Thursday, May 14, 2009
Destruction of the Self - Anticipating Nietzsche - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.32
Meditation X.32 - Destruction of the Self - Anticipating Nietzsche - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Let it not be in any person's power to say truly of you that you are not simple or that you are not good; but let him be a liar whoever shall think anything of this kind about you; and this is altogether in your power.1 For who is he that shall hinder you from being good and simple?2 Do you only determine to live no longer, unless you shall be such. For neither does reason allow you to live, if you are not such.3
(1) Marcus repeatedly returns to the idea of power and how truly omnipotent, and invincible the mind is with respect to opinion. But opinion is more than a casual mental inclination; it is perhaps more akin to Nietzsche's will to power. Unlike Nietzsche's idea - the Stoic will acknowledges that there is an underlying truth, even if we have not fully perceived it. We do have the power to be simple and good. We do have the power to use nature as our point of reference - as the source and standard of what is good. No other person has the power to change these truths about you.
(2) The decision to be good and simple is not a lifestyle choice; nor is this decision based on the calculus of social pressure. We do not say that we will be good and simple because this serves our best interests. We make this decision because we have studied and observed and experienced wonder. We are drawn to simplicity and goodness because we understand that this is the only route to serenity. More often than not the decision to be just will imperil us, will undermine our material security, will threaten our health, our friendships, and even our lives.
(3) This is a powerful statement. A decision to deny justice, to decide to not be simple and to not be good, is contrary to nature, and contrary to the will of the universe. To willfully decide to act against what we know is just (as opposed to doing so out of ignorance) is against "reason," and reason defines what we truly are. Reason is also invincible, and right reason cannot act contrary to nature's will. To act so is, in Stoic terms, madness. Anyone who makes such a willful choice cannot continue to live. Marcus offers no explicit direction beyond the dark statement that any such choice assures the destruction of the self, for "neither does reason allow you to live."
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.