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America Is Better When It Is Telling Stories Instead Of Being An Imperial Power

Thousands of years ago, there was a young man who was powerful and angry and mean. The other members of his tribe admired his strength but feared his temper. Mostly they stayed out of his way when they could. When they couldn't, they suffered his fury in silence, but behind his back they spit their contempt.

The young man wanted power. He wanted to rule the tribe. He wanted respect.

One night the young man was restless. Something was burning his insides but he couldn't say what. The evening meal was over. The other members of the tribe dozed, or poked at the fire. The young man wanted something to happen. He was bored and his boredom only made him more irritable.

He started talking just to hear his own voice. He loved his voice. He had the best voice in the tribe. Everyone knew it and the young man made sure anybody who dared say otherwise regretted saying so soon enough.

The young man told a story of his exploits. He made some of it up. What difference did it make? He could make things up if he wanted. Making things up made the story of his exploits more exciting. He told the story harder. He told the story as hard as he could. The other members of the tribe sat up, leaning toward the young man. The young man saw the fire reflected in their eyes. He felt the power. He told the story harder and harder.

After a time, the young man realized that the voice telling the story had somehow stopped being his own. The strange voice told a story of places he'd never been, things he'd never done. It said things he never knew how to say before. For the first time in his furious, unhappy life, he felt the peace of surrender. And at the end of the story, when the strange voice had finished, even he was surprised by how things had turned out.

He stopped talking. No, the voice had stopped talking. The fire made small crackling noises in the silence. The young man sat down. After a moment, he picked up a twig and tossed it into the fire.

The other members of the tribe watched him. There was a peace on the young man, a stillness in his face they'd never imagined possible.

The next night, the young man felt the fury, the burning inside him again. He stood up and started talking, trying to summon forth the strange voice again, but it wouldn't come. He talked and talked. The other members of the tribe watched him, anxious. The young man talked harder. His face twisted into a rage. His eyes went blind with fury. He heard his own voice as if at a distance, as if it was another's voice altogether.

And then he realized it was another's voice. The strange voice from inside him had returned. He listened joyfully to the voice, listened along with all the other members of the tribe. The voice carried on and on, saying astonishing things.

When the voice had finished its story, the young man hesitated a moment, making sure there was nothing else the voice wanted to say, then he slowly sat down by the fire. After a moment, he looked up into the faces of the other members of the tribe. Their eyes were bright with suspicion but with curiosity too. The young man could not bear them looking at him like that.

But the next night, it happened again. The voice came more quickly this time. The young man did not have to summon it with so much fury. And when it was done, the young man sat down quietly, as before.

From then on, every night, night after night, it was the same for the young man, until the time came when the young man had become an old man and he finally died. After he was gone, no one remembered him, but they remembered the voice that had come to the tribe through him. They waited for the voice to come again, through another young man perhaps. Days passed, then weeks, then years, but the voice never returned.

And then one night, the fire was burning low, the tribe was sated from the evening meal. A few of them dozed, their backs propped against trees. A young man sitting cross-legged near the fire fidgeted... picking up twigs, inspecting them, breaking them in half and dropping them into the fire.

Impatient and bored, he started talking to no one in particular. He talked and he talked. He didn't care what he said. It didn't seem to matter what he said. It seemed as if it wasn't even him doing the talking.

An old man sitting just outside the circle of the fire's light frowned, then sat forward. He studied the young man, listening hard to his voice. The young man looked up at the old man but did not seem to see him. The old man recognized the look in the young man's eyes: as if the young man were seeing something no one else could see.

After a moment, the old man smiled, then settled his back against a tree. He glanced around at the other members of the tribe. They studied the young man intently, listening to the voice, their eyes bright with suspicion and concern.

The old man wondered if anyone else remembered. 

And the young man talked and talked, deep into the night. The old man listened contentedly. It was a good story, an exciting one, but even so the old man thought he might have dozed off once or twice. No matter. He was an old man after all, and there would be other nights, other stories. Half asleep, partly dreaming, the old man thanked the voice, welcomed it back, but the voice could not be bothered. It pressed on. No time for niceties. There was a story that needed to be told.


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It is a peculiarity of humans that we do deeply appreciate the well-turned falsehood; that we resent the voices that cry "It is not true!"; and, the lie proven a lie, we will both shun and hound the perpetrator thereof.

Metaphorically, of course.

That's a sly smile on the kisser. In case you wondered.

What's that book -- or maybe it's a movie or a T.V. show or something -- where the aliens or strangers or somebody is totally confused by the notion of "fiction"? It's finally explained to them that fiction is just telling lies, is all. Nothing to look at here.

Like calling them lies instead of stories is an explanation that's supposed to satisfy folks who can't even understand the notion of "fiction".

I guess maybe it's a bit like the old shtick about Eskimos having 36 words for the different varieties of snow. You can learn to say the words but they won't mean anything to you until you've lived in the snow for a while. Only in this case, you can't tell the difference between "lies" and "fiction" until you've first told (or read, or heard) your fair share of each.

I seem to recall there is a story, probably by Vonnegut, which addresses that very problem.

Meanwhile: Corpsy, love, I am agreeing with you, in circumlocuitous fashion, with tongue, well, where tongue should be.

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