Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Beautiful And The Ugly

But I, having understood the nature of the Good, that it is beautiful, and the nature of the Evil, that it is ugly....
                                                        - Meditations, 2:1

     There are many things that men call beautiful.  A painting, a certain landscape, a melody, a house or building, an attractive woman.  By calling them beautiful we give them value.  What is valuable is important to us, and we in turn think of them as "good" things.  We naturally strive towards what is good, and posit our happiness and self-worth in their attainment and our misery and self-depreciation in their loss or our failed attainment of them. 
     The "beauties" listed above are transient.  If we posit our happiness in them, our happiness will be equally transient.  Perhaps worse than their impermanence is their emotive appeal.  At best, they appeal to our senses (instead of our reasoning faculty), at worst they appeal to our baser desires and carnal instincts.  Most of the time, they just tinker with our emotions, like the change from an upbeat tune to a sad love song.
     The Stoic's happiness, by contrast, is secure, because his Goods are secure.  He considers only the Good to be beautiful, and only Virtue to be good, and Virtue can always be his if he so chooses.  His life can be truly, and permanently, beautiful. 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Confused Men

All these things have befallen them because of their ignorance concerning what good things are and what evil things are. 
                                                                                    - Meditations, 2:1

     When we are bad, it is because our reasoning has taken a wrong turn somewhere.  We lack knowledge of what is truly a Good and what is truly an Evil.  For the Stoic, only Virtue is good and only Vice is evil.   All else is unimportant. 
     Emperor Marcus had reminded himself at daybreak that he will surely chance upon less than pleasant personalities throughout the day - meddlers, ungrateful and insolent people, the deceitful and the slanderous, and the unneighbourly (see previous post).  But he feels no rancour towards such people.  His tone is one of compassion. Their Vices "have befallen them" like a some misfortune that befalls an unsuspecting person.  Marcus will not be  - cannot be - hurt by the meddler.  Another person's Vice cannot cause Marcus to be any less virtuous.   But he understands that the meddler is hurt by his own meddling; the ungrateful by his own self-entitled ingratitude; and so on.  
     And why do these misfortunes befall people?  "Because of their ignorance concerning what good things are and what evil things are."  Poor reasoning has confused them.  It has caused them to take the evil for the good, the good for the evil, the unimportant for the important.
     Marcus bears with them like one bears with the ignorance of a child or the delirium of a feverish man.  

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Today I Shall Come Across...

[Today] I shall come across the meddler, the ungrateful, the insolent, the deceitful, the slanderer, the unneighbourly.
                                                                -Meditations 2:1

     Nobody likes bad people.  Bad people don't even like bad people.  But they exist, and they exist in great numbers.  It's just a simple fact.  And everybody - except for the most naive of children - knows this. 
     So why, then, do they frustrate, trouble and even hurt us so much when we come across them in our daily lives?  
     It is because we want the world to be something other than what it is.  Like a child that cries when the rain spoils his playtime plans, we groan when we have to deal with a poor personality.  But wanton men are every bit a part of reality as the rain.  
     The Stoic is a pious man.  He yields always to God's will.  He knows Providence orders the Universe, right down to the smallest detail.  As a pious man, he does not hope, expect or wish the Universe to be anything other than what it is.
     Emperor Marcus does not awake in the morning, kneel at his bed and pray that God will protect him from evil doers.  Instead, he rises at daybreak and reminds himself that he will surely encounter them.    

Friday, 10 May 2013

At Daybreak, Say to Yourself....

At daybreak, say to yourself....
                                     - Meditations, 2:1

     A virtuous life is not for the lazy.  It does not sleep in.  It does not start its day after it's had its cup of coffee.  It reminds itself of its role and duties in life; of what consists of Virtue and Vice; and prepares itself for anything that unpredictable Fortune might bring.
     We say to ourselves many things at daybreak.  We lament to ourselves over another day of work. We remember our ambitions and aspirations.  We hate the alarm clock for waking us up for another day of work.  We grumble to ourselves about everything under the sun.  On the weekends we even curse the sun for waking us up.  The best of us simply tell ourselves that we want breakfast or we need to go to the bathroom.
    Emperor Marcus could have said just about anything to anybody at daybreak and had his will accomplished.  A woman?  Done.  An extravagant breakfast?  Done.  The torture or execution of an enemy? Done.
     But he does not command anybody anything, though anything that he asked of anybody would have been accomplished immediately.  As the most famous man in Rome he could have easily complained to himself about his high position and the lack of privacy it entails.  He does not complain about the numerous duties his position as emperor of the civilized world demands of him.  Unlike us, he does not wish that he could sleep for a half hour more.  He does not even look for his breakfast or for his urine bucket.
     Instead, Emperor Marcus reminds himself of the things he needs to keep in mind throughout the day in order to live a virtuous life.