Why the name Bread and Games?

You might be wondering why this site is called Bread and Games, and how it relates to the topics of happiness and society. Bread and Games is a loose translation of the Latin expression panem et circenses (literally translated as bread and circus games). The term is attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal, and refers to how those in power can generate public approval through nothing more than superficial appeasement (food and entertainment).

Juvenal used the term to disparage the public and criticize their lack of civic commitment and interest, stating that food and entertainment were all people really cared about. And who is to say this was a bad thing? As long as appeasement satisfied the general populace, what cause was there to complain?

But times have changed. In Western countries famine is rare, and even outside of these countries most people have food aplenty. In fact, we have so much food that society is getting more obese over time. Our options for entertainment have also exploded, and we produce more media in a day than we can consume in a lifetime. We travel more than ever, spend more than ever on gadgets and appliances, and we are drowning in a sea of content. Yet despite our demands for “food and entertainment” increasingly well catered to, for many people life satisfaction is trending downwards. It seems that the strategy of superficial appeasement is no longer working.

As a society, we therefore need a new approach. Not one that is focused on appeasement, but one that actually makes the happiness of its people paramount. Unfortunately this is easier said than done. Psychology, neurology, sociology, anthropology, economy and other disciplines have given us fantastic insights into human behavior, both on the individual and the group level. But just like how the original research into nuclear fusion became weaponized to make atomic bombs, our advances in human understanding have also had (sometimes unforeseen) negative repercussion. Governments and large corporations know better than ever before how exactly to push our buttons, steer our beliefs, and guide our decision-making. Those in power have become more and more adept at using our behaviors against us for their own gains.

The insidious deterioration of society is showing no signs of slowing down, and it needs to stop. We need to correct course, and a key step will be to move away from the modern methods of appeasement used against us. No more superficial tax cuts that reduce the income gap by less than a tenth of a percentage. No more dopamine-inducing social media overloads that addict us to our screens. No more hollow promises that push problems downstream for future generations to deal with. We need to build a better society. A society that’s fairer, more just, and one that has the interests of the general public at heart.

What about “happiness for our time”?

Neville Chamberlain’s famous utterance of “Peace for our time” spectacularly backfired when World War II broke out less than a year later. Yet in spite of the similarity in phrase, I’m adamant we should strive towards “happiness for our time“. Thankfully, as the disclaimers of investment funds always say: “past performance is no guarantee of future results”. We can make it work, and we improve on our current society. Bread and Games is all about exploring just how we can make this goal a reality, and create a happier and more meaningful world to live in. And when we do, we might just reach the next step on the evolutionary ladder. From Homo Sapiens to Homo Felix: the happy man.