Friday, May 29, 2009
Stoic Attitude Toward the Exploitation of Nature - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.10
Meditation X.10 - Stoic Attitude Toward the Exploitation of Nature - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
A spider is proud when it has caught a fly, and another when he has caught a poor hare, and another when he has taken a little fish in a net, and another when he has taken wild boars, and another when he has taken bears, and another when he has taken Sarmatians.1 Are not these robbers, if you examine their opinions?2
(1) The Sarmatians were a fierce nomadic tribe occupying areas north of the Danube. The Romans fought several wars against the Sarmatians and their allies during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and during the period Marcus was writing his meditations.
(2) This revealing meditation expresses Marcus's attitude toward war and nature. Marcus was a warrior, but the battles he fought were defensive. They were necessary for the protection of the empire. Stoics are not driven to kill, but will kill if needed to protect the state. Their attitude toward killing from necessity is educative - as a method of last resort designed ultimately to create opportunities for the offensive states to develop cooperative postures. From Marcus's perspective revenge and conquest are evil motives for the killing of other human beings, and no different than a blood sport. Wars of aggression reflect a desire to subjugate and enslave others for the benefit of the oppressor. In no case ought a warrior feel pride in taking the life of another - or indeed the taking of life in any form. Pride is a vice. Pride is an attitude held by those who revere their own interests over the interests of the community, or over the interests of nature in general. In the case of hunting, the feeling of pride that comes from killing a hare, or boar, or a bear, reveals an attitude that we as humans were designed to dominate nature. Stoics understand that nature is a system of interconnections. The deliberate exploitation of nature for sport is contrary to the will of the universe. Stoics would not oppose the hunting of wild animals for survival - that would be seen as natural and necessary. But any exploitation of nature, such as hunting for sport or simply for the satisfaction of the kill, is a form of robbery, and always contrary to nature (for a more detailed analysis of this theme in the book, please see Chapter 7, "Stoicism and the Environment," p. 151).
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.