Panem et circenses … bread and circuses … that’s what comes to mind when I hear about the provincial budget. (I have a few other choice words, but they are not as printable.) The Roman writer, Juvenal, was correct 1,800 years ago when he lamented that the masses can be appeased with simple pleasures like food and entertainment.
I know this clearly isn’t a new political play, but it doesn’t make it any more palatable when politicians announce election platforms or budgets that focus on satisficing base “wants.” Instead of elevating themselves to do the role of “politician” justice, they are master magicians. Their sleight of hand game is more important than integrity, and they get the masses to look over here at these shiny things they want, when in their other hand they are doing something despicable to their needs. It’s not unlike the pickpocket who bumps into you in a crowd, apologizes, and only later do you realize what was stolen from you.
On April 11, the National Post’s Shawn Jeffords reported: “The first fiscal blueprint of the Progressive Conservatives’ term contains several measures to loosen rules around alcohol consumption in the province, while also liberalizing certain gambling and combat sport laws.”
Drink in the park, drink at the beach, drink earlier in the day, and be drawn into bars and restaurants to drink discounted happy-hour specials. So the philosophy is that everyone is happily drinking and they won’t notice you privatizing health care? Keep them further distracted through gambling online?
Thank you, bread and circuses.
“The budget also promises to change how the province regulates combat sports like boxing, mixed martial arts and kickboxing.”
I guess I’m finding this last one a little on the nose, literally. The Romans knew that if you keep the masses entertained that they won’t rise up against the empire: because big groups of idle, poor people are a threat to their rule. Give them violence to entertain them and they won’t get violent against you. That was the whole point of the coliseum and the gladiators. Looser rules around boxing, mixed martial arts, and kickboxing is a surprising parallel to the gladiators being used to control the masses.
Juvenal was also putting the blame on the masses for allowing themselves to be so easily distracted. That’s a fair comment today as well. How much time have I wasted binge-watching Netflix … time that I should have spent informing myself about what’s going on in the world around me?
For me, an earlier Roman poet foreshadowed a very important side to this self-indulgent lifestyle. More than 100 years before Juvenal, Ovid said: “There is no such thing as pure pleasure; some anxiety always goes with it.”
Lately, I’m feeling quite anxious. I’m feeling like it is time to make sure that I am not distracted. I feel like I should be laser focused on what is happening in the other hand. But it’s more fun, and easier to have a drink, gamble, watch a fight, and not think. Part of me is hoping everything will take care of itself … and I won’t have to exert myself because history shows what happens to a society when it becomes so hedonistic like in Rome.
Beware of bread and circuses.