“The empire never ended,” was a phrase that science fiction author Philip K. Dick was fond of using now and then to describe the state of our world. He was referring to the alleged “fall” of the Roman Empire; however, his sentiment is that there was no fall, but only a changing of the guard. That is to say, Mr. Dick felt that the Roman Empire has merely changed hands a few times over the course of history, and its mentality has never quite escaped the ruling elite who structure and guide our society. He saw all around him, here in our modern world, hands of the Roman Empire shaping the course of our lives.
One of the things that the Roman Empire used to do in order to distract its populace from paying attention to how corrupt its rulers were was to put on shows referred to by some as “bread and circuses.” These were the spectacular blood sports held in places like the Coliseum. What the Roman rulers would do is bring in the underprivileged and the marginalized of their society, give them a place to sit, feed them bread, and then entertain them with gladiatorial combat, elaborate games, chariot races, etc. All of this, as far as I can see, centered around three things: food, violence, and persuasion. Certainly, if we are among the lower classes of a society and yet are fed by the rulers of that society, then we are less likely to want to do something about the corrupt elite. Hunger can be a powerful motivational force, and if it is satiated, then people are more likely to remain docile. The spectacle of violence is also a powerful thing in the lives of humans. If our ruling elite offers us violence for our spectator pleasure, then we are again less likely to resort to violence against these same rulers as they are fulfilling some primal need within their populace. These two things “food and violence” work together to create a powerful persuasive force which quells the opportunities to look at the atrocities of the rulers. I imagine that being able to witness death for sport while having a full belly all because of the ruler’s decree would make many people less likely to seek out and reveal the faults and the injustices of the society created and maintained by their ruler. Certainly we can see that Mr. Dick has a good point, if only we take the time to examine the society that we find ourselves living in.
Leaving many of the obvious examples aside for the time being, let us instead take a look at the recent “Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” that came and went through Calgary earlier this summer.
I saw on the news that this year’s Stampede had the greatest number of animal deaths ever in the history of this outdoor exhibition. The rodeo took the lives of several horses and ended the lives of other animals as well. The CTV news reported SEE:
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20020715/stampede_animals_killed_020714/ that seven animals died for our viewing entertainment” twice as many as usual. One of the most deadly events, for humans and for horses alike, is the chuck-wagon race. Watching those little carts being pulled around the track by a whole team of horses conjures up notions of absurdity in at least this viewer. It appears to me that the proportions of driver and cart to the team of (I believe it’s) four full-grown horses are insane, and such scale of power to weight is simply looking for accidents and deaths. This year, the spectators of the Stampede were treated to exactly that: the deaths of horses on the chuck-wagon track.
And isn’t this all a little like the chariot races of the Roman Empire. Certainly, we are more “civilized” today in so far as we are not outright allowing the competitors in the event to try to kill each other during the course of the race, but really, how “civil” are we when we can still sit anonymously in a crowd in order to watch a spectacle before us which gives rise to a high possibility of injury and death? What is it that has really changed? We are still as willing to watch blood sports as we ever were, except now we have to pay large amounts of money for entrance to the fair grounds, food, and our seats in the grandstand. So really, the rulers these days are getting even more out of these “bread and circuses” because not only do they continue to distract us from the real problems in our world and also satiate our primal desires for violence, but we also shell out our hard earned money in order to perpetuate this epidemic of distraction.
Yep, Philip K. Dick was certainly onto something when he formulated his notion that the Empire never ended. Not only has it not ended, it has gotten more and more efficient over the years at being able to cover itself up in such a manner that not only do we have difficulty seeing how the Empire still exists today, but we also help pay for its perpetuation and maintenance. It is a subtle and vicious empire indeed, if we are unable to even recognize its hand gripped firmly around our throats.
b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.