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Panem et circenses

According to one thinker, or someone who purports to be a thinker, (maybe more of a feeler and less of a thinker) everything that is going on right now, in the theatre of local, national and global politics, and also within the sphere of the other 99,999% of humanity excluded from these “political theatres”, is like the games in ancient Rome. Like many extractive, colonising, growth obsessed empires, going from the ancient Greece, up to the global empire of capital of the present day, ancient Rome needed to invent methods of keeping the masses (plebs as they were called) distracted and happy: the method of choice - “panem et circenses”, or bread and games.

We’re in Rome, in August, almost 2000 years ago. You have the emperor in charge, and his army keeping control. You have the audience, consisting of the privileged senators with the best seats in the shade, and the great mass of plebs in the sun, all however attending and enjoying with equal pleasure the same games. You have a few slaves labouring away in the dungeons below the coliseum doing all the unpleasant and dangerous work, invisible to the plebs above ground that don’t have to do that kind of work. You have a few unfortunate Christians, Africans, captured soldiers, unruly slaves and other hopeless individuals destined for punishment and death.

Today it’s the big show and the stars of the show: 12 starving savage lions.

The Roman Empire lasted really quite a long time before it finally fell as a result of existing for too long and becoming to big, and becoming too corrupt, crushed under the weight of the greed of its own patrician classes, destroyed by the backlashes of the countless wars it initiated. During that time the empire left a legacy we call “civilization”, consisting a toolbox of instruments of oppression that admiring imitators have been beating us over the head with ever since, such as the centralized State, and its centralized armies, supported by locally conscripted mercenaries, colonisation, linguistic and cultural expansion coupled with homogenisation, a rich political elite, an extensive system of laws that protect the rights of capital and property, a centralized state religion, an increased concentration of the population in cities where they can be better monitored and controlled, all the way up to destruction of the environment and countless others.

The games, this weekly programme of state authorized torture and murder for the entertainment of all classes of society as a public spectacle is possibly and most honest admission of the true nature of the Roman empire and in a way the most representative pinnacle of the Romans’ cultural achievement. The Romans in turn were the most imitated example of how the human tendency to destruction, oppression and subjugation of others can be channelled and controlled from above and converted into a mass phenomenon called empire. That too with the seeming compliance of almost all of its so-called citizens, and for the benefit of the ruling classes. The colonial activities and empires of Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, communist Russia, England and the US are the best imitators so far.

How did the Romans manage to achieve this compliance? Basically everyone got a special right created out of thin air, and worth nothing, called being a Roman citizen, and enjoyed the privileges of the “roman peace” or “pax romana” which meant that the Romans stopped trying to kill you and your tribe, and included you in the group of people lucky enough to be chosen to help Romans kill some other tribes. All the concrete material privileges that were granted were enjoyed at the expense of and off the back of people who had until recently been outside of, or in fact even still were, outside the empire. And looked at another way, every citizen in the empire had been recently

beaten into submission by the invading expanding empire, or was a descendent of some of the survivors of that same process one or more generations back. So, loyalty to Rome or death, in a nutshell.

Back to the games, after all “it’s showtime”, as they say in America, Rome’s most recent top of the class disciple. Curiously the most dangerous element at the games wasn’t a human at all, but arguably, the lion: hungry, growling, unpredictable, acknowledging no master and unable to be held up or bogged down by rational conversation, and stuck in a place that a lion really shouldn’t be under any circumstances.

You are one of the members of the lower class, and one of 3 people there lucky enough to have paid employment as the only people in the whole set up that could be even remotely regarded as being involved with a positive activity: you are running around the coliseum in the burning sun, selling bread, handling out bread for free, particularly to the starving or undernourished plebs.

It’s 3 in the afternoon. The coliseum is surrounded by throngs of people who wanted to get in but didn’t. The rest of the city is jam packed: it’s the weekend and its summer. There’s no way of getting in any more and there’s no way of getting out, at least not easily or quickly. A bit like a prison in fact! Bring on those lions!

You’ve just handed out half the bread, and it’s time for a breather. You lean against the wall above the tunnel going between the dungeon below and the central arena. You peer down and note that there are 4 large doors opening into this tunnel at ground level, that you never saw before, since they were always shut – the doors stuck in their frames simply blended into the dirty dusty coliseum wall. One of these doors has just swung wide open, and seemingly wasn’t properly locked. From the way the light falls and stairs you can see just inside the doorway, and from the layout of the stairs and tunnels above it at audience level, this door seems to be a direct thoroughfare between the arena in front of you and the audience around you which you of course are part of.

Having just eaten the last morsel of course 1 (just a small course consisting of 2 skinny, starved escaped slaves) all of the lions are looking for the second course. For a lion in a coliseum, a door suddenly being opened is the proverbial Pavlovian bell. All the lions have just noticed the open door, and start walking towards it, slobbering.

Just a tip: your intuition about the door being the door to a direct access to the audience turns out to be correct.

You have a number of options right now, and, yes, in about 10 seconds you are going to have fewer of them.

1)

Alert the audience to the inherent danger, thus initiating a mass panic.

