“You are more aware than most people of the power of bullshit and the irrational nature of most belief,” said the skeleton. “Look, humans are famously prodigious rationalizers, although scratch most rationales and you will see it is only a thin, sprayed on veneer of complete bullshit.
“Tell someone that the unexamined life is not worth living and they will hold you down, if they have the power, and force the hemlock down your craw, as you know very well.”
“The great movements of the world are borne along on winning phrases, repeated confidently, intoned, chanted, served up with what your high school social studies teacher called ‘glittering generalities’, you know, freedom, democracy, just, fair, more perfect, unalienable. A good catch phrase can rouse an army of earthlings to march off and slaughter other earthlings. ‘Remember the Alamo!’ was a rallying cry we remember to this day.
“That clear-eyed war cry gave our nation the indisputable moral right, and the national rage, to seize what would become the entire American West from Mexico. This was accomplished after the Mexican-American War, after ambitious Americans illegally brought their slaves on to Mexican territory they wrestled from newly independent Mexico and, after some bloodshed, called the State of Texas. They went after the rest of Mexico within our dreamed of national borders, all the way to the Rio Grande and the Pacific, after the heroic stand at the damned Alamo, where every last American defender was slaughtered by the Mexicans under General Santa Anna.
“It wasn’t all about slavery, of course, from our point of view, it was about America’s right to the entire continent, sea to shining sea, and becoming fantastically rich selling seized lands, and our cherished freedoms, as much as anything.
“Slavery was a side issue, although we note that Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829. Americans who had slaves, and received huge land grants from the government of Mexico on very generous terms, insisted on their God-given right to keep their slaves, even in Mexico, where slavery was illegal. To the American slaveholders it was an unequivocal question of freedom.
“When American settlers started getting violent in defense of their disputed freedom, Santa Anna, the Mexican general, petitioned to have the armed insurgents classified as ‘pirates’ which allowed him to dispense with taking prisoners of war and to summarily execute any pirates who surrendered or were captured. Which is what he did at the end of the one-sided massacre at the Alamo, executed the few survivors.
Years earlier he had written to inform the warlike Andrew Jackson what he would do in the event of violence by the American settlers in Mexico. Jackson prudently didn’t tell anyone about this pirate business since it would, in the near future, have hurt recruitment for the eventual war against Mexico.
“Calling these fighters ‘pirates’ was like the invented classification ‘enemy combatants’ that allowed Bush and Cheney to torture anyone captured anywhere, as long as they appeared to hate our freedom. It allowed them to warehouse the detainees in black sites and secretly do whatever other barbaric things they felt like doing to them. It was the same bullshit that war is always based on— we’ll have yours, thank you, and fuck you very much.
“America around the time of the Alamo was in the midst of carrying out Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act– and what was that based on? ‘Manifest Destiny’ — a particularly glittering generality invented by a newspaper man somewhere. The phrase appeared in a newspaper article, and then, voila, the fire spread that God had promised continental America to us. Why are you killing all the buffalo? ‘Manifest Destiny!’ Why are you sending native children and their mothers on forced death marches? ‘Manifest destiny!’ And with God on our side, you dig… How are you going to argue with ‘Manifest Destiny!’?
“Hey, you want to invade a country who has not posed a threat to you? Invent a legal-sounding doctrine, find a couple of syllables you can sell to patriots: the Doctrine of Preemption. We have a right to kill your people because we believe that doing this will prevent you from one day, quite possibly, killing us. It’s clear you fuckers hate our freedom, so we have every right to blow up your homes and hunt down your children.
“Anyway, Elie, we look for rationality, but you won’t find a lot of it in human affairs, not in state affairs, business or interpersonal affairs. Look, I was a smart guy, psychologically astute, a big reader. You don’t think, reviewing things rationally, as I always insisted you and your sister should always do, that I could have figured out that the war against my children was a little bit insane?
“Doesn’t it seem likely that someone with my ability to understand could have grasped that my cracked, bleeding skin had something to do with stress? That the constant and total war with my children was making everything much worse for everybody? Yet I was helpless against it all. I clung to the idea that a person can’t change, which is ridiculous. Or if not ridiculous, a very harmful idea for a tormented person to cling to.
“But, of course, all that is very easy for me to say, now that I’m dead. While I was walking around with the rest of you angry fucks I was another crab, skittering sideways, claws ready to strike.” The skeleton looked off into the darkening sky.
You know, dad, I live for these bright, delicious moments of clarity.
“See’est thou that ass, Elie,” said the skeleton, pointing off toward a metaphorical jackass, “there is more hope for him than for thee.“