Trajan on the revolts in Tunisia (?)

An excerpt from the letters of Pliny ( a correspondence between magistrate Pliny the Younger and the Roman emperor Trajan):

To the emperor Trajan

Pliny the Younger (?)
While I was making a progress in a different part of the province, a most destructive fire broke out at Nicomedia, which not only consumed several private houses, but also two public buildings; the town-house and the temple of Isis, though they stood on contrary sides of the street. The occasion of its spreading thus wide, was partly owing to the violence of the wind, and partly to the indolence of the people, who, it appears, stood fixed and idle spectators of this terrible calamity. The truth is, the city was not furnished with either engines, buckets, or any single instrument proper to extinguish fires: which I have now, however, given directions to be provided. You will consider, Sir, whether it may not be advisable to form a company of firemen, consisting only of one hundred and fifty members. I will take care none but firemen shall be admitted into it; and that the privileges granted them shall not be extended to any other purpose. As this corporate body will be restricted to so small a number of members, it will be easy to keep them under proper regulation.

Trajan to Pliny

You are of opinion it would be proper to establish a company of firemen in Nicomedia, agreeably to what has been practiced in several other cities. But it is to be remembered, that societies of this sort have greatly disturbed the peace of the province in general, and of those cities in particular. Whatever name we give them, and for whatever purpose they may be instituted, they will not fail to form themselves soon into political clubs. It will, therefore, be safer, to provide such equipment as is of service in extinguishing fires, enjoining the owners of houses to assist in preventing the mischief from spreading; and if it should be necessary, to call in the aid of the populace.
(my emphasis)

Many authors in newspapers, blogs and journals have linked the Arab revolts to social media services in the internet. The Egyptian government seems to agree so far as to cut the internet completely in Egypt yesterday. I'm a bit sceptical and see such services as mere and substitutable tools, but it reminded me of the above quoted ancient letter.

Maybe all forms of organisation - even online friends networks and the like - have an inherent potential for political purposes. Maybe modern dictatorships really need to suppress even such forms of organisations / "societies". This might put them at an even greater systemic disadvantage in comparison to open societies than otherwise.
On the other hand, the very same networks could prove to contribute to open society instability as well.

1 comment:

  1. Politics is in large part an art of spreading ones ideas to others, and so any gathering of people has an inherent political potential. This is well known, and it's common practice to outlaw unregulated gatherings of people in dictatorships.

    I think the role of the social media in the events in egypt has been primarely that of an trusted news source in an enviroment where such is lacking. This is a powerful thing for the opposition to any government to posses, and so an important thing to mention. Additionally, since the western news media recognices it as essentially doing the same thing that many of them dreamt of doing when they started workin the biz there is a tendency to view it in a romantic light.

    So the role of social media is somewhat overwrought, certainly facebook and twitter hasn't been enough to bing down Teheran, nor later Brixton. Altough in the former case there seems to be more IT expertise working to help Iran (googles encryption has been defeted twice at least, and there has been reports of systematic man-in-the-middle attacks against facebook) than it seems Egypt could muster. The latter case (the vandalism in England) seems to have been a youth rebellion in the lower class, and as such wasn't so much about clamour for reform as it was about not being bored by doing something exciting with your friends.