Was that child’s life worth the Learsi’s not being bothered by ineffectual pipe bombs? Maybe the Learsis are the bigger assholes.
The news reporter arrives not long after these opening salvos. She interviews a leading member of the Azag family. This family member takes the reporter to the edge of the lake and shows them sailboats aligned all around the Azag waterline. These boats are all armed men, paid for by the Learsi household. They prevent the Azag family from sailing from their house and interacting with the rest of the world. The Azag leader further shows the reporter that on the land boundary between the Azag and the Learsi family there are fences and other armed guards. Aside from a bit of food, some plumbing and basic electricity, nothing else is allowed in the Azag property. The Azag leader says they just want to be able to buy food, get electricity and give their household a decent life. But, the Learsis won’t let them and they have no other method of calling attention to their plight and influencing the Learsis behavior than lobbing pipe bombs.
So, who are the assholes? The Learsis who keep the Azags in poverty? Or the Azags who lob some pipe bombs every now and then? Seems cut and dry. But…
The reporter then interviews the head of the Learsi house. As she tours the Learsi property she hears several cracks and booms- the Azags are throwing more pipe bombs and the Learsis are launching more grenades. The head of the Learsi house explains that they would be happy to end the restrictions on food, electricity and plumbing. They don’t mind if the Azags sail out as far as they want to go! But, to lift this blockade, the Learsis demand that the Azags declare the following. That they respect the right for the Learsi house to exist with the Learsis living in it and promise that the Azags promise they won’t use violence against the Learsi household.
Well, that seems simple, thinks the earnest reporter. Once she tells the Azags that the Learsis are willing to drop the blockade, all the problems will be solved. Maybe ignorance is the ultimate asshole here! The reporter goes back to the Azag house to tell its leader what the Learsi leader said
Turns out, its not that simple. The Azag leader knows about this offer, but won’t agree to it. When asked to elaborate, the Azag leader talks about the history of the two households. The Azags and their brothers, who live on the other side of the Learsi boundary, used to own both their respective properties and ALL of the Learsi property. 80 years ago the Learsi’s grandfathers settled on, what is now, part of the Learsi property and stole it from the Azags and their forebears, displacing much of their family in the process. If the Azags agree to recognize the Learsi’s household than that means the Learsis, these foreign usurpers, will have gotten away with this theft! They can’t sacrifice their struggle against the Learsi occupation that easily. They will never waive their rights to what was theirs. Seems like the Azags have a long memory, but hey, if this is true then the Learsis do, in fact, seem like assholes.
The reporter goes back to the Learsi house, dodging pipe bombs and percussive shockwaves from the grenades as she goes. While she crosses into Learsi territory she notices several armed guards amassing at the gates. The reporter faces the head of the Learsis yet again. When the reporter explains the Azag leaders’ grievance it is not meant with any semblance of surprise. The Learsi leader sighs. He explains that he knows the Azags say all of this stuff. They claim the Learsis stole the land. But, that’s not true.
In fact, before the Azags lived on this land, the Learsi forebears inhabited it- given this was 2000 years ago. The Learsis, after they lost their land at that time, wandered on the other side of the lake, persecuted and scorned by almost everyone who they lived amongst. But, they never forgot about this patch of land near the lake. So, when the Learsis had an opportunity, they sent relatives to this land to settle it. They bought parcels of the Azag family property from some members of the Azag family and set up small farms and communes. Eventually they settled enough land that they wanted a separate self-governing household. When the Azags, and their relatives, opposed this formation, there were several wars. The Learsis won these wars and, as a result, grew their holding and displaced some of the Azag relatives to other territories, including to modern Azag itself. The land was not “stolen” and the Learsis are not “foreign usurpers” but a people returning to their land. The Azag’s are followers of an anti-Learsi ideology that animates their political movement to destroy the Learsi household full stop. The reporter, who has been listening patiently to all of this nods and walks out towards the border fence.
There the reporter witnesses several remarkable happenings. She sees a protest by young members of the Azag family. Some come up to herr, saying they just want electricity, and enough food and adequate plumbing. Why are they being punished for something they have nothing to do with? After these young Azags leave, several older Learsis come up to her. They tell her that they can’t farm their land or keep their children calm when the Azag families are hurling the pipe bombs. Why are they being punished? None of these people seem like assholes.
Each protest group moves back from the fence. The Azag leader and the Learsi leader move among their respective people. Despite their complaints to the reporter, they still follow the orders of the Azag leader and the Learsi leader, who seem to be the ones directly orchestrating the violence. Maybe the armed guards of the Azag leader are keeping the Azag people from rising up against him and stopping the pipe bombs. Maybe the fear-mongering words of the Learsi leader are making the Learsis still put together grenades with aplomb. These leaders might be assholes? But, maybe they are just doing what they think needs to be done?
As the reporter walks away she sees armed guards of the Learsi household ready for an operation. Their relatives wish them well, tearfully, afraid they will be killed when they infiltrate Azag territory. Why, the relatives say, can’t the pipe bombs just stop…then their relatives wouldn’t have to risk their lives? None of these people seem like assholes.
On the other side of the fence, pipe bombs are lobbed by frightened Azags. They retreat back into their partially destroyed house and huddle around each other. The reporter watches from a hole in the fence. The Azags know the Learsi armed guards are coming. Their leader urges them to be strong. One day, maybe not today, but maybe far in the future, they will return to the territory the Learsis stole from them. The blockade will be lifted and everything will return to the way it should be. The Azags look frightened, but believe him. As they hear grenades explode overhead and as the march of the Learsi guards begins, they hold tight to each other. None of these people seem like assholes.
The reporter walks back to her car and takes a long drive, needing to clear her head. She’s confused and defeated. She had one job – find the asshole and point him out, then this entire mess could be finished. But, there was no asshole at all. Just regular people, living out their truth, trying to do the best they could given the terrible circumstances that seemed to flow from events that had long since passed.
The next day, the reporter slinks back to her desk. She tells his boss that she couldn’t find the asshole, that there was nothing to write about. Her boss looks at her with disappointment. He pulls up a webpage and shows her millions of online articles that have circulated in the last few days. And the reporter is surprised. Because every article claims that they have found the asshole and figured out a way to stop the feud near the lake.
The reporter reads the articles- paying careful attention to every word. None of the articles are lying. Each tells a bit of the truth of what the reporter found when she went to the lake. And, with this little bit of truth, each article claims to have definitively found the asshole.
At first the reporter is angry and confused. She’s frustrated that so many people have used such a small amount of the truth to so confidently find an asshole. Then, suddenly, the reporter realizes what’s been going on. She laughs sardonically-she finally gets it. The reporter stares at the articles and their respective writers. She points a finger at the computer screen and yells for the whole office to hear, “I think I’ve finally found the assholes!”