The United States of America, along with the United Kingdom and France, are very keen on Ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Their capitals are filled with columned temples, obelisks, triumphal arches and other visual motifs from those ancient, Mediterranean civilisations. These countries also like to talk about how they’ve inherited a key process in collective decision-making, known as democracy.
￼Democracy is an excellent system of government. It was developed by the Athenian city-state, and others, as a way to collectively decide what to do. Athenians would discuss openly their views on key subjects and then take a vote. This process is now used worldwide to decide national matters. This all sounds great but in truth, modern, Western democracy is only vaguely similar to Athenian democracy. ￼One reason why democracy worked well in Athens in around 300 BC was that there was only a relatively small number of people in that city who could actually vote. A lot of the people in Athens were actually slaves, who couldn’t vote. Neither could the Athenian women. In fact, only forty-thousand people, roughly, could vote in Classical Athens. This meant that those who did vote, in such a small area, often directly or indirectly knew of every other voter in the city. Because of this, democracy in Athens was a decision-making process mostly among friends, relations and associates. In our modern world, there aren’t many nations that have this scale of population. Iceland is one example. Its population, of around 300,000, is on the Athenian scale, and it’s famous for its citizens knowing every other citizen either directly, or through a friend or relation. Britain, by comparison, has 60 million people, which is an entirely different ball-game. The London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames, a small chunk of Greater London, is more on the scale of Iceland, with its population of 200,000 people. This huge different in scale might not be a problem in terms of logistics but it is a problem in terms of psychology.
All large countries, whose populations run into the tens of millions, will have a different psychological form of democracy. When we vote at a national election, we’re involved in a task of choosing people that we will never meet or even know indirectly. This is not a good thing for collective decision-making because if you know you’ll never meet people in a certain region, you’re psychologically more inclined to vote for something that benefits the people you do know in your region, at the expense of the people you don’t know in another region. This is less likely to happen in Iceland because they’ll feel more emotionally connected to everyone in their country but it’s almost guaranteed in G20 countries. There is also the problem that the people who are voted for may feel immune to criticism as they’re not going to meet the people they’ve let down. This didn’t happen in Iceland; it was one of the few Western countries to put their bankers on trial and imprison them after the banking crisis. When the banks of Iceland failed their country through incompetence and corruption, the population turned up at the banks’ headquarters and the Parliament and banged pots and pans until justice was done.
￼There is another problem in the modern western world with democracy; our gross inequality of wealth. At the moment, a tiny number of people possess more money than half our planet. This astonishing wealth allows that group to heavily influence the decisions of their country’s democratically elected representatives. In other words, they bribe the elected politicians of their country to do their bidding. This isn’t just a personal view, Jimmy Carter, a former U.S. President, responded vigorously when he was unable to stop unlimited financial contributions to political parties. He stated:
The U.S. is “no longer a functioning democracy” and now has a system of “unlimited political bribery.”
Western democracy, therefore, is faced with at least two big problems; our countries’ excessive size and our excessively unequal wealth distribution. Since the Second World War, and especially since the late Seventies, we have, to a large extent, been performing a theatrical version of democracy, where our elected officials are in the pockets of big business and oligarchs. This is not democracy in the true sense. In truth, if we want to make a comparison between our current form of government, its central authority and social control, then we might do better to refer to another famous society and state in Ancient Greek; Sparta.
Sparta was Ancient Athens’ neighbour. Its territory can be seen in the accompanying Wikipedia map. Sparta was sometimes the ally of the Athenians but mostly their deadly rival. Sparta was a very militaristic nation. Its male citizens were forbidden to do farming or tradesman’s work. They were all pure soldiers, trained from birth to be skilled and ruthless fighters
Sparta’s farming was done by its helots, the Spartan slaves. The Helots also fulfilled the roles of servants, wet nurses and did other, everyday jobs. For every Spartan, there were seven helots; a gross imbalance of wealth and power that is eerily similar to our current distribution of wealth.
Not surprisingly, considering that they were massively outnumbered by their minions, the Spartan citizens were constantly worried about the Helots revolting. The way the Spartans dealt with this problem is both logical and darkly callous.
The first weapon of Spartan control was to make sure that the helots never became too healthy. According to Myron of Priene:
If any exceeded the vigour proper to a slave’s condition, they made death the penalty; and they allotted a punishment to those controlling them if they failed.
