Keep them ill, keep them scared

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 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, how much is modern, Western democracy really like Classical, 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 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 a good example of an Athenian scale, with a population of around 300,000 people and it's famous for its citizens knowing every other citizen either directly, or through a friend or relation.

Britain, by comparison, has 60,000,000 people, which is an entirely different ball-game. The London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames is more like Iceland, with a 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. Because of their huge size, countries like the UK will have a different psychological form of democracy. When we vote at a national election, we're involved in a task with people 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.

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 them 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. The size of their country helps this process because the psychological brakes present in ancient Athens or Iceland aren't around. If an official never sees the people that will suffer by his actions, and never knew them, it is much easier for him to carry out acts that harm those people, a trait shown famously by Milgram's Experiment. It's not a coincidence that Iceland was one of the few Western countries to put their bankers on trial and imprison them after the banking crisis. 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."

Democracy, therefore, has got big problems in our modern, western democracies. Our major countries are too large and our wealth distribution is too unequal. We continue to perform a theatrical version of democracy, where our elected officials are in the pockets of big business and oligarchs. This is not democracy in the Athenian sense.

Our societies may not really be functioning as Athenian democracies but there was another famous society and state in Ancient Greek that could be a much better fit to our current situation. That society was Sparta.

Sparta was Athens neighbour, sometimes ally and often deadly rival. It 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, its Spartan slaves. They also fulfilled the roles of servants, wet nurses and did other, everyday jobs. The Spartan citizens were the militaristic masters and the helots their slaves. What's more, 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, the Spartan citizens were constantly worried about their 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 was to trick the helots who showed a desire to leave or want change into thinking they were being taken for a special reward. They 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, they could instil in the helots (or at least partly) the belief that they didn't actually deserve more than they were getting.

Some readers might think that the Spartan tactics against their 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. For starters, 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 are working in the factories that create productivity and profit for the super-wealthy elite. But in Europe and North America, where we have automation and imports from Asia, this isn't really the case nowadays. There's also an even bigger issue and that's all 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, he can own a soft-drinks manufacturer, he can own a medical equipment manufacturer. He can own a fast-food chain. All this is possible and seen as simply a sign of his success and gumption. But such control creates a very dark result. It is in the interests of such an oligarch to make everybody ill. The reason for this is firstly that the easiest and most profitable product to sell is an addictive drug. Most of these make people ill. These addicted people then need medical care, which they pay for, or their government pays for but the oligarch can make even more money if he owns the pharmaceutical company and/or the medical equipment company. In this way, the oligarch can make a fortune selling the bad food and booze to people, then make another fortune selling the pills and machines that they people want, in order to get better. What's more, it is not in the interests of that oligarch that their pills and machines actually make the people well, simply because If the people get well, they don't need any more pills and machines.

In this way, powerful individuals in our Western society want us to be 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 eating nutritional food were less violent; in fact 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.

Aggression creates fear and fearful people tend towards right-wing political groups. Fear of death, a problem not surprisingly present amongst the ill, also 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 usually think straight, which explains why Americans are more scared about terrorist murders in the U.S. than in lawnmower accidents, even though lawnmowers kill more people. This fear-based irrationality plays right into the hands of right-wing political parties. They all want people to be unwell because an unwell society will vote for them.

Hopefully, these two areas, profit and politics, show the huge motivation of the elite to keep us permanently unwell. What of the second tactic of the Spartan elite; killing the best of the helots?

In our modern era, we have political parties in charge of our democracy. These popular parties have an elected leader. This approach means that in a country of fifty-million people, such as Britain, the best helot is one person; the leader of its left-wing political party. This single person holds the hopes of the entire population of ordinary people. He or she is the only person who can effect some sort of change occurring in that country. Therefore, if our countries are like Sparta, then the 'Cryptae' in our country would kill any truly left-wing leader that even looks like gaining real power.

Oddly enough, since the Second World War, several of our 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. Harold Wilson, 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 water, leaving him clinging against his sailing boot in a chill Atlantic. He only survived because 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 see and was never seen again. Wilson, according to his own testimony, suspected that rogue elements of MI6 were trying to kill him, as described in the following documentary:

Of course, without real evidence, these deaths and near-deaths are simply suspicious, 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.

On the other side of the pond, many believe that The Rev Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Anton Cermak, Leon Jordan, Leo Ryan and others were compassionate people who wanted to help the common man; they were 'helot leaders' in a sense and all were shot dead. It's worth noting that the act of shooting someone is a primitive and crude form of assassination. Modern technology enables assassination by stopping the heart, for example. It's almost impossible to work out how many important people have been bumped off using this method.

Hopefully, the above evidence shows that there is a good chance that a modern, Spartan-like 'Cryptaea' is killing 'helot leaders' in Europe and North America.

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. What's more, 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 a country with such systems in place, a true meritocracy is hardly possible. The U.S. wealth-creation system, to put it bluntly, is rigged. Britain has been going the same way since Thatcher took power. Our social mobility has been shrinking ever since. Fee-paying university places, internships and the shrinking of the welfare state have been creating a nation where Etonians like Cameron and Johnson get the top jobs and the majority of us increasingly struggle just to keep our heads above water. It would therefore seem that the Spartan's third tactic is in place today in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Overall, then, 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 a modern Sparta, 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 the Spartan-like controls may now be well-established. Fortunately, I think there are areas over which we have some control. Most importantly, we can make ourselves well, or at least much 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.