"... iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses. ..."
~ Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, Saturae, X, LXXVII-LXXXI
"... Already long ago, from when votes to none
we sold, we shed trusteeships; for who gave once
command, consulships, legions, all things, now itself
restrains and two things only timidly hopes for,
bread and circuses ..."
~ Juvenal, Satires, 10, 77–81
As the Republica Romana declined toward what would be known as the Imperium Romanum, the politicians of the society approved laws to provide cheap food and entertainment to the masses. This act was not one of benevolence, but rather, of greed and lust for power. Ambition is made of sterner stuff than benevolence, after all. By providing wheat, the bare necessity of nourishment, to the masses, the ambitious doled out a subsistence-level existence. The masses could survive on such fare, but just survive. But survival, the ambitious reckoned, would not be sufficient to prevent revolt; something else would have to be done. Entertainment has been, for a very long time, a form of escapism, a distraction from the cares and concerns of ordinary life, an opiate which allows those suffering to forget, for a moment, their suffering. The politicians chose, therefore, to finance the Ludi, public games intended to entertain the populace, such as the ludi circenses, horse races in the circus ("circus" in Latin referred to a circular open-air venue for public events), as well as other forms of entertainment. Again, this was not done for the benefit of the public, but rather, to distract the public, thereby allowing the ambitious to gain more political power. By the time of the Roman poet Juvenal, the people had become disinterested in the affairs of state, concerning themselves rather, as he satirized, with only survival and entertainment, or in his turn of phrase, "bread and circuses." Politics was left to the politicians. The majority of the people took little to no heed of such things.
Juvenal lamented that the people had abdicated the responsibilities with which they were entrusted by the Elders who formed the first Senate of the Republic long ago, in favor of mere survival and distraction from the woes which, had they bothered with those responsibilities, they might have been able to eradicate. Instead, the masses eagerly gave their votes to whomever gave them bread and circuses.
"Bread and circuses" have taken many forms since the Roman Republic degraded itself to the point at which it could easily be perverted from its original estate into the Roman Empire. In our day, the fourth estate, once more important to the shaping and passage, or rejection, of legislation than religious leaders, Senators, and Representatives, has degraded itself into a gaggle of propagandists shilling for their corporate masters' preferred political candidates. Where once they were journalists, now they are pimps, distracting the masses from the activities of the legislators with insipid entertainment masquerading as news. Where once they could inspire responsible citizens to fire off angry letters to their Representatives and Senators, who would then still concern themselves with the will of the people, now those "Members of Congress" who no longer refer to themselves as "Representatives," and the Senators, take little to no heed of sharply-worded communications from their constituents, but do as they will with deference paid only to their party's line, and to the lobbyists who grease their palms and feather their nests, while the "news" media outlets distract with the latest Hollywood scandal, celebrity divorce, or, when they are told to frighten the people, with the latest alleged terrorist act. Fewer citizens care to pay attention to such "news," preferring rather to distract themselves with more honest entertainment, which is to say, entertainment which admits that it is entertainment.
Two-hundred and forty years ago, Thomas Jefferson put quill to paper and penned a Declaration, in which he enumerated the crimes of his government. The populace took an interest in such things then, and were willing to fight, kill, and die in order to secure unto themselves and their descendants the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They did not undertake such a thing with the notion that their descendants would abdicate their responsibilities to maintain such rights. Today, those who expose government corruption and abuses are accused of treason, and must either flee in search of asylum or be locked up in solitary confinement and denied necessary medical care, even when the populace takes an interest and would see such persons as patriots.
We have bridges crumbling. We have bridges being washed away by floods. We have overpasses decaying. We have highways which should have been widened long ago, and highways which need the yellow and white lines retouched. We have a national infrastructure which is in decline. Meanwhile, our government encourages industrialists to move their factories overseas and turn them into sweatshops. Our government gives billions of tax monies to régimes which are guilty of crimes against humanity, and sends young people to fight in wars intended to further enrich the already obscenely wealthy, in the name of "security."
