I recently finished reading Peter Green's The Hellenistic Age: A Short History. Peter is my neighbor, and I could hear his voice as I read. Even though I have little background in ancient history, the book was very accessible, while also providing references to further study. The history of the ancient world post-Alexander and pre-Roman Empire has always been one of those muddled-to-blank spots in my own understanding of the past, which Peter's book helped fill in.
One interesting tidbit I learned is that idiot is derived from the Greek idiotes, which originally referred to a person who did not participate in the political or public life of the polis, or Greek city-state--in other words, someone who lived an individual life, unconcerned with larger affairs. Apparently, the Greeks looked back at the classical era as a golden age in which people were involved in civic affairs, and they viewed the development of the individual as decadent. In The Hellenistic Age, Peter speculates as to a possible link between the development of literature and the development of the individual.
Some time ago, I watched Idiocracy, a movie by Mike Judge. In the movie, the citizens of the United States have devolved into idiocy in the modern sense--the average IQ has plummeted. Perhaps self-referentially, the movie seems to associate this devolution with the rise of interactive, omnipresent, commercial entertainment and its penetration into every aspect of life. In the world of Idiocracy, the citizen is very involved in public life via something like our current representational democracy, unlike the idiote of the Hellenistic Age. But it's a very simple-minded, game show or reality TV type of involvement.
It's an interesting and maybe frightening exercise to compare Idiocracy to the current state of affairs in the U.S., where political talk shows more closely resemble pro-wrestling theatrics than real debate. Every issue is presented in terms of two very simplified, opposing points of view. You simply find out which team supports which point of view, and then you root for your team. News media, entertainment, politics and commercialism all seem to be converging, and I wonder how long it will be before our elected officials wear the labels of their big-money sponsors, like NASCAR drivers.
Ironically, anyone who does not participate in the two-party system is seen as at least eccentric or odd. Independents are fickle, the fans who root for whoever is ahead. Third parties are spoilers, the non-BCS teams in the bowl playoff system of big-time politics. Those who don't vote at all--the majority of the electorate--are lazy, unpatriotic, uncaring--modern-day idiotes. But maybe we're beginning to reach the point where a thoughtful person might suspect that the current two-party, megamoney political bloodsport leaves little room for intelligent participation. Maybe the idiotes of today are not idiots, after all.