I know things have been quiet here since the reboot.  Between the day job, a new home – definitely a “fixer-upper”, and the new addition to our family, there hasn’t been much time for blogging.

If you miss my particular brand of pedantry, I’m back with my friends John and Joe from the Logical Anarchy web-cast tomorrow night from 7 till 8 PM PST live. The night’s topic will be “Western Civilization”. See you there!

As a teaser, here are some of my show notes:

Edmund Burke, a compact between the living, the dead, those yet to be born.

Three ways of looking at history:  Nietzsche’s Monumental, Antiquarian, Critical

The problem of Culture.  Where does culture come from?  Geographical, Historical, Ethnic, Philosophical [ Technical, Political, Metaphysical ]

The problem of mere Geography.The problem of Racialism

Carl Schmidt: Politics as the distinction between friend and enemy.  

Applied metaphysics – Athens and Jerusalem.  The “west” as a child of this union.  The terms of the union.  The dissolution of the union: Judeo-Christian historical claims, multiculturalism, the scale of values -Nietzsche again..

The rejection of values and post-modernism.  Tradition vs “Traditionalism”.  

Inertia and “hardening” of positions.  

Evola, Guenon, Plato revisited: the map of the decline – from transcendent values to momentary desires.  

The way forward: Heidegger, Poesis, a guardian caste, problems for anarchists.

What is the meaning of Initiation?  It is the Path to the realization of your Self as the sole, the supreme, the absolute of all Truth, Beauty, Purity, Perfection!  What is the artistic sense in you?  What but the One Channel always open to you through which this Light flows freely to enkindle you (and the world through you) with flowers of inexhaustible fervour and flame?

-A. Crowley, Magick Without Tears

Contemporary paganism does not consist of erecting altars to Apollo or reviving the worship of Odin.  Instead it implies looking behind religion and, according to a now classic itinerary, seeking for the ‘mental equipment’ that produced it, the inner world it reflects, and how the world it depicts is apprehended.  In short, it consists of viewing the gods as ‘centers of values’… and the beliefs they generate as value systems: gods and beliefs may pass away, but the values remain.

– Alain de Benoist, On Being a Pagan

Theoretically any culture could be theurgic if its rites and prayers preserve the ‘eternal measures’ of creation….  Neo-platonic theurgy was imagined within a polytheistic and pluralistic cosmos: the varieties of culture and geography corresponding to the diversity of theurgic societies. This was also consistent with Iamblichus’s metaphysics where the utterly ineffable One can only be “known” in the Many, the henophany of each culture both veiling and revealing its ineffable source. To privilege any one of these henophanies over the others, to proclaim that it alone is true, is an assertion that would have been treated with contempt by theurgic Neoplatonists. For such a claim betrays the very principle of theurgy understood as cosmogonic activity rooted in an ineffable source, one that necessarily expresses itself in multiple forms of demiurgic generosity.
Theurgists would find claims to an exclusive possession of truth equivalent to the deranged assertion that the sun shines only in my backyard!

– George Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus

For the Stoics, intentions bear with themselves a value which infinitely transcends all the objects and ‘matters’ to which they are applied, for these objects and matters are themselves indifferent, and only assume a value to the extent that they provide an opportunity for intentions to be applied and become concrete. In sum, there is only one will, profound, constant, and unshakable, and it manifests itself in the most diverse actions, on the most diverse occasions and objects, all the while remaining free and transcendent with regard to the subject matters upon which it is exercised.

– Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel

I wrote an adaptation of Lord Dunsany’s stage-play Gods of the Mountain for the Samuel French short play contest last year.  I didn’t win anything (or even place).  Perhaps it was because adaptations, even of old and forgotten works, were discarded, or because the subject matter didn’t fit what the judges were looking for.  Issues of “social justice” and “current events” seem to be preferred. The winners for my year included a story about a robotic hentai maid, a disabled college student, and a high-school boy who hides in his room covered in blood and eating snack food. It’s also possible that my writing simply wasn’t up to snuff.  Regardless of the outcome, it was a lot of fun, if only because it allowed me to stretch out my long dormant dramaturgy muscles, and immerse myself in the imagination of one of the greatest fantasy authors who ever lived.

Since this script has just been sitting on my hard drive for the last year collecting virtual dust, and I don’t have plans to do anything with it in the near future, and a major writing project (notes soon) is taking up the majority of my spare brain cells, precluding me from generating any new blog content, I thought I would share it with you good people. I hope you find it as amusing to read as I did to write.

Act 1 – Homeless Encampment
hobo_encamp

Two beggars, OOGNA and ULF, warm themselves around a trash-can fire.  Oogna is a middle-aged “bag” lady.  Ulf, a younger male “crusty punk”. In the background are the silhouettes of others in the encampment. Hiding in the silhouettes is Agmar, an older and archaically dressed hobo.

ULF: The days are bad for beggary.

OOGNA: Some evil has befallen the rich ones of the city.

ULF: It is true.  They take no joy any longer in benevolence, but are become sour and miserly.

OOGNAA: sore affliction indeed, and bad for those of our calling.

ULF: What thing, do you think, has befallen them?

OOGNA: There has been a comet come near to the earth of late, and the earth has been parched and sultry so that the gods are drowsy.  While the gods sleep all those things that are divine in man: benevolence, drunkenness, extravagance, and song; have faded and died.

ULF: Well, it has indeed been sultry. If things do not change, I will forsake the calling and buy a shop, and sit at ease –

AGMAR: You will keep a shop?!

Ulf and Oogna look over, startled. Agmar leaves his concealment and joins them.

ULF: I spoke but hastily, the times being bad.

