Be a craftsman. Work in the 21st century, especially in the west, is often a means to an end, that end being money, the more of it the better. This is pretty soulless stuff, and we see a movement against it pop up now and again, from craft breweries, to the etsy marketplace. Heck, even those much-maligned artisinal cheese shops run by millennials with man buns are motivated by the same impulse – to make work an end in itself, to be more of a craftsman at an art than a cog in a wheel.
I think we can all take something from this resistance to the money at all costs culture. What if we all looked at our work, whatever work that might be, as more of an art, as more of something that can be continually practiced and honed until we are true masters at it. I think it would make our chosen careers more fulfilling. It would also make us more free since it is hard to be a slave to a job that you consider your own personal craft. It is simply what you do.
“Love the humble art you have learned, and take rest in it. Pass through the remainder of your days as one who wholeheartedly entrusts all possessions to the gods, making yourself neither a tyrant nor a slave to any person” – Marcus Aurelius
“For I believe a good king is from the outset and by necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.” – Munsonius Rufus
The concept of the philosopher king has been around since at least Plato. The picture of a leader who carefully weighs the ethical and moral worth of each decision before committing to an action is comforting. It would certainly be a huge step in the right direction if one were to imagine how to fix the current mess of the global political system.
But could that really work? The sheer number of topics to be deliberated and weighed seem to make this type of thoughtful governance impracticable. Can you imagine a president or prime minister debating with her cabinet like Socrates in the agora for hours at a time over every little issue. While I am sure the actions eventually taken would be on much firmer ground than many are today, I think government as a whole would come to a near standstill. What may have theoretically worked for Athens, a city state of 250,000, would simply fail to scale to the 83 million citizens of a modern Germany to give one example.
So does this mean the whole idea of the philosopher king is a bust? Not necessarily, we are all after all kings of our own destiny, and our lives are fertile ground for exactly the kind of deliberation Rufus was getting at. Our major life decisions would benefit greatly from some Socratic dialogue before we render decisions and decide on a course of action. So we then can be philosophers who are kingly persons, if we chose to be.
” You must build up your life action by action, and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible- and no one can keep you from this.” Marcus Aurelius
Life is made up of moments, and if you keep your eye on what is directly in front of you and just do that well, then you’ll live a good life. Big obstacles are intimidating, but they are conquered by small, very doable actions.
Don’t focus on the the big intimidating goal. Losing 20 pounds is hard. Writing a novel is hard. But choosing a healthy meal right now is easy. Writing 300 words right now is doable. Keep doing the small things well an the big things will fall into place.
” Good people will do what they find honorable to do, even if it requires hard work….they wan’t do what they find base, even if it brings wealth.” – Seneca
For some reason this quote reminds me of Captain America, which I suppose is timely coming just off the Fourth of July. He too did what was right, even though the cost was great. He too shunned what was wrong, even when it would have been easier and even understandable.
Come to think of it, Captain America behaves stoic throughout the whole Infinity War series. He doesn’t get overwhelmed, focuses on what is in front of him, and keeps pushing until the job is done, regardless. But he’s not a mindless automaton either, there is real pathos in his character. Pretty stoic if you ask me.
I guess a motto of , be like Cap, isn’t such a bad thing, is it?
“Protect your own good in all that you do…” Epictetus
How does one protect his good? Why? Is it under attack? Will someone steal it in the night? Epictetus is somewhat esoteric when it comes to his meaning here, for when he speaks of good in this way he almost seems to be talking of the soul.
So to the first question, how does one protect his good, or soul? First and foremost we have to not let the sometimes overwhelming negative news of the day infect us with its rage, or worse its apathy. In a sense we need to stay naive, or like children.
I don’t think he means we should be ignorant of the world around us, more that we should deal with what is in front of us, where we can affect real change. The rest, those things beyond our reach, we need to let go. By focusing on the problems that we can fix we maintain our hope, which in turn protects our good.
As for the second question, is it under attack or threat of theft, I’d say yes. Anything that tries to steal our attention away from our own, or our community’s, betterment is trying to steal the good. Where we place our focus is where and what we grow. Toxic politics, wealth for wealth’s sake, recognition- these are all things that can steal the good from us and we need to be vigilant about how much attention we pay them.
Most people will be talking about the new season of Stranger Things in a couple days, and that’s fine. I’m going to be enjoying the hell out of it too, I’m sure. But if you like what the Duffers have created then you owe it to yourself to see how creators in Europe are treating similar themes. Enter my new favorite Netflix series, Dark. It’s Stranger Things but, well, darker. The second season just dropped last week, so if you are going to jump in you’ve got some catching up to do, but at 8 shows a season that isn’t a big ask.
(Side note: This is one of the best things about the rise of streaming services, short run, serial television. We really don’t need season 10 of the X Files, or probably seasons 6-9 if we’re being honest. Creators need to tell a story, and when it’s done, just be done. OK off my soap box.)
Dark is a German-language sci-fi series co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese and revolves around time-travel paradoxes, murders, affairs, and surprise ancestors- to say more would be to spoil the show. Just trust me that this esoteric study on the nature of time and reality is worth a weekend binge even if you do have to read some subtitles to completely follow the intricately in-folding narrative.
I’m not the only one singing this shows praises either “ Netflix’s best supernatural series returns this Friday—no, not Stranger Things (that’s out July 4) but Dark, the German-language thriller that blends time travel, philosophy, and demonic evil with a deftness that its streaming-service counterpart only dreams of delivering. “- Nick Schager
I’d love to hear what other people think of this show so if you watch it, hit me up on Twitter and let me know what you think. It’s a show worth discussing.
“We should bring our will into harmony with whatever happens, so that nothing happens against our will…” – Epictetus
This almost feels like a Jedi mind trick, but it works. Stop thinking of life in terms of things you have to do. If you have to, you have no choice, and it implies you’d rather be doing something else. Instead reframe it as things you get to do. If you get to do it, it is a privilege.
Life is going to happen regardless. There will always be to-do lists, fender benders, broken appliances and moody teenagers, and if you look at all that life throws at you as a series of things you have to do, you’ll likely be miserable. If, on the other hand you see them as opportunities to be productive, to practice patience, to learn new skills, you’ll have a much better life. Nothing external will have changed, but your outlook will have changed.
“Whatever anyone else does or says, for my part I’m bound to the good.” Marcus Aurelius.
This is of course the whole purpose of any true philosophy, to point you in the direction of the good– good life, good work, good attitude, etc- and most pointedly to give you a method for getting there and then maintaining it. I think living one’s life reflectively is the surest method for seeing how to get the good. We all intrinsically know what it is, we just need to give ourselves time to think and time to really see it. This is the easy part.
Maintaining the good is a whole other story. There lies the struggle, but it is a good fight, and one definitely worth fighting. Fight the good fight.
SVAHA: THE SIXTH FINGER, a South Korean thriller on Netflix, revolves around a series of cult-inspired murders and the religious investigator, who runs an organisation that exposes fringe religious groups.
I’m new to Korean film, but from what I have heard they excel at laying the foundation of seemingly separate stories, slowly developing them and then finally linking it all together in a grand climax. SVAHA follows that pattern with a highlight on the “slowly” part. I enjoyed it, but it took a while to find its footing. All the ingredients are there: from the foreboding atmosphere, supernatural elements, multiple murders, and even a quasi-monster. However, the pacing really made the first half of the film a bit of a slog.