—a scifi-horror novel inspired by Jan. 6, a warning that things can get much worse
Eight years ago Haisley Jones died. Or so she thought. When she woke up in a white room, a neural chip had been implanted in her brain with a breakthrough software technology called Rhetoric.
Now it’s Friday the 13th of July, 2040 and she moves back to her hometown to start a family with her husband. But her peaceful pregnancy is broken by Rhetoric’s simulations, which are bleeding into her dreams. Warning her of impending doom.
Early that day hackers uncover the truth behind a terrifying conspiracy. Only two people in the world have Rhetoric software, one of which is a five-star American general who used it to map plans for a military coup that will begin at 4pm.
The other person with Rhetoric? No one knows. . . Except Haisley Jones. Is there enough time to stop the coup? Will anyone even believe her?
The countdown begins.
Available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited or Paperback, go here
Since Democracy Jones: 7/13 was published on, you guessed it, July 13, reviews are now starting to trickle in. Here are some highlights so far:
Annika Nilsson on Goodreads was REALLY paying attention! Check out how well they articulated the themes and subtext.
ANNIKA NILSSON’S REVIEW: Even though this book takes place in 2040, it is a deep critique of the current American socio-political condition. I hadn’t realized that at first. Literally, I just ran across someone’s Instagram story about a goodreads giveaway and decided to give the book a read since I liked the cover. I had no idea I was getting a knowledgeable deconstruction of the effects of the commodification of journalism, the effects of social media algorithms, the effects of critical theory, the effects of reliance on rhetoric, the effects of technological breakthroughs that outstrip collective human maturity, the effects of the power of the entertainment industry, the effects of over-rationalization, the effects of the rise of authoritarian behaviors, and maybe the most important idea in the book, what the author Eamon Loingsigh calls the “bifurcation of values.”
The bifurcation of values is the sociopolitical divide or polarization between conservatives and liberals, or the left vs. the right. These competing ideologies utilize damaging rhetoric to denounce each other, while strengthening their echo chambers. The example he uses throughout the book is the Late Republic era of Rome, which experienced a very similar bifurcation where everyone had to choose a side, or risk being called a traitor by both. The rhetoric used by each side can imperceptibly escalate and lead to political assassinations, mob violence and eventually civil war or a coup. Unless, of course, we use some of the ideas from the Enlightenment that inspired American democracy in the first place. Namely compromise. But I don’t see Republicans and Democrats and their voting blocs compromising much these days, and this book provides a worst-case scenario if we continue down this path.
You may not agree with Democracy Jones: 7/13, but there is no way you can ignore its powerful premise.
The first example from the book I’ll show here is how conservatives slander liberal groups with racist rhetoric. When a group of black college students come together to defend black veterans who aren’t offered the same benefits as white veterans, they are smeared as “Black Bourgeois Terrorists.” This leads to a nationwide debate and what became known as the “Color Fodder Protests,” which the conservative media logically calls the “Color Fodder Riots.”
The second example concerns the character Zeke Greenlea, who is a local conservative in a small town in 2040 America. He was to inherit the family business. They are contractors of residential homes. But a liberal international real estate magnate wants the contract the Greenlea family business earned for Golden Door Estates, a gated housing community in town. So what does the magnate do? He uses his wealth and connections, forcing the small Greenlea contracting company into court. More importantly, the magnate hires social media “End-fluencers” (a play on Influencers) to smear the Greenlea name in the much more powerful court of public opinion. The mainstream media picks up on it, and soon enough Greenlea Contracting is liquidated by the federal government, allowing the liberal magnate to take over the contract in the small town.
In the book, we see that during the military coup that takes place on July 13, 2040, Zeke Greenlea sets out for his revenge. And you get the sense, he’s got pretty good reasoning.
But Democracy Jones: 7/13 does something no brand should do in today’s free market. It critiques both the left and the right. As the left primarily holds sway over the book industry, and the entertainment industry as a whole, it follows that the industry assumes the book comes from a conservative perspective. But that is not the case at all.
Unfortunately, I feel like most people will miss out on this important work.
Another quality review comes from Davis Stamford on Goodreads. Check it out!
DAVIS STAMFORD’S REVIEW: Probably my favorite author at this point. Democracy Jones: 7/13 is a departure, but this short science fiction horror novel packs a humungous punch. Since the biggest reveal is in the description, I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers when I say AI software for neural chips causes a military coup in 2040 USA. And it is an epic downfall. Worse than the twin towers, Jan. 6 or anything you can think of, all rolled into one.
There is a lot of suspense that builds up to an explosive coup by the 3/4 mark. Each of the first 20 chapters or so have time stamps. 4pm is when the coup is supposed to happen, but we start at 11:30am and things just get worse and worse as the day progresses until boom time at 4pm.
The novel takes place in the fictional small town of Ellington, FL where we follow a group of people and their impressions and involvement in the coup.
Haisley Jones is the protagonist. She is a mixed race former Marine who is 3-weeks pregnant (yeah, in the future you’ll know right away when you’re pregnant). Haisley grew up in Ellington, but was sent to prison when she was 17 for murdering her father and leaving him in the Everglades for the buzzards to devour. Yikes. Now, ten years later, she moves back with her black husband De’ontay to start a family.
Captain Dick is Ellington’s Chief of Police. His wife is cheating on him, and he allows it since it helps her political career. But simmering below the surface is a terribly dangerous man who was an army officer during two previous wars (remember this is 2040). When the coup takes place, Captain Dick turns into a monster (i.e. antagonist). In fact, his favorite song is called “Monster Man.”
Abra is a five year-old Jewish girl who provides some light-hearted, innocent yet biting commentary. She just says exactly what’s on her mind, and it really helps the story move along.
Highly recommend! Loved it, hope there is a follow up to this. I’d love to see what happens after the coup.
One more for the road by Keith!
Not what I would call a summer beach read, lol. This book is a futuristic satire about the over-rationalized critical theories of the left juxtaposed with Trumpian-style politics of the right and how, if the two sides don’t start compromising, at some point it will be too late and mutually assured destruction will set in.
I gotta say though, through the black smoke and the purposely absurd political rhetoric in the dialogue of the characters, there are some funny parts that had me chuckling. As you can tell by the book’s cover, vultures play a role in the story and at one point the narrator describes how they watch over scenes of violence like “cynical comedians.” The quintessential loud-mouthed chief of police, his name is “Captain Dick” (Boss Hogg meets Negan), regularly cracks super dark, satirical jokes like when he told his wife there must have been two dead bodies in the grave that has an epitaph that reads, “Here lies a lawyer and an upstanding citizen.”
If you haven’t read Candide by Voltaire, you might think you’re supposed to take this book at face value, but it’s satire folks. Classic SATIRE!
7/28/2023 Note: Due to high traffic and interest in Democracy Jones: 7/13, the publisher has lowered prices for the paperback and Kindle versions. We are very grateful for the emerging concerns that are highlighted in this scifi horror novel and wanted to pass along savings to readers. The dangerous bifurcation of values, the reliance on rhetoric in place of sound logic and the sociopolitical antagonism we are witnessing ahead of the 2024 elections can, and should be quelled. If it isn’t, the horrifying, worst-case scenario depicted in this novel may transpire.
Today we bear witness as brash, irresponsible and unapologetic politicians and cultural influencers from the two dominant American ideologies denounce each other, while enforcing the belief systems within their own echo chambers.
This sociopolitical divide has become increasingly entrenched in the United States. Yet most Americans seem unaware of the dangers lurking behind this adversarial relationship. Most anthropologists and sociologists argue that all cultures naturally become divided. But not all become violent along those divisions.