AGMAR: Bah! I have been three times knocked down and injured by carriages.  Seven times beaten and robbed.  I have had nine diseases.  One time I was killed!

ULF: Killed?!

AGMAR: Apparently.  Yet never have I followed a trade, or haggled and bartered and sat in a shop!

OOGNA: Times are bad for the calling here.

AGMAR: They are bad.

ULF: This city is unworthy of our calling!  Did you not say the gods are drowsy and all that is divine in man is dead?

OOGNA: They are drowsy in their mountains away at Marma.  The green idols are drowsy.  Who is this that rebukes us?

AGMAR: I am but an old beggar.  One who has known the mystery of roads and felt the wind arising new in the morning.  Who has called forth out of the souls of men pity, and benevolence, and the charitable giving of alms!  Let us speak no more of any trade or the miserable gains of shops and trading men.

ULF: The times are bad.

AGMAR: Then let us set right the times!

OOGNA: Have you a plan, great master?

AGMAR: Perhaps. Have you any thieves among the calling here?

ULF: We have a few that we call thieves.

OOGNA: But they are not very good ones.

AGMAR: Find one, for we shall need fine raiment, and it must be green.  Also, we shall need a corner-preacher to spread a prophecy throughout the city before us.

ULF: We will dress ourselves as lords and impose upon the city?

OOGNA: Yes, yes; we will say we are ambassadors from a far land!

ULF: And there will be good eating!

OOGNA: And wine!

ULF: And perhaps… dancing girls?

AGMAR: Hah!  Not as mere ambassadors!

ULF: Then as kings?

AGMAR: Beggars as kings!

OOGNA: Then what, master?

AGMAR: Why, we shall go as gods.

OOGNA and ULR: As gods?!

blackout

Act 2: Part 1 – City Hall

SFcityhall

Citizens gather in small groups to chat about the business of the day.  Among them are LANAN, a city official, RANDER, a guard and KAMOS, a merchant. 

The three beggars: Agmar, Oogna and Ulf enter slowly, swaying back and forth and chanting.  Bits of fine green silk can be seen here and there through their ragged clothing. The beggars circle the stage, spiraling towards the center.  Slowly all conversation stops.  When all is quiet the beggars seat themselves cross-legged, and hold their right hands up, like seated Buddhas.

ULF produces a bell and strikes it once.

SFX: A BELL RINGING

RANDER: What do you do here?

OOGNA: What is it you do, mortal?

RANDER: Who are you, and whence come you?

ULF: Who is to say what we are, or whence we come?

RANDER: Look here! Beggars are not allowed –

OOGNA: Who said we were beggars?

RANDER: You people cannot –

ULF: Who said that we were people?

Rander looks hopelessly at Lanan, who bustles over.

LANAN: To what purpose is this? By the moon, I’ll –

AGMAR: My sister.

LANAN: What?

AGMAR: The moon is our little sister.  She comes to us at evenings away in the mountains of Marma.  She trips over the mountains when she is young.  When she is beautiful and slender she comes and dances before us, and when she is old and unshapely she hobbles away from the hills. Yet she is young again and forever nimble with youth; yet she comes dancing back.  The years are not able to curb her, nor to bring gray hairs to her brethren.

Ulf strikes again on the bell –

SFX: DING!

The crowd murmurs. Lanan and Rander look at each other helplessly. The merchant Kamos joins them. The beggars sit as if meditating.  Lanan, Rander and Kamos huddle together and conspire.

RANDER: This is not wonted.

LANAN: It is not in accordance with custom.

KAMOS: I heard men speak today in the market place.  They spoke of a prophecy read somewhere of old.  It says the gods shall come down from Marma in the guise of men.

LANAN: Is this a true prophecy?

KAMOS: Who can say?

RANDER: If it is all the prophecy we have, we should heed it.  My grandfather told me that man without prophecy is like a sailor going by night over uncharted seas.  He knows not where are the rocks nor where the havens.  To the man on watch all things ahead are black and the stars guide him not, for he knows not what they are.

KAMOS: Should we not first make inquiries as to this prophecy?

LANAN: Let us accept it. It is the small uncertain light of a lantern, carried it may be by a drunkard or a fool, but perhaps along the shore of some haven.  Let us be guided and, discretely, also make the appropriate inquiries.

The three break their huddle and address the Beggar-Gods.

RANDER: We humbly worship you, if you are gods!

LANAN: You are mightier than all men and hold high rank among other gods and are lords of our city.  You have the thunder as your plaything and the whirlwind and the eclipse and all the destinies of the human tribes – if, of course, you are gods.

AGMAR: Let the pestilence not fall at once upon this city, as it has indeed designed to; let not the earthquake swallow it all immediately up amidst the howls of the thunder; let not infuriated armies overwhelm those that escape – if we be gods.

The crowd murmurs and chatters.  Lanan turns to address them.

LANAN: Come friends!  Let us sacrifice!  Bring lambs and wine for these very divine gods!

The people shuffle out.  As they leave the lights fade, two of them, CITIZEN 1 and CITIZEN 2 linger briefly in the spot-light.

CITIZEN 1: These are most divine and uncommon gods.

CITIZEN 2: Indeed!  I heard it said that they have made us and all human beings!

blackout

 

Act 2: Part 2 – Throne Room
audience

The city-hall has been transformed into a throne room.  The beggars lounge on great chairs styled like mountains. Agmar sits in the center, on the largest throne, Ulf and Oogna to either side. They have dressed themselves entirely in rich green silk and gold accoutrements. Banners are draped from every possible location. 

