“You may be sure that this refractory nature, which demands much toil, has been implanted in us. There are obstacles in our path; so let us fight, and call to our assistance some helpers. “Whom,” you say, “shall I call upon? Shall it be this man or that?” There is another choice also open to you; you may go to the ancients; for they have the time to help you. We can get assistance not only from the living, but from those of the past. Let us choose, however, from among the living, not men who pour forth their words with the greatest glibness, turning out commonplaces and holding. as it were, their own little private exhibitions, – not these, I say, but men who teach us by their lives, men who tell us what we ought to do and then prove it by practice, who show us what we should avoid, and then are never caught doing that which they have ordered us to avoid.”
Moral letters to Lucilius/Letter 52, On Choosing Our Teachers, Seneca
The world is filled with demagogs and charlatans, in areas ranging from “self-help” to politics and religion. The internet and mass media have both accelerated the promotion of their views and well as pitted them against each other in a gladiatorial contest that would have made Nero proud. I realize that it is the promotion of the competition and the conflict that matters to the promoters, not the outcomes or the virtues of the arguments. Whatever keeps the circus going and helps it grow is good. By definition, anything that brings rational analysis and discussion to a conflict is bad, as it would lead to a quieting of the noise and a shutdown of the gravy train.
I realize now that the constant promotion of the false dichotomy of liberal/conservative, republican/democrat, etc. is about not about the validity of competing viewpoints, but rather about the continuation of conflict between groups. As long as the people are constantly distracted and fighting each other, they do not have time or mental energy to recognize who is truly manipulating them or for what purpose, nor to think about what is truly in their best interest. Likewise, as long as the leaders of the competing groups are constantly rallying their followers to attack the “other”, they do not have to answer for the shortcoming of their own beliefs or policies. War then, is the ultimate solution when any leader is facing a crisis of confidence in their leadership.
I am responsible for my beliefs, values and plans, and living a life aligned with these. In developing these I will look to whatever sources of wisdom I can find that contribute to my greater understanding of the world, as I interpret and adopt it. In living my life I will not always live up to my best ideals, however as long as I climb back on the path and keep trying I will never fail. Failure is only the end of trying, not the opposite of succeeding.