Republicans vs. Democrats, Liberals vs. Conservatives, Socialists vs. Capitalists, however the two dominant ideologies are named is much less important as how they are becoming increasingly oppositional. To the point at which they, the country’s dominant bipolar groups, are showing respective authoritarian behaviors to gain control over the world’s unipolar power system.
—— Find out how to get a copy of Democracy Jones: 7/13HERE ——
The history of human civilizations tells us that this is a dangerous dichotomy in a democracy. Could the conflict between these oppositional ideologies continue to accelerate and result in a coup or civil war in America?
Democracy Jones: 7/13 plays out the worst case scenario; that over the next 15 years or so, that divide turns into a complete bifurcation of value systems which compete for dominance in independent democratic American institutions, as neither are able to get a clear majority.
Of course we all know the answer to solving this problem; compromise. Yet we have already travelled so far down the road of partisanship that compromise has too often become a synonym for weakness.
What could cause a civil war or coup? What would be the turning point? Wouldn’t it be gradual? Or would it be one inciting issue or event that would cause the relationship to go from oppositional to outright violent hostility?
In Democracy Jones: 7/13 I chose a technological breakthrough as the cause for the breaking point. Seemingly outside the purview of important issues that divide Americans, technology is a power structure all its own, which the worst type of demagogue would see as a great opportunity if they were able to control it.
In this scifi horror novel, it is no coincidence that the dangerous technological breakthrough that knocks the relations off its semi-peaceful axis is named Rhetoric.
Since earliest times humanity has endeavored to develop systems of organization to meet group challenges, rhetoric has been a powerful tool to consolidate power. To narrow it down, rhetoric can be defined as the art of persuasion. There is great value in all societies for those of us who have the ability to persuade people. Politicians, influencers, actors, CEOs, lawyers, philosophers and anyone placed in a position of power or leadership have a great ability to speak and act in a manner that persuades audiences to follow along, or even submit to their premises.
Rhetoric has the ability to do great and wonderful things, of course, but it also can be used for manipulative means to nefarious ends. The software for neural chips in this science fiction story was called Rhetoric by its creator Dr. O because of two main reasons; the ability to persuade people, and the dangerous effects it can have on society.
The novel’s opening sentences describe Rhetoric‘s usage as neural implant chip software that gives a user “the ability to mathematically calculate weakness in a binary opposite, deconstruct it and formulate plans to capitalize, via probabilities.”
Is it so far-fetched to believe artificial intelligence could be used to map plans for an incident that incites a civil war, an assassination or a military coup?
In the wrong hands, such as a Trumpian-style politician whose support mainly comes from the military and police in the United States of the year 2040, the consequences are devastating.
Note:Back Circle Theory is an approach to analyzing and critically interpreting American culture and politics through a Structuralist and Poststructuralist lens. It is not purely influenced by political science, but includes it, along with sociological and historical modes of analysis.
Introduce The increased bending of truth in the United States toward ideological extremes is more than disturbing. It’s dangerous. Seemingly enemies, the far-left and the far-right have met at the back of the circle where anti-democratic and authoritarian behavior exists. This shared authoritarian psychological core is the true enemy of democracy, not the two dominant political binaries.
Define Back Circle Theory speculates American democracy will fall by the year 2040 if its citizenry does not embrace the traditional democratic norms of bipartisan compromise and invigorate the independence and legitimacy of its institutions. Taking this action is necessary to halt the trend of ideological bifurcation spreading throughout its culture and institutions. Not taking action will allow this cancerous trend to metastasize into polarized ideologies battling for control of the institutions, resulting in widespread distrust in them. This could lead, as it did during the Late Republic era of Ancient Rome, to normalized mob violence and end in a civil war or coup, removing democracy from the world’s most influential nation.
At a base level, to rely more on the back of the circle, where the extremes of both ideological spectrums meet, is to think with the back of the brain, or the basal ganglia and brainstem. This is the oldest, most primitive part where sexual drive, thirst, hunger, territorialism and procedural memory exists. In short, authoritarian behavior, or what can be described as tribalism. If we rely more on this part of the brain, we are likely to be violent, overtly sexual, predatorial or reactionary.
To rely more on the front of the circle is to think with the front of the brain, or the prefrontal cortex where reasoning, speech, and temporal organizational behavior exists. In short, to make more thoughtful, analytic and rational decisions.
In this way, Back Circle Theory argues against its namesake.
Ethnology It’s often been said that the best way to predict the future is to study the past. In this manner, we will utilize both retrospective and prospective ethnographic approaches in a cross-cultural comparison of the Late Republic era of Ancient Rome and modern American democracy, to forecast a high probability of a future outcome.
Although it is difficult to establish universal invariants in human societies separated by over two thousand years, or even during the same era, as abstract customs and values can’t be reduced to equations. Still, the exercise can be fruitful in collecting patterns of similarities as data and formulating structural correlations to augur human behavior within a representative democracy in crisis. As logical, rationalistic and abstract means were used by Sigmund Freud to heuristically interpret dreams, and Claude Lévi-Strauss similarly did concerning cross-cultural myths, may we also use the same hermeneutic means to find parallels in an effort to avoid the catastrophic effect the death of American democracy would have on the world.
American democracy and the Roman Republic have often been involved in comparative studies, and is a recurring theme. The Roman Republic served as a direct model of government for the framers of the US constitution. The writer of this essay asks, if the framers of the US Constitution looked to the Roman Republic when creating its democracy, why wouldn’t we engage in a comparative framework study of the fall of the Roman Republic to negotiate the difficulties we face today?
In this comparative study, which utilizes inductive reasoning to influence a conclusion, four contributing factors are sited to have a large impact on four American democratic institutions.
Similar The main similarities in this essay concerns the cultural bifurcation and dueling mandates that occurred during both the Late Republic era in Rome, and is currently emergent in American democracy. The Late Republic era is most often cited as beginning at the murder of Tiberius Gracchus in 133BCE and ending in 27BCE with the establishment of the Roman Empire. Why the Roman Republic fell is up for debate, but many historians would agree that it was a conglomeration of events, including cultural and political bifurcation. Most citizens were forced to choose a side, as often occurs in societies experiencing unrest and civil war. Because this bifurcation lasted multiple generations, loyalties changed over time, and the cultural bifurcation accelerated in fits and starts. Eventually, Romans longed for a single person to dictate policy in an attempt to halt the madness of the double-headed serpent that had spread its venom into the bodies of so many generations of Romans.
In the United States today, there are explicit clues to the Roman Republic comparison given to us by means of escalation. Demagogues cast doubt upon the electoral system and force changes in the law, which causes the opposition to doubt future elections. The citizenry rallies to either side and everyone is seen in the ally/enemy dichotomy. Base mobilization turns into mobs, which morphs into politically motivated violence etc. This escalation, fueled by binary opposition and high-stakes elections has been described by political scientist Lee Drutman as a two-party doom loop and “why the two-party system makes resolution of the present conflict improbable.”
Although Rome did not have the type of liberal-conservative binary that exists today in America, the division in the Roman Republic can be generally drawn along the lines of Optimates and Populares. But even these abstractions become troublesome when considering the loyalty of respective armies after the Marion Reforms, and became focused on the ambitious generals who paid them.
But what can be established is that both sides shared authoritarian behaviors during the political violence, civil wars and purges of the Late Republic era that led to the establishment of the dictatorship of Augustus and the advent of the Roman Empire.
Share Behaviors Examples of shared authoritarian behavior by the American right and left today, as well as ancient Rome during the Late Republic era, vary in degree depending on the side, and include demands for political conformity, rhetorical and dogmatic attacks, hyper-subjectivism, the use of group authority to coerce independent institutions into purging competing narratives, ideological rigidity, slander and personal attacks against perceived political enemies, undermining constitutional checks and balances and delegitimizing the political independence of its institutions, breaking of norms/codes of conduct and even laws as a means for political ends, corruption, social policing of language, gaslighting, purity tests, ideological discipline among member groups, advocation of censorship to stifle opposing ideas, absolutist leadership styles, etc.