Rander, dressed  in a tabard with three mountains embroidered and carrying a long spear, stands to the side of the dais.  Lanan reclines against a pillar next to Rander, watching the proceedings. A line of citizens wait to be received by the three.  One, CITIZEN 3, steps forward to address the beggars.

CITIZEN 3: Master, my child was bitten in the throat by a death-adder at noon.  Spare him, master; he still breathes, but slowly.

AGMAR: And is he indeed your child?

CITIZEN 3: He is surely my child, master.

AGMAR: Was it your wont to thwart him in his play, while he was strong and well?

CITIZEN 3: I have never thwarted him master.

AGMAR: And whose child is death?

CITIZEN 3: Master?

AGMAR: Who is it that created life and therefore death?

CITIZEN 3: Why, the gods surely, if anyone.

AGMAR: Do you that never thwarted your child in his play ask this of the gods?

CITIZEN 3: (weeping) But! But! Master!

AGMAR: Weep not! For all the houses that men have builded are the play-fields of this child of the gods called death.  Now go.

Crying the Citizen 3 leaves, consoled by others.  Another steps forward, CITIZEN 4, wringing his hat, but a MESSENGER, shoves Citizen 4 aside, and throws himself on his knees before the beggars.

MESSENGER: Master, it is terrible! It is terrible when you wander in the evening.  It is terrible on the edge of the desert!  Men die when they see you in the evening!

AGMAR: In the desert?  What are you speaking of?

MESSENGER: Last night masters. You were terrible last night.  You were terrible in the gloaming.  We ask, we beg of you, stay as you are now, in flesh like men!

ULF: You say as we are now.  How did we appear in the evening?

MESSENGER: Otherwise master, otherwise.

OOGNA: Be not afraid.  How did we appear?

MESSENGER: Masters, we can bear to see you in the flesh like men, but when we see a rock walking it is terrible.  It is terrible.

AGMAR: A rock walking?

MESSENGER: Yes master.  Green stone should not move.  Rock should not walk.  When men see you they do not understand, and they die.  Green stone should not walk in the evenings.  It is terrible! Spare us, masters!  Spare us!

The Messenger collapses in fear.  The beggars look at each other uncertainly. Rander approaches and helps the Messenger to his feet and off stage. As he leaves, Kamos enters and approaches Lanan, to whisper in her ear.

AGMAR: There… there have been doubters of late, who now should be satisfied.  Be faithful, and no harm shall befall you.

Citizen 4 finally bustles forward.

CITIZEN 4: Lords, my wife and I are childless and we –

AGMAR: Enough! Trouble us not now, but tomorrow, for it is the accustomed hour at which the gods speak to the gods in the language of the gods.  If Man heard us he would guess at the futility of his destiny, which were not well for Man.  Begone.

LANAN: Before you dismiss us, Lord!

Lanan walks to center, followed by Kamos and Rander.

RANDER: (to Lanan) Hush! You anger the gods!

LANAN: (to Rander) I am not sure whom I anger.

LANAN: (to the beggars) Two holy pilgrims have gone to your sacred shrines, wherein you were wont to sit before you left the mountains.  They return even now with gifts for you from your homeland.

ULF: (aside to other beggars) They went to Marma!

OOGNA: (aside to other beggars) We are lost! They will have seen the green jade idols sitting against the mountain.  They will say, “The Gods are still at Marma!” and we shall be burnt!

Agmar hushes them rapidly, swatting them back into composure.  When he addresses the crowd his voice cracks with uncertainty.

AGMAR: They left us here and went to find the gods? A fish once took a journey into a far country to find the sea.

KAMOS: Most revered deity, their piety is so great that they have gone to worship even your empty shrines.

AGMAR: I know these men that have great piety.  Such men have often prayed to me before, but their prayers are not acceptable.  They little love the gods.  Their only care is their piety.  I know these pious ones.  They will say that the seven gods were still at Marma.  They will lie and say that we were still at Marma.  So shall they seem more pious to you all, pretending to that they alone have seen the gods.  Fools shall believe them and share in their damnation!

The crowd drops back in fear, murmuring.

LANAN: Regardless, most holy master, they are here.

Enter PILGRIM 1 and PILGRIM 2 dressed in travelling clothes.  Kamos rushes up to them and they speak whisper briefly together.

OOGNA: (aside) We are doomed!

AGMAR: (to Oogna) Not yet! Not yet!

LANAN: Are these the men that went to the shrines at Marma?

KAMOS: Ah! Yes, yes!  They are!

Kamos ushers two Pilgrims forward. The beggars shrink back, fidget and grip their thrones in fear.

LANAN: Did you men see the Gods at Marma?

PILGRAM 1: We… we did not.

LANAN: What? They were not there?

PILGRIM 2: The shrines were present, but empty.

RANDER: Behold the Gods of the Mountain!

The crowd cheers.  The beggars look at each other amazed. 

KAMOS: Yes… yes, of course.  They have indeed come from Marma!

LANAN: Yes… yes… come all!  Let us bring to the gods a great  sacrifice!  A mighty sacrifice to atone for our doubting!

As the lights come down there is a sound of drums, and horns, and dancing and drinks and a great revel.

blackout

Act 3- Finale
party-aftermath3

The throne room lies in disarray.  The beggars are draped over their thrones. Agmos and Ulf are drunk.  Oogna is snoring.  Discarded food and beverages litter the floor.  Clothes and other fabrics are strewn about: the end of a great revel.

AGMOS: Never have beggars had such a time!

ULF: Never.  And yet… it is strange – the missing idols.

AGMOS: Bah! Someone has stolen them. Who knows when men last visited the mountain shrines?  They are remote and difficult.  They could have vanished ages ago!

