Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Best Part Of Me

This thing that I am - whatever it is - is but paltry flesh and a little breath, and the Ruling Faculty. 
                                         - Meditations, 2:1  

     What am I?  A collection of sinews, organs, skin, and a bit of breath that keeps those parts functioning. Hardly a thing of significance and surely not a thing to prize.  It is the same stuff that makes up dumb beasts, cattle and wild game.   
     But is that all that I am?  Far from it!  I consist of a third part - the Ruling Faculty.  
     It is this Ruling Faculty of the mind that separates Man from beasts and makes him unique.  Indeed, it is this thing that makes us men. And it is this thing, then, that we must cultivate, care for, and pay attention to if we are truly to live according to our own natures as men
     Most, however, forget that they are men and neglect the best part of themselves, while they cultivate and even fret over their "paltry flesh" and "little breath". While this probably has always been the case, it seems overwhelmingly apparent in the West in this age of the ever-growing religion (and industry) of Healthism. The adherents of this cult make it their business to bombard the public with paranoid worries over numberless dangers (real or imagined) from artificial flavours and hormones in our food, to plastic containers, to the sunshine itself!  In this barrage of the Healthists' proselytizing efforts to gain new converts, it is unsurprising that so many of us are led astray away from our true natures and only have concern for the body like animals and not for the soul like men. Having done so, we live contrary to our own natures as beasts.    
     Of course, we must not neglect the body outright.  Stoicism teaches that our most basic instinct is towards self-preservation, and so we have a natural inclination toward the preservation of all parts of us.  But Stoicism also teaches that all parts of us are not equal in importance.  If self-preservation is our most basic natural instinct, then it follows that we should preserve the best part of ourselves before we preserve the lesser parts.  
     I am "paltry flesh" and "a little breath". As a good soldier, I will not abandon my post.  I will guard these parts of myself.  But I have standing orders that the protection of my Ruling Faculty takes first priority in this operation called life, and I am commanded to sacrifice those other parts if need be.