Bread and Circuses
If you keep the people “fat and happy” you can get away with anything. This is a common synthesis of the phrase first attributed to the Roman poet in the first century CE, “bread and circuses;” he said. Give the people bread and circuses and you will have their support. They will not object to anything you do, and they will follow you anywhere.
In the Roman context, the call for circuses meant; give the people games to entertain them. Gladatorial games, yes, but the reference to the “circuses” meant the great racing track of the Circus Maximum, the round “ovular” course where chariot races took place.
“Fat and Happy” fairly approximates the sense of “Bread and Circuses,” but “Fat and Entertained,” is closer to the original meaning. Some historians have viewed this political philosophy as a strategy of appeasement; as if to say, if you keep the people fed and entertained they will not revolt. Others have seen it simply as a strategy of distraction; as if to say, if you keep the people fed and entertained they will not notice the crimes you commit, or your mismanagement of government. The same philosophy can serve both strategies, and it can also be a strategic means of fostering loyalty; as if to say, if you keep the people fed and entertained, you can count on their continuing support,
Bread and Circuses, Bread and Games, is not exactly the same as Fat and Happy. We may just as easily be saying Fed and Entertained, wherein entertainment could also mean angry, hostile, and vehement.
In America today there is no end to the supply of food. This is not to say that some people to not suffer from food insecurity, food scarcity, even malnutrition; this is a resource management problem and has nothing to do with the abundance of food available in the market place.
Americans are fed, fat, and completely distracted.
We are entertained by games, sports, Pokemon Go, by television, movies, and social media, we are distracted by partisan politics, by protests, by injustice. We are do distracted by ephemeral issues like racism, classism, and sectarianism that there is little opportunity for us to come together and hold our government accountable for providing the basic services we require, such as; health care, education, public safety, roads and bridges, and the most important thing of all, justice.
Another ancient axiom is this A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand. We live in a divided world, we live in a divided country. There is not an American Society, there are thousands of little societies, each doing its own thing.
American are distracted by their differences, and by their sameness. We have gay society, and straight society, and the rest that just don’t care. We have white societies, and black societies, and Latino societies, and Asian societies, and humanist societies, and allied societies. We have gamer societies, and comic-con societies, and Facebook groups, and band followers, meth heads, and pot heads and drunks, we have protest societies, and police societies…and so on, and so forth ad nauseam.
It is natural and normal to differentiate ourselves from one another. It is good to stand up and fight for your rights. It is good, and it is our duty to demand justice in the face of injustice, but those natural and normal ways by which we come to differentiate ourselves from one another, when they become the focus of our energy and identity rather than the interests of justice and human rights; then those modes of differentiation have failed to serve any meaningful purpose.
In my community there are protests taking place. People have gathered to protest another (in a long line of) unjustified shooting of a black man, by police. People are angry, and they are protesting, they are stopping traffic, they are fighting with police. They have no leadership, they are not talking to the media, they have no coherent voice. I am trying to understand what it is they want. What is the object of their protest? What do they want to see happen?
The ultimate answer is that they want the shootings to stop and they want reform of the criminal justice system, the full enfranchisement of African-American citizens.
I am with them on those goals.
However, the people on the protest line are distracted. They are angry, and distracted, they are whiling away their days shouting and throwing bricks, or singing songs and playing games. Sending out messages for coffee and food delivery, alienating those whom they perceive as not having a sufficient commitment to their cause; those who are not doing the same thing as they are doing.
They are so distracted by their passion that the justice they seek; systematic reforms in the criminal justice system; may be slipping away from them. It is almost certain that the ability of the protest leaders to have an influence on public policy, and possible legislation has. And so, in the greater scheme of things, that have become the pawns of the status quo.
The bread and circuses stratagem is working