Sunday, June 21, 2009
The Reptiles Amongst Us - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. IX.18
Meditation IX.18 - The Reptiles Amongst Us - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Penetrate inward into the leading principles of others,1 and you will see what judges you are afraid of, and what kind of judges they are of themselves.2
(1) Leading principles fall into three types identified generally by Plato and the Stoics with the mind (intellectual), the heart (desire) and the body (appetite). Sigmund Freud reinterpreted these divisions as the superego (conscience), ego (conscious self), and id (sub-conscious instinct). In the 1940s W H Sheldon (1898-1977) classified personality according to three Somatotypes with personality traits (in brackets) reflecting parallel distinctions: Ectomorph (self-conscious and artistic), Mesomorph (adventurous and competitive), and Endomorph (sociable and good-humored). The neurologist Paul MacLean (1913-2007) offered an alternative nomenclature involving a layered structure with rational (the intellectual, sited in the neocortex), intermediate (the emotional, sited in the limbic system), and primitive (the self-preservative, sited in the archipallium) characteristics. These latter three divisions are also designated as neo-mammalian, mammalian and reptilian. In the Platonic approach to the division of the mind all three components are important, but in the rational person the intellectual principles ought to lead, guided by the virtue of wisdom. It is reason that guides us, and it is reason that moderates the disposition of the heart (through courage), and the appetite (through temperance). Reason has been abandoned when our ruling principles come from the heart and/or body. When this occurs wisdom is sacrificed to the vices of pride or sloth, and human beings are drawn to excesses of the heart (anger or envy) or excesses of the body (greed, gluttony and lust).
(2) Marcus regarded these distinctions and divisions of the mind as legitimate and natural indicators of human character and behavior. We ought therefore not be swayed by those whose ruling principles are guided by animal drives or unregulated emotion (even though they may appear to have our interests at heart). There is no reason to fear these persons because they hold no power over those who are ruled by reason. Such persons are concerned only with their self preservation, and are detached from nature and from the legitimate interests of the community. It is the nature of the rational animal to serve and to ensure the survival and development of the community. This advice plays out in our judgments of those who attempt to rule our lives, be they political tyrants, ambitious bosses, or abusive friends and partners. Such persons are in the game exclusively for themselves, and have an interest in us only insofar as we may advance their mammalian or reptilian agendas. The moment that we are no longer able to meet those needs we will be expendable. While we must treat such persons with compassion and love, we do have a duty to excise the reptiles and mammals who roam amongst us.
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.