“It is a man’s natural sickness to believe that he possesses the truth” - Blaise Pascal
I think we can all agree that the stoics were very much ahead of their time, the ancient philosophers in general were among the pioneers of critical thought. Much of their writings are so universal it's almost like fortune telling.
But let's not hold them on a pedestal! The stoics were against praising them (and others) in general, why would they seek your appreciation today? As modern stoics we learn from them but we apply and update the teachings to today’s standards. We must be innovators in our own domain.
The reason I bring this up is because there is a passage by Marcus Aurelius that says “look to the history books, and there you will find humanity’s future”. This is to say that history repeats itself.
He’s not entirely wrong, let's look at humans as an example; humans in general go through the same developments as we mature into adults. However, there has been a recent comparison that I have seen, which is comparing the fall of Rome to modern day nations. This is as a whole, I will try to avoid any one nation since it's a comparison I see on every modern day nation. The comparison, in its deepest meaning represents great nations crumbling beneath them, and the question is, are we destined for that?
Be courageous my fellow stoics, be moderate when fear settles in. As modern stoics, we have to remember the reality, that being the physics of the world we interact with. When we understand that, can we make practical judgments on the ethics of living and utilize logic to create and maintain a good life.
That being said, it is illogical to assume that history repeats itself, because we are all individuals born into different times with access to different knowledge and they have different reactions to the modern day. It's impossible to recreate the exact same conditions as the past. However, a more appropriate statement would be to say that history rhymes. Why? Well, tactics can be used in a similar fashion, propaganda can be reused but its underlying purpose may be different and its outcomes also different. But can it really be the same? It's more logical to say that we understand the history and taking the steps in those directions can indeed lead down a path that resembles the past, but will not be the same.
Along with that, we as stoics can’t predict the future, nor should it concern us and make us feel terror for what we cannot foresee. Thus, a better approach to handling the fear when comparing it to past history is to do our due diligence today and think rationally about what we are being told.
Let's continue the fall of Rome as an example of the impending fall of modern nations and apply logic to it. A number of things caused the fall of Rome, I’ll go over a few that will hopefully convince you otherwise that there is nothing to fear but the propaganda that alters our emotional state, which we have control over. So let's kick this off with succession.
In ancient Rome, succession was done by inheritance and the creation of dynasties. After Marcus Aurelius, however, the clarity of how Rome appoints a new emperor was very much unclear. People were murdering one another for the throne and the senate allowed it.
In today’s world, how are successions? Obviously there are policies in place for a reason. Constitutional law of the land that uphold the values of each nation to be followed to maintain peace and order. Therefore, it is illogical to think that a massive takeover would be easy. If a nation’s president or leader passes away or is assassinated, it goes to the Vice president. If that person falls, then it goes to the next and so forth until the situation is handled. Even so, nowadays, the people hold the main source of power, the vote.
Another cause of Rome’s fall was a weakening army, but why? What were the conditions that made it so? Well, in ancient Rome, lower class civilians couldn't become Roman citizens until they served in the Roman army. In some cases young men were drafted, but the payoff was less than ideal, you were forced to be enlisted for 25 years! The pay, oftentimes not being worth it. So civilians would quite literally cut their fingers off, or other extremities just so they couldn't get drafted into the army.
Today most nations don't have an active draft and it is limited to a short number of years, with the opportunity to develop within the military and be paid handsomely if you seek the opportunity. For the most part, the government offers programs that help veterans purchase homes, and so on. The benefits to support one’s nation are greater than before. The strength of a nation is dependent on its people willing to fight for it. The army was weakened because its people no longer felt it was worthwhile to fight for it. While very complicated today, that’s not entirely the case today.
Equal opportunity did not exist within ancient Rome, causing civilians to grow animosity toward ancient Rome. Once you were born to be a farmer, your children and their children were farmers, a major class system that prevented anyone from attaining more in life.
In the modern day, we have more equal opportunity than ever before, to move between classes, this includes falling to the lowest class. Nonetheless, you move up and down the economic brackets. This level of opportunity created a type of pride for one’s nation, keeping the values and principles intact and will continue to do so. That's how a nation remains strong within, by the pride and opportunity for growth with its citizens.
Finally, loyalty, this is what made the Roman empire such a formidable opponent to the surrounding nations. However, what caused the loyalty to fall was what was briefly mentioned, civilians growing animosity and the unbeneficial army. With the numbers dwindling, those civilians not willing to fight for one’s nation, much of the army had to be outsourced to mercenaries. In particular the Germanic people, but what risk do we incur when we outsource an army that protects you? They have little to no loyalty, so senate members paid assassins and mercenaries to get rid of the competition for, you guessed it, the throne of Rome.
Now some of these you can have a slight comparison to modern day and if you are wise you can also notice a few areas where history rhymes. But at the end of the day, they are not the same. We have to remember and be grateful for the structure that was created that maintains the balance of powers. We cannot see the future, but we can do our due diligence in spreading practical wisdom and logically challenge one another to ensure we don’t follow the footsteps that led to a dark path. Look with foresight into cause and effect, in many cases we do things with good intention but end with awful backfire when it's actually applied.
Be courageous with our words and fight to be virtuous, remember to be wise in our speech, ensure we fight for justice for all, and most importantly, moderate how far we are willing to support a cause.
The immediate access to knowledge is tricky, remember how you should think, not what you should think. We will build a greater future this way.