Sunday, October 25, 2009
Blessed be the Peacemakers - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.12
Meditation VIII.12 - Blessed be the Peacemakers - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
When you rise from sleep with reluctance, remember that it is according to your constitution and according to human nature to perform social acts, but sleeping is common also to irrational animals.1 But that which is according to each individual's nature is also more peculiarly its own, and more suitable to its nature, and indeed also more agreeable.2
(1) This is a clever meditation. The "sleep" Marcus refers to here is not necessarily biological. He is referring to the kind of awakening we experience when we study nature. Unless we observe real communities and how they are organized and how they progress, we will - like the "irrational animals" mentioned - regard our best interest as resting solely in the self. To the Stoic this is simply not enlightened. It is based on an ignorance of the nature of community. It is a perspective that will lead to a top down ordering of communities with wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, and with the majority exploited and oppressed. Ironically these sorts of self-directed and self-serving political structures do not produce the benefits expected - even to those who exploit others. The oppressors may be rich - but are not happy, in the Stoic sense, with the power and wealth they amass. The simple measure of this assertion is that there is never any stasis in their thirst for more power or more wealth.
It is the duty of a human being to work for the social betterment of the entire human community. This requires that each us us become politically active in the best sense of what it means to be political. The word political always produces mixed feelings. The word is derived from the Greek polis meaning city or city-state and is also the derivative for the English words policy and police. Human beings of course do not always see their prime function in life as directed toward the betterment of others. Many of us - perhaps a majority - regard our first duty as self-directed, and at best will act in the world in the spirit of what we might call enlightened self interest. For this reason words like political, policy and police will be understood according to whether we regard our personal betterment as prior to the social - or visa versa. As a consequence words like politics, policy, and police will convey differing connotations. Stoics regard the self as always subservient to the community. This is a rational observation deduced from careful examinations of social and anthropological science but always difficult to accept subjectively. But most rational human beings would probably accept this ordering on careful reflection. Our role and duty in the world is no different than the role of a good police officer - "to serve and to protect." This is what every citizen in a democratic society expects from its police - providing that the policies (laws) that the police enforce reflect the interests of the community at large and not - as obviously is the case in for example a police state - the interests of a ruling elite.
(2) What is more "agreeable" - as far as Marcus is concerned - is an ordering based upon a rational examination of human nature. Our own peace and serenity is assured and indeed "agreeable" only when we act in concert with the objectives of the larger communities of which we are a part. We will be happy when we think first about what is best for the other. Who are those others? They are our friends and our enemies. They are our partners and workmates. They are our fellow citizens and colleagues. They are those who love us; they are those who oppress us. Our duty in life is to bring the gift of peace to all (although it will at times require we take up the sword - the Stoic ethos is not a Christian ethos), by harnessing and refining what is best in us "according to each individual's nature."
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.