THE DEFINITION OF ‘LIFE WILL GET THE BASTARDS ANYWAY’
Let’s introduce the concept of ‘life will get the bastards anyway’ defined here by this simple statement:
“Life will cause your adversaries dissatisfaction, disappointment, grief, setbacks, despair, depression; in short, far more suffering than you can ever dish out onto them.”
This concept is a perceptual way of looking at things, which also makes it a method too. Superficially speaking, this concept does have the appearance of malignancy, but take the time to look at it this way. If we substitute the consequences of anger, the emotion itself and the possible actions that could follow from it, for instead this stoic method. By practicing this we can aid ourselves to be free from the passions of anger and other associated negative emotions towards our adversaries. This is not necessarily about loving our adversaries, it’s about the advantage this method can offer us. The advantage being in preserving our Ataraxia or peace of mind much better.
‘What is more restful than a mind at peace and what more toilsome than anger?’
-Seneca De ira
So again briefly, the aim of this concept is to give us greater freedom from the attachments of anger, of the adversary occupying our minds, plotting revenge and other things relating to the adversary in question.
This concept was inspired, on the one hand, while reading Seneca’s On Anger:
‘As it is a consolation to a humble man in trouble that the greatest are subject to reverses of fortune, and a man weeps more calmly over his dead son in the corner of his hovel if he sees a piteous funeral proceed out of the palace as well; so one bears injury or insult more calmly if one remembers that no power is so great as to be above the reach of harm.’ De Ira, book 3, ch25
That conclusion at the end: ‘no power is so great as to be above the reach of harm’ identifies the name of this concept of Seneca’s. Even though this concept is mentioned briefly in a passage of De Ira I wish to promote this idea as a remodeled, improved and above all modern concept for stoicism. This idea should join the other conceptual ranks of other stoic ideas such as negative visualisation and living in accordance with nature. This modern concept differs from that of Seneca’s because:
1) It is concerned with enemies/adversaries
2) The belief that ‘no power is so great as to be above the reach of harm’ is used to help us to extinguish the passions of anger and not let our reason be conquered by said passion.
3) It aids in perishing from our minds thoughts about our adversaries.
4) It may possibly make us take pity on our adversaries instead of anger or at least lessen the anger.
And on the other hand, the other half of the my inspiration, came about from my own reflections while taking a brisk walk around town.
Alright story time, I leave my home and payed a visit to my nearest town with its commercial high streets and residential areas. I walked around one of the many residential areas and came across a terrace housing estate that stretched on and on for many metres ahead. So because it was a long walk I decided to switch to a mindful state of mind while briskly walking and what happened next, genuinely now, the new concept for stoicism from my mindfulness to brooding thoughts was manifested.
Looking at all these terrace houses a dawning realisation came to mind and I thought: ‘out of all these houses, someone must be going through some terrible adversity in life. Yet, I’ve no hand in causing their suffering I don’t know these people, I don’t wish it upon them but whether I like it or not these circumstances happen anyway.’ Think of this scenario, each house I passed had its own particular circumstances of woe. In one of those houses someone is grieving for the loss of a loved one but then as Seneca says: “Who is grieved at the loss of what is not his own?” – the next one is facing problems with their own health, then the house next door to that there’s relationship troubles, the next one has financial troubles struggling to scrap up enough to pay the rent and have their heads remain above water a while longer.
Of this the Epicurean Lucretius poetically chimes in too.
“How sweet it is to watch from dry land when the storm-winds roil
A mighty ocean’s waters, and see another’s bitter toil –
Not because you relish someone else’s misery-
Rather, it;s sweet to know from what misfortunes you are free”
Speaking of money, before we get to the main point, one can have rich people problems or poor people problems. From the perspective of Stoicism on the rich, it may not be financial difficulties of itself that is the problem, but the mindset of the people which leaves them vulnerable in their own way because they have too many attachments. In the event that they should lose money they will experience actual grief than if they didn’t possess it in the first place, as Seneca says in Of Peace of Mind:
“Reflect, then, how much less a grief it is never to have had any money than to have lost it: we shall thus understand that the less poverty has to lose, the less torment it has with which to afflict us: for you are mistaken if you suppose that the rich bear their losses with greater spirit than the poor: a wound causes the same amount of pain to the greatest and the smallest body”
Of course it would make a weak argument to just leave it at just money, other forms of wealth can cause distress upon separation. Such as from losing landed properties to mobile phones slipping out of pockets. The rich being accustomed to abundant material conditions and not knowing a life of poverty leads to the consequences of a mindset taking for granted the wealth possessed – and when they’re parted from it; then the suffering ensues. The ‘spoiled brat’ idea has been around since ancient times! This quote for example:
“The more pleasures a man captures, the more masters will he have to serve”
William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life
Now on to the bastards!
Thinking about this more I thought of other things that happened to people especially to our adversaries; which from now on we will call bastards (because this signifies our aversion). ‘The reach of harm’ can grasp on to all, none are beyond its clawed reach. Look at the first noble truth in Buddhism, it states the truth of suffering, suffering is ubiquitous and comes in many physical and mental forms received in so many ways. No one is exempt from it, but it is hard to have knowledge about the suffering of people we are not in contact with, especially the bastards. For reason being we are averse to them and do not spend time in their company nor trade information as trust is non-existent between ourselves and them. So even though we don’t know what they’re going through at this very moment, it doesn’t mean that they are doing better or worse in life compared to you.
