Thursday, 2 July 2015

Panem et Circenses

But what of the Roman Mob? 

They follow Fortune, as always, and hate whoever she

Condemns. If Nortia, as the Etruscans called her, had favoured

Etruscan Sejanus; if the old Emperor had been surreptitiously

Smothered; that same crowd in a moment would have hailed

Their new Augustus. They shed their sense of responsibility

Long ago, when they lost their votes, and the bribes; the mob

That used to grant power, high office, the legions, everything,

Curtails its desires, and reveals its anxiety for two things only,

Bread and circuses.

From 'Satire X' by Juvenal. The origin of the phrase 'Bread and Circuses'.

The key to this passage, which is oft misused, is that if a people's empowerment is thrown away for two long their interest and want to influence wanes. 'When they lost their votes' when their official recourse for influencing power was demeaned and destroyed. 'and the bribes' when back-room deals and hidden powers seem to run the power structure for their own interests, through corrupt figureheads. 'The mob that used to grant power, high office, the legions, everything.' we do not claim that the modern 'mob' ever granted power or high office freely and directly, but it seems to be that there was a time when the mob was closer to the apex of power, when the political agenda was somewhat more set by the mob. The proud mob. We take no shame in being the mob. The mob rules. Or so it should.

But, according to Juvenal, when the mob loses it all, when it has no outlet for its political and democratic desires, it's desires to influence and empower, to control the world and society it creates and exists in, then it 'curtails' these desires and 'reveals its anxiety for two things only, Bread and circuses.'

It is an interesting analysis, build on an observation many seem to make today, that the 'common people' have no care for politics and society. That they are un-informed and under-educated. That they have bought so whole-heartedly into the distractions they have been given that they barely see them as distractions, they are now the main event. When the front page of the nations best selling news paper is dedicated to singing competitions and royal love lives, there certainly seems to be a problem.

Do people not care about their situation? That seems unlikely, do they see themselves as having a way to change it? Certainty not. I do not, I find it hard to convince myself that theres any point in trying to change anything. I don't watch X factor and go to McDonald's though, so I see myself as outside the 'bread and circuses' derision. I just scroll down the Guardian until theres an article about popular culture or sport or music or something. I don't click on the big thing about the Greek economic crisis. I scroll down to the 'bread and circuses' it's just that for me it's hand kneaded sourdough and Albanian performance art or something. Fancy bread, and fancy circuses. 

I saw this only to separate a fear of a politically un-empowered masses, to a derision of 'the masses' as the other. The working classes. With there silly newspapers and singing shows. Their just distractions. Different distractions to mine. But distractions never the less. 


Welcome friends to the new home of the Bread Circus Blog. Here we will be bringing you news and opinions from a host of journalists, cultural critics, news makers, economists, political analysts and activists. Our central focus is the state of modern society and modern political popular thought. Branching from the premise that what is possible politically is shaped only by what people consider possible, we want to think on the subject of how our ideas of political possibility are formed. Why do some thing we are doomed? Why are some convinced this is the best time in human history? Why do some see it as the worse? Why do some think everything is getting better? And some see it getting worse? What does it take to make people see the world differently? And what is the relation between the world as it is perceived, and the world as it is, if there is such a thing.

So that's what we've got. Let's see what we can do...