Panem et Circenses
by Zachary A. Horn
A democratic nation is only as good and wise as the most middling of men who comprises it, but also only as evil and ignorant. This is both blessing and curse to the democratic nation, for the median quality of a polity is both slow to rise, and slow to fall. For nearly our entire history the United States has enjoyed a constant and steady march towards a more civilized and advanced civilization, and an ever wiser and more virtuous middling man. Progress has sometimes been slow, and often halting, but the idea that we as a nation are moving onward and upward has long been taken for granted. The last hundred years has seen remarkable technological and cultural advances, a trend largely driven by an increasingly educated and affluent middle class, the inertia of which has caused many to believe with the faith of the religious, that the prosperity and progress will never end.
As we approach the zenith of our affluence and technological advancement we find ourselves confronted with another double edged sword, which has been both plague and blessing. Some men are driven to better themselves and their surroundings by the strength of their ideas, and an unquenchable ambition to attain some unattainable notion of perfection – but these men are few. Most men have more realistic ambitions; they find their pleasures in the company of family and friends, and seek out comfort, security, and diversions that entertain. These middling men know a happiness and contentment not found in the restless soul of their more ambitious and successful counterparts, but together, these two types of men have moved this country steadily onward and upward throughout its history. This partnership has long been of great benefit to the civilization as whole, and all have benefited. With most of society desiring comfort and diversion, progress has come to be equated with greater levels of physical comfort and means of entertainment for an ever greater portion of the population. Our capacity for both has become enormous, so that even the most middling of men will find nearly infinite entertainment, enjoyed amidst an abundance of cheap food and material luxury. However, as we reach the point of saturation for both comfort and diversion, one must wander what will become of the middling man, now that all of his ambitions have been satisfied.
These impulses, carried over from a time when humanity fought merely to survive, have carried us to heights unimagined. However, at the height of our achievement, the threats to our ongoing survival and prosperity are much more subtle than they were for our ancestors. In the lap of luxury and ease, most find their attention and energies consumed by banality and complacence. If we are to overcome our present condition, great and middling men alike must learn not only to survive, but to live purposefully and well. Having achieved all of his ambitions, the middling man has become politically disengaged, and socially apathetic. Still industrious at work, he is asleep at home and in his community. The short sighted desires engendered by the paradigm of immediate survival have rendered our society incapable of dealing with long term problems, which affect our wellbeing and existence. The long term existential threats to our environment and economy have taken a backseat to the immediate banality of pop culture, which offers diversion, and the comfort of not thinking about that which is unpleasant.
To survive, humanity must move beyond short-term gratification and immediate survival. We must trade our feasts for simple wholesome foods, and put away our toys and circuses, to dedicate ourselves to the cultivation of our minds and souls. Greatness is now required of great and middling men alike – to survive, mere survival can no longer be our only concern.