Author and cultural critic Cintra Wilson's forthcoming new book, Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny is a powerful, funny, and scary satirical novel about the nature of politics. The idea is that Caligula wants to help America on its way to becoming a "full-fledged totalitarian military dictatorship with a dynastic hereditary monarch as commander in chief," and this book is his explanation as to why he's the man for the job. The publisher (Bloomsbury USA) kindly gave us permission to run chapter one on Boing Boing.
HELLO, I'M RULING CLASS, AND YOU'RE NOT: LESSONS MY IMPERIAL DYNASTY TAUGHT ME
Money to get power, power to protect money. — Tacky motto of the otherwise fabulous Medici family
The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart. — Mikhail Bakunin, anarchosyndicalist
My darling Americans, what I am about to tell you may shake your very core beliefs and values as citizens of the United States. You may feel outraged, furious and even violent. You may think, How dare you, Caligula, you ancient cross-dressing greaseball. We should crucify you up against the nearest chainlink immigration fence.
But, lo: Though the universal truths I am about to radiate upon you may burn your mind, this pain will seem a small price to pay for the throbbing enlightenment that follows. A sociopolitical tequila baptism, as it were.
Incredibly, a vast number of fine, earnest Americans still believe that America isn't governed by a tiny, rotating, closed circuit of hereditary monarchies. Believers will cite various historical exceptions to this rule until the veins stand out in their necks. But they're missing the point.
Americans rightfully cherish their narrative of America as a classfree society, with no caste system that designates certain persons to be elevated to the status of royalty, and others to be unclean, leprous filth from inferior bloodlines, deserving of inhumane punishments for their willingness to consort with demons, who weaken the fabric of society as a whole and directly undermine your personal quality of life.
These convictions, while laudable, are totally off.
Sky God-fearing Americans believe that no matter what trailer park they were born under, if they work hard and earn university degrees and piles of professional laurels on a ceaseless upward trajectory toward fine goals, and eat their vegetables and love Mom and Old Glory with enough diligence and zeal, the American system guarantees that their presence will be welcome in any dining room on Earth.
In extremely rare and exceptional examples, I concede, this is occasionally true.
If, for example, you happen to be a wonderful man-insect — an electrical engineer with the tirelessly industrious and unemotional mind of a large bee, like Bill Gates, who in savantlike fashion was able to create an entire technological hive culture and a personal net worth that at one point was roughly equal to the combined value of the entire bottom 40 percent of the Great Unlaundered American population — then, yes.
The secret envoys of the Divine Class, in such rare cases, may drive up in a sleek black armored car, tap you on the shoulder, hand you a powdered wig and invite you to game of croquet in the Bosquet de l'Etoile of our fabulous Versailles in space.
But this is unlikely. Allow me to share an intimate secret: It's a pretty exclusive little clique. We don't really want or need new friends.
It is important to remember that Man, like the baboon and other species woven into the tapestry of our colorful genetic ancestry, is a political animal who has always sought to dominate his fellow animals by as vast and terrifying a margin as possible.
Only an excruciatingly select and virtually invisible demographic sliver of you will ever achieve the Neverland Voodoo Ranch mind-set required of true leadership: unbounded and absolute self regard, combined with a supremely ambivalent moral nonchalance and a desire to consume, in bonfire-like fashion, everything and everyone worth consuming. It is a parallel world: a wish-world-become-real, created and reinforced each day by the collective self-serving rationalizations and ideological, guilt-evading groupthink of other unnaturally, superbly rich people.
These are the truly blessed — the ideological diamondeaters! — who, with tunnelvision egomania, a totally amoral Will to Supreme Power, and zero-sum, winner-take-all instincts, eventually make convenient, temporary alliances (albeit with vast mistrust and reluctance) for the sake of uniting their powers just enough to collaboratively gouge the lower, insignificant quadrants of the populace, thereby doubling and redoubling each other's colossal and obscene wealth. Each does this in the hope that in the end, they will finally be able to embugger and impoverish everyone else in their conspiracy and ascend to the grand prize: achieving greater wealth and influence than everyone else, thereby protecting the enduring might of their brands/dynasties and their ability to drink the blood of peasants as simply as if they had pop-up sport-nipples.
In short, you've had it awfully easy up until now. All the grown-ups have worked really hard, and tip-toed around while you were sleeping for a couple hundred years, to preserve your belief for as long as possible that there is no artistocracy, and all boys are heroes, and all girls are princesses, and you'll get money under your pillow for all your lost teeth, and you'll all grow up to sing on television. It's democratic T-ball! Everyone gets a trophy.
(Or do you just think you'll get a trophy someday? Haven't you been waiting an awfully long time for your trophy? How come that other kid already got a really big trophy?)
