The entire quotation: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
The Movie: Life of Brian, 1979 (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, screenwriters; Terry Jones, dir.)
Who says it: John Cleese as Reg, leader of the People’s Front of Judea
The context: Reg is rallying the opposition to Roman tyranny.
How to use it: To acknowledge that you’re biting the hand that feeds you.
I love this line, and it's why I could never be a truly committed political activist.
I recently read The Temple of Music by Jonathan Lowy, an ambitious but flawed novel about Leon Czolgosz's assassination of President McKinley. Czolgosz tried to be an anarchist, but he was so crazy that even the anarchists didn't want him. The novel sent me back to a collection of Emma Goldman's writings I read in college. Emma was such a romantic; she really believed that some people were good and some people were bad, and that removing the structures of power would reward the good people and punish the bad.
But people are just people, and as my friend Joseph says frequently, "People suck." I don't endorse that point of view entirely -- as Bob Dylan says, some people are very kind. But it's human nature to protect oneself and compete for resources, even when they're not scarce, and that leads to unpleasant behavior. Government and religion, even corrupt government and bad religion, are pretty much the only checks we have on human nature.
Sorry for the dose of misanthropy, but the driver of the car that hit me swears he had a green arrow -- which he did NOT -- and no one came forward to say they'd seen the accident, so chances are good that my own insurance company is going to have to pay for these repairs, with me picking up the deductible. That doesn't make them or me very happy.
Oh, and happy birthday to my friend Kelly Dayton, who is no relation to the singer for the Sneaker Pimps.