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Bread and Circuses

I’d like to start this entry with a history lesson.

from here

Back in the day—and I mean way back in the day, in ancient Rome—Roman politicians were getting nervous. See, when you’re not really “of the people, by the people, for the people”, the people tend to find out eventually. They also tend not to like it. The bottom of any pyramid is bigger than the top and much less dispensable; if it should decide to move itself, well, that’s probably the end for those at its peak. Instead of trying to please the Roman populace by treating them justly, the politicians decided to use other means. That is, bread and circuses.

One thing that can bring about an uprising is easy to understand: the people’s basic needs are not being met. Everyone has to eat. It’s necessary for survival. (Well, unless you’re a breatharian, but that’s a discussion for a different entry.) If your government is supposed to be taking care of you but you can’t even get enough food in your stomach, something is obviously wrong. Maybe you’ll start to wonder what else is wrong…or maybe you’ll just be pissed off and round up a group with pitchforks. Anyway, Rome’s politicians understood this—the guys were greedy, not stupid—and so they provided free bread. Hey! Free bread! Regardless of what else is going on, awww, my government loves me enough to keep me fed. Sweet fellas. This means of placating the populace still goes on today. In Egypt, for example, bread is very cheap to ensure that citizens, regardless of poverty level, can afford to have enough to eat…which is all the better to keep the eyes of the people off their “democratic” dictator. So long as their stomachs are full, the idea goes, they won’t notice anything else.

So what about circuses? Do people have a deep-rooted need for them, too? Well, no. But what politicians have a need for, should they be trying to keep their agendas unscrutinized, is distraction. Poor people could go to these grand complexes to enjoy themselves, laugh and be merry, and forget how much life sucked the rest of the time. It’s not like the government exactly had to con them into distraction, either; if humans then were anything like we are now, and I expect they were, it was all too easy to distract them.

from here

Today, the idea of bread and circuses is very much alive right here in the grand ole U.S. of A. We are all about instant gratification, we are utterly self-serving, and the people at the top of the pyramid realize this. Hey, they’re pretty much the same way. So we have our bread: our WalMarts, our fast food restaurants, places we can go to get cheap food that, on the whole, is terrible for us. And we definitely have our circuses. Television, Facebook, cars, so many shopping options that it is ridiculous…I could go on. Our whole freaking lives are spent circus-hopping.

Why do professional sports players get paid more than teachers? They’re just a playing a game. Kids can play football out in the backyard, and though it may be nowhere near as exciting, it’s still the same game. Well, that’s because this is what has become a priority in our lives: entertainment. There are people who want to distract us and, dammit, we want to be distracted. It isn’t even always about the rich trying to get richer anymore. People are being killed in pointless wars, people are dying of starvation and easily treatable diseases, people are living in cardboard boxes and under bridges and on sidewalks, almost everything we use has been linked to cancer at some point, we poor poison onto our skin each time we shampoo our hair in the shower, the earth is dying around us and we just don’t want to see it. We would rather bury our heads in the sand than try to take a stand.

I can’t say I don’t understand this mindset. Actually, I understand it very well. It is terrifying to see all the things that are wrong in my community, my country, and my world. Some of the things that are bad are things that it’s probably impossible for us to fix. But there is so much that we can do, and even if it’s scary and even if it’s hard, it is worth doing. Why?

For one thing, we can’t be happy like this. If you’ve ever poked your head outside the box of your own superficiality, you already realize that. So many Americans are depressed now and while, yes, it has a lot to do with personal issues and past traumas, I believe it also has a lot to do with the fact that we are taught to lead such empty lives. Even those who go off to college to “better themselves” rarely go for an education; they go to get a job. With that job, they hope to earn money to buy all the things that they couldn’t buy before. I’m not trying to get all hokey on you, but I mean it when I say that material things will never make us happy. Ever. I have to believe that there is some deeper core of humanity than greed, and unfortunately, I also have to believe that we as a society have lost our connection to it.

Not severed the connection. Simply misplaced it.

I guess everything I wanted to say in this entry comes down to something pretty simple. We live in a world of bread and circuses, and this world is both an illusion and a delusion. There are people who use their positions to perform tricks meant to get us to not look past the rabbit being pulled out of the hat. There is our own fear and greed that asks us to clap for the magicians, to pretend the illusion is real until we honestly forget that it isn’t. But that is not magic. Things don’t happen just because we want them to. Things happen when we work to make them happen.

You can eat the bread if you’re hungry. You can visit the circus. But realize, please, that there is a world outside of that. I believe that it is a world worth living in. I believe that it is a world worth saving. Because it is our world, and when the bread runs out and the tent collapses, whatever we’ve made it into will be what we have left.

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