In thrall to the natural, inexorable, cyclic states of empire, the American government is finally beginning to sprout hair on its lip and smell like all the others, and is almost beginning to resemble an adult superpower, in regard to the vast, regrettable and boringly predictable evils of monarchic leadership.
The Chinese had this empire-degeneration mambo wired. They actually devised a formula for it, since after several centuries a pattern emerged that was so regular you could pretty much set your sundial by it:
Repeat, ad nauseum, for thousands of years.
It's high time you Americans got the blonde highlights out of your eyes and noticed that virtually monarchic dynasties have been front and center in your civilian leadership since this country's infancy. The recent administration may have been more arrogant, artless and hubristic when it came sticking Dad's big black imperial glove up legal annals where it didn't belong, but some hereditary despots are more tactful than others, and some wear leather jodhpurs and a blood-diamond tiara and carry a stun baton.
It's so painfully obvious, but Americans still get upset when you say these things. You don't like to hear that your government is aging badly. America cherishes a delusional vision of itself as a carefree, sun-freckled tween, which is why your fifty-year-old women buy saline-enhanced breasts and denim miniskirts, and your men buy televisions large enough to mimic the comparative size they seemed to be back in their childhoods, when their heads were smaller.
I humbly suggest that you take a moment to gaze at the family tree of a few members of your ruling class. Any of them. Take your pick. The Kennedys, the Lees, the Bushes, the Rockefellers, the DuPonts, the Daleys, the Dulleses, the Gores, the Johnsons, the Adamses, the Roosevelts…
Actually, don't bother. I always suspected that the Washington Monument wasn't modeled on an erect phallus so much as on a modern interpretation of the ideal imperial family tree: one that doesn't branch off at all. Just one big, vertical, erect log of incestuous monarchy (with all the power in the world concentrated right on the end of my tip, ho ho).
It's an odds-on favorite that if one laid enough Mormon genealogy charts end to end, one could prove either that all these fine families are related or that at least they've all laid each other end to end. Political alliances, after all, have always been made by marriage (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder? Meet Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, blah blah blah, and nineteen centuries of examples in between). The Gores are related to the Kennedys are related to the Carters and now the Shriverneggers. I have it on good authority that a relative of either the Bush or the Gore families has had a candidate in every presidential election for the last 190 years… and both families happen to be distantly related to the queen of England (which just goes to show you that even while debutantes may have jumped ship and married poets and gurus in the sixties, these ideological and eugenic detours corrected rather quickly once the girls figured out that communal goat farming wasn't as fun as getting their legs waxed and lunching at the Hay-Adams).
America's drunkest president, the confederate Franklin Pierce, "The Hero of Many a Well-Fought Bottle" (1853-1857), in typical ruling-class family tradition, got off scot-free for running down a woman while drunk-driving a horse. Pierce happens to be the great-great-great-great-uncle of George W. Bush, another outstanding alcoholic president, who, in the tradition of ancestor Pierce, is also a contender for the title of Worst President in U.S. History (which just goes to show you that the applejack doesn't fall too far from the tree, and the jug usually hits other people).
American dynasties are modeled, however lamely and furtively, on European dynasties — the Carolingians, the Hapsburgs, the Stuarts, the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns, the Captetians, the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gluecksburgs, et al. (who, no doubt, modeled themselves after the infinitely superior Julio-Claudians). These namby blue-blooded simps dominated European history with extreme prejudice and openly and aggressively pursued the agenda of securing the longevity of their dynasties (mostly by pursuing the delicate art of producing heirs cowardly enough not to kill their parents but robust enough to take over their leadership after allowing said parents to expire in a nonpatricidal fashion).
It's just heartbreakingly silly to imagine the American version of leadership isn't following exactly the same game plan; they've certainly tried to emulate European royalty in everything else (except, perhaps, for acknowledging honest and credible assessments of what, exactly, they're doing in positions of leadership).
It's as true now as it was in the year 39: Those of you not born to powerful families, I am afraid, are a virtually invisible bacteria — submicroscopic pistons in the vast collective engine of national entropy, working facelessly toward the greater purpose of rotting the body of an empire that has already begun to seep gray ooze.
And it's all your fault J.
But there is hope. Hope. Yes, and change. Change, and hope.
All right, yes, I hear you saying that if covert hereditary monarchy is America's problem, I am not an obvious cure.
You could say that I had greatness thrust upon me. As a blue- blood-engorged member of the divine Julio-Claudian dynasty, I perhaps did inherit sharper shoes for the horse fight.
But believe me, it's no cakewalk, being "to the palace born."
Ruling-class families are, in virtually every case, wildly fucked-up.
It's an occupational hazard. Everyone is a chief, nobody is an Indian. I-love- you- I-kill- you. As we all learned from the great god Cronos, sometimes eating your children is your only hope for a long reign.