The second weapon of Spartan control was to kill the best of the helots. Member of the Spartan Cryptaea, the state’s clandestine hit squad, would go out into the countryside every August and kill helots who showed strong health, wilfulness or any other trait that might encourage revolt. Another tactic to make this happen was to trick the helots who showed a desire to leave, or to challenge the status-quo, into thinking they were going to get a special reward. The Helots were flattered, fed, made drunk, escorted out of sight and then killed.
The third weapon of Spartan control was seemingly minor, yet in many ways the most powerful tactic of all; to make the helots believe that they were inferior. This was done through ritual humiliation, beatings and general psychological oppression. By doing this, the Spartans could instil in the helots (or at least partly) the belief that they didn’t actually deserve more than the wretched existences in which they lived.
Some readers might think that the Spartan tactics against their Helot slaves have no connection to our modern, Western world, where we all live in freedom and independence. And yet, there are a lot of similarities.
A sick state
There is evidence that our super-wealthy elite might be very keen on us all being permanently ill. At first glance, such an idea sounds nuts. It would seem self-evident that the rulers in a capitalist society would want their citizens to be healthy people, as those people work in the factories that create productivity and profit for the country’s super-wealthy elite. But in Europe and North America, where we have automation and imports from Asia, this isn’t so much the case nowadays. There is also a profit incentive in lots of people being ill and it’s mostly to do with shareholding.
Shareholding enables a single individual to control, and own, many companies or corporations. A person can own a pharmaceutical corporation. He can own a distillers, a soft-drinks manufacturer and a medical equipment manufacturer. He can own a fast-food chain. All this is possible; it’s seen by many as simply a sign of the person’s success and gumption. But such control creates a very dark result. If someone becomes sufficiently powerful to own all the corporations mentioned, it is in his or her interest to make everybody ill. Firstly, the easiest and most profitable product to sell is an addictive drug, which usually makes people ill. These addicted people then need medical care, which they have to pay for, or their government pays for on their behalf. If the oligarch owns the toxic recreational drug manufacturing company and the pharmaceutical company and the medical equipment company, he or she wins every way. An oligarch can make a fortune selling bad food and booze to people, then make another fortune selling the pills and machines that those people have to take in order to get better. This is only the tip of the iceberg. If the oligarch owns a newspaper and funds a university lab, he or she can ‘encourage’ the use of a particular drug and owns its patent. It is not in the interests of that oligarch that people become well. If the people get well, then they don’t need any more pills and machines.
In this way, powerful individuals in our Western society have strong financial reasons for making sure that we are permanently ill, because it makes them a lot of money. People being ill also has another effect. Malnourished people have bigger problems with aggression, clarity of thinking and general social behaviour. For example, a study in a prison showed that prisoners who eat nutritional food become less violent; in fact they were a third less violent after only five months of eating a healthy diet. The role of diet in aggression seems to be woefully neglected in Western society, especially the effect of cheap, preserved food on children’s behaviour, something I’ve talked about in my article, meat, amine and mood.
There is also a political consequence to everyone being unwell and stressed. Aggression creates fear and fearful people tend towards right-wing political groups. A fear of death, a problem not surprisingly present amongst the ill, triggers a psychological need for the strength-protection policies of right-wing parties. This trait even has a name; ‘Terror Management Theory’. Fearful people don’t often think straight, which explains why Americans are more scared about terrorist murders in the U.S. than lawnmower accidents, even though lawnmowers kill more people, on average, every year in the continental United States. This fear-based irrationality plays right into the hands of right-wing political parties. Their strategists know this, and so they want the voters to be unwell because an unwell society will vote for them.
Taken for a ride
In our modern era, we have political parties which vie to lead our countries. These popular parties have an elected leader. Usually, the left-wing party is led by someone who wishes to help the common man, the Ordinary Joe. This single person, to a large extent, holds the hopes of the entire population of ordinary people. He or she is the only person who is likely to challenge the control of the power-elite, the stupendously wealthy class in that country. Therefore, if our developed countries are truly like Sparta, then the ‘Cryptae’ in our country, the secret-attack squads of the elite, would kill that person.
￼Oddly enough, since the Second World War, several British left-wing political leaders have died suddenly, on the cusp of gaining real political power. For example, Hugh Gaitskell, the British Labour leader (to quote Wikipedia) ‘died suddenly in 1963, when he appeared to be on the verge of leading Labour back into power and becoming the next Prime Minister.’ Gaitskell died from Lupus, an auto-immune disease which is usually associated with a skin rash. John Smith, another popular, practical and truly left-wing Labour leader, died suddenly of a heart-attack in 1994 when his party had a 23% lead in popularity over the conservative party, making him highly likely to win the upcoming election. He was replaced by Tony Blair, who many now feel was never truly left-wing and whose friendship with oligarchs such as Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi did not seem to be in the interests of the majority of people in Britain. Gaitskell and Smith’s deaths are regarded as natural but only a cursory investigation into modern Cryptae methods shows that such causes of death can be induced artificially.
