Not Shaped|for Sportive Tricks

     The discovery of the bones of Richard III proves, if it proves anything, that there’s nothing like a good story.
     Finding the old king’s bones under a parking lot in Leicester was a great feat of archaeology, of persistence, of science and luck. It brought worldwide attention – at last! – to the Ricardians, who insist that the last Plantagenet king was not the nephew-murdering monster of history, but a wise and good fellow, who supported the presumption of innocence in trials, the granting of bail, and the new invention of printing.
     Too bad for the Ricardians. Richard III will always be known as the homicidal, duplicitous, vile wretch of Shakespeare’s play.
     The 300 or so words that open that play blow away history – whatever history is – and will blow it away forever. Because humans are the animal that listens to stories.
     That’s what sets us apart from the animals. We’ll get back to this.
     But first, Richard was not a good man. Neither were the Tudors who succeeded him. All kings back then were ruthless, brutal, murderous, lying bastards, who would, and did, kill entire families, including babies, for a few years on the throne.
     But that’s neither here nor there. Presidents, sheikhs and senators do the same thing today. What preserves them all is not right or wrong, guilt or innocence, not even brute power – though brute power has a lot to do with it – it’s the stories they tell.
     It’s the stories we believe, or want to believe – those of us without power, or with just a little bit of power. And the people with power, who tell stories, tell them because they know they have to, to get where they want to go.
     The other world news this week was the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and North Korea’s nuclear bomb. Both those stories prove the point.
     Pope Benedict XVI, despite the many reprehensible things he’s done, and reprehensibly failed to do, and despite all the reprehensible things the 265 popes who preceded him did, is still respected, more or less, around the world – because popes have a great story.
     The Bible, after all, is the Greatest Story Ever Told.
     Kim Jong Un, the vile brat who rules North Korea, is not respected, and never will be respected, no matter how many bombs he has, because no one believes his story.
     To be fair about this, U.S. history – which Lincoln Steffens referred to as “our taught ignorance” – is just a story too.
     Freedom, democracy, equality and all that jazz are a counterpoint to 500 years of murder, corruption, slavery, brute force, racial extermination, and on and on. But we have a great story: Washington, Lincoln, FDR and World War II, Barack Obama – what a story.
     Consider Geronimo. The white man killed 90 percent of his people. But we don’t remember that. We just remember Geronimo. We actually like Geronimo. Because he’s got a great story.
     I am not trying to trivialize human history – the billions of people who have suffered and died and wondered why, who had moments of joy, and wondered what it’s all about. They needed stories. They told stories to other people, and listened to stories, and when they woke up at night, they told themselves stories, or remembered stories someone had told them.
     There are all sorts of stories about what sets us apart from other animals – biology and neurology, religion and archaeology, history, philosophy, art and whathaveyou. But despite all the manmade wonders that surround us, somewhere in our brains we are all still cavemen, hunched around a fire, listening to stories.

%d bloggers like this: