Wednesday March 20, 2013
Oh! How little have we changed
Brave New World
By AZMI SHAROM
Egyptian kings loved their massive mega projects, all built to announce their greatness as well as to instil awe and fear among the populace. Today, all around the world, we see the same mad egotism practised by the powerful.
MANY years ago, when I was in the Sixth Form, I took a class on Egyptology as part of my extracurricular activities.
I remember looking forward to my first lesson.
After all, ancient Egypt sounds frightfully exciting, what with pharaohs, pyramids, sphinxes and the like.
Unfortunately, I found it all painfully tedious.
The teacher was not the most riveting person in the world, I can’t even remember if he or she was a man or a woman, but the real culprits were the books we were referred to.
They were drier than a mummy’s armpit.
Thick ponderous things loaded with unpronounceable names of kings and places, which did not capture a sense of the period or even the high drama of which there was bound to be plentiful in an empire that spanned nearly four thousand years.
Foolishly, when it came time to fill my university applications, I put Egyptology under “interests”.
It looked jolly intellectual in my form.
But I had learnt next to nothing and during one interview when I was asked about what I found interesting about ancient Egypt, I managed to mumble “it was very, very large”. Pathetic.
Fortunately, nowadays books on the Egyptian empire are being written in a far more accessible style.
And I am not talking about the kooky “the pyramids were built by engineers from Atlantis using anti-gravity technology” type books.
I mean proper scholarly works like The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson.
One aspect I find interesting when learning about people from long, long ago, is that how little has changed.
Egyptian kings loved their massive mega projects, all built to announce their greatness as well as to instil awe and fear among the populace.
Power and propaganda were the primary means to keep the peasants in check and among the elite, nepotism and kingly favours ensured a ruling class beholden to the mighty monarch.
Even the form that the propaganda takes has familiar undertones.
For the masses, there were ostentatious displays like coronation celebrations which seek to emphasise the divinity of the king.
These were elaborate and gaudy shows that were designed to completely bowl over the average Egyptian.
Among the intelligentsia (remember, very few people could actually read in those days), there were written (or engraved to be more accurate) works proclaiming the supremacy and magnanimity of the monarch.
Today, all around the world, we see the same mad egotism practised by the powerful; giant structures that stroke the fragile psyche of their commissioners, overt displays of power and influence to maintain control and blinding propaganda to maintain it all.
Have we not changed in all these millennia?
I would like to think that we have and I believe the root change is education.
The vast majority of people who lived during the time of the pharaohs were working class folk who strived and toiled under the most hideous conditions simply to survive.
The life span of the average person did not reach far past 30 with many dying during the teen years.
Hit 40 and you are deemed incredibly old (compare this to the many pharaohs who ruled for scores of years).
Today we struggle too, but the difference is that most of us can read.
And with this ability, it is possible for ideas to be disseminated widely.
Ideas that have developed over the course of human history that says all of us, peasant and prince alike, have an inherent dignity.
And one way that this dignity is expressed is by our ability to choose our leaders.
The peasants of ancient Thebes three thousand years ago can only dream of the kind of power that we 21st century “peasants” collectively have.
They had no say on who ruled them but thank heavens we do.
> Azmi Sharom is a law lecturer and the views here are completely his own. He can be reached at email@example.com.