On bread and circuses in America

“… 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

 

Last week, the American people actually did their job. Somehow, two tremendously bad ideas called SOPA and PIPA wormed their way into the serious consideration of our elected officials. SOPA designed to expand law enforcements ability to fight online trafficking in copyrighted material. PIPA was supposed to allow the US Government to disappear offending websites like Orthodox priests in Stalinist Russia. Here today, gone tomorrow. SOPA and PIPA had all the characteristics of a terrible bill – murky language, vague targets and a suspiciously aggressive amount of support from a gargantuan lobbyist – in this case, the RIAA and Hollywood.

 

SOPA and PIPA would mean the end of a free and egalitarian Internet. It would turn from an information superhighway to a second life death march, where g-men computer nerds pick off websites left and right, according to the interests of David Geffen and the Weinstein Brothers.

 

We rallied together. We screamed our throats raw in one collective chieftain’s holler. We reminded our people in Washington that they were expendable. We told them they’d be wouldn’t be legislating the drive-thru at Burger King if they didn’t watch their step.

 

And it worked. Most of our senators and representatives backed down. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) slithered back into their burrows, to lick their wounds and dream of more terrible bills to someday sponsor.

 

But let’s not polish our laurels just yet, America. Where was this mass outcry, these threats of full-blown revolution when the Office of Legal Counsel decided that waterboarding isn’t a form of torture. Where were you when George W. Bush and his cadre of fiends started tapping our phone calls and fighting illegal endless wars? Where were you when Obama bailed out the vampires who sent us into the Great Recession? Did you know that under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, the military and whoever gives them their orders can indefinitely detain any U.S. citizen they please? Where were your protests and your Twitter campaigns and your ire and your righteous indignation then, America?

 

In Rome, the phrase was “bread and circuses”. As long as ancient politicians kept the bellies full of food and the mind distracted with entertainment, they could get away with murder. So they made sure the baskets had bread in them and that there was always a chance to watch two gladiators slice each other in half.

 

That story ends with a city on fire and a rabid emperor playing his fiddle.

 

By letting all that garbage slide, and then only getting angry when your Tumblr account is threatened, do you know what you did? You’ve reminded The Powers That Be that nobody cares who the farmer is as long as the trough is full. What do we care if CIA stooges can listen to our phone calls, decide we’re suspicious characters, summon soldiers to round us up and waterboard us until we chokingly confess to a crime we probably didn’t commit? As long as  I Can Has Cheez Burger and Youtube are up and running who cares what legislative storms come our way?

 

Here’s a harsh fact, folks: the Government isn’t doing its job. Not Republicans. Not Democrats.

 

But here’s a harsher truth: the Government isn’t doing its job because you haven’t been doing your job. You’re not reading up on what’s happening in Washington. You’re not calling congressmen out on their crap. You’re not telling senators what you want. You’re not fighting for your rights. And rights aren’t rights. They’re privileges. If you don’t put in the effort to fight for them, they will be taken away.

 

You can complain all you want about the state of our nation. You can lament and weep and wail and gnash your teeth and very loudly pine for a time like unto the days of our beloved founding fathers. But until you start actually operating on Jefferson’s notion liberty exists when government fears its people, you’re going to get the same results.

 

I’m not saying you didn’t do a good job, America. You did a great job. You saved the Internet. But don’t put down your pitchforks yet. Don’t douse your torches. We’ve only won one battle, and there’s a whole war to fight.

 

Onward.

 

By John-Ross Boyce
Opinion’s Editor

 

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