In this climate, people who can hold two conflicting ideas in their head at the same time are branded as traitors to each respective side, or simply cast as belonging to the opposing side. Cool-headed, centrist, nonpartisans are attacked as if they are in the throes of a zero sum game. Yet, the line between these two sides is not black and white. In fact there is no line at all. It is more like a circle. And we need to populate the front of that circle as best we can with appeals to open-mindedness, idea labs, allowance for opposing views, freedom of speech, demand independence for our institutions, point out ideological rigidity, discourage personal attacks, encourage free thinking and utilize more dialectical method of debate in place of rhetoric and echo chambers.
It is not illegal to call for someone to be silenced, cancelled or to discredit others’ views, so what we are speaking of is more along the lines of cultural norms. The revolutionary democratic norms outlined in the US Constitution and in the long-unwritten social agreements of the Roman Republic, in fact. Those norms call for extensive checks and balances in order to halt authoritarian attitudes before they become too powerful. These norms allow for multiple views to debate ideas, then compromise for the greater good.
The Greco-Roman writer Polybius felt as though the Roman Republic had such exceptional checks on authoritarian accumulation, that he believed it had successfully overcome history’s disturbing trends of democratic decline and eventual fall into the societal security that dictatorship offered. Call it Roman exceptionalism.
After the Roman Republic fell, the Mediterranean world was thrown into centuries of emperors, dictatorships, monarchs and tyranny. If we continue to allow authoritarian behavior to ascend today in the United States, the entire world could suffer a new dark age.
It’s time for thoughtful people to point out corrosive, anti-democratic behaviors committed by both sides. We must imagine a world where opposing sides come together in the spirit of solving real world problems by finding the highest probabilities of objective truth via compromise and reasoned argumentation. And to exclude the populist demagoguery of appealing to an audience, via the recognition that popularity is, in this climate, a fallacy of relevance.
Contributing Factors There are a number of divisive factors that both sides in the Late Republic and American democracy share which contribute to the bifurcation of values and dueling mandates, including Postmodernism, Mimetic Desire, Rhetoric and Identity.
Postmodernism As a mode of sociological analysis, postmodernism critiques the notion of universal validity, and therefore provides a vehicle to criticize shared role models while emphasizing differences in American values. It’s also (in)famous for not offering viable solutions to problems, and therefore itself has been criticized for narcissistically categorizing others’ inconsistencies in place of some much-needed introspection. It’s been called a philosophy of negation. Current Postmodernist thought has a tendency toward the obsessive compulsive mind and when it finds a single speck of dust in the bathwater, it immediately throws the baby out with it.
Early in both the American and Ancient Roman societies there existed a shared acceptance of laws and norms, a collective sense of patriotism and civil responsibility, a uniting religion, and the stubborn belief that disagreements between competing ideologies need to be resolved via concessions from both sides.
In both the Late Republic and modern American democracy, these shared values degraded over time. And in their place, increased narcissistic behavior became emergent, which contributed to a sort of mitosis, or a bifurcation of values which become oppositional in nature in their respective attempts to assert dominance. The result is dueling echo chambers.
Postmodernism’s mode of critical analysis underscores disbelief, and argues that any belief can be deconstructed as to question its validity. Back Circle Theory argues that this narcissistic exercise in deconstruction emphasizes differences, instead of similarities, and therefore encourages tribalism and back circle thinking.
Mimetic Desire The innate human desire to be accepted by an in-group is illustrated by Rene Girard’s theory of mimetic desire, which states “people want what other people want.” To take this a bit further, Girard stated that a person desires what a role model desires, or believes in. The role models can be politicians, famous actors or even an older sibling or friend. The only real requirement is that the role model must have a perceived higher status.
But, without the traditional shared role models of the past, the American left and right have intensified a rivalry to elevate role models that represent their respective values, in place of elevating role models that can represent everyone. In response, opposing ideologies emerge.
All emerging role models are run through respective ideological purity tests and if accepted on one side, is often automatically rejected by the other. This intensifies the dueling echo chambers and increases oppositional behavior among the role models who fight each other for supremacy.
The Late Republic era is an example of where this dangerous double-headed serpent can lead (The rivalry between Marius and Sulla is a model for this argument in Democracy Jones: 7:13, represented by Manzana and Schenk). Equating the two oppositional sides in a single nation where the entire citizenry was forced to choose between them, political disputes turned into political violence on the streets and mortally damaged the representational democracy with zero sum civil wars. If you were on the side that won, you inherited the spoils. If you landed on the side that lost, you forfeited your life.
American democracy got a taste of political mob violence on Jan. 6, 2021 during the attempted insurrection of the traditionally peaceful transfer of executive power in the capital city. Earlier, the opposing side’s countrywide protests and riots displayed cultural mob violence. The role of mimesis became paramount in that these two examples successfully hardened the two ideological oppositions, causing the populace to flock to one side or the other. More spectacles such as these will cause an escalation of violence to the detriment of American democracy.
Rhetoric Bertrand Russell pleaded for us to rely on facts when deciding what to believe in, and not to be “diverted, either by what you want to believe, or what you think could have beneficent social effects.” He argued that language is often loaded with signifiers that are persuasive-based in the notion of Emotive Conjugation, and that too often we are swept up by rhetorical aspects, ignoring the more reason-based decisions that we are capable of.
One of the most notable similarities between the Late Republic era of Ancient Rome and American democracy today is the reliance on rhetoric over reason in contributing to the intensification of cultural polemics/adversarial ideologies.
Rhetoric, in and of itself, is not inherently negative, as the ability to convince or persuade others can be used to teach inherently positive things. But rhetoric in echo chambers often cannot withstand rigorous investigation since its power base comes from the perceived wisdom of the ideology and its leaders. Therefore, the reliance on rhetoric to convince in a polemic atmosphere is a case where the emperor has no clothes, because if you’re an adherent of an ideology, then you don’t typically disagree with its tenets. And if this is the case, when tempers flare, who in the echo chamber will refuse when the populist ideologues order followers to commit violence against the opposing side?
Cicero was said to have been one of the most persuasive speakers of all time, yet he was unable to convince members of the opposing side (Marc Antony’s men) to allow him to live. Cicero lived during the Late Republic era when Rome had been split by years of infighting and consecutive civil wars. Despite having the reputation as being a great thinker and rhetorician, in reality Cicero was yet another narcissistic, partisan politician, albeit a talented one. Due to the times he lived in, he had no choice but to choose a side, but as a rhetorician during a divisive time, we need to recalibrate his reputation so as not to encourage divisiveness today.
All humans are susceptible to great speakers with a populist message, but in times of increasing partisanship, we need to rely more on facts, reason and empirical evidence to make better judgments, not dueling facts, persuasive logic and emotional appeals by influential people.
Identity It is well known that there is little to no scientific evidence of multiple human biological races. The only species humans are included in is the human race, which includes all humans. Race was borne out of ethnocentric stereotyping of an informal, taxonomic ranking system based on skin color. Primarily identifying with a specific race or sex or gender is to enhance differences among the human species.
The Romans of the Late Republic era had different group-based hierarchies and relied more on a social class system as opposed to our modern racial/sexual/gender gradations, but similarities of ethnocentric beliefs in group-based hierarchies can be compared through an ethnological lens. For a very long time, if you weren’t “Roman,” then you could not become an official citizen of Rome, and the ruling elites refused to budge on the matter until the highly destructive Social War during the Late Republic era forced their hand. Discrimination in the US threatens a similarly disingenuous ethnocentric divide. Let us avoid a similar social war on par with the mortal destruction that visited the people of Rome’s Republic.
