Bread & Circuses
In the second century of the common era Roman poet Juvenal satirically commented that all one needed to do to be successful as a politician was to satisfy the people’s desire for ‘bread and circuses’.
Last week the footballing world was thrown into paroxysms of anti-capitalist handwringing by the prospect of a breakaway European Super League. Outrage was centred around the idea of there being no relegation and or promotion for certain clubs. Thereby severing the links to true competition, and over a hundred years of tradition. As a football fan I do share that sense of outrage. However, as a writer about the nature of reality and the urgent need for humanity to change, this story also offers us all a useful lens through which to look at ourselves too.
I wrote in January about the need for cooperation not competition. In that piece I made the point that our current economic system is not a level playing field, probably by design. The events in football this week highlight this. Much as fans of clubs other than the ‘top six’ like to think that their club could win honours, the wealth distribution, even as it is, makes this unlikely, though not impossible. On top of this the commercial leaders of the ‘top six’ wanted an even more uneven wealth distribution to guarantee their income. Inevitably at the expense of others. The owners of these clubs showed the world what they think about everyone else. They didn’t consult with government, footballing governing bodies, their own managers and players, and the fans. Probably because they didn’t think they needed to. I really want you to pay attention to this. This is a way of thinking that says “I am rich and powerful, and I want to stay rich and powerful. And I don’t care about anyone else.” This mentality is the predominant way of thinking in our Western Capitalist system. This way of thinking does not care about me or you, fairness, real competition, co-operation, and it certainty does not care, one bit, about the planet that we all live on. You can also see this highlighted in the recent Netflix documentary about the fishing industry, Seaspiracy. I would recommend that you watch this. If we do not radically reform our money and economic systems, we will destroy this planet and everything on it. Maybe except for a few super rich people.
The second point this Footballing debacle highlighted was the outrage. Parliament was unified, football pundits and football fans were all in agreement. And they were outraged. But does this outrage extend any further? Can we maybe become just as outraged about wealth imbalances and the wanton destruction of the natural world for profit too?
Perhaps the reason for this asymmetrical outrage is that football is a system that many people understand. Whereas money, economics, banking, and power are less well understood. These topics are shrouded in opaque jargon and layers of complexity, probably to keep people ignorant of how they work. But fundamentally they are no more complex than football is. Our money is created out of nothing, the charging of interest creates money scarcity, and tax avoidance by the rich through trusts in tax havens is common. And already I guess I’ve lost at least 50% of people reading this, and that’s not because people are stupid, but because we aren’t educated about how the money system works. In-and-of-itself, there is nothing bad or wrong about money, it is an expression of abundance. But perpetuating a system that lionises the hording of vast amounts of money, and that is allowing the veracious exploitation of the planet for personal gain is simply not good enough.
But what will it take for us to become outraged enough to do something about it? Do we need to wait until the financial system fails again? Or until climate change puts London and New York under meters of water? Or are we waiting until we go to get fish and chips, but all we get are chips? Sometimes it is easier to see the problems than the solutions. But when you spend your money think about where and how you are using it. Support politicians that want to change the system, if you can find one of course. Educate yourself about money and how the system works.
Can we, after almost two thousand years, break free from Juvenal’s assertion that all the people demand is bread and circuses?“Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.” Juvenal