Too much bread, too many circuses

We humans have mastered survival and adaptation. We’ve gone further, to thrive, by developing religion and states, bureaucracy and markets.

Now we have easy access to the sugar highs and social signals that were rare and valuable in the survival and social eras, respectively. But the mass market version of these pursuits means that everyone’s party is disrupting everyone else’s. We’re hearing more cacophony than music. We’re experiencing more destruction than development.

And we’re not gonna stop. We’re addicted to gluttony. Poor people are obese. How can a poor person get fat? By living in a system where you trade debt for calories and pay billions for insulin.

And then there are the bells and whistles of over-consumption: formal dining (never used), collections (never touched), three-car garages (no space for cars), and parties that burn down forests, blow out kitchens and bankrupt the hosts.

At the polls, we vote for more of the same: Populists promising that the party can go on, that consequences are for suckers, that we can have all the rope we want… to hang ourselves.

Roman emperors had a policy of pane e circu — or bread and circuses — that kept the masses busy with stuffing their faces and laughing at tragedy while the elites did what they wanted. The emperor paid a lot, but everyone preferred parties to hard work or self-denial.

In these modern times, many of us have the buying power of emperors and the discipline of children. We’re fat and unsatisfied. Influencers and saviors are everywhere, promising a good time for $19.99, but we remain unfulfilled.

Money can’t buy you love — and it can’t replace the ecosystems that allow us to live — let alone party.

We — petty, drunken emperors — are going to have a very bad hangover when the bread runs out, and the circus is washed away.

Be careful what you ask for.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

One thought on “Too much bread, too many circuses”

  1. I do not normally comment on blogs but I have to say that this struck me as so true I just had to comment. Today people have so much but all they do is complain. People are addicted to sugar, alcohol, and drugs, but most of all they are addicted to complaining. They all want more for less. Students don’t want to have to study, adults don’t want to have to work. I watched a class you taught at a Canadian University several years ago on youtube and could not believe that only a handful of students actually showed up for your class and those who did show up were totally unprepared. I have to believe that students today are even lazier and more self-indulgent.

    I wonder if a serious recession might be the only way to bring people back to reality and the realization that hard work is its own reward. Perhaps they will start to live a more minimalist lifestyle, eat better, learn more, save more and appreciate what they have.

    Keep up the good work.

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