"Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit."

C. Iulius Caesar - Commentarii de Bello Civili Bk III.68

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Bring back the games!

Part of Nova Roma’s problem of retaining people stems from the age we live in. This is the age of instant gratification. At the press of a button we can get power, water, electricity, music, television, radio, automotive power, to name but a few conveniences. Computer software has become ever more glitzy and snappy, offering increasing degrees of realistic animation – the precursor no doubt to the holodeck of Star Trek fame. In the Western world we are spoon-fed from birth to death. Then we stumble upon Nova Roma.

Nova Roma relies on people to use the more cerebral elements of their imagination, unaided by any props, except a few web pages of varying degrees of amateurism and a mass of text. I know many new citizens that have landed in Nova Roma, having fought their way through the bramble bushes of the naming conventions and absent paters, only to ask, “what happens now?” That is a very good question, what does happen now?

If they are lucky there will be a full-blown political free-for-all in progress on the Main List, with copious amounts of verbal blood letting. Savage comments will be traded back and forth and from the stands of our virtual amphitheatre there may come the appreciative “ooohs” and “aaahhs” of the watching crowd (probably all 50 of them). There will be the usual wailing about how terrible it is that the list has sunk to its usual level, charges, counter-charges, threats of prosecutions, resignations, peace lists being formed (and disbanded and re-formed), whole groups of people labelled as revolutionaries and plotters, others as modernistic subversives, or Christian evangelists. The whole scene is thoroughly gripping to a new citizen. Just another day in the forum of Ancient Rome! This is spectacular entertainment that you cannot put a price on.

If they are unlucky the list will be as it is now, thoroughly and odiously pleasant. People will be polite to each other and post voluminously on un-edifying topics. It will be just another day on any old Yahoo list. It will require people to think, to read and to construct semi-intellectual posts. In short there will be a total absence of instant gratification.

Are we so different from the Ancient Romans? The nobility of Rome identified the appeal of gladiatorial combats and their usefulness in keeping the citizenry distracted. Between the grain dole, free feasts, and the amphitheatres, they provided the plebs with enough of a narcotic to keep them sedated, most of the time, and if they did break loose in bloody riots in the forum it was usually at the behest of a noble patron or demagogue. Even in disorder there was order and control. Are the citizens of Nova Roma that much different?

The intellectuals amongst us would be horrified at the thought that they need to be stimulated by the base appeal of verbal combat on the Main List, but look what happened when the conflict between the Boni and Moderati / Libra alliance was at its height. People had a purpose, a goal. Break the Boni! Defend the Collegium! Expel Drusus! Save Drusus! Expel Maior! Save Maior! Prosecute Scaurus! Defend Scaurus! On and on went the rallying calls. Everyone participated in the debates, either publicly or behind the scenes in their factions. Advice was tendered by the bucket full and strategies were laid down and tactics devised and revised. Nova Roma bubbled with life and passion. The stands of the amphitheatre were always full.

Now the stands are empty. The plebs can find no great debates, no blood on the sand, not even a pinprick of claret. Now they have to think if they want to participate on the Main List. Threads on reproduction Roman furniture, where and how best to learn Latin, our virtual chariot races, all worthy and noble but not very “gripping”. A mild titter raised over the association of the Gens Minia’s new group, Neo Roma, with sanitary equipment or mild amusement at a post headed “Wet girls”, the product of a re-mailer virus, is the best that can be managed.

If instead of trying to purge the Main List of any passion whatsoever and instilling a mish-mash of Victorian values, some of Nova Roma’s notables could encourage free and bloody speech, if they could seize a few citizens and toss them into the arena and tell them to stab each other with the product of their keyboards, then we may see some vibrant life begin to bubble again in Nova Roma. Then we may retain more citizens, since then they would see a purpose and reason to log on.

It is time to acknowledge that our citizens are no different from our spiritual ancestors who “ooohed” and “aaahed” all day under a beating hot sun as men duelled to the death or were shredded by wild beasts. We think we have progressed so far, have become so civilised, but that is because the arena is brought into our houses by the touch of a button. Television is the arena of this age, providing technicolor images of death and gore, both real and fictional, at the touch of a button. In fact we have become so advanced that we can freeze the moment of death on a CD or even on live TV, make popcorn and return to gorge both our stomachs and our appetites for blood. How the Ancient Romans would have appreciated that function!