2)

Try to make friends with the lions.

3)

Pretend to be a lion yourself.

4)

Run out the gate into the crowd outside and be stopped by the masses.

5)

Feed any remaining bread to the lion.

6)

Head for the dungeon (you’re the only person above ground that knows the way: the others barely know of its existence)

7)

Jump off the nearest balcony or similar opening in the wall, jump over nearby roofs and run down a little known alley way you spied before, that seems to be pretty empty, although you don’t know where it leads.

Funnily enough, the bread sellers habitually didn’t ever have their eyes fixated on the main spectacle throughout the course of the game, but were all focussed on doing their job: trying to find the hungry plebs, discerning the really hungry ones from those that could pay, generally checking out the audience, and due to the complete lack of interest in lions or other distractions, checking out anything else as well that was or would at some point be of interest, or just plain good to know.

The breadsellers know each other a little, from chit chat before and after work, but they’re not good friends.

All the bread sellers as the only people in the whole coliseum were mentally present enough to notice the door suddenly opening in that moment. One of the 3, with a particularly creative powers of imagination had even dreamed of exactly that happening before!

All 3 bread sellers have all 7 options, at least in theory, while the audience, none of whom have noticed the door, will get crushed in the mass panic mentioned in option 1, before they can even get going on their very convincing lion impression (that would have been option 3). Option 2 isn’t an option, since unfortunately, although there are plenty of people ready willing and able to make friends with the lions (that’s option 2) but the lions aren’t in a friendly mood right now.

While some of the audience have gone for option 4, delaying their demise by a few minutes and involving some unsuspecting others in the mess, the bread sellers have instinctively elected not to pursue options 1, 2, 3 or 4. And the 3 bread sellers have in fact chosen the last 3 options, each one a different option: one has tried to feed the lion the rest of the bread, one has sprinted for the dungeon, and the last one, that’s you, have headed for the half empty alleyway leading off into the distance.

As you all know, lions are carnivores, they’re not omnivores, they aren’t herbivores, and they certainly aren’t those whatever-they-are-vores that just eat bread. As they are just about to demonstrate, lions are partial to humans, irrespective of whatever kind of human happens to be on the menu (very little difference in taste and nourishment value seemingly between bread seller, Christian, African, slave, merchant, patrician, centurion, senator, and emperor). So breadseller A ends up inside the lion.

Breadseller B makes it to the dungeon: from a lion’s point of view there is very little to eat down there compared to the feast going on above ground. Breadseller B agrees with the lion on that point of view. He is safe, but for sure stuck in the underground. During the ensuing panic above ground all hell breaks loose. In the panic a fire starts which razes the whole city to the ground. In the dungeon there is nothing breadseller B can do to prevent the fire, or to stop it damaging strategically important parts of the city. Unable to come out, and with nothing in the dungeon to help him, nothing to eat or drink, eventually breadseller B starves in the damp and cold.

You are breadseller C, and your mission, which you haven’t chosen to accept since it’s been forced upon you by circumstance, is nonetheless nigh on impossible: you are supposed to runoff and escape just in time to avoid being caught up in a civilization which is going to collapse literally within the next few minutes. Take a deep breath. This is an entirely normal and even thoroughly predictable state of

affairs. Things like this occurs in small bouts every few decades within the history of one civilizations (we call those mini-events crises, great depressions, world wars, hyperinflation, bankruptcy, famine) before the civilization completely ends forever, sometimes abruptly, sometimes agonizingly slowly, and sometimes leaving nothing more than a bunch of bones with puzzling lion’s teeth marks on them to confuse future generations of archaeologists.

You can just imagine the discussions:

“look, these guys were an advanced civilizations with armies, weapons, communication infrastructure, fortifications, gates, defences. Why the hell did they get eaten by a bunch of oversized cats native to the grassland areas of a completely different continent?”

Rome is burning and its business as usual. The show must go on, albeit a different one to the one originally schedules.

Don’t forget to breath out!

You’ve found a ledge and you jump off, on to a roof, along a branch, and from there off another building and into the half empty alleyway. You’ve landed awkwardly but you’re still up and running, and limp off down the alley way, which, as it turns out, takes you right up to the city wall. And guess what’s on the other side of that wall. That’s a long story, here’s the short version.

Some years ago some breadsellers working at the coliseum, who did know each other very well, discovered the door and one night as a prank manipulated the hinges and locks, more as a dare and as a game above all. Having only half finished the job, they stopped, realising the madness of what they were up to and the danger for themselves if discovered. But in the following years the main topic of conversation was “what if one day that door fell open when the lions and the audience were in the arena?” No pangs of conscience here though: the door was still sturdy and robust enough to hold for hundreds of years.

