“…that the most important message of a crucifix, to me anyway, was how unspeakably cruel supposedly sane human beings can be when under orders from a superior authority” (Hocus Pocus: Kurt Vonnegut 1990, 190)

Vonnegut will make you laugh and turn you into an agitated cynic in this one.


Nearly completing Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus, I am finding more endearing his caustic way of lambasting the hypocrisies, the latent atrocities, the vile that has predominated in the recent history of man. In this passage, Vonnegut was saying something special: get mad not at those who commit evil on the flesh, but to those who compel them to do so, and as my manner of furthering this, get mad not at those who compel people to commit evil, but to the systemic forces that malevolently, unknowingly drive those who do the evils. In other words, criticize not only the pawn, but also the king – the superior authority that gives orders. But even more, criticize and seek to adjust that prevalent idea of the authority being privileged and that set-up where master and mastered, authority and subordinates exist.

A bit forward in the book, Vonnegut continued with his laughably mean ways, indicting at things that have been inspiring, or paving the way for the conduct of evils in the past: colonization, Christianity. The way Vonnegut did this is so amusing just like it is amusing how someone as great an athlete like Derrick Rose can be so nonchalant after making extraordinary plays or how Corporal Paris appeared to stand laidback even with rifle shots about to give him his death in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. Effortless seems to be the closest word, as if lightly criticizing unpleasant things is so natural to Vonnegut, as if doing insane, mid-air orchestrations are so built-in on Derrick Rose; as if death has just always been there for Corporal Paris.

Here, Vonnegut has something for Christianity, or to be safer, for religion-as-it-is-today in general: “They put the idea into Earthlings’ heads that the whole Universe had been created by one big male animal who looked just like them. He sat on a throne with a lot less fancy thrones all around him. When people died they got to sit on those other thrones forever because they were such close relatives of the Creator” (202, emphasis mine).

Then here, he has some words on “othering,” murdering those that are not like us supposedly for the salvation of humanity: “Another thing the Elders liked about the Earthlings was that they feared and hated other Earthlings who did not look and talk exactly as they did. They made life a hell for each other as well as for what they called “lower animals” (202).

There is wit; there is unpretentious creativity; and there is definitely a bite, and for us readers, we would more likely laugh, or grin, or smirk first, before reviewing what had just been made for us to read and then realize for ourselves, Hey, this guy is saying something else.

What is happening now? I intended this note on Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus, even though I am yet to finish it, as my way of appending something to today’s well, Holiday, another day when we are given a day’s rest watching television ads about Independence, Rizal, Bonifacio, Kagitingan, Jesus’ 3pm death without exactly knowing what is special not about the dates but about the people, the events supposedly recalled, stamped into memory in those days. Perhaps just like how Vonnegut viewed the way he justified the US’ participation at the Vietnam War, holidays like today is mere hocus pocus for us – something done for the sake of doing it, even when our hearts, our minds are not in it, all rhetoric, all surface, no substance. And who will even care about celebrating Independence Day when we are fooled by US troops doing “exercises” in several parts of our country, aiding us in the face of the heavyweight “enemy” we got in China; when most of the things we can see in the metro are things made, owned, inspired by the American spirit (because it is pervading); when our President boasts of million dollar aids from foreign countries (sorry: most especially, America) but cannot tell proudly to his people the concessions behind those aids (or do we believe from the inside of our guts that every US or foreign aid is given out of pure, good-natured benevolence, without asking, demanding anything in return?).

We are all boiling down on clichés so just let me end in here: let’s do away with the hocus pocus; let’s do away with all our illusions (of independence, of economic growth, of all tuwid na daan). For this Independence Day, at the least, let us not depend on the very idea of independence they spoonfeed on us: because our everyday – from the music we listen to, the laws we are governed with, the movies we prefer, the books that occupy the greater part of book stores — will tell us another thing: there is hardly anything Filipino in the Philippines. And independence, yes another word in the dictionary.

Again: (US)dependence