Those alive in the closing years of the second decade of the 21st century have a front row seat to the culmination of the largest and most effective swindle in human history. Not since the Middle Ages has the distribution of wealth and power been so skewed towards a small group of the wealthy and powerful. In this article, I want to deal with one of the strategies that the perpetrators of this swindle have employed – a highly effective one which has made it significantly easier to bleed the not-ultra-rich-and-powerful for the benefit of the ultra-rich-and-powerful.
First, a bit of historical background.
“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 (circa A.D. 100)
The Roman satirical poet Juvenal identifies the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which no longer claims its historical birthright of political involvement. Giving out cheap food and entertainment, ‘bread and circuses’, became the most effective way to domesticate a population and rise to power.
‘Bread and circuses’ means superficial appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace. Juvenal, used the phrase to decry the selfishness of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. (Hence the term ‘juvenile behavior’) The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the commoner.
The Pickpocket Strategy
Successful pickpockets work in teams. A rather primitive approach is the ‘bump-and-lift’. There is the ‘bumper’ and the ‘lifter’. The job of the bumper is to focus the attention of the mark by bumping into them. The best bumpers are either attractive young women or doddering old ladies. Their job is to bump into you and then engage in an extended and effusive apology. The theory behind this is that you can only have your attention focused in one place at any given time. While you are distracted, the lifter relieves you of your valuables.
But bumping and lifting has its risks. There is often an audience and some bystander might set of an alarm. There is a far better, much lower risk strategy – have everyone engrossed in a spectacle. You don’t need a bumper – just a group of useful idiots to distract the crowd and a team of lifters. Now, every team member becomes a lifter – a much more efficient way to ‘shear the sheep’.
I was relaxing in Captain Tony’s during one of my trips to Key West. It was the heat of the day; the beer was cold and I had a nice pipe going. A friend, who is a year-round resident and accomplished spear fishermen, strolled in and joined me. “I’ve just had the damnedest experience,” he said. “I was out on the reef and had speared a nice red snapper. As I started towards it, this big shadow passes above me. I looked up to see a monster barracuda. He was so fascinated with my catch and anticipating the feast that he just hovered there. I backed off a bit, reloaded my spear gun, slowly swam up towards him and shot the dumb son of a bitch in the head.”
From Five Diversions to One
There were four great diversions that the political elite, as puppets of the wealthy and powerful, historically used to pacify the American population. The first, and most potent, was the ‘American Dream’ – often in intellectual circles referred to as ‘American Exceptionalism’. This was the promise that education and hard work would be rewarded. That a family could become part of the middle class and enjoy a degree of economic prosperity. This dream flowered in the decades after the second world war. But that flowering generated envy and triggered avarice.
“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” War of the Worlds, HG Wells