Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lawmakers concede: No more important issues to discuss

Education. Unemployment. Transportation. Crime. Poverty. Domestic violence.

All these weighty matters must have been resolved while we weren't watching, because lawmakers have turned their attention to a matter that, before now, probably ranked lower than 3,000th on the list of "most important things that lawmakers should spend time, breath and taxpayer dollars to consider":

USC and Clemson will be required – by state law – to continue their annual football matchup in perpetuity if one lawmaker has his way.

State Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Lexington, has introduced a proposal, to be considered by a panel of House members Wednesday, to require the two teams to continue their annual face-off, college football’s second-longest consecutively played rivalry in the nation. The teams have met 103 consecutive years.

Yes, South Carolina's lawmakers are more interested in a football game than in addressing the most pressing issues facing South Carolinians.

The ancient Romans called this panem et circenses -- bread and circuses -- and the term actually has a meaning in political science:

In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, and/or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace. The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the common man (l'homme moyen sensuel).

In modern usage, the phrase has also become an adjective to describe a populace that no longer values civic virtues and the public life.

Yes, we're using entertainment to distract attention from real problems.

Beginning with Augustus Caesar, the city of Rome provided bread, oil and wine to its urban population. What this meant, is that almost 250,000 inhabitants of Rome consumed about 6 million sacks of grain per year, free. Rome provided citizens with food -- it also provided them with entertainment. Of the poor, the poet Juvenal could write:

with no vote to sell, their motto is "couldn't care less,"
Time was when their plebiscite elected generals,
heads of state, commanders of legions:
but now they've pulled in their horns,
there's only two things than concern them: BREAD and CIRCUSES.

For instance, at the Venatio, animals were led into an amphitheater where heavily armed men fought and killed them. This was a popular pastime which was provided to the urban poor and aristocracy by the benevolence of the emperor. These events were held in a structure called the Circus Maximus which was built during the second century B.C. between the Capitoline and Aventine Hills in Rome. After being destroyed by fire, it was reconstructed in A.D. 200 and had a capacity for 250,000 spectators. Races were held there until 549.

The Romans were fascinated with wild animals -- they like looking at them, seeing them perform tricks, or watching them being hunted and killed. Wolves, bears, bores, deer, and goats were indigenous to Rome and other animals were brought to Rome by imperial conquest. Elephants, ostriches, leopards and lions were imported in the first century B.C., followed by hippopotamus, rhinoceros, camels and giraffes. There were no zoos in Rome and most animals were privately owned as status symbols. Monkeys were dressed as soldiers and rode atop goats harnessed to a small chariot. The elephant was the most popular show animal and was initially used to transport wealthy men and women to dinner. However, animals were not only used for show but for what we can only call blood sports.

Panem et circenses.

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