Harold Wilson, another British Labour leader, who replaced Hugh Gaitskell as leader of the Labour Party, narrowly avoided death in 1973 when the dinghy he was using in the Scilly Isles suddenly dumped him in the bay, leaving him clinging against his sailing boot in chill Atlantic waters. He only survived hypothermia and death because two passers-by heard his cries for help and rescued him with a borrowed rowing boat. Strangely, the dinghy that dumped him did not spin in circles, like most dinghies out of control, but headed straight out to sea and was never seen again.
Harold Wilson was an intelligent and educated man and was frank about the behaviour of the right-wing sections of his country towards him. He frankly admitted that he suspected that rogue elements of MI6 were trying to kill him, as described in the following documentary:
Of course, without real evidence, such deaths and near-deaths are simply odd but they might be of interest to Jeremy Corbyn, another truly left-wing politician in Britain. He is not close to real power yet but hopefully, if and when he does get close to it, he’ll be able to live through the experience. [Note: I originally wrote this several years ago. Since that time, Jeremy Corbyn has lost the leadership of the Labour Party. His efforts to re-distribute the wealth of Britain more evenly have come to naught]
On the other side of the pond, in the United States, there are many commentators who believe that The Rev Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Anton Cermak, Leon Jordan, Leo Ryan and others suffered such a fate. They were compassionate people who wanted to help the common man; they were ‘helot leaders’ in a sense. They were all were shot dead.
Hopefully, this evidence shows that it is possible that a modern, Spartan-like ‘Cryptaea’ is killing ‘helot leaders’ in Europe and North America.
It’s your own fault
The third form of Spartan control – making the helots believe they were inferior – was possibly just as important a Spartan tactic as assassinating the helot leaders. This tactic seems also to be alive and well today. The idea that ‘if you’re not rich, you’ve failed and it’s your own fault’ has permeated North American culture for a century. It is astonishing that this idea is maintained in a country dominated by ultra-rich people who mostly inherited their money. Any poor person has almost no chance of become wealthy. For starters, the U.S. education system is massively skewed in favour of the wealthy, its intern culture favours only those with money and its boardrooms are often operating on nepotism and personal connections. In addition, those with wealth are invariably bailed out by banking friends, or government friends, when they make financial mistakes. As Noam Chomsky once said, the welfare state for the rich is far more expensive than the welfare state for the poor.
The U.S. wealth-creation system, to put it bluntly, is rigged. Britain, unfortunately, headed down a similar path once Thatcher took power in 1979. Since that time, fee-paying university places, internships and the shrinking of the welfare state have been creating a nation where Etonians like David Cameron and Boris Johnson get the top jobs and the majority of us increasingly struggle just to keep our heads above water. While all this goes on, the mantra that we all have equal opportunities is blared from the rooftops. It would therefore seem that the Spartan’s third tactic is in place today in both the U.S. and the U.K.
I hope that this article has shown that our Western World, particularly the U.K. and the U.S., may talk about us being a democracy, like Athens of old, but it seems more likely that we’re living in a modern Sparta, a state where a small, military elite controls a vast group of semi-slaves through fear, psychological control and a deliberate system of endless illness in the general population.
This is a depressing idea. It would be good to think that we can change this situation but Spartan-like controls are now well-established. Fortunately, I think there are areas over which we have some control. Most importantly, we can make ourselves well, or at least more well than we are at the moment. Science has made it clear that alcohol, fruit drinks, refined sugar, large amounts of animal protein and related foodstuffs make us ill and hugely increase our risks of cancer, strokes, heart disease and diabetes. If we ignore ads, don’t buy junk food, stay off the liquor, walk, cycle and choose a vegetarian option, we could all be calmer, live longer, need less medical care and think more clearly about what’s happening in our society. This would hopefully mean that less of us will vote for Trump, Johnson, Cameron, Blair and anyone else that looks suspiciously like a snake-oil salesman. It’s worth a go.
Postscript: As already mentioned, I originally wrote this article several years ago. We’ve now had coronavirus, which has made many of us ill, killed off many old people and triggered massive job losses, more insecure working conditions, bail-outs for Wall Street and the City of London, massive payments for dubious medicines and vaccines, and the introduction of greater surveillance. Ho hum.