The principle that inspired the civil rights and abolitionist movements was that all human beings are created equal. All the great religious and moral traditions in history have had a similar theme, which is that we are all the same. Race, gender, sex gradations, like Rome’s social class system, emphasizes differences and contrasts, instead of focusing on similarities, and therefore encourages tribalism. Race is a category system thrust upon groups of people who are not limited to a specific set of values, and who embody broad variances across a spectrum.
When postmodernist thought is multiplied by mimetic desire and rhetoric is weaponized to drive prevailing systems of hierarchy like social class or identity, they become contributing factors in politicizing important sites of independent power, and can delegitimize a society’s major democratic institutions.
Institutions The democratic institutions, for the purpose of defining America’s most influential and supposedly independent power structures, are Media/Social Media, Government, Education and Economy.
Media/Social Media The framers of the US Constitution intended the media to be an independent free press, but according to a January 2022 Pew Research Center report, Americans’ trust in the news media “has become disaggregated and divided” and that “people tend to go with sources of information that map with their point of view.”
For years Media outlets have been bought up by big businesses and the entertainment industry, altering journalistic goals from educating the citizenry to earning a profit. This has caused it to rely less on striving for objectivity and more toward biased reportage. Outlets have often been forced to choose a political side to survive in a market economy, causing some to act as if it were a platform for subjective activism.
The institution where Americans communicate the most, Social Media, incentivizes conflict, thereby empowering extreme ideas. It is a space that lends itself to political activism and appeals to base values. Mere anecdotes, straw man fallacies, pseudo-reasoning and all types of rhetorical argumentation against perceived enemies enjoy the light of day. Here, anonymity replaces accountability behind the virtual veil, encouraging dogmatism at the expense of sound logic.
Both the Media and Social Media, institutions of American communication, champion division, outrage and echo chambers and have an outsized influence on the information ecosystem due to its need to maintain engagement. To do so, derisive postmodernist argumentation is given precedent and all forms of rhetoric are used to persuade. Identity is harnessed as a tool for outrage and alienation. Mimetic desire is found in the funneling of privilege to influencers and viral content, thereby encouraging groupthink, tribalism and scapegoating. All of which is back circle thinking.
Government The political independence of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches is important in retaining legitimacy, a basic condition for the use of power by a legally constituted government. As the values of the government’s actors become increasingly politicized, legitimacy becomes a cancer that both sides compete against each other for a treatment. With emotional pleas, they deride their opponent as sabotaging the legitimate cancer treatment and do what they can to elect/appoint allies, including the breaking of traditional norms. The side that loses an election/appointment claims martyrdom, and narcissistically alleges the tyranny of the majority to delegitimize their treatment. This back and forth of both sides claiming the other’s treatment is illegitimate, at least during the Late Republic era, intensifies, enabling the cancer to metastasize until legitimacy itself dies.
Without general trust in a president’s administration, courts or lawmakers, chaos descends and a zero sum game can ensue. Officials running for election must travel with large contingents of loyal bodyguards who, as careerists, offer ways of resolving the conflict violently in their favor, tempting leaders to an end-justifies-the-means escalation. Whether by a preconceived coup and subsequent purges, or accidentally falling into a civil war, cynicism takes over where once, many years earlier, legitimacy reigned.
Current examples of dueling ideological actions taken to undermine legitimacy include gerrymandering, partisan nominations to independent branches, striking down of campaign finance laws, allowing the rich to have an outsized influence on policy and insider trading/corruption, changing of bipartisan norms like the filibuster to win a political battle, interruption of the peaceful transition of power and the reactionary protests/riots, etc.
Postmodernist thought critiques the notion of objective natural realities, such as a universally accepted legitimacy, and in this way does not take one side over the other, but afflicts both sides with subjective cynicism. Mimetic desire spreads the values of cynicism into both of the dueling ideologies. Rhetoric is used to entrench the oppositional value system, and identity, or identification with either of the two value systems, further divides people along partisan lines. Even as it appears both sides are fighting each other, the fight itself mortally damages the legitimacy of government.
Economy The 2014 Princeton/Northwestern study by Gilens & Page, which essentially claims the US economy is acting like a civil oligarchy where “the wealthiest citizens. . . dominate policy concerning crucial issues,” alludes to the classic historical precedent that occurred during the Late Republic era. Then, an oligarchy ascended that had a direct effect on the polarization of economic values. After the fall of Carthage and Corinth, prisoner-slaves were brought to Rome, who then displaced the traditionally powerful farming class. Slave labor quickly increased disparities in wealth in favor of the ruling class. This allowed the richest Romans to buy more property in an agriculture-based economy. The great wealth brought to Rome from its foreign conquests underscored the culture’s gross disparities in wealth and split the society into haves and have-nots, which defined their oppositional mandates.
The American economy is also showing great wealth disparities. Per a fourth quarter 2022 report from Statista, “68.2 percent of the total wealth in the United States was owned by the top 10 percent of earners. . . the lowest 50 percent of earners only owned three percent of the total wealth.”
Both the political binaries increasingly rely on big business donors for campaigns, and lobbyists for shaping policy. Big business has even outright bought media companies. All of these examples have cumulatively corrupting effects. As the US continues to transition away from manufacturing, the southern, midwestern and Great Lakes regions have been hit hardest. And it was this group that voted in droves for a populist demagogue in 2016 to represent their unhappiness. The opposition hardened against the president, exasperating the bifurcation of values.
Identity has played a role in the oppositional values system due to a lack of economic opportunities for people of color, women and LGBTQ+. Damaging rhetoric via claims on the right of an emerging socialist welfare state, and claims on the left of unregulated/discriminatory capitalism. Postmodernist thought comes into play with its short-sighted demands from both sides and mimetic desire has a multiplying effect on this mentality. Rational thought concludes that mixing socialist and capitalist schools in economy is a viable option, though neither side argues for that. Diversions such as sports, social media and entertainment have distracted the population to the benefit of the wealthy, so volatility concerning the economy has mostly been averted, though this has the emergent quality to intensify quickly.
Education Child developmental psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse.” This statement assumes political binaries must agree on how to educate its children and young adults.
Education has long been in decline in the United States and this trend has no resolution in sight. One side claims public education is a form of socialism and supports private charter and religious schools to replace them. The other side actively critiques American history and agitates for revisionism. K-12 grade teachers are not considered an important commodity in a market economy. Teachers unions, who support the left, are not nearly as powerful as the right claims, making a lightning rod of its leaders. This dichotomy effectively mutes any meaningful advances in educating children, without which citizens lack critical thinking in their formative years.
Higher education, also subjected to the market economy, is unaffordable for millions of Americans. Those that take out loans enter formidable debt for much of their working lives. According to a Council on Foreign Relations study, from 2006-2020, total student loan debt leap-frogged auto loans and credit card debt. Meanwhile, Americans who come from the top 10 percent earning families are courted by colleges and universities, enhancing the great divide pervading the country, though not necessarily along political lines.
Without a solid intellectual footing that a well-balanced education provides, citizens can’t easily recognize rhetorical devices and are susceptible to emotional pleas, pseudo-reasoning and celebrity endorsements. Lacking the confidence gained in critical thinking exercises, citizens look for safety in group-think populism enhanced by mimetic desire. Critical theories of identity have become a hot button issue that divides along political lines. As a philosophy of resistance against collective order, purpose and agreement, postmodernism exists in the institution of education like any other, that is to say that both sides critique the other without a prescription for agreement in sight.