Our constitutional rights have been subverted by, among other things, the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001," more commonly known by its acronym, "USA PATRIOT Act." Our law enforcement agencies and bureaus and departments ignore laws to let wealthy criminals go free, and shoot the unarmed poor whose hands are raised, and taser the mentally ill into cardiac arrest and toss them into cells to die without any concern or medical attention. Our government spies on us, and spends billions on the Intelligence Community. Our Supreme Justices declare that unlawful searches and seizures are lawful, in defiance of the Bill of Rights. Clearly, we are no better off, and no safer, with the USA PATRIOT Act than we were before it was passed. In spite of wads of cash given to the IC and laws like the USA PATRIOT Act which violate our constitutional rights, we have "intelligence errors" and "intelligence failures," and "erroneous assumptions," and "misjudgements," and "mistakes" now just as we did before. Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Clearly, our elected "representatives" who gave up our essential liberties to purchase a little temporary safety, have not only denied us our liberties, but also failed to deliver safety. Clearly, the USA PATRIOT Act is impotent to achieve what it was supposedly designed to achieve, and should be repealed.
Meanwhile, we have football, and basketball, and baseball, and softball, and the Olympics, and television series and movies. We also have the two-ring circus of the two-party system parading two of the worst possible candidates for President imaginable before us and insisting that we must choose one or the other, when either of them will only, largely, perpetuate the status quo, while (subtly or not) driving the nation further toward the dystopia of Neoliberal Economics (which deregulates corporations, disenfranchises labor, attempts to dismantle the social safety net, pisses on our heads and claims that it's rain trickling down from the wealthy) and Neoconservative interventionism (which is imperialism). They'll drop a few token crumbs from the table, the barest minimum to pacify the frustrated citizenry, and they'll continue the circuses. But they'll do nothing for the people.
We do have other options. The reason the Bifurcation Fallacy is called "fallacy" is because it is an error in reasoning. The division of all possible perspectives into two, which, subjected to actual analysis, are not really dissimilar at all except in superficialities, when there are other possibilities, and other actualities, is faulty reasoning. It is, in short, an attempt to distract the people from realizing that other options exist. The two-party system is itself a circus in the sense of distraction.
Do we choose a loudmouthed, posturing windbag who appeals rhetorically to the baser elements of society? Do we choose a corrupt and lying devotee of corporatism with a history of promoting wars for profit and making what she claims are merely mistakes? Do we reject that false dilemma for what it is, and instead elect someone who gives a damn? Do we really believe that the orange man who plays golf with the corporate pimpette's husband is really so different from the pimpette, that he's a big bad wolf, a boogeyman not unlike Mussolini, while comforting ourselves with the lie that the pimpette is a "lesser" evil? Or do we choose rather to elect someone for the greater good? Do we numb ourselves to the gnawing hunger in our souls for more than mere bread, by the distraction of the circus? Or do we take back our power by choosing to reject those who would give us nothing but bread and circuses, and instead accept someone who would give us a Green New Deal, putting our people back to work repairing the national infrastructure and moving us toward sustainable and renewable energy sources, someone who would hold the criminals to account, and recognize the whistle-blowers for the heroic patriots they are in fact, someone who would do away with indentured servitude entered into in exchange for an education, someone who would reject the economic practices which led to the Great Depression, someone who would fight corruption?
There is one person running for President today who stands for the Greater Good, who is not a "lesser" evil, nor an evil at all. There is one person running for President who cares about this nation and her people. There is one person running for President who believes that the Constitution says "We the People," and not "We the Wealthy." There is one person running for President who will see to it that we have more than bread and circuses. That one person is Doctor Jill Stein. I am voting for her, and you should, too.
Note: The quote attributed to Cicero in one of the images in the text is actually from the essay “Of Bread and Circuses,” by Ben Moreel, published in The Freeman, 1 January 1956.
The title of the blog post comes from Star Trek (The Original Series), season 2, episode 25; episode 54 overall; production code 43.
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