In addition to being haplessly crippled by generations of incest, we are also prone to hemophilia, epilepsy, feeblemindedness, extremely distracting perversions, substance addiction, male-pattern baldness, poor impulse control, megalomania, sadism and a vast, almost psychotic loathing and total mistrust of all other family members and all human beings in general.
In the interest of transparency, I must disclose to you that in the follies of my youth, I myself experimented with hallucinatory substances such as mandragora, hemlock, aconite, henbane, belladonna and assorted mushrooms. I blame the pressures, demands and abuses I suffered in my childhood as a son of the beloved war hero Germanicus, a really cold, aloof tight- ass who often thrashed me for normal childhood play, such as setting small oil fires or putting my thumbs in my sisters.
I was only five years old, back in the year 17, when Germanicus was granted an official triumph by the senate.
White bulls were sacrificed. All of Rome came out to line the roads to greet the procession — mainly, I think, to watch the captive German barbarians get paraded through the streets on their way to being eaten alive by wild dogs.
In a brilliant bit of PR spin, my brothers, sisters, mother and I were all allowed to ride with my father in his chariot for this honor.
The commoners thought we were just adorable: the perfect Roman family.
Think of it this way: We were young John F. Kennedy in a black Lincoln town car convertible with Jackie, Bobby, John-John and Caroline — only we were all a lot better-looking, and Jack had just won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
This was the first day it really hit me that my family was vastly different than everyone else's. We were us, and everyone else clearly wasn't. This obviously meant something.
My father refused to let me stand in front of him in the chariot, even though I was much smaller, and the crowd obviously derived great enjoyment from seeing my bright impish face, my tousled blond curls, and the miniature combat uniform my mother had me wear.
I was finally allowed a little place to perch off to the side, and that is when I saw them.
The Roman people.
The lumpy-faced, stench-breathing, black-toothed, subliterate, fish-head- and goat-dung-smelling, burlap- sheet- wearing Roman citizenry.
They were just enthralled, shouting our names and adoring us as we passed.
I knew my destiny.
I knew that someday all the misdirected love of these chinless human sock-puppets would be mine, and mine alone.
I understood their roles and mine in an instant. All those pathetic, filthy, mindless sewer-class mud-persons of Rome were destined to become my private erector set.
As individuals, they were as worthless as bolts. But organized and manipulated in bulk, they had the same potential as… big sacks of bolts. Collectively, they were a really big blunt object that I would be able to hit other nations with.
This is exactly what I went on to do.
It would be this way because it had always been this way: Somebody from my family would always move into the palace, to direct and channel the barely conscious energies of the otherwise inconsequential lives of the average citizenry, and to point their pitifully dim and tiny lives toward a glorious purpose. And that glorious purpose is ME.
It was later suggested by such big girl's blouses as the wino historian Tacitus that I, a mere child, had taken part in the conspiracy to cause my father's death.
This is only because I had a rather cuddly friendship with Martina, his poisoner, who taught me how to arrange infant Negro corpses and petrified cats around the house in a way that my father found metaphysically spooky. Please. Nowadays, it would barely pass for Halloween decor.
I suppose all boys feel an innate guilt over the death of their father. Fortunately, I am not all boys. Germanicus gave a great media face, but in truth, I found the old man to be a bit of a cunt, and I was more than happy to help a loose coalition of mutually interested parties frighten him off to the Underworld.
I don't think he ever liked me very much, either.
I inherited everything the hard way. Nepotism is from the Latin word nepos, meaning "nephew" or "grandson," which, in my family, meant "poisoned," "decapitated," or occasionally, "exiled forever to a tiny fucking rock in the middle of the ocean, close to what we presumed was the sucking, clifflike drop at the edge of the world."
I did what I had to do. It wasn't totally beyond the realm of possibility that he might have come for me first. Imperial children are necessary, but they're not exactly wanted.
In the Ottoman Empire, after 1607, sultans' children were routinely murdered at birth, lest they should forget who's boss. King Yongjo of Korea locked his son, Sado, into a wooden chest and left him there until he cacked (although few persons have ever been named more aptly than Sado, a seriously twisted urnful of nasty with a thing for killing maids. That's a very expensive weekend at the Chateau Marmont… ). Oh, and if your father, like most tyrants, has a paranoid streak? You may as well save him the trouble and just hurl yourself down the Gemonian stairs on Father's Day.
Nadir Shah of Persia suspected his son Reza Qoli Mirza was plotting something nefarious, so he went ahead and had him blinded. Czar Peter the Great tortured his son Alexis to death, trying to get him to confess to some scheme. Ivan the Terrible bashed in his son's forehead with a spear. It is suspected that King Erik IV of Sweden beat his daughter Cecile to death for no good reason whatsoever. Stalin's son was captured as a German prisoner of war, but Stalin turned down an offer to swap him out for a German soldier.