ULF: True.  Yet.. there is something –

OOGNA: (waking with a start) I had a dream!

AGMOS: What was your dream?

OOGNA: It…it was nothing.  I dreamed that I was thirsty and one gave me wine; yet there was a fear in my dream.

ULF: That man!  That man’s face had been near to some fearful thing!

AGMOS: What man?

ULF: The man who – someone was coming this way from the desert he said. He begged us to spare him.

AGMOS: They have seen their own fears dancing in the desert!  They have seen something green after the light was gone, and some child has told them a tale that it was us.  I do not know what they have seen. What should they have seen? It is… it is only we that have frightened them, and their fears have made them foolish.

There is a booming noise outside, low and distant, but reverberating… boommmm.

AGMOS: Was that? Did you hear?

SFX: Boom.  Boom.

ULF: Ah!  Dancing girls.  I have requested dancing girls.  With flutes!

OOGNA: Is it sunset already? We should have good eating.

ULF: They should come in with baskets on upon their heads.  With fruits.

AGMOSAll the fruits of the valley.

SFX: Boom.

ULF: There is no sound of flutes.  They said they would come with music.

SFX: (louder) BOOM!

Agmos jumps up startled.  Ulf and Oogna crowd near him uncertain.

OOGNA: What heavy boots they have. They sound like feet of stone.

SFX: Boom Boom Boom!

The beggars now cower half on and half behind the thrones.

AGMOS: I do not like to hear this heavy tread! Those that would dance for us must be light of foot.

ULF: Yes.  They should come more nimbly.

AGMOS: Go out.  Go out and tell them that I shall not smile if they are not airy.

Ulf reluctantly moves toward the side of the stage.  As he just about reaches the exit, a loud rapid booming cadence breaks out, and he goes flying – half running half crawling, back to the thrones and the other beggars.

SFX: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM

A cacophony of screams rips through the air.  The voice of dozens in mortal terror.  The beggars clap their hands over their ears.  Suddenly, all is quiet. They sit for a moment, in fear and wonder.

ULF: I have a fear.  An old fear and a boding. We have done ill in the sight of the gods.  Beggars we were and beggars we should have remained.

AGMOS: What nonsense do you speak?

There is a loud creak, as a door slowly opens.  The beggars are bathed in a green light. Agmos and Ooga start and stare, transfixed.

ULF: It is we who have brought the gods down from the mountain.  For this doomed city, we have called down an evil thing.

The green light spins and a great rushing noise rises as if from a river.  The beggars scream and hide their faces. The noise becomes deafening, drowning out all other sounds.

SFX: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

blackout

Dim light falls from off stage into the room, as if the room were in darkness and a door were being opened.  Enter Lanan, Rander and Kamos tentatively, carrying lanterns. Three heaps sit where the beggars were previously.

LANAN: Masters?  Masters are you here?

Their lanterns illuminate the heaps. They are perfect statues of the beggars, cowering, their faces distorted in terror.  The three citizens fall back with gasps.

Kamos approaches and prods them, finding them solid.

KAMOS: They are cold!  They have been turned to stone!

RANDER: We have doubted.  We have doubted them, and they have turned themselves into stone idols yet again, and left us.

LANAN: Yes.  They were the true gods.

curtain

 

GReek_theater2

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little diversion.  If you haven’t read Dunsany before, do yourself a favor and bump him up to the top of your book pile.

heracles_lion_1

Today I graduated from the Marcus Aurelius School of the College of Stoic Philosophers.  The following eleven aphorisms were written by me during my final quarter.  We call this practice hypomnemata, a term perhaps best translated as “remembrances”.  More than simply well wishes, or expressions of hope, hypomnema are records of struggle.  Each “remembrance” is an application of Stoic dogma to a real problem we encountered in our day.  I hope you enjoy them. 

 

Remember that eudaimonia is more than a pleasant subjective state.  Not only is it the goal of all our actions, well intended or misguided, but also our fulfillment and the state of harmony with the universe.  It is in eudaimonia that we act in keeping with the divine logos and our own individual nature.  How do we achieve eudaimonia?  By keeping in mind what is “up-to-us” and “not-up-to-us”.  By disciplining our desires and examining our judgements.  By doing these things we fulfill our duty to ourselves as rational beings, to the social web in which we live, and to the divine cosmos.  Through this we achieve arete – excellence of character.  Through excellence we achieve human flourishing and happiness.

The universe being ruled by divine providence, consider your part.  It is not to predict accurately some far future state, nor are you responsible for understanding all of antiquity.  Your assigned part in the universal drama is only this present life – even less burdensome than that, only the present moment.  Fulfill your duty and resolve the action before you with honor.  Is that not enough for any man?

Your character, as you presently find it, you have inherited from yesterday.  What shape it takes tomorrow will depend on your actions and judgements today.  The care of your future self, it has been placed in your charge as a sacred duty.

Begone vain fantasies!  Dreams of fame and fortune, even if your subjects are to be preferred over their opposites, they are only so if gained through personal excellence.  But you, puffed up soap bubbles that you are, have no part in labor, or discipline, or prudence, or wisdom.  That is to say, you take me further away from the very things you feature!  Despite this, I should not be angry with you, for you are the products of an imagination I have trained.  I should not even be angry with myself, for by catching you mid-stream, I am making progress.

Always consider this before any course of action: ‘Will this activity make me better or worse?’  If better, then you should pursue it gladly, even if it requires effort and some trouble.  If worse, you should turn away from it, even if it seemed pleasant before you examined it.

