Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Do Not Become A Slave

No longer allow this thing that I am to be made a slave.
                                          Meditations 2:2

     For Marcus, the best part of himself is not his body or breath, but his reasoning faculty, his ruling reason. By nature, this portion of man is free and exercises complete autonomy over itself. But it becomes slavish when mingled with Vice, with Passion. The Ruling Faculty, if it is to remain free and not fall into slavery, must deny entry to the Passions. Reason is more powerful than Vice and can always eradicate it, but not while consorting with it.     

Monday, 8 July 2013

Old Man, Rejoice In Your Old Age!

Think about yourself as follows: "You are an old man."
                                             
Meditations 2:2

     While I do not deny that a young man can become wise and good, and that Reason is an adequate remedy for the Passions at any age, the old man very obviously has many natural advantages over the youth. He has a certain wisdom that only experience can bring; he is not afflicted by that crusading and (arrogantly) idealistic enthusiasm of the young man; he has learned patience and is slower to anger.
     As for his body, it is weaker and grows tired more easily. In one of his moral epistles, the Roman Stoic Seneca considers this also to be an advantage that the old have over the young. He noted that in his own old age he required only a short period of physical exercise each day as his body tired quickly, which,  happily, allowed him "to return quickly from the body to the mind." The body only grows weaker with age, but the mind, as Seneca himself in that same epistle asserts, grows better with the passing of time. What folly that we would spend more time worrying about and training that which must necessarily weaken with time, while neglecting that which can strengthen continuously if we would only show it some care and attention!   
     But perhaps the greatest advantage that the old man has over the young man is one which Nature Herself has bestowed upon him. She has spared him the greater part the carnal afflictions that he experienced in his youth. But again, what folly that some men would reject this merciful benefit and willingly take drugs meant to give them back the terrible libido of their younger days! 
     The good man lives according to Nature; he does not rage against her. He operates according to the reality of the Universe, not contrary to it. And he accepts that reality, not longing for another one (and one that cannot be). He will say to himself simply 'You are an old man', without adding the clause 'but you would be better off as a young man'.
     Old man, rejoice in your old age! You have tremendous advantages over the young man! Your path to Virtue is shorter and easier than his!    

Monday, 1 July 2013

Priorities

But as one already dying, disdain the flesh: it is gore, a little bone, and a wreathed pile of sinews, veins, and arteries. Observe the breath, too, what sort of thing it is: mere wind. And never the same wind at that, but every moment belched out and gulped down again. Then, thirdly, there is the Ruling Faculty. 

                                            Meditations 2:2

     For Marcus Aurelius, a person consists of three things: the paltry body, the air he breaths, and the ruling or reasoning faculty that guides him. The ancient Stoics believed that our most basic instinct is towards self-preservation, and thus it is entirely natural to be inclined towards the preservation of all three components.
     We err and act against Nature, however, when we fail to recognize (or forget) that these three elements of us exist in a hierarchical relationship. And many of us (especially in this age of rampant Healthism in the First World nations) commit a graver offence against Nature and against ourselves when we confuse the order of this hierarchy, regarding the most important component lightly, while situating the least important part in its place. 
     This confusion is evidenced by the small fortunes spent on gym memberships and personal trainers, over-priced and quite unnecessary organic foods and all manner of nutritional supplements, and an unhealthy amount of interest in the health of the body at the expense of the health of the soul and refinement of the mind. Not only does this over-evalutation of the body draw attention away from the reasoning faculty, but it even harms it. Far from helping to eradicate the Passions, it excites them, provoking in us not the Virtue of Bravery, but the Vices of Fear and Anxiety. 
     An inordinate concern for one's health is not the only way we disturb this hierarchy. A man may show little concern for his bodily health, but still live only for bodily pleasure and comfort. Today's gluttons call  themselves "foodies"; the womanizer, though having succumbed to womanish Passions, thinks himself manly; the avid vacationer who exists for weekend getaways bronzes in the sun and darkens his soul; the luxurious man softens his mind as well as his body. Again the reasoning faculty is neglected and even damaged. Intemperance and Luxury are cultivated, not the reasoning faculty, and therefore not the Virtue of Temperance, which that reasoning faculty naturally leads one to.
     Marcus urges himself to disdain the flesh "as" one already dying.  As another Stoic, Seneca the Younger, often reminds us, we are in fact dying daily. Let us set our priorities in order while there is still time.