So in Nova Roma let us not hide behind this myth that people want an anodyne list, that they want this veneer of civility. Everyone revelled in the gore when it flowed freely and often. Certainly it is necessary to explain to the more “sensitive” new citizen the ways of the Main List, lest they be terrified, shocked, appalled (insert the adjective most used by Nova Roma’s nannies) and run shrieking for the gates and the far beyond, but let us not be so duplicitous and mealy-mouthed that we cannot salute those that are prepared to be beaten by a keyboard for the edification of the masses.

Once more let the cry rip through Nova Roma; “Those who are about to libel and be libelled salute you!”

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The barge of the dead

The Gens Minia has apparently emigrated from Nova Roma to found a new organisation. This group, I forget its name and have no intention of looking it up, intends to best Nova Roma at its own game, by being home to just about anyone. No viewpoint, ideology, belief, goal or time period is outside the scope of this barge of the dead.

No doubt it will stagger across the e-waves, initially born slightly faster than it deserves, navigating the choppy waters of imperial rule, constitutions, laws and issues over religions. Eventually though it will strike the rock of reality and spill its cargo of cadavers into the waters of the Internet, forever to be sundered and lost in recriminations, dashed dreams and petty squabbles. Could I be wrong? Of course, but given the fate of most Internet based groups I doubt it.

The actual event itself is utterly irrelevant to Nova Roma. There has already been a range of views expressed, from outright sarcasm and references to an association with sanitary equipment, to a request from Caeso Fabius Buteo Quintilianus for a more sombre approach to the matter.

I say let them sail on, no doubt tipping overboard the corpses of those who either actually find something concrete to believe in, or those who fall prey to the caprices of their “Imperator”. They should all greet him on some message board with the phrase “Those who are already dead and just unburied salute you!” Imperator of what? What absolute fatuous, and predictable, childish nonsense.

This event only serves to demonstrate that Nova Roma cannot become all things to all people without becoming equally ridiculous. There is a real issue underpinning this though, and that is purpose. What is the purpose of Nova Roma? The long term goals have been fairly well enunciated, debated, fought over, buried, exhumed, re-buried and generally praised or vilified, without much critical thinking in-between.

Citizens need to be given immediate goals to work towards. The Senate needs to give leadership, vision and direction in this respect. The Senate is the key to the success, or failure, of Nova Roma. The model of republican government is exactly what a volunteer Internet community needs, for nothing else makes sense or has a basis in adult and rational thought.

The citizens of Nova Roma may elect buffoons, or they may elect non-entities, but the Senate is the counter-point to the insanities that maybe perpetrated on us by our magistrates. That is the well-established theory, and one that I subscribe to wholeheartedly. Transforming the theoretical into reality may prove somewhat harder.

If the Senate is content to sit and debate the minor issues of Nova Roman life, rather than deal with the lack of immediate purpose for citizens, then the people in time honoured fashion will turn their idle hands to each others throats.

A certain amount of political carnage is healthy and very Roman, but were this Rome of antiquity at some point, normally when the forum became so drenched in blood, the Senate would have to stir itself to act. Most worrying of all is that the people are now so lethargic that they cannot even summon up enough energy to cut each other to shreds on the lists.

A complete lack of purpose, other than reading the ramblings on various lists and ogling at the latest crisis or drama (and as they go this latest one has been pretty third rate entertainment), grips our citizens. They have no “work” to do. I wonder how many citizens at times struggle to find a reason to log onto the Main List? Just what is the reason for paying that tax?

I know that some people think that many of our citizens only expect to receive a benefit, rather than contribute one iota of creativity. Such is the curse of modernity that undoubtedly many do expect to receive rather than give. The concept of service is sadly lacking in many quarters of Nova Roma.

This is not however an entirely fair portrayal of our citizens. Many expect to join and be given a task, a role; a function. Titles do indeed abound in Nova Roma, but once one is either gifted one, or wins one through election, the reality sets in that few above them in the Nova Roman pecking order have a clue what their “staff” should be doing.

If the Senate cannot formulate short and medium term goals for Nova Roma then we will continue to stagnate. I say the Senate since the stability of that body, not being subject to re-election, could ensure continuity of sound policies even in the face of incompetent or invisible magistrates.

Determining what “work” could be assigned, that benefits Nova Roma, advances its long term goals and increases the citizen base, is another matter. The first step is a general recognition that if we don’t want more disenchanted citizens to seek some sort of activity or purpose elsewhere, then the Senate needs to bestir itself and propose, debate and pass resolutions on firm policies for the here and now.

The Senate needs to take this lead if the trickle of emigrants leaving our gates is not to grow into a stream, then a river and finally a tsunami as people rush to the next barge of the dead to be built, to escape the eruption of terminal boredom that threatens to smother us all in the ash of inactivity and meaningless existence.

