Winners And Losers

In Saigon, he had once smoked opium with a young officer of airborne troops who had described himself as a winner. “If you oppose me,” the young officer had explained, “I will win. You will lose.”

“Always?” Holliwell had asked.

Every time, the officer had explained. Because the compulsion to lose was universal and only a handful of people could overcome it.

Holliwell had ventured the opinion that it must be very strange to approach every contest with the certainty of success.

The officer was an unimposing man. He wore eyeglasses so thick that one wondered how he had come to be in the Army at all.

“What I think is strange,” he had said, “is approaching them knowing you’re going to lose.”

Saying it, he had fixed Holliwell with a look of unsound satisfaction. The eyes behind the lenses were knowing and tolerant and demented, but the point was well taken and he had scored a success ad hominem in that very moment.

Positive thinkers.

How could they? he wondered. How could they convince themselves that in this whirling tidal pool of existence, providence was sending them a message? Seeing visions, hearing voices, their eyes awash in their own juice—living on their own and borrowed hallucinations, banners, songs, kiddie art posters, phantom worship. The lines of bayonets, the marching rhythms, incense or torches, chanting, flights of doves—it was hypnosis. And they were the vampires. The world paid in blood for their articulate delusions, but it was all right because for a while they felt better. And presently they could put their consciences on automatic. They were beyond good and evil in five easy steps—it had to be okay because it was them after all. It was good old us, Those Who Are, Those Who See, the gang. Inevitably they grew bored with being contradicted. Inevitably they discovered the fundamental act of communication, they discovered murder. Murder was salutary, it provided reinforcement when they felt impotent or unworthy. It was something real, it made them folks and the reference to death reminded everyone that time was short and there could be no crapping around. For the less forceful, the acceptance of murder was enough. Unhappy professors, hyperthyroid clerics and flower children could learn the Gauleiter’s smirk. The acceptance showed that they were realists which showed that they were real.

—Robert Stone, A Flag For Sunrise

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2 Responses to “Winners And Losers”


  1. 1 possum March 10, 2011 at 5:14 am

    “…the compulsion to lose…” Interesting thought. That one deserves some pondering. There was a time in my life when that may have been true but those days no longer exist as a result of some fundamental life changes. Looking around at the people with whom I associate on a daily basis I do not find that compulsion to be universal. Some people maybe, but not all by any means.

    Still pondering…


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