Happiness is not a possession or a construction – even a mental one.  Happiness is a state of the soul.  We usually notice it only in passing from it, in hindsight.  While we are happy, we are usually too absorbed in it to mentally comment on our condition.  Perhaps it is this lack of a need for comment that characterizes happiness?  We could describe it as a self-sufficient configuration of the universe.  It does not lack our psychic participation, but is filled up by it, leaving no remainder.  It is, to paraphrase Nietzsche, a great ‘Yes’ to life as it is. Happiness is therefore theoretically possible in every moment, since assent lies entirely within our power.

Certainly, no one wishes to be ill.  Health is preferred by all, but in our culture it has become an obsession among a certain class of people.  Care of the body is almost a new religion where we equate physical well being to moral goodness, and seek to propitiate the forces of decay with arcane diets and rituals.  Instead, we should regard this body as an inheritance from the gods – certainly to be cared for, but ultimately to be used.  It is a physical thing, and it is the nature of physical things to be subject to wear.  We may not enjoy illness, but it should not surprise or alarm us.

On what target do you set your aim?  Consider the father of philosophy himself, Socrates.  Socrates thought little of riches, and while he had fame he did not seek it, nor did he fear death.  Throughout his life he followed the charge laid upon him by the god Apollo at Delphi.  This was his highest duty, and yet he did not abandon his fellow man but lived among them, married, raised children and served his city.  Why would he do these things except that they too were in keeping with his duty to God? What do we learn from this?  That our highest duty is to follow the divine, to do nothing contrary to reason, and like a good soldier to not abandon our post.

Are even arguments and feuds according to divine providence?  Yes! For anger is an emotion and therefore the child of judgement. Perhaps the reason for the judgement has been twisted or long forgotten, so do your part and drag it up to the light!  Examine it and see if you cannot find some valid point in it, something good, true, and beautiful.  Remember that you cannot be harmed by truth, but go gently here.  Remember that self-care is the first imperative of all beings, and no one willingly gives sway to an enemy.  Even wives will concede a point if it is made in a fair and kindly manner… eventually.

You will never know with certainty what any great mind of the past intended. Wisdom is not something you can hold, like a possession, rather it holds you, lifts you up, carries you through life, for the world is reason and you are a part of the world.  You can no more take it all in then you can drink the ocean.  The great thinkers you so admire will not give you answers.  They can only show you the way someone once traveled to find their own answers.  By all means, read their words, but do so as a guide for your own thoughts. As the greatest in wisdom have said, “Know thyself”, “Inquire within”.

A statue cannot be carved in a single blow.  It emerges from the rock slowly, freed by increment –  blow after persistent blow.  Each tiny change reveals the work of art within.  Be diligent, and patient with yourself.

 

I will be continuing on with the College as a Faculty member for our beginner’s  Stoic Essential Studies program.  If you are at all interested in Stoicism, or learning classic philosophy in its original context, please consider joining us.

I know things have been quiet lately.   Personal obligations have made blogging low on my priority list, but I have content coming – I promise.

To re-open comms, I’ll be a guest on the Logical Anarchy show tomorrow night from 7:30 – 8:30pm Pacific Standard Time.

You can tune in here: http://www.logical-anarchy.com/

Or subscribe on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC13AgynyGrqRJxW0_YKJgNw

This will be a departure from my usual posts, as we’ll be discussing current hot-button political issues like immigration.

seneca

I wrote this piece during my 3rd term of the Marcus Aurelius school.  My goal was self-instruction through dramaturgy, to capture the voice of Seneca’s excellent letters on virtue.  Seneca wrote these letters to various friends and confidants expressing the principles of Stoic philosophy in practical terms.  The largest extent collection we have is his letters to Lucilius.  Rather than insert myself into this venerable and enlightening conversation, I invented an imaginary interlocutor, Pugilius.   Anything the reader finds enlightening in this exercise can be attributed to the Stoic school and the wisdom of the imitated author Seneca.  Anything that grates on the ear or rings false is the fault of the actual author. 

Dear Pugilius,

Thank you for your recent letter. It pleased me to hear that you completed your most recent period of military service honorably. As you know, the importance of duty is a key tenant of our philosophy. In fulfilling our duty, we choose our own happiness. I don’t have to tell you that many find this sentiment strange. They imagine we advocate a life of drudgery. You and I know that this is not the case at all. Every man who shirks his duty feels the pain of regret, and every man who chooses to fulfill his rational obligations to that of which he is a part – that is to say the whole universe, knows the satisfaction of having fulfilled his purpose as a man. We do not suggest that one invents duties, but only fulfills the few simple things that nature asks of us – eating and sleeping with moderation, caring for our family, discharging our social obligations, acting rationally, and choosing excellence whenever possible. Truthfully it is only this choice that is up to us. The results are in the hands of the gods, but I am now drifting off topic.

In your letter you ask me if I think you should pursue elected office. You point out that so many elected officials seem to lack virtue – how true a statement; and suggest you may be able to serve the people better, thus improving the state and through it the whole of mankind. This is a noble sentiment, but you quite rightfully raise some concerns. Your father is aging and, as his eldest son, management of the family estate falls upon your shoulders. Also you have recently taken a wife, and dreams have recently suggested that you should return to your country home, focusing your energies there, for the betterment of your family. You note that doing so will no undoubtedly provide you with more time for reading and study. In short, you feel caught between two goods, unable to choose the better! Of course, all of our mental struggles are like this: weighing and judging between two of the same kind of thing. No one loses sleep over whether they prefer good things to bad.

