OPINION – It’s tempting to look down our noses at how the ancient Romans could have failed to notice their empire rotting and collapsing around them.
While we enjoy the luxury of hindsight, it’s not like the warnings weren’t there for the Romans to notice. How could they have been so inattentive?
Historian Edward Gibbon in his exhaustive “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” pointed to five key symptoms that Roman culture was deteriorating:
- Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth
- Obsession with sex and perversions of sex
- Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original
- Widening disparity between very rich and very poor
- Increased demand to live off the state
If this list causes a bit of discomfort at the recognition of its parallels with modern America that simply means you’re paying attention.
Doubtless, there were Roman citizens who recognized the increasing debt, the civic decay, and the growing disorder of their empire. Too many Romans, however, were focused on bread and circuses that were meant to keep them distracted.
In our time, the bread and circuses are just as real but the forms they take aren’t always as garish and easy to identify.
Reality TV, professional sports, and pop culture are the obvious distractions. Anyone who has read Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda,” will be familiar with the institutional manipulation of public opinion. Bernays vividly described how the few could exercise power over the masses when he wrote:
In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.
However, the distractions that tend to do the greatest damage are subtler. They serve not only to distract us, but also to divide us.
One tactic that is being used to great effect in our day is the use of polarization.
A perfect example of the industry of polarization can be seen in the current campaign to force the Washington Redskins to change the name of their professional football team. The U.S. Patent Office last week canceled six of the registered trademarks of the Washington Redskins on the grounds that they are disparaging to Native Americans. This alone won’t force the Redskins to change their name, but it does ramp up the pressure to do so.
Taking her cue from the guardians of approved opinion, one MSNBC host went so far as to refuse to say the name of the team and to warn viewers that the upcoming story contained a “racial slur.” No doubt our fragile psyches would have fallen apart like a soup sandwich had we not been warned in advance how to feel.
The beauty of this polarization technique is that it doesn’t have to be based in reality. “Redskin” as an epithet hasn’t been used since the days of B-movie westerns. It’s an issue that virtually no one has cared about throughout the 82-year history of the Washington football team.
This crusade isn’t about righting an actual wrong.
It’s about encouraging people to divide up into camps as quickly as possible and then goading them to support their side with as much vigor as they can muster. The Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world have pioneered this practice of creating a polarizing cause and then rising to the top of it to collect money and votes.
Now it’s being utilized by a growing number of advocacy groups that are intent upon controlling others into conformity through guilt and shame. They lack the persuasiveness to make a rational case in the court of public opinion, so they opt for feigned outrage and accusations of insensitivity.
The twisted version of diversity they’re aiming for is a society of people who look different but think exactly alike.
“Thoughtcrime” was a term coined by George Orwell his novel “1984” to describe the serious offense of thinking beyond what was allowed. To this end, certain words were forbidden so the people could only think what those in power wanted them to think.
In our day, this manipulation of language is serving the purpose of training us to think only in approved terms while simultaneously preventing us from uniting on the most important issues.
Given some of the historical warning signs of increasing debt, civic decay, and global instability around us, we can’t afford to be distracted by things that really don’t matter.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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