Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Julius Caesar and the NSA

In honor of Constitution Day, Learn Liberty is releasing another video I wrote/produced about the NSA Scandal. The video was shot and edited by Tafadzwa Chiriga. Professor Otteson gave his perspective on why this wasn't just the usual issue of a government overstepping its role in our daily lives.

As artists we have the ability to draw attention to these issues. I remember reading Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in elementary school. Yes, "Julius Caesar" in elementary school. I have no idea why kids were being assigned this dense and dry classic in class. I can say, thought, that this was before the era where ADD became the expected diagnosis for most kids.  Our schools demanded and expected kids to 'muscle' through difficult things in order to build intellectual stamina. I think "Julius Caesar" was one of those academic tests of wills: only the strong will survive. I found the play completely enthralling and confusing. On the one hand I realized that a child shouldn't be excited about this play. The language was very dusty and I had problems keeping track of all the characters. On the other hand, this was the first piece of writing I came across that strictly dealt with the rights of man in a society and to a republic. I couldn't get enough of it. I would re-read passages to myself as my classmates dozed.

When it came time for the teacher to give us our 'Roman' names I was knighted with 'Augustus.' The first true emperor of Rome and the quiet victor at the end of "Julius Caesar." This just fed my child-like ego. I would walk around imagining myself in a toga and being addressed as "Octavius Augustus.' This delusional grandiosity conflicted with my intellectual understanding of the freedoms of man. Yes, Augustus turned out to be an even bigger tyrant than Caesar. Yes, he's only a minor character in play. But it's good to be the emperor...even if it was just in my head. I was Augustus historically and theatrically. I was one of the few Shakespeare characters who returns in "Anthony and Cleopatra." I was less a personality and more like a slow, unstoppable, iceberg-like force for adversaries to wreck their ships against and die. Usually this spell would be broken by someone yelling at me or a ball hitting me in the head during PE class. I would return to my very un-emperor like existence.  Those Augustan flights of fancy made me realize how intoxicating power was; just imagining it could make me forget about all the civic lessons taught in school. If being a 'fake child emperor' could cause me to shuttle all of my beliefs, then I can't even fathom how magical and dangerous it would be to have a chance at being a real tyrant.

The arguments in "Julius Caesar" have stayed with me all these years later. During times of war and when individuals try to usurp their position I imagine the Senate debates on the Ides of March that would change the fate of mankind. I can see the scribes writing down the words of men for posterity so that their children would know where they stood. I can see thousands of years later in Philadelphia a similar debate taking place without the need of daggers and poison. The founding fathers of America debating for months in sweltering heat, setting down the course this nation would take. And I wonder if the great leaders of today (and they are out there) will ever have that same debate about our rights as our government veers closer and closer to the edge of tyrannical abuses and treasonous scandals.

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