And what is good? To live in accordance with nature; first our own rational nature, then our shared human nature, and finally what is natural to all. So first I must ask you, do you know your own nature? I do not have to ask you if you know the difference between seasoned military men and raw recruits. How both strive for the same goals: to show courage in the face of the enemy, to maintain discipline, to watch over their companions in the unit; yet how the scale of challenge appropriate to each is different. Recruits lack the seasoning of veterans. War is new to them and they cannot help but shake, while the older centurion bares even his wounds with patience. Experience makes us resistant to fear and experience cannot be rushed. For this reason the good commander places the veteran in the front and the recruit several ranks behind him, so he is not overwhelmed by the first sight of the enemy. The question we must ask therefore is not which choice is better, but which choice is better for you. In which of these realms: Rome or the country, will you best be able to practice virtue? It is true that this choice is not always up to us, but when a choice is before us, we should choose wisely. A brave commander must occasionally trust to the charge, yet it is foolish if he does not use strategy to gain the surest likelihood of victory. We should therefore be good strategists, and begin by consider the challenge before you, your own skills and abilities, and always keep in mind the goal of the campaign, namely excellence of character.

Politics first consists of seeking office, then in keeping office, and finally of leaving it. Let us consider each of these in turn, examine what choices are before us in each of them, and then reflect on what promises or challenges they hold for us in the pursuit of virtue.

Seeking office first consists of gaining money. Either you spend your own private fortune, or you gather it from wealthy men. If from the former, you deplete the resources of your own family. If you fail to return these resources you have neglected that which the universe has set in your care. If you succeed in your election campaign, and use your new position for financial gain, you have violated the trust which placed you in office. You should spend, therefore, only the money you can afford to lose. For most men, the cost is simply too high. For this reason, the politically inclined seek out wealthy benefactors; yet they forget these benefactors are in exactly the same position. Why should rich men spend wealth on a political campaign except to see some benefit? It is a rare man who devotes his wealth to the care of the Empire for its own sake. Unless you know such a modern day Cato, you will be forced to raise money from men of lesser character. Here again you face the same difficulty as before. If you do not repay their investment willingly, they will seek repayment through other, less savory, means. If you misuse your exalted position, you have betrayed the public trust. A difficult position, plotting the course between Charybdis and Scylla, a problem we find again and again in the political realm.

Here you must certainly be thinking, “My dear friend, it cannot be all that bad. Did you not yourself apply your philosophy in the palace, the very heart of the State?” Yes, I did. Fate put me within the palace and I did my best to do good in that place, but finding oneself in the palace and bending all of one’s energies to put oneself there are very different things.

Even if you gain office and keep your honor, you must somehow manage to keep both. Once in office the worst traits of others assail us. All the problems of seeking election are returned an hundred fold, for before you only held the promise of power whereas now you hold it in fact.

If you believe, as I know you do, that virtue is the only good worth pursuing other men in their ignorance do not. Misguided and lacking philosophy they believe their material and social benefit to be all important, mistaking as good what is only to be preferred.

Few men would be tempted to betray a friendship, or rob their neighbor for a few more square feet of farmland, but when provinces, armies, and temples are at stake, men lose their wits and all sight of what is truly worthwhile in life. To gain what they suppose good they will assault you with lies, flattery, seduction, fawning servility, greed, a hydra of temptation. It take a veritable Heracles to snuff it out! I will not insult you by dwelling upon the risk to your very life and security, for I know that you hold these in little esteem, but in gaining a full tally of the dangers we should not omit the pain that exile may cause on your family, whether it be to Sicily or Hades.

Undoubtedly, a man of your character can do some good, but it is a dangerous battlefield. Even our private conversations in barber-shops, in the square, the theater, or around our dining tables, are fraught with political debate and discussion. The universe has made all creatures to seek their own good, but unlike the solitary tiger, men are social creatures made for co-operation. Politics is the place where these two potentially conflicting impulses – care of self and social co-operation, meet. Who has not seen this first-hand? How often does political discourse end friendships, or cause strife between father and son? Even in the best of circumstances imagine the life of an elected official: making speeches, nodding politely at the opinions of ignorant but powerful men, bargaining with the mob. Some men excel at these things. I must admit that despite my best efforts to serve the Empire, I never developed a taste for it. Have you ever been persuaded to change your mind about some principle by a beggar or a bully? If we are honest with ourselves, how much of politics is begging and bullying? Now I am acting the politician and making speeches! Let us return to the topic with sober minds, remembering that the approval or disapproval of the crowd does not matter, for it does not make a man any better or worse than he is already.

Now I think I have said enough about the risks, with many hoary warnings from an old man. What of the benefits you ask? The common and uneducated men will here list wealth, fame, and power. We know, however, that these are not good, but merely indifferent, for they are potentially good or ill depending on our character. The improvement of our community is certainly a benefit, but again here we must remember that what other men think and believe is not up to us. Remember that community does not exist as a thing in itself. It is just a grouping of men, all living together in a society. Remember also that the opinions of other men are not up to us. Socrates, the very best of us, met each man as a friend. He did not assume that he knew what was best for his friend, only what was best for himself: to pursue virtue in all situations. If he found himself in the street, or in the council chamber, or on the battlefield, or in the bedroom, or in court, or even in a prison cell, he did not waiver or allow himself to be lead astray. Nor did he fall victim to hubris, but always told his friends, when pressed on an uncertain subject, that he did not know. Can we imagine a better example for emulation? And yet, even he failed to convince his generation of Athenians of their folly, and they killed him for his friendship to them. The only thing which is truly up to us is the improvement of our own character. It is here that the political realm may offer some benefit to us. By resisting those forces of corruption we encounter, we can improve ourselves, but this is a hard road that so few are able to walk, and opportunities for self improvement can be found everywhere.

