I have this very nice couch emplaced in a sort of tower of glass, it surveys miles and miles of everything all around. Earlier, as I was all done fucking, laying there spent and with that metallic din in my ears that's these days the constant companion of a good lay, I had my hand up, arm straight, propped on the elbow. I noticed its reflection in the glass panes, which led me to idle gesturing and monkeying about. Turns out that the up-thumb and down-thumb are indeed very natural gestures of the adult male arm, seated comfortably and well spent and monkeying about. Who could have guessed ?
The matter led me to summoning in the mind's eye the emperors of yore, few as fortunate as myself, and their votive got me to thinking. What could possibly possess an emperor to lift the thumb ?
Obviously the crowd wants the beaten gladiator dead. It's only normal, it's only natural, you pinch her tits and slap her ass a little, but eventually you stick it and drive it home. Normally. Naturally. It's the finality of the act, if the sword doesn't plunge in warm lung, if the juices of life don't geyser freely by its side, through its push inside... what are we watching here, and why are we this old, this withered, this perverse ? An acte ratee, a dissatisfying, unpleasant hair on the tongue. No, no, the gladiator must die for the show to be complete.
And yet... the gladiator was valuable, like any merchandise. Perhaps the owner of the capital goods might conspire with the repository of political power, to reuse the instruments of public enjoyment ? To cheapen the slop ? To save and replace and improve and progress ?
They certainly could try, but what on Earth would be the Emperor's incentive not to double-cross them ? Two men, supposedly less than his imperial majesty in some arcane, hermetic sense (but certainly, each, winner and loser of the bout, much more than his imperial majesty in the visible, plain sense) had fought a hard fight, and now one besting the other stands and waits. What shall be done ? Perhaps the Emperor had promised the gladiators' owners that none will be hurt, and this is how the match was even made possible in the first place. Yet, what of it ? What recourse do they have ?
Which brings us to the point. What is the nature, and the substance, of a promise ?
Suppose you have, through whatever means, a monthy income of a dollar. On the fifteenth of any given month, you could either wait a fortnight, after which interval dispose of your dollar free and clear, or else... well, you could mortgage it, no ? In exchange for your promise of specific disposition of that future dollar, you will get ... what will you get ? You'll get some money today, won't you. The poor know this oh so well. They also "know" that the "some money today" won't ever, no matter what, come to anything like a dollar -- but it's a different sort of knowledge. They know the latter like they know the Bible, but they know the former like they know how to piss. Very different knowledge, the knowing and the "knowing". Mouth knowledge, merely spoken, ritual, symbol, pretense. Not quite the same thing.
Why would the Emperor make a promise ? So he can become caught in a web of impudence shamelessly misrepresenting itself as "intrigue" ? So he can become a sad old man locked in a panopticon toilet ?
The rich man does not mortgage his future income for a lesser instant payoff -- that's poor fare, tailored for the poor aiming to stay that way. The powerful man does not mortgage his future decisions for some kind of ... what the fuck can they even offer in exchange ? They'll counterpromise something ? What need could the Emperor possibly have of anyone's promise ? What value could it have to him ? The very possibility of such a promise is predicated on broken imperio, to trade promises he must not be Emperor anymore.
Which brings us to the point : for the colossal games to function at all, for the two men to look upon the man deciding their fate as an Emperor, for the passing-for-men (provided you don't look too closely) crowding in the stalls to keep right on crowding in the stalls, the Emperor must make no promise. Causes, not purposes, you see.
If the Emperor were to promise, no matter what and no matter to whom, all those involved would instantly have the life sucked right out of them. A man will live, or maybe he will die, another will be merciful that day, or merciless. For these to mean something, for death to take the loser as a man, for grace to bathe him without damage, the Emperor must stand aside. Were he to become entangled in the web of promise, each of those involved would have an expectation -- what's worse, something they irrationally deem a "reasonable" expectation. The man forgiven who expected to be forgiven will count himself correct first, and the Emperor gracious second if at all. The man forgiven who expected to be doomed will count the Emperor a coward first, and himself righter-than-right, somehow, in spite of all. The man doomed who expected grace will thereby rebell, also quite "reasonably" by his lights, but yet not quite as effectually as the man doomed who expected doom -- that one stands some chance of burning the whole Colosseum down.
Why should any Emperor in his right mind pay a promise tax to all these officious intermeddlers ? Nobodies a gesture away from washing the dusty floors in their own haemolymph ; yet always ready to intersperse their self-precious "person" in between representation and event, to claim relevancy for themselves, and agency, and perhaps a little thread of purple and a half wilted scrap of laurel leaf. Much like the flies always ready to gargantua any and all food scraps you may leave within their "empire" of sorts, the inconsequential everyman stands ready to tax your power with the nonsensical construct of promise.
Why would the Emperor leave food out where the fleas can breed ?
And if he did such a thing, why should he be surprised at the eventual result ?