If the Senate chooses to do nothing in this respect, then it should at least place an order for more Nova Roman coins to be minted so that it can have them ready to pay the ferryman as more of our citizens depart into the shadows.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Martyrs of the Molehill

If recently I have haven’t written much it is not through lack of interest, but rather a lack of anything that was fundamentally noteworthy and new as an issue. One issue is however now noteworthy, but sadly not really new, namely the increasing use of the veto by some of our Tribunes.

Given the current lack of any real distinction between patricians and plebeians and certainly no “class war” or suppression of the rights of plebeians by predatory patricians, there really isn’t much for our Tribunes to do in Nova Roma, which is no doubt the reason why, in an effort to give meaning to their existence, it was decided to graft onto their historic role that of curators of the constitution.

This function, combined with the personalities of some of our current Tribunes, is the root cause for the increase in the use of the veto. Instead of protecting an individual from magisterial abuse, our Tribunes concentrate on the finite details of the constitution; it says black but does that mean black or does it really mean dark purple? If it says black does it actually mean it can never be white? This recently culminated in one Tribune trying to infer that public games which required the use of the English language were in fact discriminatory towards non-English speaking citizens and particularly those who were weak in written English skills.

Had the Tribune that interposed this veto done this in Rome of antiquity he probably wouldn’t have made it back to his house alive. The plebeians, the very people he was meant to protect, would in all likelihood have lynched him. It would have been a fundamentally brave or fundamentally stupid Tribune that deprived the Romans of their entertainment. The very fact that our Nova Roman Tribune could even contemplate doing this is indicative of the disassociation that exists between the plebeians in Nova Roma and the Tribunes. The Tribunes feel no instinctive reluctance to do something that would harm the very social order they are meant to protect, and the plebeians didn’t rise as one to protest this, as they really don’t have any inherent identity as plebeians.

In Rome patricians were a distinct group, as were plebeians and despite the rise of some plebeians into the Senate and somewhat of a blurring of the distinction over the course of generations for such a select few plebeian families, in general the divide was obvious. In Nova Roma there was once nothing that marked a patrician or a plebeian other than a nomen that was either one or the other. Now with the passage of the Lex Equitia de Familia, a very necessary reform, there isn’t even that obvious distinction.

So our Tribunes have no historic role to play in Nova Roma, and the unhistoric one they have been assigned could have been beneficial had some of them shown more restraint recently. Had these Tribunes adopted the restraint shown by a constitutional monarchy, where the sovereign has the power to dismiss parliament in extreme circumstances, such as a tyrannical abuse of power, and only exercises that rarely and judiciously, then they would have brought more honour to their role than is currently the case.

The possession of the veto is a great responsibility and it calls for its careful and selective use. Instead it has been employed on the last occasion to enforce a very silly position, namely that it is discriminatory to use English in public games as the constitution only mandates its use for government matters or day-to-day business. The games, apparently, don’t fall into either category.

That quintessential pragmatic Roman approach to such questions was absent, again indicative of how few steps we have collectively taken towards a mastery of Romanitas. A Roman of antiquity would not even have been led down this path of tortuous reasoning, but even assuming they had the solution would have lain in what was the fundamental purpose of a Tribune and was this a hill to die on?

Sadly for Nova Roma some of our current Tribunes are all too content to seize on a molehill and terraform it into Mt. Everest and then proceed to huff and puff all the way to the top of it, dragging the rest of us reluctantly along, and there on its highest peak fall on their swords in “defence of the constitution”. If there was ever a single example that best demonstrates why the constitution has become a millstone around our necks and as far removed from being a document that preserves our rights, as the Earth is from Alpha Centauri, then this is it. A document that is meant to protect us in fact oppresses us, encouraging through its convoluted and imprecise language ludicrous upsets such as the “English, no English” debate.

From this latest unhappy example of why some people equate being Roman with a profligate use of tools that the Romans designed, in this case the veto, what conclusions can one draw? Firstly that we need to create a real separation of the social orders in a historic manner as possible, and focus the Tribunes on their traditional role. Secondly, and in conjunction with the first lesson, that we need to scrap the constitution and restore the traditional supremacy of the law, as determined by the people, and remove the excuse for all this grandstanding that is currently the hallmark of a number of the Tribunes this year; not all, but a significant enough number for their actions to go from being farcical to pointlessly obstructive.

It is time for a number of our Tribunes to start being Tribunes of Nova Roma, rather than Martyrs of the Molehill.