Anyone who’s ever read one of my long winded and rambling Populist rants knows my opinion on what I refer to as our unique modern day bread and circuses. For those that haven’t I’m gonna go through it again so this is a good time to bail if you’re easily bored. First off, the definition of the phrase in it’s modern form, courtesy of Wikipedia:
“Bread and Circuses” (or bread and games) (from Latin: panem et circenses) is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered “palliative.” Juvenal decried it as a simplistic motivation of common people. The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the common man.
In modern usage, the phrase is taken to describe a populace that no longer values civic virtues and the public life. To many across the political spectrum, left and right, it connotes a supposed triviality and frivolity that characterized the Roman Republic prior to its decline into the autocratic monarchy characteristic of the later Roman Empire‘s transformation about 44 B.C.
It seems that everyone who sits down to write about the subject of Americans and their extremely short attention spans just naturally starts with a comparison between the modern day United States and the sprawling colossus that was ancient Rome and naturally so because the parallels are more than abundant. Just as Rome eventually toppled, so many see what has amounted to the American empire beginning to crumble in much the same way Rome did and for many of the same reasons.
The phrase itself was coined by the Roman poet Juvenal in his essay, “Wrong Desire is the Source of Suffering” wherein he states “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“
According to a Yahoo Voices article by Dr. William Matthew McCarter posted in June, 2011:
Juvenal was concerned with the citizenry’s lack of public life and civic virtue and the faux populism of Rome’s ruling elite. It was through this faux populism that Rome first began the practice of “bread and circuses.” The Roman politician Gaius Gracchus began the practice of Annona (the grain dole) in 123 BC as one of his political reforms. By this time, circus games were ubiquitous in Roman society. For example, The Coliseum in Rome could seat nearly 50,000 people. Many other cities throughout the empire also had their own arenas for mass consumption of the games. Publicly subsidized food and mass entertainment — bread and circuses — were used as a means of gaining political power and controlling the masses through faux populism. Perhaps the reason why none of America’s talking heads from either end of the political perspective talk about “bread and circuses” is because both sides, in one way or another, are heavily invested in the idea of creating an approving and obedient public through the mere satisfaction of their most immediate and shallow needs.
So how does that apply to Modern Day America you say? I’m glad you asked that because I was just about to tell you anyway. When we talk about the bread side of the equation as it applies today, the most obvious example would be the SNAP program or as it is more commonly referred to, food stamps. This program exists to provide free or subsidized food to people who otherwise would not be able to afford it. Others would include the WIC program that provides nutritious foods to women who are pregnant or have small children. In addition, the federal and state government also provides and administers the nation’s TANF program (welfare benefits) that provides money to families with dependent children.
Most people… myself among them… consider these programs to be a vital part of the social safety net that shouldn’t be tampered with on simple humanitarian grounds. But there’s also this to consider. If these programs were eliminated tomorrow by an overzealous bureaucracy intent on slavishly serving the plutocrats that own most of the government, by Sunday, every congressperson and two bit political hack in the country would be strung up on a lamp posts by a populace with nothing left to lose and hardware stores in Greenwich Connecticut would be seeing a run on pitchforks and kerosene . If you doubt that then check with Marie Antoinette and King Louie next time they’re in town. The Caesars were smart enough to realize that and their empire/republic stood stood for over 400 years. I don’t think ours is going to make it that long,
As for the circuses? Take your pick. Movies, TV reality shows, professional sports, cruises, vacation getaways, time shares… $50k 12mpg SUVs to take the kids to school in… hell just name it. Americans will not only eat it up like candy, they’ll pay through the nose to do so. Billion dollar football stadiums, multimillion dollar racetracks, billion dollar election debacles, millionaire talking heads, multimillionaire jocks who can’t even spell the word “million”, rock stars, 60 inch TV screens, Lindsey Lohan, Justin Bieber… feel free to jump in here and add your own examples to the list.
Hell, we aren’t fighting to “save the middle class” we’re fighting to save all this crap FOR the middle class. We’re fighting to make the world safe for professional consumers so they can continue to enable the 1% we’re fighting against. If we had an ounce of guts and an inch of backbone we’d once and for all tell the almighty 1% to take a flying f**k at a rolling doughnut and QUIT. BUYING. THEIR. SHIT. Or at least the extraneous shit.
And by extraneous I mean beyond the basic necessities we have to have. It wouldn’t take long to regain a little common sense perspective on this whole damned tail wagging the dog thing we’ve got going on here. Simply deciding that “If I can’t pay for it today I ain’t buyin’ it today” and then sticking to it would accomplish more in six months than we’ve managed to get done in the last six years of tweeting, Facebook statusing and petitions to “tell congress this” and “tell congress that”. Amazing how many people still can not grasp the fact that the people with the power don’t give a rat’s ass what the powerless think and 90% of those petitions become congressional toilet paper upon delivery..
Sooner or later, unless you take matters into your own hands, the decision is going to be made for you as to what you’ll do without. Might be better to make the decision yourself to do without some the extra stuff for now than be forced to do without everything later.