Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ancient History

Sometimes, when the cares of the world weigh down on us as a nation, it's nice to take a little breather from the alarming present and ease our troubled minds by wandering back into the past. You know, get out the old history books and just do a little escapist reading. Now, I'm not talking about the important facts of US History as our schools teach it; we all know that stuff about Indian Genocide, the KKK, the McCarthy Years, how we're all responsible for slavery and JFK being shot, the stolen election of 2000, the growth of that vile monopoly capitalism that's killing the planet-- our malignant nation's "Tragic Past" as one presidential candidate calls it. No, I want to get away from all that and lose myself in a far distant past, one with nothing to do with our frightening present. Oh sure, people used to think that many of our traditions and most of our laws originated in the Roman Empire until we discovered that the US Constitution is really based on a mixture of Iroquois Law and the Ujamaa traditions of the African Slaves which were ripped off by the fiendish 'Founding Fathers' and credited to the Romans by the White Chauvinist Pigs who conspired to create a capitalist hell on Earth right here in our tragic nation.
Around the same time as those Founding Fathers there lived in England a historian named Edward Gibbon. He was considered, until the publication of Barak Obama's first book, the finest prose writer in the English language. Sometimes, just to take my mind off my troubles, I'll leaf through 'Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire' and muse over some random quotes.
Let's do it together, shall we?
Those were troubled times, the old Fifth Century. Here's how Gibbon describes the scene (all Gibbon quotes will be in Italics):

...every species of corruption polluted the course of public and private life; and that the feeble restraints of order and decency were insufficient to resist the progress of that degenerate spirit which sacrifices, without a blush, the consideration of duty and interest to the base indulgence of sloth and appetite.

Just imagine living in a place like that! There's more:

...and the mad prodigality which prevails in the confusion of a shipwreck or a siege may serve to explain the progress of luxury amidst the misfortunes and terrors of a sinking nation.

Phew, what a bunch of morons! But the regular people were pretty down to earth it seems:

A people who still remembered that their ancestors had been the masters of the world would have applauded, with conscious pride, the representation of ancient freedom, if they had not long since been accustomed to prefer the solid assurance of bread to the insubstantial visions of liberty and greatness.

One warmonger actually tried to get the Romans to abandon paying off their enemies and to encourage the people to defend themselves against the rising menace:

He exhorts the Emperor to revive the courage of his subjects by the example of manly virtue; to banish luxury from the court and from the camp; to substitute in place of the barbarian mercenaries an army of men interested in the defense of their laws and of their property; to force, in such a moment of public danger, the mechanic from his shop and the philosopher from his school; to rouse the indolent citizen from his dream of pleasure; and to arm, for the protection of agriculture, the hands of the laborious husbandman.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I'll bet this loser wants me to miss my favorite TV shows, too! At least we have that dunce W to blame our problems on. I guess the ancients did too:

...and the people imputed to the mischievous policy of the minister the public misfortunes, which were the natural consequence of their own degeneracy.

Well, we can see how out-to-lunch this Gibbon dude really is. But it gets worse. You see they didn't understand 'soft diplomacy' or cultural sensitivity in Gibbon's day so his chauvinistic mind allowed him to make the following statement:

The incapacity of a weak and distracted government may often assume the appearance and produce the effects of a treasonable correspondence with the public enemy. If Alaric himself had been introduced into the Council Of Ravenna he would probably have advised the same measures which were actually pursued by the ministers of Honorius.

Geeesh! Picky, picky, picky! Why can't we just Give Peace A Chance? but no, Gibbon continues with the insults:

They disdained either to negotiate a treaty or to assemble an army; and with a rash confidence, derived only from their ignorance of the extreme danger, irretrievably wasted the decisive moments of peace and war.

But, in the end, the Romans sat down at the table for a respectful round of negotiations that only can be achieved by good-hearted people getting together to resolve their problems in a civilized manner:

...the Romans were resolved to maintain their dignity, either in peace or war; and that, if Alaric refused them a fair and honorable capitulation, he might sound his trumpets and prepare to give battle to an innumerable people, exercised in arms and animated by despair. "The thicker the hay, the easier it is mowed," was the concise reply of the barbarian; and this rustic metaphor was accompanied by a loud and insulting laugh, expressive of his contempt for the menaces of an unwarlike populace, enervated by luxury...

But, what the heck. Dale Carnegie once said that 'No' is the first step toward 'Yes'. They just should have explained everything to him more clearly. I think that 'rustic metaphor' shows that they weren't dealing with a guy with any higher education or knowledge of the Rules Of Diplomacy. But Gibbon lets us off the hook a little:

There exists in human nature a strong propensity to deprecate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.

So don't sweat it, baby! Its just these Evil Times. And if a tiny ally is overrun by a swarm of bloodthirsty barbarians just relax. These are local problems as Gibbon so correctly notes:

The Britons, reduced to this extremity, no longer relied on the tardy and doubtful aid of a declining monarchy.

So chill out, relax. Catch the Olympics on TV or go down to the health club and get a massage. You deserve it! All this worrying that the people who, by their superior merit, have managed to obtain positions of leadership are blindly leading us to destruction is just idle paranoia. After all, Rome's still there, isn't it?

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