After months and eventually years of discussions late into the night, they agreed the conclusions or their discussions. Packing everything they felt they needed, the breadsellers left one night and snuck out of town down a little known alleyway

The breadsellers eventually set up a small settlement just outside the city walls. Some wanted to head for the woods, but figured if they did that that any column of troops passing by would mistake them for “barbarians” and kill them without questions. Setting up in a settlement right next to the town walls, everyone would assume they were impoverished people down on their luck, harmless cranks, untouchables or other degenerate outcasts. In spite of having spent years of their lives working on close proximity to lions, the first bunch of breadsellers were equally disinterested in lions as you and your colleagues were. The key fact for you, and for the other breadsellers was, “lions are dangerous”. In fact, none of the other citizens in Rome was a real expert either. For most citizens lions were purely animals one witnessed on game day penned up in an arena, or they were animals that lived somewhere in the wild outside the city walls that protected the city and themselves, any anyway, lions came from a completely different continent anyway. The breadsellers’ lack of knowledge about lions was unfortunate, since ironically, the neighbouring forest outside of Rome was full of hungry lions. Some lions had escaped during transport to the coliseum many years ago, and in the meantime they had had a few offspring!

Now confronted with the clear and present danger of lions on their doorstep, the breadsellers completely rebuilt their settlement, with small windows, small doors, narrow streets big enough for themselves but too small for lions, plus an organized sentry duty and a strict ban on feeding or making friends with lions.

All of that, just on the other side of the city walls!

So how are you getting along in the meantime?

Well, you’ve got as far as the wall at the end of the alley, which is a blind alley, literally ending at the wall. Right on the other side of the wall is the lion-proof settlement. Your foot’s really hurting in the mean time, but with some serious teeth gritting, you would be able to get over the wall - if however the wall wasn’t 12 feet high.

Theoretically you could go back to the dungeon where breadseller B is waiting, but that won’t help. You need a team of 3 willing and able maniacs to scale that wall, and breadseller A has just become catfood.

So I’m not going to ruin the happy ending or dictate the ending at all: there are only a few options for you now, if any at all, and the lions aren’t far behind you now. Any ideas?

By the way, forget about the plan were the lion turns up with a big fat thorn in his foot. You have your penknife on you but you lost the tweezer after 6 months like everyone else. Anyway, that was another parable invented by some environmentalist nut.

You do however for some bizarre reason have a whip, a small pedestal, a bright costume plus top hat, and a loud clear voice that commands respect. No time like the present!

Hold on a minute. Why is the settlement right next to the wall, right next to the end of the alleyway? Could it be the settlement has built a tunnel so as to be able to sneak into town at night when the city gate is closed? Nope. Forget lion tamer and the top hat: start digging.

It really is a shame you never got to know the other 2 breadsellers, and stick together during showtime. If you’d escaped together you’d be over the wall already. It’s nothing short of a disaster that you didn’t get to know the 3 people that used to do your job until one day when 3 vacancies for dream jobs at the coliseum became available at suspiciously short notice. There was something fishy at the time about the fact that there was no handover from the previous employees, not even the old uniforms were handed over, no training on the job, nothing. Anyway

So here’s the management summary, or moral of the story, or abstract, google keyword, or whatever you want to call it.

1. There are some hungry badass lions on the loose, and they will be coming your way when you least expect it.

2. You really urgently need to make a failsafe plan for after they really break out en masse, a plan that ensures a safe secure lifestyle out of danger from the lions

3. Failing that you need to get to know some other people who already have a lion-proof plan and lifestyle.

5.

And, whether you’re in the lion-free community, or you just found one, or you know the way there, bring some other people along just to get them in to safety, make the lion-free community a safer place, or help you get to the community in the first place.

Here are some important notes on lions.

1)

A lion is best left undisturbed in the primaeval and primordial environment of the jungle

2)

where they can play “eat or be eaten” with all the other beasts and wild animals, without harming humans. If you really do insist on getting your hands on a lion, go to a zoo where the lion is trapped in

3)

a very strong cage, and for the purposes of scientific analysis, so that people can persuade themselves just how dangerous lions really are. Otherwise, lions have absolutely no place in our society or in any other context.

4)

Life insurance policies for lion tamers have become expensive in the meantime.

So what made the door swing open in the end?

Was it a flaw in the system? A poorly designed coliseum? A lack of security checks and standard maintenance programmes caused by cost saving programs initiated by the coliseum’s management?

Did one of the breadsellers come back one night and get his bolt cutters out after all? Did the original entertainment concept just involve gladiators, in which case the door would have been less of a safety risk, and then declining audiences and low ratings meant that the coliseum management had to get the lions in without rethinking the security concept?

Whatever the reason was, it seems that apart from a few renegade ex-bread sellers alot of people who should have known about the door and the tunnel behind it just simply forgot about it.

But the door is there! At least 4 of them!

Those 12 lions may be hungry and savage, but

But there are billions of escaped slaves, Christians, captured enemy soldiers, either already standing in the middle of the area or waiting to be sent into it, and they are all pretty hungry too in the meantime.

Remember those slaves working in the dungeon, out of sight, feeding the lions, keeping the whole coliseum operation running behind the scenes? There are billions of them too and they are pretty hungry was well.

It’s more likely that the 12 lions are going to get trampled to death in the stampede. Not a stampede caused by the audience. A stampede caused by the billions coming though the central ring, through the door, over the walls the lions are too stupid to climb, though the other 3 doors the lions haven’t opened because they can’t.