Let us consider the second: management of your family estate. Of what does it consist? It requires living away from the excitement of cities, managing the estate itself, and living peaceably with your neighbors. The first item often seems unattractive to young people, imagining that every cry or whisper in the city holds some secret delight or intrigue. Yet we know it is merely the noise of many people going about their lives in a relatively small space, doing perfectly ordinary things: baking bread, washing clothes, gossiping with their neighbors, trundling goods to market, and so on. Unlike the country it goes on at all hours in the city, but is this of some benefit? Is life that much different at night than during the day? What is to be gained from staying up with the bats and thieves, drinking wine and babbling inanities with dinner guests until the small hours? We wake with a splitting head and a heaving stomach, and call for remedies like an invalid. Remedies for a disease we ourselves have created. Books and letters can be had in the country, and time to read them! Friends can be invited to visit, and the food – while often simpler, satisfies. What have we lost but smelly gutters, crowded streets, and the never ending noise?

Managing the estate itself is a complex thing, requiring very many skills, such as rising early, seeing things accomplished in their due season, being careful with accounts, managing servants with care, looking to the well being of the family, observing the festivals and praising the Gods. All of these tasks are worthy of philosophy. All of them are fertile ground to be planted with the seed of virtue. Rising early is easy for a man such as yourself, who has been on campaign. Besides, there is a very clever trick to accomplishing it – retiring at a reasonable hour. Punctuality and attentiveness to proper timing are excellent habits to cultivate, regardless of one’s place in life. No man is thought worse for possessing them. The management and care of the household – servants and family, this is the chief practice of all fathers. In cultivating this we emulate the very highest ideals. Is this wisdom and care not what we wish to see exemplified in our Senators? In the Emperor? In the Gods? Speaking of the Gods, when we bless crops or observe the seasons, are we not calling our attention to their creation – nature? By placing ourselves in the patterns of nature do we not accomplish our duty as men?

Finally, by coming to friendly terms with our neighbors, do we not accomplish everything that politics sets out to do? Namely to bring our own personal interests in harmony with our fellow man? If we wish to exercise a positive influence over our community, here is the place where we can do it. Yet here you must exercise the same care which we spoke of earlier, remembering that the only good is to pursue excellence of character, and not to refute or correct your neighbors – even when they speak from ignorance. Likewise you should not fear speaking your mind, if called for. It is only slaves who cannot speak their own thoughts.

It is true that the country farm has other challenges. Small mindedness often plagues village life. Men who have never traveled sometimes forget that we are citizens of the world; that men everywhere desire the same things and fear the same things. They believe that civilization starts and stops at their border. Likewise while the city has more people, men are not of different character in the country. The village has it’s own drunks, troublemakers, gossips, leches, thieves and prudes. Forgetfulness is perhaps the chief danger. In the pattern of country life it is possible to forget oneself and no longer live philosophically, but like a wagon on a bad road, to fall into a groove and trundle along mindlessly. These risks, however, can be found everywhere. But the country life is not for everyone. I, myself, found it difficult at first. You must adjust yourself to the slower rhythm of nature, and learn to enjoy your own company. Hot blooded men often find this difficult, and make a nuisance of themselves.

I hope I have not wearied you with the opinions of an old man, nor let you believe that along one road lies certain good, while down the other evil. Life is not as the Epicureans suppose, made for pleasure. If it were, surely we would find fault with the Gods and providence for introducing so many troubling things – wars, hunger, disease, stinging insects, earthquakes, storms, and the like. Finding our way through life is also trouble at times. It is hard to know which road to choose, and harder still to keep it once chosen, yet this too is according to nature, for men have been made with the power of choice, and charged with executing it. Blessings and challenges are found everywhere the same, and while I may state my preference and the reasons for it, we go where fate leads us.

Yours in friendship,

Lucius

If you are interested in the work of the New Stoic College, our  introductory course can be found here

plato-aristotle2

M:  I’m curious why you’ve broken with Heidegger in your last post.

A:  Before I admit to breaking with Heidegger, which I may or may not have done, why do you accuse me of doing so?

M:  Have you read his Introduction to Metaphysics?

A:  Yes, but it’s been some time.

M:  Well, in it he says that the principal question of philosophy is, and has always been, “How does it sit with being?”  When you declare that real philosophy asserts the transcendent, you’ve curtailed the range of inquiry, which arguably means you’ve stopped practicing philosophy and entered into the realm of religion or something like that.

A:  Actually I think I’m agreeing with Heidegger, just carrying the inquiry to the next logical stage.  To ask “How does it sit with being” supposes that eventually you will reach a conclusion: “Being sits in such-and-such a manner.”  Even reaching a hypothesis requires some kind of cutting off of other options.  If that means some “great” Philosophers are revealed as having either drifted off course, or as having never earnestly engaged in the project… well… I’m okay with that.   Honestly, I’m not sure how one could avoid it.

M:  It just seems sort of arrogant to say these guys, who were way smarter than me, had no idea what they were doing.

A:  It’s not that.  We all stand upon the shoulders of giants… but which giant are you standing on?  Philosophers can’t all be equally right.  Eventually you have to say “I substantially agree with these guys.  Those guys made some good points, but I think they were wrong about X.  Those guys, over there, may have been brilliant, but they were wrong.”  Being smart is not a guarantee of being right in all situations.

M:  Yes, of course, but I’m talking about you breaking from philosophers that you, yourself, are standing on –  or at least have in the past.

A:  Such as?

M:  Nietzsche for one.