Conclude Back Circle Theory concludes that the contributing factors of postmodernism, mimetic desire, rhetoric and identity in American institutions of Media/Social Media, Government, Education and Economy will allow the cancerous bifurcation of values to metastasize into the loss of those institutions’ independence and legitimacy, and has a high probability, similar to what happened during the Late Republic era of Ancient Rome, to lead to the continued bifurcation of political views in American democracy and will devolve into a social ally/enemy dichotomy as well as normalized political violence, and democracy will end in civil war or coup by the year 2040, unless the citizenry embraces the traditional democratic norms of bipartisan compromise through the utilization of the dialectical method.
Critique Some have argued Back Circle Theory is similar to Horseshoe Theory, which has mostly been debunked by political scientists.
An interesting argument against Back Circle Theory is that Political Science already provides answers to the very same questions of the bifurcation of values.
From the liberal perspective, Back Circle Theory is unfair due to its putting liberal thought on par with conservatives. Liberals argue Back Circle Theory should be weighted in their favor because the right is unethical and drives the negative aspects of the dynamic, the egregious partisanship of Trumpian politicians, the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, breaking norms to stack the Supreme Court, general support of systemic racism, sexism and anti-LGBTQ+ and transgender policies.
From the conservative perspective, Back Circle Theory is unfair due its putting conservative thought on par with liberals. Conservatives argue Back Circle Theory should be weighted in their favor due to the egregious cancellation of free speech, ignoring of the troubling issues in southern/midwest/Great Lakes states and the liberal agenda of Hollywood which dominates American culture.
Response to Critique While there are similarities to Horseshoe Theory, Back Circle Theory is not a political theory. It has cognitive, sociological, anthropological and historical baselines that map behaviors and values, antecedent to politics, and therefore sees political stances as a result of collective behaviors and values.
Recent studies in Political Science have suggested a better way of dealing with the issue of political polarization and agrees that it will erode the democratic traditions of the United States if left unchecked. This method includes the empowerment of third parties, such as a the Independent, Green, Workers or Libertarian parties to undermine the zero-sum nature of binary partisan conflict. Back Circle Theory would support this prescription, but retains reservations that such a thing will be supported en masse in a political complex that is fixated by ideological antagonism.
If we are to agree that there is no perfect objective reality, there can also be no perfect balance of authoritarian behavior displayed by respective sides. As Jacques Derrida pointed out, when it comes to binary opposites, “one of the two terms governs the other.” Or, one side usually has dominance over the other. Within the specific power dynamic of politics, it would appear right-leaning politicians display more authoritarian behaviors than left-leaning. Within the specific power dynamic of cultural values, however, the left exercises its power in places such as the massively influential entertainment industry, social media/media, academia, the workplace etc. left-leaning actors display more authoritarian behaviors than right-leaning actors when it comes to dictating norms, which has the effect of influencing policy. The solipsism of the political right, therefore, is similar to the solipsism of the cultural left.
As the left has more cultural authority, considerable criticism has been pointed at Back Circle Theory on social media platforms claiming that it “holds water for the right” simply by comparing them together. To be clear, the types of authoritarian behavior displayed are also different. In an important sociological study called Clarifying the Nature of Left-Wing Authoritarian Behavior, it’s authors concluded that although the left and right share some authoritarian behaviors, “relative to rightwing authoritarians, leftwing authoritarians were lower in dogmatism and cognitive rigidity, higher in negative emotionality, and expressed stronger support for a political system with substantial centralized state control. Our results also indicate that LWA powerfully predicts behavioral aggression and is strongly correlated with participation in political violence.”
All theories are falsifiable in some minute form or other as theories cannot withstand the scrutiny of empirical evidence, nor the postmodernist critique. Many theories choose one side (left or right) over another, but Back Circle Theory critiques both of the dominant value systems as having similar anti-democratic, authoritarian behaviors. Back Circle Theory attempts to be as objective as possible. But as postmodernists point out, there is no way to be perfectly objective. Yet Back Circle Theory refuses to accept subjectivism as an answer. Instead, it attempts to find the highest probabilities of objective truth.
In the spirit of the dialectical method, Back Circle Theory believes that through reasoned argumentation, we can work together to find the highest probabilities of truth, and therefore heuristically accepts all criticism as a form of crowdsourcing the highest probabilities of objective truth. Even when the criticism is not in good faith, sometimes there are valuable truths to be gleaned to improve Back Circle Theory.
Eamon Loingsigh for criticism or comments, send email to: email@example.com
Ethos is something I will not bother you with. I have a degree in journalism, have worked in tech and have written some novels. Like many journalists, I know a little about a lot, but I’m a master of nothing. ~Eamon
A Parnassian is an archetype of the middle/upper middle class, even elites, who had an uneventful, sheltered childhood and received a respectable education who nonetheless believe they are entitled to have something eventful, relevant or important to add to the literary canon. Every generation in the book industry has a very large Parnassian clique who dominate discussion concerning what is, or is not relevant, yet are often remembered in hindsight as stifling or censoring the writers who come to embody their generation’s writing posthumously due to their conflict with the Parnassians.
The Parnassian poets, where the term Parnassianism derives, were a group of mid-to-late 19th Century bourgeois writers with connections to the French monarchy. They defined French poetry for a while by excluding the likes of Arthur Rimbaud, who famously agitated against their mundane, impassive values and came to epitomize the type of breakthrough poetry the Parnassians could never have imagined the public would embrace. Parnassians instead inspire great poetry via revolt against their established vision. The Parnassians were known for, “stories which the Madame could read whilst her maid was putting on her stockings, or which the Monsieur could devour when, hat on head and cane in hand, he waits till the Madame has buttoned the last button of her gloves.”*
Through the generations Parnassians have been known for their careerist value system when it comes to writing and maintain a loose semblance of power over the writing community through hot takes on social media, editorial or professorships and their presence in the industry’s establishments of public relations, marketing, publishing, reviews etc. Parnassians treat writing as if it were any other capitalist venture, and view their “product” as a brand. Much of their power over the writing community is obtained or retained by their outing of supposed inappropriate writers or topics, and loyalty to the industry’s categorization of writing by genres. The smug, exclusionary tactics they use are often exercised by means of ignoring the pleas of ambitious writers, who they see as attempting to replace their status in the writing community. To cover up their obvious capitalist, corporate-friendly establishmentarian value system, Parnassians often identify as bohemian, liberal-free thinkers.
It’s only been out a week or so, but young adult, coming-of-age novel CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB has gotten a lot of very good reviews so far.
~”Layton’s story touched me, because I feel like many authors don’t like to talk about the things that Layton goes through. It was a refreshingly new way of writing and when the characters’ arc comes into view, wow, that last chapter. Just wow.” ~JL (Amazon)
~”Considering this book is about baseball in the 80s, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. BUT THE CHARACTERS! Yes, the characters and their struggles made this a very fun read. The storyline is easy enough to follow and offers a nice mix of drama, edged with comedic dialogue. But let’s talk about those CHARACTERS” Janey (Anticipatience Books Blog)
~”It’s funny at times, sad at other times, particularly the times when Layton is searching for a way forward, a way to heal. It’s ultimately an uplifting story that does one’s heart good.” Angela M. (top reviewer) Goodreads
~”From the very first scene, there is a cinematic quality to the writing that makes it easy to picture this as a movie. . . This has all the ingredients of a classic coming of age story as we watch Layton grow up before our very eyes.” Becky (Bookaholic Bex Blog)
~”It is a special occurrence when you find a book that completely hooks you, makes you fall in love with the characters, and lingers long after the last page.” Jade (Amazon)
~”I am so glad that I found this book. . . The lessons and Loyal friendships. The struggles of finding who you are and learning to accept it. Such a great read! This book is amazing, truly amazing.” Ashley (Goodreads)
I am thrilled to announce that my young adult, coming-of-age novel CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB is published! Please don’t hesitate to get a copy.
