SLRP: XII. On Old Age (Part 2: 6b – 11)

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“On all sides lie many short and simple paths to freedom; and let us thank God that no man can be kept in life.”

Freedom is a tricky thing.  We learn about it first through negatives.  All children have an instinctual aversion to being controlled by parents.  When they are so young they can only toddle, they resent the corrective hand of the parent.

There seems to be something in our very make-up that demands on autonomy, control, self-esteem, and ability.  Yet, nearly every social, religious, governmental, and cultural system is bent in the opposite way.

We seem torn, recognizing that we ourselves as individuals deserve autonomy and independence, yet unwilling or unable to trust our fellows with the same.

Is that we’re so different them, are we so much better?  The paradox is, we can hardly find a man in such a state as to be able to govern himself, yet we set all manner of incompetents up to govern others.

The philosopher may be an outlier.  The philosopher recognizes that his actions, impulses, and intent need to be shaped… but by himself.  How many accounts do we have of philosophers easily and willing accepting exile, death, and the like rather than turn over their integrity and autonomy?  Are these not our most hallowed paragons of the schools?

Indeed, it is so.  Freedom is hard, because the amount one wants, one has to be willing to give as well.  We do not seem to be able to do so however.

Maybe the Cynics had it right, leaving behind the polis and all the trappings (pun intended) of society.  To live free upon the earth, a citizen unto himself:  a king in his own right… ah, what a thing.

But it’s hard.  There’s no amount of faltering that’s acceptable if one wants to be a Diogenes.  I could probably settle for an Epictetus or Musonius, though.

As it were, and with thoughts of the true freedom of the philosopher, I bid you a fond farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

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