Bread and Circuses | JIM FURLONG

It was with some amusement that I read the other day in what is called the ‘op-ed’ section of the paper. This was a great year for cod fishing and the food-fishery in Newfoundland. I used to call it the “teacher fishery” in its early days because teachers who had the whole summer off could best fill their boots on weekdays and go out and catch fish while most people were working.

Now I call it the “political fishery” because that is why it exists. It doesn’t preserve cod. It just keeps people happy or lets them pretend they are happy. It keeps them all from thinking on the fact that our cod fishery, as we knew it, is GONE. It collapsed some decades ago and a moratorium on fishing that was to be for a few years while the cod stocks replenished still stretches out before us on a road of undetermined length. The food fishery keeps us from thinking about that. It has nothing to do with conservation and nothing to do with the returning of the cod. It has to do with votes and seats in the House of Assembly and it will be with us for a very long time.

Come to think of it now, there are lots of things like that. For instance, why we still harvest caplin is beyond me. It is a pet theme of mine. There aren’t caplin in the same numbers or size as there used to be. Cod eat caplin and we are trying to get the cod back. It would seem to be the soul of logic to stop catching caplin altogether and let the cod have them. That gives rise to the fundamental question as to why there is a caplin fishery at all. Well, dear friends, the answer is the same as with the cod. It is VOTES. It is another of those things that makes us think everything is okay or somewhere near it when it isn’t. Its purpose is to give an illusion of normality that keeps us in off the ledges of the nearest tall building. It is bread and circuses.

Bread and circuses is an ancient but excellent phrase dating back to the Romans. It means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction, or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace. (See caplin, food fishery, and seal hunt).

Why do we hunt seals anyway? Same reason. It’s not for food and not for the fur anymore. Even if it makes no economic sense we persist. It is an emotional thing with us, a connection with our past. It is also an appeal to voters. You can’t give a seal pelt away these days in the international market. The world has turned away from killing seals to provide expensive fur coats to people of means. While it has become patriotic to sport seal skin boots or mitts in this province that is something that is but for a few. A seal skin bookmark is all I can afford. Still eating a meal of seal flippers once a season does get you seal hunt patriot creds. I do it. Is the seal hunt supported by the government? Well, of course it is. You get to wrap your self in the flag like with the caplin or with the food fishery. It is all our connection with the past, but it is part of our connection with the number of seats in the House of Assembly. It is the world of politics and bread and circuses.