It is told that while Rome burned, Nero watched while playing a musical instrument. I can believe that. There were no 62″ plasma t.v. screens available. The fall of the Roman Empire has been examined and reviewed and speculated on since the inception of this Republic (Gibbons work “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire dates back to 1776). Wikipedia shares “Many theories of causality have been explored and most concern the disintegration of political, economic, military, and other social institutions, in tandem with barbarian invasions and usurpers from within the empire.”.
Now that is a mouthful. Most of us have a passing knowledge about those times. Shakespeare gave us “Julius Caesar” and the images of political betrayal and assassination. Movies like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus” and “The Gladiator” regaled us with images of lower class warriors delighting the masses with battles to the death. The combatants had no real fire power, only swords and spears and some sort of balls covered with spikes attached to a chain. The bloodletting spurred on by the crowds in the coliseums.
One is left with the impression that focus on the games may have taken the attention away from the ongoing disintegration of the lifestyle people were living. On the lower end of the scale those among the poor that managed to survive what must have been horrific living conditions were rewarded with an opportunity to fight. They were joined by prisoners of war and peasants captured as Roman armies pillaged and plunder surrounding territories.
Not much has changed in the hundreds of years that have passed. Oh, we certainly have better technology. We have added gunpowder and hot steel to the mix. Political assassination takes place on Youtube and Twitter. Rather than one focus, we have created a world full of instant access to everything that is occurring in real time. With so much information coming in about everything from every direction, it is almost impossible to see what is before us.
Real concerns, that every society needs to address become lost in the shuffle. In order for any society to flourish, the members of the society must have an equal opportunity to fulfill their personal quotient of “Maslow’s Needs”. It is an unfortunate fact, you have to accomplish the bottom level to move up and you must accomplish each succeeding level before you are able to move to the next. Few ever reach the top.
People in America, some not all, struggle to achieve the most basic level. There are times, when reaching the basic needs, their efforts or choices are criticized. If the struggle to reach what most people take for granite seems insurmountable, how much more difficult must it be to reach Safety, Love, Esteem and Self-actualization? If those struggling only knew, revolution would erupt in the streets. Not to worry, ESPN is leading the charge to help them forget their plight. Not to worry, all of the other major networks have followed suit. Modern day gladiators compete in a variety of contests to amuse the populous.
The largest number of competitors come from neighborhoods where surviving beyond adolescence is a challenge. On any given Sunday (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday for that matter) modern day gladiators battle for supremacy of their particular endeavor. Bodies are trained, muscles are developed, skills are enhanced and competitors enter the fray. Millions watch as head-to-head collisions occur, balls and pucks fly, cars crash and bloodied men and women struggle inside a cage. Prior to reaching the top level of competition, combatants are weened on the fine points of the “sport” from early childhood.
Education, one of the most important gifts we can give the younger generation is freely offered at elementary levels. The quality of education offered at the lower levels is commensurate with the tax base of the surrounding communities. It is not equal. It is not fair. It is just there. Graduation rates are directly tied to the neighborhoods that house the schools. Higher levels of education are beyond the reach of the poor. Exceptions are made for gladiators. Schools use the skill sets of these muscled few to fill the coffers that keep the universities running. Societal flaws in the gladiators are overlooked as long as they manage to perform when called upon. Reprehensible behavior is accepted as long as the entertainment value continues. Those that survive “academic” contests move on to the glory and fame of the professional gladiators. Those that fail return to the daily battle for survival that continues in the “hood”.
America burns an invisible bonfire. Those that fill the stadiums find nothing wrong with the mayhem that entertains them. They see the mighty and quickly forget the fallen. They see the finalists, never once considering all those that failed. They see championship trophies raised and never once notice the casualties that litter the road the gladiators followed. They roar with every feat, cheer every victory and return to their lives, ignorant of the world around them.
There can be no other explanation of the apathy that exists in America. Food banks have little supplies to feed the hungry. Every body of potable water is tainted with garbage. The very air that every one of us breathes is becoming more toxic every day. Trees and green space that provide all important photosynthesis are cut down and paved over on a regular basis. Sex is trivialized and lost in the battle between common decency as it is characterized as rape or a casual past time. The list of basic needs unfulfilled goes on. When frustrated, we find solace in the next big game, match, race or fight. Attempting to move up to the next level – safety becomes beyond our means.
Bullets fly and young men die. Bullets fly and children die. Bullets fly. Our collective answer is – the Second Amendment gives me the right to bear arms, therefore my rights trump the pain and loss of collateral damage. Guns don’t kill, people kill. On the surface that may be true, but it overlooks the fact that people kill people using guns. We can not ever control all the people, but we can control the people’s access to guns. Our love affair with professional gladiators obfuscates our ability to notice that many of them accept “packing” as a normal way of life (even in their locker rooms). Violence is often accompanied by guns and drugs. America tolerates this as long as it does not invade their upper to elite class neighborhoods. No harm, no foul is just another version of let them kill each other, just not in my neighborhood. Bullets don’t fly without guns.
The American economy is in tatters. An absolute minuscule percentage of people control the majority of capital. Derisive articles regarding the “1%” are combated by stories about a few on the fringe that struggle to make ends meet on incomes exceeding the national average by 5 times or more. Elected officials fail to reach any sort of compromise regarding how our tax revenues should be spent. Restructuring and simplifying the tax code is thwarted by those that enjoy the most benefits. Elections are purchased by those with the most revenue at every level throughout the country. The vast majority of citizens are not even aware of how their personal well being is impacted. Promises are made and broken. This occurs daily. Where is our focus? In our Nation’s Capitol, concerns about things that truly matter are pushed aside and discussions are passionately shared about whether the local football gladiators should fire their coach or whether or not they should change their nickname from a racist slur to something less offensive. In the halls of Congress, there is more discussion on a fall morning about the fate of the local gridiron combatants than any focus on the impact our chosen lifestyle has on the environment.
At some point, I hope that we find the will to turn away from the passionate following of local gladiators. America is burning, they are just playing games. The outcome really does nothing to change the future. The crazed focus only takes our attention from the very solutions we need to use to correct our plight. Regardless of who wins and who loses, there are empty bellies in our country. Regardless of the outcome of any game, people are cold, people are under educated and people are needlessly losing lives to the violence in our streets. Regardless of whom raises the championship banner,, our natural resources are being dangerously depleted. America is burning and both sides of every political aisle are being singed by the flames.
America may not have a Nero, but his sweet tune has been replaced by large screen t.v.’s and our ability to deal with problems is impeded by our desire to watch our chosen gladiators battle to the death (or destroyed acl, mcl or concussed brain). As long as the focus is on the well orchestrated fray, it remains impossible to see the world around us.