Give them bread and circuses


Photo credit.

So today we wake with the news that yet another far right politician has achieved success at the polls – Jair Bolsonaro, who has just won the presidential election in Brazil.

  • He promises reform of the economy by reducing governmental interference;
  • He promises that the safety of the streets will be assured by giving gun rights “to all honest citizens”;
  • he suggests that Brazil should pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, because its requirements “compromise Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon region”;
  • he favours moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem….

Sound like anyone we know, folks?

It was just six months ago that the constitutionally phlegmatic Madeline Allbright warned, in her new book Fascism, A Warning that the far right is on the rise again. She cites the success of populist leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Recep Erdogan, Kim Jong-un…and now Donald Trump. (We can of course add Duterte in the Philippines). She points out that last year 71 countries suffered declines in political rights and civil liberties including the United States, with only 35 seeing improvements. That 2017 saw the retreat of the US as both a champion and exemplar of democracy. She quotes Hitler, explaining his success: “I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached. Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them… I…reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realised this and followed me.

Again, does this sound like anyone we know?

And the far right marches on – in September, the BBC published a map of Europe showing the significant rise of nationalist and far-right governments across the region in recent elections.

Yes, we need to be worried.

And I see shades of Juvenal’s advice to all who seek power “Give them bread and circuses”.

The bread? Promises of more jobs, more money in the pocket, once those pesky immigrants have stopped stealing our jobs and that pesky Paris Agreement stops interfering with our right to exploit our natural resources without regard to the impact on the planet, and those pesky ‘socialists’ stop taxing our highest income earners. Of course, you and I know in whose pockets that extra money ends up.

The circuses? Where do I start?

  • The constant noise and inanity of social media:- What are our friends doing that we aren’t? What’s Kim Kardashian up to? Who’s using Botox? What’s the latest on Love Island? Let’s post more selfies!
  • More access to more entertainment than ever before – Netflix! Amazon Prime! YouTube! HBO Now! Day and night, and now we can binge watch for the weekend!
  • Fake news by the bucket-load to confirm our every prejudice, inform our every opinion, lead us by the nose to the polling station!

And all, my friends, delivered through our i-phones and digital screens, to which we are all unwittingly addicted – try this test and see if that includes you and your family members.

The solution? Start reading books again. Good books. Great books. On the train and the bus. In front of as many people as possible. At lunchtime in the canteen or the cafe. At night in front of your kids. Bring book reading back front and fore to your life and your neighbourhood visibly. Here’s a short list of what this will do for you and for those you influence to start reading again:

  • it will reduce your stress levels
  • it will make you more empathetic and more likely to help others
  • it will make you well-informed
  • it will render you immune to fake news
  • it will help you to think, clearly and with perspective
  • it will give you powers of persuasion that you never suspected
  • it will give you original ideas

There is a reason why dictatorships burn books.