I’ve been in the book business for a long time, but I’ve never written a book as easily as I wrote CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB. I think that’s because it is based on my actual experiences as a baseball player for Dunedin High School in the mid-to-late 1980s.
It seems like another lifetime ago. Before I had a pen name, I was just Alex Lynch, a troubled kid who moved to Florida from New York when his parents got divorced. There was a part of me that was happy-go-lucky. And another part that was angry. As anyone who remembers me in high school can attest, I got into a lot of fistfights, caused a lot of trouble and even got arrested (for stealing a keg out of the back of a beer truck with a teammate, lol).
So how do you turn a troubled teenage life into a young adult novel? Well, trouble is dramatic, which is great for a book, and there’s nothing like a reversal of fortune story to make people feel good.
Yes, the book is about my time as a high school baseball player and about the other kids on the team, but it is a fictionalized version of the events. Dunedin’s name is changed to Ellington, names of characters are different too (though some nicknames survived) and the storyline does not follow directly with actual events.
Interestingly, earlier this year I was notified on a Facebook group called “I Grew Up in Dunedin” that someone had found my class ring (I’ve lived in New York City for many years). I had lost it sometime in the early 1990s. Yet it showed up a couple months before the publication of this book. I call that perfect timing. Must be some sort of sign or something.
Please consider getting a copy now. It’s only $4.99 for Kindle and the paperback is $15.99.
CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB, a young adult coming-of-age novel, will publish on March 18, 2021 through Shanachie51 Press. It is currently available for a discounted price on Kindle Pre-order now if you follow the linkHERE. Also, you can enter a Goodreads Giveaway HERE.
In the meantime, below is a free teaser chapter. It is the first chapter in the book. Hope you enjoy!
The sun was low, setting over the left shoulder of the right-fielder. In the 1986 Fall Ball season for fourteen- and fifteen-year-old boys, there was no dugout to speak of, only a piece of rotted wood with rusty nails sticking out of it, long enough for six or seven boys to sit on. The infield had no grass, just a big orange mass of clumpy clay. Neither were there white lines to denote fair or foul. The outfield, where Layton O’Her played, was a landmine of sand patches and gopher holes that could snap the ankles of teenagers digging for a deep fly. No scoreboard, either. And the fence abruptly ended in both left and right fields. None of the players wore uniforms. One team wore red shirts. Green for the other. Without any field lights, the games had to be called at sundown.
But it was baseball. Old and true. Always there. Everyone respecting the rules. Holding dearly to the traditions. Remembering the names of the game’s legends and seeing their own day’s greats in the light of those legends. Even seeing themselves entering the light with them one day too. Some way. Some day. Dreaming of glory in the major leagues. But on this clay and dirt-patched field, Layton was simply here to play ball. He had no future in the game. Not even a nickname anymore. He had nothing but now.
Screw the rest, he thought. I don’t even care.
“This is it. The end of the line,” Dewey Hinch called from the bench to Layton, who waited in the on-deck circle. “Your last at bat in the last game of Fall Ball. Now you have to face facts, big time. When you take off those cheap cleats tonight, you’ll be just like all the other poor white trash losers in Pinebrook apartments. Oh wait, I mean Crimebrook apartments. Without baseball, what are you going to do with your life?” But Dewey answered his own question. “Probably take after your dad and be a deadbeat.”
Dewey licked three fingers and teased his blond, spiked hair while other players on the bench next to him snorted in laughter. But Sucio Hernandez, one of Layton’s oldest friends, didn’t. “Hey man, come on now,” he said.
Layton used to have a nickname. “Dance,” they called him, because he got into so many brawls. In reality, Layton was a terrible dancer. Too shy and angry to let loose and have fun. It was just one of those weird names that are given to little leaguers. But even though it had been two years since anyone called him that, Layton still loved to dance with his fists.
With one of those mean smiles Layton was once known for, he walked back to the rusted fence to respond to Dewey. “I guess it depends on your definition of a loser, because my definition would be someone who gets all the opportunities in the world to be a starting pitcher, yet still ends up in relief on a below-average high school staff.” Sucio laughed as Layton leaned on the fence. “A 17-plus ERA over 33 1/3 innings Dewey? Really? If two people tried out to be a starter, your odds would still be a thousand to one.”
The other boys on the bench turned to Dewey, who stood up and walked around the fence toward the on-deck circle. But when Dewey got closer, Layton threw a punch. Just as things were about to get out of hand, Sucio grabbed Layton.
The parents in the bleachers looked over as Sucio picked Layton up to get him away from Dewey. On the mound the pitcher had stopped in mid-motion, though the umpire hadn’t noticed the balk because he too was busy staring at the fight that had broken out by the on-deck circle.
“At least I play,” Dewey screamed at Layton. “You just quit. Quit on all of us! Right before the biggest game of our lives. The Little League World Series, and you just quit! Then you didn’t even try out as a freshman last year? Why do you even show up for Fall Ball if you don’t play for the high school team?”
“Because I revel in seeing you squirm.”
There’s only one thing boring-er than a rich townie—a rich townie who makes a good point, Layton thought.
As lame as it sounded, Dewey was right. It was Layton O’Her’s last game. It really was his last at bat. As the lanky fifteen-year-old looked across the diamond, he gritted back a tear and gripped the bat as hard as he could, smacking the end into the dirt as if he was trying to kill every ant in the whole world.
When Dewey retreated behind the fence, and the pitcher again went into his windup, Sucio held Layton from the side real hard and spoke with a Dominican accent into Layton’s ear, “You just love fighting, don’t you?”
“Yes.” The word boiled out of Layton’s mouth angrily.
“Why don’t you tell them what really happened? It’s a perfectly acceptable excuse. Just tell them why—”
“There are no excuses in baseball. Anyway, they don’t deserve to know my truth. I hate them with every single aching thought in my brain. I wasn’t born in Ellington, so they just think they can—”
“I wasn’t born in Ellington either,” Sucio interrupted. “And I get along with them just fine.”
Layton didn’t answer that one, because he couldn’t. “Let me go.”
Sucio released and play-punched him, “Bruh, I’ve known you for almost ten years but it’s like I don’t understand you. Like, how is it that you have the biggest mouth in Ellington, yet you keep secrets? And why do you still play Fall Ball? I mean, Fall Ball is for fourteen-year-olds who want to try out for the high school team and fifteen-year-olds who are already on the team, but you’re. . . Why do you still play?”
Layton blinked and looked at Sucio from under the broad brim of the batter’s helmet. “Because I’d walk in a gasoline suit to keep playing baseball.”
Sucio nodded and smiled. “You always got a comeback. Who said that, anyway? You’re quoting someone again, aren’t you?”
Layton looked toward Sucio with a sudden smile. “Charlie Hustle.”
“Of course, Pete Rose. Your favorite player.” Sucio laughed.
“He’s one of my three favorites,” Layton corrected.
Sucio looked away, then pointed with his lips toward the bleachers. “Coach Nick is here.”
Layton’s stomach turned as he snuck a peek at Coach Nicholson. His long shadow had loomed over Ellington for decades. He was like baseball royalty in this small town. And in this small town, he was the one man who had the power to give and take dreams away from boys.
And he doesn’t even know who I am.
Coach Nick was a disciplinarian with strict rules about everything. It was well known that if you didn’t try out for the high school team as a freshman, when he can best mold you to his demand, then it was too late for you. No second chances for sophomores like Layton. And no excuses. Ever.
“He comes to check on us,” Sucio said. “Make sure we’re not misbehaving, and scout the new freshmen.”
