Monday, May 21, 2012
The Many Before the One - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VI.54
Meditation VI.54 - The Many Before the One - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil - please click on photograph for larger image.
That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for the bee.(1)
(1) This powerful meditation can serve as an internal check on all of our actions in life. Will what I am about to do serve the interests of the world community, "the swarm," or serve the interests of only myself, "the bee?" The first Stoic principle requires that in our ordering of priorities, community interest must always precede self interest, irrespective of personal consequences. This seems like a tough requirement. Placing the interests of others before our own can sometimes be fatal. But for the Stoic, that is what is required. A Stoic must be indifferent to personal consequences if an action will result in harm to others. But the Stoic - steeped as she is in the fundamental essence of Stoic rationality - understands that placing the interests of the community before the interests of the self is the only way that she can be happy.
What may appear as a heroic act to those unfamiliar with Stoic philosophy is to the Stoic the only course of action rationally available. To the Stoic, acting otherwise is not only non-heroic, it is something that will result in a profound alienation from community. Self interested actions may feel good at the time they are done. They may advance our material status in life. They might help us advance in our career. They might ensure our physical survival. But, ultimately, self-interested actions remove us from our connection to community. When we act for the self - to the exclusion of the many - we are no longer a part of the universe. And in due course we will be removed from the universe.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.