Friday, July 15, 2011

16th July 2011

Belonging to the emperor

Since the emperor is going through a bad patch at the moment, his News International slaves had better watch out. One bloodbath may not be enough for the old monster. They can expect to have to bend even more obsequiously to his commands over the coming months if their positions are to remain secure.

Imperial life was a nightmare for Romans. They needed all the self-defence mechanisms they could muster against its insecurities. The emperor Caligula, Seneca tells us, imprisoned the son of Pastor, a distinguished Roman, because of his foppish hairstyle. Pastor begged for his life, so Caligula immediately had the son executed, but invited Pastor to dinner the same day. Pastor turned up, old and gout-ridden as he was, and ate and drank as if nothing had happened, without signs of grief or remorse. ‘Why, you ask?’ Seneca goes on, and answers: habebat alterum — he had another son.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus (once a slave) pointed out the humiliations involved: ‘If you wish to be consul, you must stay up all night, run back and forth, kiss hands, say and do many slavish things, send many people gifts and, to some, presents every day.’ Even so, he goes on, ‘the emperor might die; or what if he became your enemy?’ But Epictetus understood the lure of it all: ‘No one loves the emperor, but we do love riches, a tribunate, a praetorship, a consulship. When we love and hate and fear these things, those who dispense them must necessarily be our masters.’

An old courtier explained as follows how he had survived so long for one in his position: ‘By accepting insults and expressing gratitude for them’. So whatever his courtiers’ feelings about his recent behaviour, Murdoch can look forward to even more servile adulation from them than normal: they know which side their bread is buttered, and they want to keep it that way. Their careers are at risk. But for the actual staff of News International, of course, no sweat: the emperor will now shine his Sun on them on Sundays too. Which is precisely the problem gnawing away at those poor old MPs.

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