Even though Dewey Hinch was completely mental, he had made the Ellington high school baseball team with Sucio. All the kids Layton played Little League with made the high school team as freshmen last year, but Layton hadn’t gone to tryouts because his mother was sick and he was homeless and living at the Flop. But that’s another sappy story.
Who cares about sappy stories, anyway? Excuses are for stupid rich kids, Layton growled to himself, thinking of his teammates.
In reality, they weren’t all that wealthy. Middle class, mostly. But to Layton O’Her they were rich. And mega-rich in terms of having supportive families and a stable home life.
They don’t even care about what they have. It makes them lazy. Stupid rich kids.
As the waning sun warbled, having moved over the opposing pitcher’s head, Layton looked from the on-deck circle toward the hurler who stood on the rubber and leaned in like a silhouette or a statue. He hid the bruised baseball behind his back as he nodded at the catcher’s sign.
Pinky Roberts was pitching a no-hitter in the last inning of a 1-0 game. Layton had played for years with Pinky, who was on the high school team too. His long legs seemed even longer because he wore tight pants high on his waist and had red stirrups that started above his knee and disappeared inside his cleats. He had big-time movement on his fastball too. Almost as much as an old-timey screwball, down and away on left-handed hitters like Layton. And his slider was tight. Down and in. Everything Pinky pitched was down, down, down.
“Pinky’s twirling a gem tonight, papo,” Sucio said as they watched him strike another hitter out with a low change-up. “That’s probably why Coach Nick is here, to see Pinky strike us all out. You’re up, Layton. Coach is watching.”
“Left fielder, Layton O’Her,” a crackling speaker announced to sparse applause as Layton pounded the handle of the bat into the ground so the donut would fall off.
“Let’s go, Layton,” Sucio’s lone voice shouted from behind him.
Then the voice of Dewey from the bench: “We never liked you anyway, Layton. Good riddance. You think you’re so smart—”
“I’m not so smart, it’s just you’re as dumb as a bucket of curveballs,” Layton yelled back, which made some of the parents laugh aloud. “Thing is, I love this game and it breaks my heart to see dull people like you take it for granted. I’ve had to win games on my own and carry you and everyone else on my back since T-ball. Now I’ll finally be free of you dumb monkeys!”
The parents of both teams and even the umpire and Coach Nick looked back toward the bench for a response.
“Well, you can’t win this one even if you hit a home run.” Dewey laughs through the fence. “There’s two outs and it’s almost dark.”
“Oh yeah? I’ll tie it at least, you watch.”
“You’re gonna tie it all on your own?” catcher Bulb McLean said as Layton walked across home plate to the left side. “You’re a scratch hitter and it looks like your mom don’t even feed you. You were pretty good in little leagues, but here you can’t even hit the ball into the outfield.”
“Fat and skinny had a race, around the pillowcase,” Layton said as he got a few practice swings in. “Fat fell down and broke his crown, and skinny won the race.”
“Psh, whatever,” Bulb said.
It was true though. Layton had a hard time just getting the ball in the air lately. In little leagues, the outfield fences were much closer, but ever since they moved up to the big fields in Fall Ball, Layton had been in a continuous slump and became known for hitting bleeders to second base. The book on him was to pitch it outside because he’d try to pull it.
“C’mon, Layton,” Mr. Hernandez, Sucio’s father, yelled in a thick Hispanic accent from the third base coaching box. “Tiguerazo, get under it. He’s throwing those sinker-balls. Get under it.”
Layton gripped the metal bat with one foot out of the batter’s box and stared at Pinky Roberts, who smiled back. Before stepping in, Layton peeked back again to the stands at Coach Nick.
Let’s do this, Layton thought. If I don’t tie this game, these stupid rich small-town goobers will win and I really will be remembered as a deadbeat loser.
“Two outs! Nobody on! Outfield in! Come in!” Bulb yelled, then looked at Layton as he dropped the mask over his face. “You’re the last out.”
Pinky palmed and fluffed the hair that grew like wild weeds out of the back of his cap, then stepped back and held his glove high over his head, crumpled his body low as it swung round, then went high again and yanked a slider downward.
“Strike!” The ump blew in Layton’s ear.
Low claps came from the stands.
Pinky smiled. Layton had hit against him many times, and he always had this silly permanent smile. Not a happy smile, just a natural look on his face that made hitters feel as though they weren’t even there.
“Strike two!” the ump bellowed.
Layton thought it was inside, though it did have movement on it and hit the edge of the strike zone.
A low, tapping applause pulsed gently from behind as mothers gathered their children who’d been playing in the sand pit behind the metal stands. Fathers stood open-legged with arms crossed, watching the final touches of another Fall Ball no-hitter from a talented high school pitcher. The sun was obscured by the low trees in right field.
Layton choked up on the bat. Anything close, I have to swing. No choice but to protect the plate now.
“C’mon Layton,” Mr. Hernandez clapped from the third base coaching box.
Layton was the only one there without a parent in the stands. He hadn’t seen his father in a long time. His father had been gone almost his whole life. So that was that. And Layton’s stepfather, Stan? Well, he didn’t care much for baseball. He didn’t care much about his stepson, either. The worst part though was that Stan didn’t care about his mother, either, and was having an affair right when she needed him most.
Layton’s mother used to come when he was in little league, but she’d been ill again this year. Bedridden and alone.
“Stay under it. Under it!” Mr. Hernandez yelled.
Two years ago. . . Two years ago when everything changed. . . It was two years ago that she suddenly had a seizure and was diagnosed with brain cancer. It had recently spread to her lungs. Layton had been told that when it gets to the lungs, that’s it. Too late. Terminal. As if a grapefruit-sized tumor being removed from her brain wasn’t a clear enough sign.
I know what’s coming next, Layton thought. Everyone knows what pitch is coming next. Outside. Probably low and outside.
“Let’s go home,” Bulb McLean said from behind his mask, punching his mitt.
The ball came whirling from Pinky’s long arm and Layton reached for it awkwardly and barely tipped it on the end of the bat. Fouled it off to the fence.
Bulb grumbled and pushed with his hands on his knees to stand up, then turned around and walked to the backstop to get the ball.
“Two outs,” the umpire yelled, “The count is 0-2.”
“C’mon, Pinky,” Bulb called out. “Throw him a chair.”
Layton touched the metal bat to the bottom of his cleats and peeked back again at Coach Nick. He was standing now, next to the bleachers holding a bat bag over his shoulder with all the parents, who held their beach chairs and purses and rattled car keys in the air in preparation.
Layton wanted to whip the bat at the fence toward them all. He wanted to kick Bulb McLean in the face mask. He wanted to yell at the umpire, but he wasn’t sure he’d have a good explanation for doing any of that.
Don’t freak out, don’t freak out.
He took a deep breath. On the mound, a smiling Pinky Roberts wound and curled himself like a snake and hurled a sinker low and outside. Layton’s knees locked and his balance wavered as he swung weakly. He heard the tinkling sound of the metal bat touching the ball and watched it bound over Pinky’s head, a Baltimore chop that struck the plate after he hit it.
“No!” Layton yelled.
Loser! Deadbeat loser. You’re going to disappear forever if you don’t leg this out!
He ran with every ounce of pissed-off energy he had, grunting to make each stride faster and faster and harder. He pumped his arms like pistons to help gain speed, and watched the first baseman, who began to stretch in anticipation of a throw from shortstop. Layton pumped and gnashed to beat it out until he heard a deflating sound from the benches and the stands. The first baseman stepped off the bag and threw his hands in the air as Layton crossed first base, safe.
