Sunday, August 1, 2010

Panem et Circenses

By: Bastiatarian

As all mature adults know, there are many people in the world who have a desire for power, not merely over their own lives, liberty, and property (legitimate power), but over the lives, liberty, and property of others (illegitimate power). There is, of course, an overwhelming tendency for politicians to fall into this latter group.

In nations with a relatively high level of liberty, it is uncommon for politicians to launch a direct attack on the lives, liberty, and property of the citizens. Rather, they will use subtle means to enslave the people to one degree or another. One of the most common methods utilized in the enslavement is a type of diversion that plays upon the urges and weaknesses of a degraded people.

In his tenth Satire, Juvenal wrote:
... Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses. (Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81)

Think about the reasons that people give for supporting politicians. More often than not, the reasons revolve around the individual getting something from the politician or his/her policies. Ordinarily, what is gotten is something that actually belongs to a fellow citizen. The fact that forcing one citizen to give up property to another is thievery never even comes into the mind of the voter, and so the majority, in essence, votes my property (and therefore my life and liberty) away from me. Social Security and other types of coercive government welfare programs and economic "stimulus" programs are part of the "bread" that government uses to divert our attention away from the fact that we are becoming slaves.


The other half of the diversion comes in the form of entertainment. How many people can give a detailed account of the activities surrounding the mediocre (at best) singers on "American Idol?" Now, compare that number to the number of people who can discuss the origin, nature, and content of the U.S. Constitution. How many can discuss the writings of the Founding Fathers? How many understand the solid economic and political theory of Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, F.A. Hayek, or Ludwig Von Mises? How many of the people protesting Arizona's SB 1070, a straightforward document that is only about ten pages long, have actually read it? How many of those people instead spent that time watching mind-numbing froth like "Oprah" or "The View?"

Simulated Circuses

Technology has given us great blessings, but as is the case with just about anything, it can be used destructively. More and more I see people replacing real interaction and real relationships with the electronically created quasi-intimate interaction of texting, online multiplayer gaming, and social networking sites.

Now, each of those can be entertaining and useful, but far too many people have come to view those as real interaction with others, rather than a simulation of interaction, with multiple layers and filters. It's an illusion. Nobody has 500 friends, regardless of what it says on their Facebook Friends list.

We live in a culture of the copy, and it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between reality and simulation. Video games, for example, are increasingly realistic. Fictional movies such as "An Inconvenient Truth" or the work of Michael Moore are marketed as documentaries. Highly scripted and manufactured programs on television are referred to as "reality shows." Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists Photoshop pictures, invent incidents, filter information, and instigate memes that are nothing more than persistent lies.

Eternal Vigilance

Ultimately, it is all a diversion--bread and circuses--and our greed, as well as our physical and intellectual laziness, make us susceptible to being lulled into sleep while the overlords tighten the flaxen cord around our necks just a little bit more each day.

Stay awake. Pay attention. Use self-control. Sell your vote to no man. Do not sacrifice your birthright for a mess of pottage.
But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.  It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government. -- Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837


  1. I've had similar thoughts for years. I even believe that the whole Demican Republicrat battle is a diversion so the bipartisan looting can continue.

    Keep us arguing over whether Sara Palin is better than Barack Obama so we don't actually attempt to get to the root causes.

  2. >the whole Demican Republicrat battle

    One way I express it is as a choice between a punch in the stomach or a kick in the head. One might be more damaging than the other, but they're both damaging. I'll take option C: No damage to me.

  3. As someone who appears to be more in the know than am I, you may remember who said that a democracy (or was it a republic) lasts only as long as the majority doesn't discover that it can vote itself other people's money. (Probably a VERY rough paraphrase!) Our nation has discovered that dangerous fact.

  4. Excellent well written post.

    The diversion occurs in the media and academia as well.

    Perhaps however, more of America is waking up. 2010 and 2012 will define just how much we may have awakened as A PEOPLE.

  5. Gorges:
    It was Benjamin Franklin. He said "When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."

    >The diversion occurs in the media and academia as well.

    It really is shocking how many professors view their role as one of instigating sociopolitical activism rather than providing education. That's a diversion because it keeps students in an emotional state (in other words, a non-thinking state), with their minds filled with bumper sticker slogans and political correctness rather than solid, rational principles, knowledge, and wisdom. There's an active Diversity Office, but even seniors can't construct a coherent argument.



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