Even Socrates’ bastard Meletus, his chief accuser, had his comeuppance as Diogenes Laertius says here:
‘So he was taken from among men; and not long afterwards the Athenians felt such remorse that they shut up the training grounds and gymnasia. They banished the other accusers but put Meletus to death; they honoured Socrates with a bronze statue’
One of my friends thinks that their bastards are doing better than them, that they never have problems and always come out smelling the roses. I ask ‘what is your reason for thinking this?’ the ‘reason’ I got was not really reason at all! I was given various answers from gut feelings to assumptions. So my friend felt that he was being bested. I repeat again, he ‘felt’ that he was being bested. Some people create these stories and narratives and it’s as if they imagine their bastards riding off on a galloping white horse up triumphantly upon a hill and into the sunset like a Grimm’s fairy tale story! If you also think and dwell the same way like my friend did, namely that your bastards are doing better than you without empirical verification and only feelings to back you up – then realise that these feelings are deceptive and are created by a conceptually proliferating mind.
Only self-reflection can answer this, for instance, how do you know that others are doing better than you? ask yourselves, what is your reason for thinking that? You don’t know their current life circumstances perhaps they are going through worse things than you can imagine! There is no guarantee that things are going rosy for anybody! It seems to me that we crave answers concerning the status about other people in order to keep ourselves updated on their life circumstances, so that we may measure our self worth by comparing ourselves to them or perhaps use that information for gossip!
Let’s look at the contrary, say you do know what the current life circumstances of your bastards are and they are in fact doing better than you. They’ve got better careers, social status, wealth and health. With all this under their belts are they, though, exempt from losing all this? Is it guaranteed that they will hold on to favourable life circumstances forever? Just losing one of these can have a cascading effect on all the others as they are interrelated factors in a person’s life. Let’s give an example, they may very well possess careers, social status and wealth and the perks that go with it. However, just the other day they got a diagnosis from the doctor telling them that they have an aggressive cancer and given two to six months to live. The negation of their health renders the other favourable life conditions nullified, as death proves they can no longer enjoy the gratifications of the rat race. Yet you did not have to lift a finger as the mindless laws of physics played out in a way to cause this series of unfortunate events.
If you start wishing for some calamity to befall your bastards then what happens if nothing gives? How will you react? You will suffer because the ill will you wanted to happen to your bastards has not manifested. Many years ago I wished for the same thing on one person, but nothing of that sort happened. Reality did not conform to my wishes and I did not get the gratification of witnessing the bastard’s suffering. Saying that, let’s say for arguments sake he did suffer, but because I was not there to witness it I was none the wiser and so it’s as if it never happened. So realise that wishing for a bastard’s suffering may backfire by giving you frustration. The frustration is like throwing a javelin at them and always missing the target at each attempt while they carry on walking unscathed. No passion if more eager for revenge than anger.
Let life repay it instead
Seneca said that anger is the desire to repay suffering whether it is from an injury or feeling wronged. How will you react in a situation with your bastard? What if they insulted you? Will you return the insult? Could you return the insult without feeling anger knowing that anger’s influence causes our attacks to be disorderly rather than regulated and under control? What if you instead dismiss the insult (whatever it may be) knowing that ‘life will get the bastards anyway’. If you do decide to return the insult, then regard the insult as useful and pretend to be angry without feeling the disorderly emotions of anger. The Stoics did not turn the other cheek, they did not condemn violence, but the tranquility destroying debilitating feeling associated with it; anger. They regarded violence or force as useful when it is necessary of course, such as in self-defence:
‘When things have to be done somewhat briskly, let him call force, not anger, to his aid.’
– Seneca De Ira, Book 2, ch 17
Ultimately anger can venture upon nothing by itself without the approval of mind. It is your mind that stamps the approval of that aroused burning anger and also to commit the deeds that follow.
Let’s go back to this concept called ‘life will get the bastards anyway’ let me say this, that if by following this concept you instead feel that you are bottling up your anger instead of it being prevented or mitigated which is the intent of the method. Then you must either train the mind to practice this method so that it becomes habitual and more effective. Bottling up anger is no good as it will slowly erode your peace of mind.
For this concept to be of any benefit it must first be approved by your mind and practiced. Consider this, if this perspective leads us to pitying our bastards instead of being angry with them, will this be a more productive way of looking at things? What is more destructive to our peace of mind? Is it pity or anger? I think it’s the latter emotion don’t you?
Moreover our method here has a cathartic quality to it doesn’t it? The relief we feel knowing that even the most repugnant people we’ve ever come across in our lives are subject to the same toil. They may appear to be enjoying peace, but woe is never absent; only asleep for the time being.
The whole point of Stoicism is the attainment of tranquillity by mastery of the mind by reasoned argument or the logos. A great task it is, but with many long-term benefits! So in closing, let reality do the work for us instead. Why toil away and sacrifice our peace of mind, risk doing deeds that may not go according to plan and maybe probably backfire, while reality freely does the work without us needing to invest energy on our part!