Panem et Circenses

The Politics of Freebies, Salary Increase and Diversion

Socratic Dialogue

By Platonix

“Panem et circenses,” Latin for “bread and circuses,” refers to a strategy employed by ancient Roman emperors to pacify and control the populace through the distribution of free food and entertainment. The phrase is attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal, who criticized the citizens of Rome for being more concerned with their own pleasure and well-being than with political responsibility.

While the phrase originated in the context of ancient Rome, “panem et circenses” has been invoked in modern times to criticize similar practices where governments use populist measures, often in the form of economic benefits or distractions, to maintain support or divert attention from more significant political challenges. The term is a reminder of the delicate balance between meeting the immediate needs of the populace and addressing long-term societal issues within a political system.

In the dialogue that follows, Socrates engages with Cephalus, a wealthy and retired old businessman, head of a business family. Socrates had known him a long time and admired him.

Socrates: Greetings, dear friend! Today, let us embark on a jovial journey, exploring the realms of salary increase and compensation, and the tantalizing dance of election freebies, the modern “panem et circenses”. Pray, tell me, have you ever found yourself in the midst of negotiations for a salary raise?

Cephalus: Ah, Socrates! The dance of salary negotiations is as intricate as a minuet.  I mean… just like a slow, stately ballroom dance. One must tread lightly, gracefully, and occasionally throw in a pirouette for good measure.

Socrates: A delightful analogy, my friend! But do you not find it curious that in these negotiations, individuals often feel the need to justify their worth with a list of accomplishments, as if preparing a scroll for the approval of the gods?

Cephalus: Indeed, Socrates! It’s a grand spectacle, a performance where one must present their feats as if challenging Hercules to an Olympic duel. “Behold, I have conquered the spreadsheet of doom and slain the dragon of inefficient workflows!”

Socrates: A heroic feat, no doubt! Yet, let us not forget the grand carnival of elections, where politicians parade their promises like kings throwing gold coins to the masses. Do you see a parallel between the salary dance and the political circus?

Cephalus: Absolutely, Socrates! In both cases, there’s a theatrical element. It’s as if politicians and employees alike are auditioning for the lead role in the grand play of life, hoping for a standing ovation and a shower of golden drachmas (a former monetary unit of Greece).
Socrates: Golden drachmas, you say? How fitting! It is a spectacle indeed.
Now, in the realm of election freebies, it’s as if they’ve discovered a magical treasure chest filled with promises that can solve all of society’s problems.
Cephalus: Precisely! It’s a spectacle, a grand circus where politicians juggle promises like skilled acrobats, hoping that the audience won’t notice the lack of substance.
Socrates: And what of the citizens, my friend? Are they not like children in a candy store, gleefully accepting every sweet promise without considering the nutritional value?
Cephalus: Oh, Socrates, you hit the nail on the head! It’s a political candy store, and the citizens are filling their baskets with promises, not realizing that they might end up with a stomachache after the elections.
Socrates: One might argue that politicians are not just offering promises but attempting to outbid each other with extravagant gifts. Does this not resemble a marketplace where votes are the currency?
Cephalus: A brilliant observation, Socrates! It’s like a boisterous auction where politicians flaunt their wares—free education, free healthcare, free everything for all! The citizens, in turn, play the role of discerning buyers, hoping to snag the best deal for their votes.
Socrates: An auction of promises! How intriguing! But, my friend, does this not lead to a paradox where the electorate, like shoppers enticed by flashy advertisements, might prioritize immediate gains over the long-term well-being of the state?
Cephalus: Ah, the paradox of the political marketplace! It’s true, Socrates. Citizens may get so caught up in the allure of freebies that they forget to read the fine print, missing the part about responsible governance and sustainable policies.
Socrates: A cautionary tale, indeed! So, as we waltz through the dance of salary negotiations and marvel at the spectacle of election freebies, let us not lose sight of the bigger picture. In the grand theatre of life, a balance must be struck between personal gain and the collective welfare.
Cephalus: Wise words, Socrates! Let us navigate these theatrical realms with grace and humour, mindful of the responsibilities that come with both negotiating our worth and choosing leaders for the grand stage of democracy.
Socrates: Well said, my friend! Let us hope that in the grand carnival of democracy, the citizens do not get lost in the dizzying whirl of freebies and remember the true essence of self-governance.

* * *

Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived in Athens from 469 to 399 BCE. He is considered one of the most influential figures in the history of Western philosophy. Unlike many philosophers of his time, Socrates did not leave behind any written works. Instead, his ideas and methods were conveyed through the writings of his students, particularly Plato, who documented Socratic dialogues in his works. In a typical Socratic dialogue, Socrates engages in a conversation with another person, often someone claiming to have knowledge on a particular subject. Through a series of questions and responses, Socrates challenges the perspectives of his companions, encouraging them to refine their thoughts and consider alternative viewpoints.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 22 December 2023

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