Even Mr. Hernandez seemed a bit let down that the ball had bounced off home plate, bounded through the air over the pitcher’s mound and landed directly on top of second base, redirecting the ball’s trajectory and scooting quickly under the shortstop’s glove and into centerfield.
“Base hit!” the umpire yelled as the parents in the bleachers booed, hoping it would have been ruled an error to save the no-hit bid for Pinky Roberts.
Layton smiled at their displeasure. That’s what you get, all of you, for being total jerks.
He chuckled when he heard a young girl complain to her parents, “I thought we were leaving.”
Scotty David, who was acting first-base coach, leaned toward Layton, “It’s 1-0. Sucio Hernandez is up. He’s a good hitter. We need a hit from him, but you can’t get picked off. Take a safe lead.”
“I’m stealing second.”
“No, don’t do that,” Scotty whispered so the first baseman wouldn’t hear him.
This is my last chance to burn them. Layton ground his teeth so hard that his jaw hurt. And leave them all with the taste of ashes in their mouths. Idiots.
Again, Layton looked over to Coach Nick, who’d decided to rest half a butt cheek on the bleachers after the no-no was broken up.
“I’m stealing second on the first pitch,” Layton said aloud and looked beyond his Scotty’s shoulders. “Sun’s almost down. Blue’s gonna call this game soon.”
“He’s stealing!” the first baseman called to Pinky Roberts. “I heard him say it. He’s stealing on the first pitch.”
Hunger rattled Layton’s stomach. He hadn’t eaten all day. Usually after Fall Ball games, Layton was fed by the moms in the concession stand with leftover hotdogs or hamburgers, but the concessions had been closed already.
Before pitching to Sucio, Pinky threw to first base to hold Layton close three times in a row. Now, in the stretch, he held the glove in his lap with one foot on the rubber and looked over to first base sneakily. And held there. Held it so long that Sucio Hernandez stepped out of the batter’s box.
Pinky stepped off the bump and threw the ball in his mitt, then looked at Layton frustratingly.
“I got his attention,” Layton said to anyone listening. “He’s not smiling anymore.”
“Don’t go,” Scotty whispered.
Pinky got back on the rubber in the stretch. He stepped inward and stood tall, again peering over his shoulder. When Layton saw that he was going to pitch toward the plate, he took off with a violent twitch.
“Going!” the infield yelled in unison.
I love running, Layton thought. Running and running and running hard. Harder!
Layton had been running for years already. The Flop is a place where homeless teenagers like him end up. The mother of the kid who lives there stays at her boyfriend’s house every night. There’s no food, but there are drugs and there’s always beer. Some kids were already sniffing stuff. They said they had to sniff it because they didn’t have needles, whatever that meant. There was a crackhead there too, but most kids just smoked pot. It’s better than sleeping outside, though. Way better.
“Safe!” the umpire yelled.
Layton dusted off his pants and stared beyond the pitcher’s mound while straddling second base. Stared down catcher Bulb McLean. Hard. Because he’s so heavy, he was slow in getting the ball out to second base.
Then Layton looked beyond first base. The sun was barely peeking over the horizon. The field darkened. Precious little time left.
“Man, you’d be out right now if the ball didn’t skim off the base after you hit it,” Shortstop Pizzaface Parker said. His face and neck were pocked with blood-red boils and white pimples. “I would’ve had you dead to rights.”
“Woulda shoulda coulda,” Layton said.
“Stay there!” Mr. Hernandez yelled at Layton from third base, throwing both arms into the air with his palms open. “Two outs. Run on the sound of a hit. Line drive, pop fly, ground ball, just run. You’re the tying run. Short lead off second. Don’t get too far off the bag.”
I’m stealing, Layton told himself, and looked toward Coach Nick again. In the twilight, it was getting harder and harder to see him, but he now had both cheeks on the bleachers and his bat bag lay in the dirt next to him.
“Going!” the infield yelled as Pinky threw toward Sucio at the plate.
The pitch was low and outside and seemed to take Bulb McLean off balance so that his throw to third was late. Layton slid in easily under the tag and the bench and bleachers jumped in excitement. Sucio stood with his mouth open outside the batter’s box and stared at Layton, his bat on the ground in front of him.
“Dance on those bases!” someone yelled. “Just like little leagues!”
Layton saw Coach Nick point toward him and ask one of the parents a question. Coach Nick nodded, then stuffed his arms underneath his pits and watched closely.
“Tying run’s on third,” Bulb McLean yelled toward the infield. “Everyone in! Everyone in!”
The infielders and outfielders came in close. The only thing Sucio had to do was hit it in the air and the ball would most likely get over the outfielders’ heads. Then Layton could score easily, and the game would be tied.
“Tiguerazo, if the ball is in the dirt,” Mr. Hernandez said, flustered. “You go.”
The next two pitches were strikes. Pinky Roberts had rallied from being down in the count, 2-0, evening it up, 2-2. As he slunk toward the pitcher’s mound after Bulb tossed him the ball, Layton took a small lead, then a longer lead after Pinky stepped on the rubber.
“He’s got one ball to throw away before going to a full count,” Layton whispered to Mr. Hernandez as his stomach grumbled in hunger and his legs shook. “He’s going to waste one in the dirt.”
“Careful,” Mr. Hernandez said as Pinky glanced at Layton from the top of the mound.
The sun was gone. The field was black. A couple parents had moved their cars to point headlights toward the field, but it barely helped. One of the cars was as big as a boat, reeked of gasoline, and had some terrible hair band blaring through the speakers.
“Turn that ridiculous music off,” Coach Nick yelled. “Now!”
Slowly the parent in the car turned the music down while staring at Coach Nick, who called out again, “And turn the car off, but leave those lights on!”
The umpire looked up into the dark sky, then behind him where Coach Nick shook his head and growled, “Play ball, blue.”
The umpire nodded, pointed toward Pinky, and crouched behind Bulb McLean.
The pitch was low. So low that it ricocheted off the plate, crawled up Bulb’s left arm and popped high in the air.
“Go, go, Tiguerazo!” Mr. Hernandez yelled.
Sucio stepped out of the batter’s box and waved Layton home, but he was already on the way. The crowd stood on the bleachers between the headlights and the field, shrouded by fog. A mother screamed. Both benches yelled as Layton sprinted down the third baseline while the ball was still in the air over Bulb’s head. As the catcher reached high for it, the umpire whipped his mask behind him and opened his legs while placing both hands on his knees and staring at the plate for the best view. Bulb stepped forward to block the plate as the ball fell in his glove over his head. Layton had no choice. The huge catcher was blocking the third baseline. The crowd panted and pitched and came to a crescendo as Sucio pounded both palms on the ground for Layton to slide. Players on both benches climbed the rusty fences bellowing as Layton tackled the big catcher with every ounce of anger and grit and disgust and hatred and jealousy that had been building inside him for two long years. With a shoulder into the chest, Bulb’s mask and glove and the ball exploded into the air in three different directions as Layton groaned and grunted, even screeched at impact, making the detonation even more explosive.
After the collision, Layton was left twirling on the ground in a circle on his hip, while Bulb had fallen backward and landed between the legs of the umpire, face up. Layton stopped himself from spinning, crawled toward the plate, and slammed his hand onto it.
“Safe!” The umpire threw his arms wide as the ball trickled away.
Before Layton could celebrate with Sucio, Bulb McLean had gotten up and pushed him. In the heat, Layton punched him in the face twice until the umpire picked him up from behind and dragged him away kicking and screaming. He pushed Layton up against the backstop fence amidst the chaos, where he directly faced Coach Nick, who sat on the bleachers watching. Noticing. He’d never forget what he’d just witnessed. The first time he ever saw skinny Layton O’Her was when the kid rabidly fought for a tie. Brawled for a single run.