A Progeny More Corrupt
Has the shooting started yet?
“I won’t ask again: Where’s the meeting?”
Bruno slapped the prisoner again. A weak slap. The testosterone therapy hadn’t quite made him as strong as he’d like; it was a start, but still embarrassing. Bruno knew that Jennifer and Kayella standing guard would’ve taken the head off.
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The prisoner didn’t notice Bruno’s weak slap. He was already frightened to the point of emptying his bowels just a few minutes into the interrogation. The knife pinning his leg to the chair also helped with the intimidation factor.
He was Black—regrettable, really, but he was still a one of them and so had to pay. You doing negotiate with people who want to erase you.
“I tuh-tuh-told you,” the prisoner spat. “Buh-buh-buh-basement.”
Bruno brought his face level the prisoners. Breath like rotten meat blew hot in his face. “This better not be a trick.”
“No tuh-tuh—oh God.”
“None of that,” Bruno muttered. He stood and made for the exit. A gunshot popped as Bruno closed the door. Nice, clean kill. He had no doubt the prisoner would’ve done worse had the roles been reversed.
There is a cottage industry in comparing the United States to the late-stage Roman republic. Recent events1 compel me to add to it. For the sake of timekeeping, let’s use the outbreak of the first Roman civil war, 83 B.C. when Sulla landed at the eastern Roman port of Brundisium as our start date for the beginning of the end. Yes, after defeating Marius and bringing order to the chaos, Sulla eventually stepped down as dictator of his own accord and “restored” the republic, but it was all academic at that point. Another civil war would erupt one generation later.
A defining feature of Roman political life in the Republic’s last days was violence. Were you a Caesarist or a Pompeian, for example? The answer could save, or end, your life.
But we don’t do that in America, do we? We’ve evolved past that. Whether you’re MAGA or a progressive, you’re an American and we all hold certain values and customs which bind us together as sacrosanct. And yet one can credibly imagine roving gangs of armed activists demanding to see your social media feed before they render a decision about your fate.
Apolitical institutions and the impartial application of law are a myth worthy of Virgil when you think about. Maybe in a nation that can actually be classified as such (and I encourage you to look up the Latin roots of the word) there was a chance. The recent Tennessee shooting and the government/media complex’s rush to identify with the perpetrator’s identity group and diminish, indeed blame, the victim brings the ruling elite’s true ethos into stark relief: are you a friend of the regime, or an enemy?
Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We their sons are more worthless than they: so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt. Horace, Odes, III, vi, l. 46
Ideas have consequences.2
There, through the basement window’s rectangle of light Bruno saw them. Sitting on folding chairs around a round table, the cheap white tablecloth brushing the floor. Styrofoam cups of coffee and apple juice in a circle. Stories being read, stories of hatred and injustice.
“Uh, boss?” said Jennifer. Bruno could feel the stubble on thick legs stuffed into fishnet stockings against his arm as she knelt.
Bruno lowered his binoculars and looked up. Jennifer bared her teeth thorough lipstick-smeared lips in an attempted smile. “Uh . . . maybe we should, y’know, like try a different day?”
“And why would you say that?” This was not the time for wavering. Did Bruno have bigger balls than all of them?”
“I mean, um, it’s just like . . .” Jennifer played a complicated game of cat’s cradle with her meaty fingers, long nails clacking audibly. Bruno feared she might never get them untangled. “Boss, there’s children in there,” she whispered.
Bruno stood, peering around the tree trunk. “Proto-fascists. We’re doing them a favor.
Bruno could see that Jennifer wasn’t convinced. “They’ll never grow up to hate,” he said. “Never keep the genocide going. It’s us or them, and I will not sit back and be erased.”
Jennifer was nearly crying at this point, an elephantine honk in her voice. “But, I mean, I get the faute de mieux and all that—“
“It’s French. No better alternative—“
“Stop trying to be clever. That makes no sense.”
“But we’re human, aren’t we? We’re supposed to be the human ones . . .”
In her eyes, Bruno saw something, a hint of regret and a deeper accusation. The reflex was to vociferously defend his right to exist, but something long buried stirred in Bruno, a memory of years ago, trying on a training bra, frustration at her small bust size mingling with envy that the boys she liked to hang out with didn’t have to worry about boobs when they played baseball, or tag, or climbed the trees at the orchard to reach the really good apples high up the squirrels hadn’t gotten to . . . mom telling her these feelings were due to her being wrongly assigned by a doctor who wanted to deny her existence, and of course they could get therapy and dad would never have to know . . .
But it passed. Being human didn’t mean treating the inhuman humanely. The first thing Bruno did was drive her Bowie knife deep into Jennifer’s belly. No tolerance for traitors. The second was to detonate the explosives she’d planted around the church. She was already halfway to her lawyer’s when the first siren’s blare filled the city night.
There have been mass shootings in America before, too many. And there have been bouts of pretty intense political violence in the 20th century; the 70s were particularly wild. But this feels different and yes I am scared and I’m not ashamed to admit it.3
This feels like the opening salvo in the first real push (putsch?) to tear apart the fractured polity at an accelerated pace. Not even when Muslims committed atrocities was there this mad dash to victim-blame and killer-coddle, and that wasn’t even that long ago.4 The message is clear: the old rules do not apply. They haven’t for a while, actually. The 2020 riots should’ve disabused you of any notion that we live in a nation of laws. Every generation is worse than the last.
If you are a member of the in-group, you will have carte-blanche to do what you will as long as it serves the ruling class’ interests. Not even the rival street gangs of Octavian and Milo5 had the imprimatur of the Roman government. A right-wing man was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for posting memes on Twitter; a left-wing personality on Twitter did the exact same thing and faced no consequences.6 A sitting President’s main political opponent was just arrested on clearly bogus charges. No one cares about the truth of any of these matters. No one can do anything about it. All that matters is my tribe vs. your tribe, winner take all. At least the ancient Romans had interesting cover stories and used colorful language when they tossed around baseless accusations. Style goes a long way when your Republic is dying.
But Ancient Rome isn’t the proper analogue to what is happening today. Neither is 1930s Germany, most Americans’ only reference point.7 Instead, read some Solzhenitsyn and we’ll talk 1920s Russia.
I don’t even care about politics at this point. I care about survival. There’s more to come. The waiting for the shooting to start is over. Our future is police and National Guard fighting to the death to protect the favored class’s right to burn churches. Plan accordingly.
I also recently read Tom Holland’s excellent Rubicon, all about the death of the Roman republic, so there’s that too.
Ideas have children, too.
I think you’d have to be stupid or clinically out of touch with reality to not be scared at this point.
I turn 42 later this year, so 20 years feels like nothing.
I hope you enjoy my deliberately obscure references. I am very intelligent.
If you can’t relate every single current event to World War II the Holocaust, and/or slavery/Jim Crow, are you even an American?