A:  Nietzsche is a very complex and deeply ambivalent figure.  I don’t think I’m breaking from Nietzsche, so much as picking up some of his threads and by necessity putting down others.  I admit that there are a lot of possible readings of Nietzsche.  I don’t think anyone can follow all of them to their logical conclusions and be consistent.

M:  Okay, let’s take a lesser figure.  De Benoist would say that transcendence is not a character of being.  It’s something we impose on being through our myth making.  He offers two readings: The Christian, that meaning is inherent in being, or the pagan, that meaning is absent from being outside of man’s intervention.  If you think meaning is latent on existence, you’re treading on Christian metaphysics, no?

A:  I think you’re inverting De Benoist’s distinction.  Paganism doesn’t posit that meaning is “absent” but rather immanent – inherent in the world, and not located in some “big other” which lies outside our experience.

M:  Check it out…. page 91: “In each case, it is a question of describing without depicting, of considering the world in some way as a coded ensemble whose key lies beyond visible appearances; of considering it, not as the site of forms to create, but a mystery to interpret, a puzzle to put back together, in which man, taken not as creator but as an intermediary, has the task of ‘discovering’ a hidden meaning, a necessarily unique meaning that predates his very existence.  The idea of the world-as-cryptogram and that of an absolute signifier allowing it to be deciphered (who might be Yahweh, but could just as well be the unconscious or the class struggle) then functions as diastole and systole.  If the world is in fact something other than what it is, there necessarily must be a universal key, which cannot be ignored and exceeded, which allows one to know what part of the world is being, and what is not.  Man no longer acts; he is acted upon as the ‘decipherer or hieroglyphs.”

A:  This is not what I’m talking about.

M:  Well, how do you define transcendent?

A:  To pull from another chapter in De Benoist, page 169: ” Far from forming an absolute that is entirely separate from the world, [the pagan supreme God ] is identical to the world’s very being.  Stoicism, whose religious foundations are essential constitutes a significant case in this regard.  The Stoic God is the ‘soul of the world’. The cosmos is a ‘living being full of wisdom.’  The logos that furnishes it its information is entirely consubstantial to it: it is incorporated into the itinerary and very substance of the cosmos…. The universe is not dependent upon another being, and it is in this world that man must realize his idea.  When the Stoics speak of the world’s ‘duality’ – by accepting, for example, the Pythagorean opposition between the celestial world, which is the perfect world of the stars to which souls belong, and the terrestrial, sublunary  world – it only involves a substantial opposition within a unitarian world.  Wisdom and virtue consist of living according to the ‘order’ of this universe.”  The experience of transcendence is when we step out of our own particular existence and apprehend this world-order in which we participate, not as an intellectual abstract, but as a living reality.

M:  This reminds me of our break with the Gnostics.

A:  In a way, it is.  Neo-Platonic scholar Gregory Shaw in his text on Iamblichus describes various interpretations of existence within the Platonic tradition.  “Plato’s taxonomy of the cosmos and society exemplifies what Jonathan Z. Smith has termed a locative view of existence… In a locative orientation, evil and the demonic arise only when something is out of place… Since Platonic taxonomy was locative as well as monistic, the demonic element was only relatively evil, an unbalanced expression of divine elements.  Therefore the power of evil was temporary and limited to the province of an upside-down soul.  The pervasive acosmic mood of late antiquity… reversed the traditional locative taxonomy… The all pervasive and beneficent order of a cosmos… was transformed into a maleficent system of repression and punishment meted out by cruel demons…  man’s salvation is no longer measured by the degree of his assimilation to the patterns for the cosmos but rather to the degree to which he can escape the patterns.”  In this, I stand with Iamblichus and Plato against the Gnostics and Plotinus.  I’m not trying to escape to anywhere.

M:  See, when I read “philosophy has to be centered around the transcendent aspect of being,’ I read, “philosophy is about positing and accessing truth, which is not situated here, but out there.”  You’re defining the transcendent as imminent.  It doesn’t get more contradictory than that.

A:  There’s more than one way to understand the concept of transcendence.  “…in all [ classic ] schools – with the exception of Skepticism – philosophy was held to be an exercise consisting in learning to regard both society and the individuals who comprise it from the point of view of universality…. Similarly, in each philosophical school we find the same conception of the cosmic flight and the view from above as the philosophical way, par excellence of looking at things.” – Pierre Hadot.

M:  Have you read Kojeve on Hegel?

A:  No, but I have read some Hegel. I am not a fan.

M:  Well, Kojeve analytically breaks down all possible relations of Truth (or, the Concept) and being by discussing time. The possibilities are: Truth is: -temporal -identical with Time -eternal -identical with Eternity Of these possibilities, be says the only one that cannot be philosophy, because it excludes the possibility of philosophy, is “Truth is temporal.” All the others can form the foundation of philosophy, even if he himself thinks only one of them is the right answer. And that whole scheme is an incredibly ambitious assertion.

A:  I am very certain I do not mean that “truth is temporal”.

M: I know, but I’m saying your assertion vis-a-vis Philosophy is even more ambitious than his.  I’m just cautioning writing off tons of brilliant philosophers who don’t fit your model.  And just trying to show that it’s not a settled question as to what’s pagan, what philosophy requires, and so on. I wouldn’t be comfortable saying “that’s not philosophy.”

A:  Perhaps, but I don’t think I’m writing off as many as you assume.  I am asserting that philosophy has a point, and that “an open mind is meant to seize on something.”  By necessity, that seizing will have to exclude certain possible lines of development, which I have no choice but to leave to others.  I don’t know if we’ll see eye to eye on this particular issue, but I want to thank you for raising some great challenges.

M: That’s all a philosopher can hope for.