Bread and Circuses
History tells of how the ancient Romans devised a plan in 140 B.C. to win the votes of the poor; by giving out cheap food and entertaintainment, as a way to gain popularity and thereby buy their votes in elections, Spanish intellectuals between the 19th and 20th centuries complained about the similar pan y toros ("bread and bullfights"). It appears similarly in Russian as хлеба и зрелищ ("bread and spectacle").. The Roman poet Juvenal called this phenomenon "bread and circuses," meaning that as long as the senators provided the mass with the essentials (bread) for human survival and gave them entertainment (circuses) to distract them from more important things in life, the clever leaders in power could manipulate and use the people for their own selfish ends, without no one ever noticing it.
This was a clever tactic pulled by the senators, but most of all, it's an interesting study of the human nature and the relation between the people and the State. Even though modern democracy says we're all capable of making decisions for a country, reality tells us a different story. As long as people have a work and a family, are able to pay their bills and watch TV, the rest of the outside world matters little. Their concerns are always primarily those that relate to their own immediate existence, and that is also how they vote in elections.
When the Romans manipulated people with "bread and circuses," they tried to pacify the people with things they knew would satisfy their basic urges. Much like our people in power today use TV and social acceptance to keep us in check and make sure no one tries to find out the truth about what is going on, the Romans realized that people essentially aren't interested in actual politics. For the mass, it's all just a soap opera and a struggle for how much land or money they will end up with, regardless of how the system operates internally. Therefore we hear people today vote on who they think will lower the taxes and offer them a higher standard of living, discussing Bush and Kerry much like discussing the love affair in their favourite TV show. Politics today isn't about finding the right idea, but finding the most popular one, and advertising that to people whom only grasp the symbolic process.
So why did Juvenal attack his contemporaries like he did? Partly we understand that corrupt senators were able to get away with selfishness, as they had efficiently silenced the people and made politics uninteresting. But what Juvenal most likely saw as most threatening, was the declining spirit and awareness of the people. Contrary to popular belief, fascism and fascist States are not systems that want to pacify people into numb robots - they actively force their citizens to engage in culture and activism, based on their individual capability. Rome managed to build an unbelievably vast empire simply because it had such a strong consensus that made each Roman citizen feeling as if being a vital part of the Roman Empire as a whole. Without the people, Rome was nothing, as seen with the numerous revolts that occurred now and then when the people felt betrayed or treated unjust by the senators.
When consensus and spirit broke down, the senators realized that the only way to keep the power together was to oppress people at their own conditions. Similarly, our modern societies today lack any form of consensus or motivational force, outside producing and consuming products and services, hence why our leaders constantly have to repeat political slogans and dogmatic messages via TV, radio and newspapers. Bread and circuses replace consensus, and like all short term fixes, it lasts as long as convenient and then collapse completely. Without the external control, and without the opium of the masses in the form of entertainment and selfish pleasures, people will run amok and revolt against the corrupt leadership.
More than two thousand years later, and nothing has essentially changed. Most people still don't know nor care, about what is really going on behind the smokescreen of all good-sounding profit making in the name of freedom and democracy. Do we believe them? Not necessarily, but as the Romans knew, it doesn't ultimately matter. As long as people are able to feed and enjoy themselves, they request no more, no matter how corrupt the current system is. Partly they're afraid of what they'll find, partly they feel attached to a system that satisfies their basic urges.
Beyond that lies idealism, or the motivation to find and aspire towards higher ideals, even if it means criticizing the system you currently live in. Not all people can do this. But those who can, those few and brave, are always out there and giving voice to their ideas. That is why we the people of the Tea Party Movements are so important right now, it's our calling to change history.