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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Rome is burning: Thoughts on the past and present

In recent months, perhaps a year or more, I have found myself very curious about the ancient Romans. Could they see the end of their empire? Were there those among them who could see that their empire, their way of life, was inexorably drawing to a close? Did they know that they had gone past the tipping point, away from civilization and into decay? Did it hurt them to the core of their very being, or did it just sit there in their bellies, a vague malaise, a sense that something just wasn't right? These questions haunt me. I'm not bothered by the fact that I will never know the answer. I'm bothered by what I see on the news.

America is a nation based on an idea. What happens when that idea dies? What happens when those who would lead us pervert those ideas to justify the indefensible, or worse, ignore them altogether? What happens when those who would teach the next generation abdicate their responsibility to the next generation in the name of some nebulous "greater good"? What happens when those who would lead us and teach us, those who shape today's world and have the power to shape the future of our nation, cite the sins of those who came before to "justify" equally monstrous acts against the innocents of today?

Am I talking about Michelle Malkin's bizarre support of internment camps? Am I talking about racist reporters and "professors" who insist that "something happened" at a lacrosse party in Durham on March 13, 2006, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Am I talking about virtually anything that comes out of the mouths of Ann Coulter, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, or Bill O'Reilly? The answer to these questions is a resounding "Yes!" Juvenal had a term for the dumbing down of the Roman people: bread and circuses. When you find that people are more worried about the fate of a rich heiress and the latest styles and music than they are about the fate of our nation, when what would have been another Watergate (the Libby affair) is barely a blip on most people's radar, this frightens me. No, scratch that. This scares the living shit out of me.

1 comment:

Snave said...

It seems like we could learn from history, doesn't it. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule the whole empire and he died in 395 AD, giving his sons each a half of the empire. If we see 476 AD as the end of the Western Roman Empire for all practical purposes, we know that in the latter days their real leaders tended to be powerful military types, while the emperors were merely puppets or figureheads. There were only about 1/4 or less the amount of troops needed for the empire's security.

It's hard to imagine what average Romans thought of what was going on. Without media like what we have today, did they not know about what was going on? Were they happy to just be distracted with bread and circuses because they knew of nothing else?

I think it may be tougher today to keep people dumbed down, out of the loop, etc. due to the amount of information available to us. Even with those powers and those people who try to keep us dumbed down by distracting us with the kinds of things you mentioned, I think it is virtually impossible to suppress the American public by such means. I like to hope so, anyway... that as much as many of us are worried about who will win on American Idol or whether Paris will have to do jail time, there are equal numbers of us who want to know what our so-called leaders are up to.

I get very scared too when I look at how little outrage was generated by the outing of a CIA agent, apparently as retaliation for what was perceived by the administration as a threat to the sweet deal they had going. If people can't see through the Bush administration and what it's doing to our country, there is not enough attention being paid. In order for something like the Libby thing to stay in the public mind, the media needs to keep it there. If it's a matter that could have threatened (or could still threaten) national security, it is surely a story that deserves media attention. So why is our mainstream media probably going to let the Plame"gate"/Libby story die a slow death and be forgotten my many Americans within a few months? "Liberal media" indeed.

I hope the idea hasn't died. We have to discuss this idea, have reason-based debates about what it means, reach understandings about how it applies in today's world, and preserve it. If the idea dies, I fear the country dies a slow death.