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DWMs put the finger on today’s problems

Modern educationalists don’t have much time for what used to be called “a classical education.” Cicero, Seneca, Julius Caesar, Livy, Pliny the Elder, and Pliny the Younger are contemptuously dismissed as DWMs (Dead White Males) and banished from the classroom.

Back in the days when I sweated though interminable hours of Caesar’s Gallic Wars and Virgil’s Aeniad, I would cheerfully have endorsed such sentiments. But in the 40 years or so that have elapsed since then, I’ve developed a sneaking regard for those dear old DWMs—not least because of the remarkable light they shed on our times.

Rome’s moral and political decline, for example, is illustrated by an incident that occurred when Pliny the Younger [In truth, it might well have been the Elder. My recall, I lament to say, is a tad hazy] was a young army officer, serving on the port administration at Alexandria.

In those days Egypt was economically vital to Rome’s well–being. It was both the granary of the empire and the main source of sand for its amphitheaters. (The circuses consumed huge amounts of sand to soak up the vast gouts of blood that were shed.)

Pliny was responsible for allocating cargo space—a critically important job, as shipping at the time was in acutely short supply. Indeed, there were so few ships available he could load either grain to feed the citizens of Rome or sand to keep the circuses in business, but not both.

Not knowing what to do, Pliny asked his commander whether he should load the grain or sand. “Are you mad?” he was told, “Load sand!” The point was that the people might not riot if they were short of bread, but with the circuses closed and no entertainment, they’d riot for sure.

Pliny’s illustration of the Romans’ distorted priorities springs to mind in connection with the not–so–different priorities exhibited by America’s mass media. Indeed, today’s television producers and movie directors would feel quite at home putting on shows at the Circus Maximus and the Flavian Amphitheater (a.k.a. the Coliseum). They and their Roman counterparts share similar tastes for sex and violence.

Nor is there much difference between our news media and the news media of Rome in its more decadent phase. To be sure, they didn’t have TV news, but they had daily newspapers posted in prominent places throughout their cities and all sorts of magazines, painstakingly hand copied by slaves in vast publishing factories (scriptoria).

Rome’s media pundits put out the same sort of sensational mélange of political propaganda, scurrilous gossip, and alarmism as passes for news in today’s America.

That the folks who control our most influential media cover our nation’s foreign affairs and domestic political and social agendas in such a cursory fashion is an affront not just to our intelligence, but to the principles upon which our republic is founded. Like Pliny’s commander, their priority seems to be sensation rather than substance.

The Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles make it clear ancient Israel shared the same sort of problems as Rome and early 21st–century America. What’s more, Israel’s cultural and political elite—like the Romans and many of their American counterparts—blamed their social ills on the lack of a strong central government. The real problem, however, was that they had lost their moral compasses. The Romans had abandoned their traditional civic virtues, while the children of Israel had forgotten their covenant with God and were flouting his commandments.

God warned the people of Israel, through the Prophet Samuel, that he was their king and that if they appointed a human usurper in his place it would end in tyranny and high taxation, and ultimately cause far more problems than it resolved.

If you would like to learn more about God’s views on the subject, why not join our Breakfast Bible Study. We meet at the Nautilus Diner on York Road, Timonium, at 7:00 AM on Tuesday mornings. They will be serving up food for the body, and we will be dishing out food for thought. GPH✠

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