Let me begin this post with a series of self-conscious statements first:
I feel like I’ve gotten what Seneca wants to say.
I feel like I can sum his philosophies, ideas, and beliefs into a nice little theme. (Of course, exaggerated… but, you know… the characterization…)
Well, now that’s done, here’s a not-so-strong statement that I’ve gotten in the course of reading less than half of the book.
I know, I know, it’s wayyy too early. But I was pretty excited when this struck me. I was like “Holy shit. wait. wait. Thisis what he wants to talk about!!!”
Seneca is trying to achieve the ultimate form of independence—or in other words, as it was Letter XLVII that inspired me… to escape slavery of every kind. One should not be bound to anything, not even emotions (eg. hope and fear, Letter V), friendship (Letter IX pg 51), poverty (Letter XVIII), death (Letter XXVI) or anything that depends on luck/fortune (Letter XVIII pg 67).
Hope & Fear / Letter V: Limiting one’s desries actually helps to cure one of fear. ‘Cease to hope,’ he says, ‘and you will cease to fear.’ …Fear keeps pace with hope… Both are mainly due to projecting out throughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. Thus is it that foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse… No one confies his unhappiness to the present.
Friendship / Letter IX: “Self-contented as he is, then, he does need friends—and wants as many of them as possible—but not to enable him to lead a happy life; this he will have even without friends. The supreme ideal does not call for any external aids.“
Poverty / Letter XVIII: We should be pracising with a dummy target, getting to be at home with poverty so that fortune cannot catch us unprepared.
Death / Letter XXVI: A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.
Luck / Fortune XVIII: “It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it then is the time for it to be threatened against her rebuffs.
One must note that what’s he’s aiming for is resilience, not invulnerability. In Letter IX, Seneca’s differentiation between Epicurean and the Stoic school is this: “Our wise man feels his troubles but overcomes them, while their wise man does not even feel them.” I… admire this little differentiation. Epicurean one seems to assume a kind of strength that’s born out of talent. Seneca’s definition involves self-training… which is more encompassing and lets people achieve their own peace of mind themselves. For example, in Letter VI / pg 40 Seneca comments on Heacato’s writing “What progress have I made? I am beginning to be my own friend.” as a progress. The exact words, translated, is “That is progress indeed.” Speaks a lot, doesn’t it?
(Of course, I cannot be really sure what Epicurean is all about… but enough with excusing myself!)
If I could put his idea in another way, it would be to achieve a perfect character that resilient against any kind of tragedy. Nothing will ever impact one negatively—not because of fortune or some happenings, but because he can deal with everything. Maybe deal is not the right word… but you should get what I mean.
“A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.” (Letter XXVII, pg 73).
In this aspect… I think the reason why Seneca is such an anti-slavery person is because he was troubled by this direct offense against self-independence, of self-possession. Seneca would try to think of it as obstacle also one can master, as he was in Letter XXVIII pg 77 “Slavery is only one, and yet the person who refuses to let the thought of it affect him is a free man no matter how great the swarm of masters around him”. But can anyone with some decent amount of empathy able to convince oneself of that emotionally? Perhaps this was one of the things Seneca couldn’t master through his training (for the better, I believe).
But maybe this is a judgment I make from my own tinted glass. For example… just few years ago, my credo of life was “To feel as much dopamine as much as possible”. (Of course, this had limitations—not at the cost of other people, as that definitely goes against empathy and set of values I believe, and not through drugs.) But I only had to watch this B-rated movie to feel this little credo that supported me for a year or so fall apart. What do I do for people who are horribly trapped? People who does not have the conditions, nor the understanding, to pursue the grand dopamine on their own? It would be uncaring of me to say that they can still pursue a dopamine of their own. Perhaps too assuming, but to not ignore anyone…
It was a pretty crappy movie, but I ended crying the fuck out of this movie for this feeling of tragedy that was totally not the director’s/writer’s intention.
For this reason, I clap to Seneca. Mine was completely vulnerable to fortune… it did not have resilience as part of the idea, and thus kept it vulnerable itself. Seneca’s philosophy is more… encompassing, as I said before. And you know Seneca did not think just for himself, but that he meant to be encompassing. Seneca opposes to be the (self-satisfied) showy thinker (all the sibilant sounds!) for the reason of “otherwise we shall repel and alienate the very people whose reform we desire” (Letter V, pg 37). I really really began appreciating Seneca then.
Of course, my conclusion was rather repetitive, I realize. If I wrote this as an essay, my professor would think I am not writing anything new and give me a horrible grade. After all, even the blurb (as I just noticed) says “This selection of Seneca’s letters shows him upholding the austere ethical ideals of Stoicism—the wisdom of the self-possessed person immune to overmastering emotions and life’s setbacks”. But the thinking process of what I went through was much deeper—more feeling!—than that, I assure you. So I end this little post with a mocking-something I thought more than a year ago…
“We begin with conclusion and end with conclusion. The process is profound and nonexistent.”