Pax Romana


Spending time with friends at New Year, a penny dropped – I do like my peace and quiet. I can do ‘gregarious’ in bursts. But in the main I’d rather be a respectful distance from folk having a good time. Ideally in the next room.

Perhaps, with the passage of years, I’m more interested in knowledge than conversation? The Platonic ideal of ‘justified true belief‘ appeals far more than the garrulous Socratic Method – especially when Google and Wikipedia are such reliable and immediate alternate sources.

I’m far more up for the first two legs of the Reithian ideal of inform, educate and entertain – although one excellent rediscovery this New Year’s has been a tall, well iced Gin and Tonic which puts me far more in the mood for the latter.

And perhaps this is the crux of it. As Russell Crowe famously said to a baying crowd in Gladiator: “Are you not entertained?” I recognise a duty to engage and take part, but after a few thrusts and parries, a lap or two around the sociability track and a couple of good conversational gambits – I’m done.

More booze and I’m nodding off, more chat and I’m reaching for the iPhone for facts and data… And so to the kitchen for my reliable friend the dishwasher. A pot, porcelain and pan-based puzzle of stacking and arrangement, which doesn’t answer back – peace at last.

Truisms iv) Demos

Growing up in a safe, benign and predominantly urban country like the UK, means you miss out on a lot of the experiences which define life in other countries. We don’t really have natural disasters, extreme weather, earthquakes, civil war, endemic illness, extreme poverty, lawlessness, corruption, dictators, or sectarian governments. Very lucky us. We have comparatively big Government and we are comparatively happy with it.

But take a look around the world today – Egypt going from peaceful, hopeful mass demonstration to violent disorder, Australia bracing for a continent sized cyclone which would cover swathes of the USA and would obliterate the UK, France and Germany, Sudan seceeding from itself and the routine drip drip drip of deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq or any number of other countries you care to mention. Government or the lack of it has a hand or the responsibility in all of these.

I was reading to my daughter about Henry VIII and Tudor England this evening and explaining beheadings, religious persecutions and kingly philandering. I said people were poor, had few rights and had many arbitrary rules imposed upon them by church and state. I used the past tense but on reflection not much has changed in much of the world.

This makes me reflect on four of Jenny Holzer’s Truisms:

Abuse of power comes as no surprise

Government is a burden on the people

Grass roots agitation is the only hope

Imposing order is man’s vocation for chaos is hell

Number one, I fear, is a nailed on certainty. Even Platonic Philosopher Kings go bad without term limits. Chaos is a hot hell, but dictatorship is a cold one. I used to think Government was my friend, but having worked in it I’m not so sure. It’s more like HAL 9000 crossed with a particularly mindless golem – and that’s in a stable affluent parliamentary democracy not a kleptocracy, sectarian or police state. Grass roots agitation probably is the only hope for many. I’m lucky to live where I do, and a good five centuries after Henry VIII.