Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health and Circuses

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

"...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, around 100 A.D.

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The prez has been in office for 15 months and boy, has it ever been entertaining.  We've seen bankers sent to the dunce corner, auto execs booted out and their companies taken over, insurance companies bailed out of their mistakes, one war won and another escalated, the worst depression since 1929 "narrowly averted" (whatever that means) and communists outed from the White House.  That's entertainment.

Now for the grand finale:  FREE HEALTH CARE!

Well, free in that Someone Who Isn't You (SWIY) will have to pay for it.  And really, if it's free to you then it's completely free, isn't it?  Sadly, no, it isn't free in the sense that sunshine is free.  It's free in the sense of Free Mexican Food, that kind of free.  

The Romans knew about that kind of free.  They got  free bread and circuses and all they had to do was pretend that there were no Barbarians at the gate, come to rob and kill them and sack Rome.  Did you know that they could flood the Colosseum and stage mock sea battles to the death, with hundreds of skewered and drowning men?  Great circuses.  The emperors and the stage hands unions had important stakes in the continuity of circuses.  Their lives and jobs depended on them and they were a LOT more important than the plebs.

Wait.  Does that sound familiar?

The emperors feared the unwashed masses of Rome.   They passed out food to show their concern for the common man and staged spectacular circuses to divert their attention.  The great issues of the day - and the continued existence of Rome itself was already in question - were ignored as long as the people didn't protest... too much.  As long as people were debating their favorite gladiators in the upcoming circus, gathering at huge public sporting events and queuing up for free bread they would be less likely to, say, riot and overthrow the government.  The Romans sold their birthrights, their futures and their souls for some bread and a few afternoons of watching someone else's death-as-entertainment. 

America has been diverted from its core beliefs of the strength of the individual and the sharing of the national burden of whatever kind.  We have been entertained by a 15-month circus of non-stop campaigning for this or that issue, always at the expense of the national treasury, and we're told that nothing will really cost us anything so why not do it?  During this period of entertainment on a grand scale we have managed to lose sight of who we are.  We have accepted that we can have magnificent things like national health care and it will be paid for by SWIY.

But you know that can't work, don't you?  There's no free health care, there's no free Mexican food and BTW, peace isn't free either.

Rome eventually ceased to exist as a player on the world stage.  It lost its means to provide for and protect itself and its citizens.  It succumbed to the wild self-indulgences and promises of its leaders who, while the plebs were wondering whose army was making all that dust on the horizon, moved to Constantinople and took the remaining army with them.

You know all too much about the vote-buying that led to the health care showdown circus.  In a world that was supposed to be "post-partisan", the HC vote was 219-212 along party lines.  They voted while you were watching March Madness.  Or was it gladiators?  Hey, is that gladiator really drowning?

We didn't sell our vote, not exactly, but the folks we elected did.  They sold our vote and we allowed it.  We "abdicated our duties" just as Juvenal wrote and now we "anxiously hope for just two things: bread and circuses."

Pretty smart guy, that Juvenal.

I'm looking for property in Constantinople.  I've heard they've got good bread there.

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In times like these it's difficult not to write satire - Juvenal


  1. Wait a minute! We've been to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the bread isn't all that great plus their secular government isn't all that secure either. I think we should stay here and enjoy the free bread. Maybe they'll flood our golf course which is, after all, on a flood plain, and we can watch the sea battle from our deck. Of course they may want us to participate in the mock battle so they can throw us overboard but then haven't they already done that?

  2. i liked this one dad. you may be right, you may be wrong, but this was a good little essay.

  3. Welcome, commenter Mrs. Warren. I hope you'll stick around.

    Dissenting views are always welcome. If you have something to say, be sure that you have found a safe place here to say it. Put your views out there and let us respond. You may do so via a comment here or by an email to me asking that your essay be included as its own separate column. I promise to never edit what you write but I have the same right to comment that you do.