To the victor, the spoils, yes? And one of those spoils is the ability to rewrite the struggle to something other than what it is. Moral superiority. A peace-loving people pushed to the brink by towering foes. A divine call. A regretful but necessary chain of events. Fate. Genetic superiority.
This is why the conquered must be assimilated. Not simply ruled, but assimilated until they have accepted the victor’s version of events, until a few generations forward, their children don’t even know their stories.
They must share your narrative. Or else your narrative is in danger, and if your narrative, then your empire.
This is why we lie to ourselves, sometimes. Because we are inventing a story about this and that to make sense of it, to put it in a particular order, to calm ourselves and believe in structure.
There is a structure to things, yes, but very rarely is it obvious; even then it is good to doubt your own perception. Structure is a thing of belief, yes, despite what you see.
Empires, nations, states, cities, and people all share this. The narrative that we suggest is the cause when really it is simply the effect.
The founders of the USA, for instance, are not the godlike figures that grace history books today: they were complex individuals with mostly economic motivations. The Boston Tea Party was not some great moral statement: it was an instinctive lashing out against monopoly. The War for Independence was not a sweeping revolution borne of righteousness and godly vigour: it was and always will be just another war in a world with a long history of wars, and like every war, it changed the face of history.
The founders of Rome, to give another example, may have been bringing culture to all points of the world, and peace, but their unshaken belief in the superiority of the Roman way of life was, simply, misplaced. They went their way and now the barbarians rule the world.
And no matter what they may have thought of themselves–along with the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Japanese, the Germans–history is unerringly critical. We do not share their narrative.
The spoils are short-lived.
Personal narratives have, in my experience, an even shorter shelf-life. When you ask “why” and invent an answer to that question, remember this; remember that there will come a day when all illusions fail, like you always knew they would.
I can answer to this, because I have created many stories. I’m good at it, really. I may not have the patience for writing anything longer than a few paragraphs, but I am possessed of certain ability to obsess about motivations.
My own, for instance, are not often clear. There are things I suspect, and other things that I have just begun to smell out, but they are like looking in a mirror and not understanding what I am seeing. This is my face, yes it is, but the cone of vision is not large enough: I can focus on a point and it escapes me quickly.
This itself is my narrative, you see. I am telling a story where I am good at telling stories about everyone but myself. But again, this is not entirely true; I am, like the Romans, not quite what I say I am.
Once, when I was young, I punched a hole in the bathroom wall. My parents have laboured under the delusion that I slipped on a wet floor ever since it happened, as that is what I told them happened, and despite themselves, they believed me. This is, of course, not what happened. I simply saw a wall and punched my fist through it.
Can you imagine the stories I came up with? I do not like things that hold me back. I abhor boundaries. I belong in the outdoors, a noble savage. I was angry and could not contain my rage. I went momentarily insane. I will become a boxer. More.
In retrospect things become increasingly twisted until they become suddenly very simple. There was a wall. There was a fist. I wanted to see what would happen, to test the limits of the drywall.
It was not very strong.
That is a story I’ve never before told anyone but Laura. But I still find it interesting. I remember punching it like an experiment, as if I this were some sort of obscene science. Mostly I remember the hole I left and how after I had tried to patch it up it was never very strong, how it kept collapsing in on itself.
I suppose the next owners of that house found that place by accident one day. I don’t know. At this point, I don’t really care.
To the victor, the spoils, then. There’s always this question who’s won and who’s lost. Whenever anyone asks me this question, I always point at them. You.
You have won.