Saturday, November 14, 2009
The Only Thing We Have to Fear - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.72
Meditation VII.72 - The Only Thing We Have to Fear - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Whatever the rational and political (social) faculty finds to be neither intelligent nor social, it properly judges to be inferior to itself.1
(1) If something is "neither intelligent nor social" it is, by inference, irrational and self serving. Marcus does not claim that it is improper to be irrational. Nor does he maintain that the interest of the self ought never be satisfied. The meditation simply notes that whenever irrational and/or self-serving impulses occur, these actions need to be evaluated by reason. For example, there is nothing at all wrong with tending to our irrational or emotional needs. Emotions play a critical role in maintaining our physical well-being. We feel fear when we are in physical danger. It is normal to respond to that emotion by seeking protection. By the same token, satisfying our senses is necessary for the maintenance of physical and psychological well-being. Good food, fine music, warm clothing, safe shelter, and the development of entertaining activities and hobbies are important aspects of living well. We should also get adequate sleep; we should have regular exercise; we should strive to be sexually satisfied. But in all areas of our emotional and physical life there is a second and higher faculty at play, and that is reason, and the activity of reason must always take precedence over emotional and physical demands. Will my actions interfere with my primary duty in life which must always consider the community before the self? If any action prevents me from acting rightly toward others, then that action must be subordinated to the interest of others.
It is interesting to bring this meditation to bear on the political rhetoric employed by television and radio commentators, political bloggers, and politicians seeking elected office. Many of these actors play to the emotional and physical fears of their audiences. This sort of rhetoric is very old, and can be very persuasive. The strategies are at the heart of political propaganda, or political spin. In many cases commentators play on the prejudices of their target audiences using innuendo to stir up racial or class hatred, homophobia, fears of terrorism, fear of economic catastrophe, or fears of an impending environmental disaster. Whatever the messages - and they are employed on all sides of the political spectrum - the listener, viewer, or reader is manipulated to suspend reason - in the interests of an emotional appeal. Testing the validity of these appeals through the filter of this meditation can be revealing. We need only ask ourselves whether the messages are really intelligent, and whether they are really social. Do they meet the needs of all members of the human community? Do they meet the tests of rudimentary logic? Do they meet the tests of truthfulness? Above all else, do these messages lessen our fears by offering constructive stratagems? If the answers to these are no, we have adequate evidence for suspecting that - in Stoic terms - these messages are (like much advertising) both irrational (designed to strike an emotional chord) and designed therefore to serve the interests not of the community at large, but of special interests. In other words, they are neither intelligent nor social.
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.