Thanks, Imperial Dad.
Like I said, you do NOT want to be a member of the ruling class.
Your greatest hope is to know your place in society and desist in your painful, galling delusion of upward mobility.
Let me tell you why.
Americans, since they have been deprived of the presence of divine royalty (and because they have absolutely no idea how fucked-up it is), crave being oppressed by it even more than they loathe and envy it. I believe that's how America ended up with such a virulent strain of celebrity.
You loo-o-o-o-o-ve your ruling class. You rightfully perceive yourselves as snubbed by the real .000000000001 percent of the population, yet you worship your oppressors and aspire to be their pals and fans and confidants in a Stockholm syndrome-like fashion. This social phenomenon echoes throughout history and junior high school.
You love us so much that you even imitate the awful things we do. Lesser French noblemen, seeing their betters pissing on the outside wall of Versailles, would promptly ride home and piss on the walls of their own manors, just to give them that "Versailles smell."
It's cute. You're like little girls trying to walk around in your evil stepmommy's latex stiletto hip-waders and PVC dominatrix harness.
You lumpenproletariat don't really want to overthrow your monarchs and dictators. What you really want is to "get the look for less."
(And you have to admit, pissing on walls is fun.)
Anyway, my point is this: Those of you born to less powerful families than mine really don't have any idea how to use the tools of unlimited nepotistic power, irredeemable corruption, unlimited resources and the unchecked aggression to wield them all to the fullest possible extent. You haven't been bred for it, and you should thank your lucky stars you weren't.
Power corrupts, but absolute power is brain-fryingly hallucinogenic.
It's like any hard drug — unless you grew up doing it, you're a lightweight. With great power comes great responsibility; but with absolute power, your mind becomes clamped with intolerable pressure from every possible angle, until it finally spits itself inside out like a six-dimensional eyeball made of white fire. At that point, "absolute responsibility" reveals itself as the Zen paradox of absolutely no responsibility or accountability whatsoever.
I told you. You just weren't raised to understand these things. If you don't have a built-in immunity to the toxicities of leadership, you'd never have the stomach for it. Sure, you'd have fun indulging a bit of bureaucratic kleptomania and zipping wounded raccoons into a leather duvet cover with your dissidents for a little while, but at the end of the day, if you don't have the in-house training to oppress with the big dogs, you'd probably just end up like all the other grubby little tyrants who didn't have the proper pedigree, trying to look dignified in a dirty little room while your head gets pulled off by angry guys in ski masks.
Just trust me. I know how to do this. For peons of low birth like yourselves, unbridled domination of your vast American empire with your rude will is an ungraspable concept. But I am born to this task. America and I were made for each other.
You are going to need me, because on the subject of nepotism and dynasty, I must issue a dire warning. I prophesy that young George Prescott Bush III could present a direct threat to my divine authority in 2016.
Jeb Bush should have eaten George Prescott while he was still small enough to swallow whole. This boy is very handsome; he has thick black hair and speaks Spanish. He looks like Enrique Iglesias in a Turnbull and Asser suit. It is my opinion that he will be groomed to emotionally manipulate stadium crowds of fearful, lower-class young Jesus- lovers into a weeping, Elvis-worthy sexual panic, in concert with an organized, psychological operation of relentless global PR carpet bombing of a price and magnitude ordinarily associated with Exxon. The full weight of the Bush legacy's war chest will finally buy the love and total complicity of the cool youth vote: early- adopters, the extreme-sports community, and/or what ever the godforsaken future of Facebook- and MySpace-style social networking holds. A brave new frontier of image-making will mold young George Prescott into one part Che Guevara, one part young Ronald Reagan, and six parts Napoleon.
Combined with his family's patented banana-republic- style tilting of electronic voting machines, George Prescott will be unstoppable.
So, here's a little trick I picked up over the centuries: Take pains to ensure that he becomes addicted to hookers, OxyContin or anonymous gay sex in public men's rooms.
I believe this is the duty of all Americans who do not wish to hand over their children at birth to be trained as bullet-polishers for Halliburton.
Go get him, all you hot, hot, American whores, drug fiends and daring young homosexual men. Go get George Prescott.
(I shall dispatch the political ambitions of Chelsea Clinton and the Gore sisters myself, by taking them as imperial concubines. Keep your enemies closer, as they say. Give me a month, and I'll have them all wearing Bulgari belly-chains and matching white stretch-lace tap pants, lounging around on muscle relaxants at the Oval Office, ovulating together.)
You see? This won't be so hard.
I will be the brains; you will be the brawn. Together we will make America the greatest totalitarian military dictatorship in the history of mankind.
Tyranny is about to become your new best friend.
Copyright (C) 2008 by Cintra Wilson. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury USA.