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Posts Tagged ‘stoics’

Anglezarke, West Pennines

Oh, dullard brain, why do we push so far?
Who the hell do we think we are?
Three thousand years of philosophy,
And we think we’ll bottom it, over a cup of tea.

But that side of things has passed us by.
Before we catch up, the pigs will fly.
What we learned as a student, we don’t need any more,
All the nuts and bolts, of the physical world.

But the history of thought is a queer old fish.
Who said that, and who said this?
But more than that, what does it all mean?
And is it as hard as their language makes it seem?

In short, is philosophy not simply a curse?
Three thousand years and the world’s getting worse.
Those bearded old chaps, I’m sure they meant well,
But if they did us any good, it’s very hard to tell.

A change in the weather

Okay, I didn’t mean that. I was just tired and grumpy after a bad night with a blocked nose, and assailed by dreams of wasps. After such a hot spell, the forecast was for a change in the weather, so if I wanted to get out for the day, Monday was the best shot, but it was lunchtime by the time I made it out to the car. The wasp dream was triggered by an infestation of the little blighters. They’d been around for a while, making a nest in the attic, and were now pouring out like a biblical plague from a hole in the soffet board, dive-bombing as I loaded up. A few of them made it into the car with me.

I was caught in an ethical dilemma here. On the one hand, the environmentalists would say leave them alone if they’re doing no harm, while the pest men would say just kill them all, before they do some damage. I shooed the wasps from the car and set off, not entirely sure where I was going. I let the car decide, and it delivered me to Anglezarke.

Although the forecast was for cooler weather, it was still in the mid-twenties. But these don’t feel like the summers of childhood. Maybe we feel heat differently as we get older, but I’m sure there’s more to it, indeed something alien about the oppressive weight of summers now – at least those few weeks in the year when the sun really turns the wick up. We’d not be walking far, that was for sure. I let the boots choose, and they delivered me up to the Pikestones.

I knew the rest from here, barely three miles round. I could have stayed at home and walked further by doing laps around the garden, then sitting under the tree and drinking something cold. Except for the wasps. I had to admit, those wasps were becoming an issue, and only a matter of time before someone was stung. What to do, then? Get someone in, or have a go myself? Gor-blimey no, say the pest men. But what could possibly go wrong?

I’m reading about Hellenistic philosophy at the moment, this being the period commencing with the rapid rise of Alexander the Great’s empire, third century BC, and its long, slow disintegration. Those turbulent times had an effect on the collective psyche, which in turn spawned a new type of thinking – one that was concerned more with the nature of being, than the nature of reality. The times were causing great anxiety, and people had a need for philosophies that healed the soul.

We had the Epicureans, the Cynics and the Stoics. My favourite Cynic was Diogenes, who lived in a barrel – a notion I find curiously attractive in its simplicity – but he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d want to have round for a brew. The most famous of the Stoics would perhaps be Marcus Aurelius, who comes across in his writings as a remarkable chap, and worth delving into further, but that brings with it the history of the Roman Empire, and there are only so many tangents I can handle before I dissolve into my own nebulous entropy. Earlier Greek culture had offered an elaborate afterlife, a panoply of gods and a mythic, story-like structure to existence. But the Hellenistic philosophers weren’t much interested in gods, or what followed death, more in finding ways to be accepting of its finality. If you could do that, they said, you lived a better, happier life.

There’s much to be said for it. Too many of us bank on reward in the ever-after, and without actually getting going properly in the one life we’ve got. I don’t know for sure which camp I’m in. I suppose I’m guilty to a degree of constructing some kind of psychical escape capsule, where the summers are perfect, and the corn is always just ripe, and there are no wasps – a kind of dream-land I’ll linger in until I don’t care either way. It’s a comfort, and it’s probably wrong, and the Cynics and the Stoics are right. I get their point, but there’s no harm in hedging your bets.

Hard though. Philosophy. I suppose what I was getting at in that bit of opening doggerel is that my own student days were spent picking up technical subjects; mainly physics and engineering. I earned a living by it, but, now retired, it’s useless to me, most of it forgotten anyway and the rest obsolete. The arts, the humanities – I’ve dabbled in them outside of academia, and though they seem valuable now as an independent, economically self-sufficient – i.e. pensioned – citizen, it’s unlikely I can make much of a meaningful dent in them at this point in my life. A mature brain is not as plastic as a younger one, not as receptive to new stuff. A young brain can sit through a lecture and recall every word, while a mature brain drifts off after the first five minutes, and starts thinking about what the hell he should do about wasps.

The weather broke on Wednesday with thunderstorms, and it’s suddenly ten degrees cooler. Now we’re getting floods because the drains we have were made to handle the climate as it was thirty years ago. Anyway, I killed the wasps, dispersed them first with a shot of WD 40 under the eaves. That gave me a brief window of opportunity to get on the ladder and puff a great gasp of that noxious white wasp powder up the little hole. It did the job, but that’s not to say I feel good about it.

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself.” Marcus Aurelius AD 121 – 180

Rock on, Marcus.

Thanks for listening

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