Friday, October 25, 2013

Roman Stoic Philosophy and Seneca the Younger

I presented The Roman Stoic Philosophy of Seneca the Younger (ca 4 BC - 65 AD) to The Villages Philosophy Club, The Villages, FL, today, 25 October, 2013. You may download a copy of my PowerPoint show here:

As an undergraduate at City College of New York I was exposed to the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus (ca 55 AD - 135 AD) via a slim booklet called The Enchiridion (Manual or Handbook) of the philosophy of Epictetus, published by his student Flavius Arrian.

I have carried that booklet on all my travels since (as did Frederick the Great :^) and I credit Epictetus for moderating my Jewish atheism. I accepted his opinion that "the essence of piety towards the Gods is thinking rightly concerning them – as existing and governing the Universe  justly and well.”

Nearly all scientists accept the basic Truth that the Laws of Nature and of Evolution and Natural Selection promote general progress towards superior levels of biological organization. Human (Artificial) Selection yields superior cultural organization. So, let that fact be our "GOD" - the "General (or Genetic) Optimizing Device". Thus defined, GOD exists and governs the Universe justly and well!

I was Bar Mitzvah and married in a Jewish ceremony and our three daughters were Bat Mitzvah. We are founding members of Temple Shalom near The Villages, FL, and are pleased that our triplet grand-daughters were Bat Mitzvah in 2011 in Andover, MA. For me, it is not about literal belief in Jewish religious doctrine, but of ethnic solidarity and duty.

I inherited an unbroken chain from Abraham through Moses and through Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem, and via the Pale of Jewish Settlement in Europe (Austria, Russia), and the immigrant experience of my grandparents in the Lower East Side of New York City and then Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where I was Bar Mitzvah. WHO DO I THINK I AM TO BREAK THIS CHAIN?


Epictetus was born to a slave in Hierapolis (Turkey) and brought to Rome as a slave to Nero’s secretary. He was freed and became a respected Roman Stoic philosopher. After banishment from Rome (along with other philosophers who were considered nuances to the leadership), he lived in Greece. The Enchiridion begins as follows:
Some things are in our control and others not.
Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.
Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men.
But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you.
Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed. …
There is much more from The Enchiridion in my PowerPoint show. Download it! Here:


Last month I attended a DVD lecture by Prof. J. Rufus Fears (at Freedom Pointe, an Independent Living facility here in The Villages) titled "Life Lessons from the Great Books". That DVD included a session on Seneca the Younger, based in his book "On Providence". I was impressed and, due to my long-term interest in Roman Stoicism, I downloaded Seneca's book "On Benefits", and read it through. I also researched Seneca on Wikipedia.

As the figure above shows, Seneca lived from about 4 BC to 68 AD in interesting times. While Epictetus was born near the eastern end of the Roman Empire, and brought to Rome as a slave, Seneca was born near the western end of the Roman Empire to a prominent family and brought to Rome as a student. Seneca also travelled to Egypt to stay with his Aunt, so he saw and experienced a considerable part of the Roman Empire and the higher classes of rulers and leaders.

Seneca rose to become a Magistrate in Rome, and survived a scrape with Emperor Caligula. However, Emperor Claudius banished him for eight years to Corsica. Upon request of Agrippina, Claudius's wife, Seneca returned to Rome to become tutor to her son Nero. When Nero became Emperor, perhaps due to Agrippina poisoning Claudius and pushing him into power over rivals, Seneca became his advisor for some eight years. Seneca lost that position and became tied up in palace intrigue and, in 65 AD, Seneca was ordered by Nero to commit suicide, which he did.

Meanwhile, Seneca wrote many books, among them the above-mentioned "On Providence: and "On Benefits".

"On Benefits" begins as follows:
AMONG the many and diverse errors of those who live reckless and thoughtless lives, almost nothing that I can mention, excellent Liberalis, is more disgraceful than the fact that we do not know how either to give or to receive benefits. 
For it follows that, if they are ill placed, they are ill acknowledged, and, when we complain of their not being returned, it is too late for they were lost at the time they were given.
Nor is it surprising that among all our many and great vices, none is so common as ingratitude. …
Seneca distinguishes between a loan and a benefit. A loan is granted carefully, after checking the credit-worthiness of the recipient. A loan is a formal agreement that obligates the borrower to pay back in accordance with the terms, and also provides for legal action if the loan in not repaid. A benefit, on the other hand, is given freely, with the only expectation being that the recipient express thankfulness to the benefactor. Seneca goes into quite a bit of detail on considerations related to giving and receiving benefits, some of which I include in my PowerPoint show, download it here:


As the graphic above indicates, Seneca lived from ca 4 BC to 68 AD, which overlapped the very early years of  Epictetus lifetime (ca 55 - 135 AD). This was also the time when Jesus lived (ca 2 - 33 AD) and when Saul of Tarsus (ca 5 - 67 AD) first persecuted Christians and then, taking the name "Paul" (and later being recognized as a Saint), spread Christianity in parts of the Roman Empire. I did not find any mention of Paul or Christianity in the Seneca book or the Wikipedia articles I read.

Seneca lived in the period immediately preceding the destruction of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem (70 AD). Prior to and around this time, Judeans (Jews) were spreading throughout the Roman Empire. After the destruction of the Temple, and the loss of the associated priestly class, the Rabbinic period of Judaism was initiated, where regional and local Jewish institutions became the main face of our religion. I did not find any mention of Judaism in the materials I read about Seneca or Epictetus.

Ira Glickstein 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Big Government and K-12 Education

[from Bob Alm]

Re: Big Government. [see for the Associated Press story that is the source of the above image]
Big Government has been involved in education for fifty years while results have deteriorated.  The Department OF Education is just one of fifty or one hundred departments that have expanded our federal government and caused our spending to grow completely out of control.  It’s not only the day to day cost – hundreds of thousands of employees have been promised retirement benefits that appear only as unfunded liabilities that exceed $90 trillion dollars.  Staggering! 
What is worse, our electorate is now made up of millions of poorly educated citizens
who want more and more benefits from this Big Government. Our poorly educated work force can not keep us competitive in the world wide market place ergo our economy suffers.  High corporate taxes – Big Governments’ income, is another significant factor.
Now, we have a charismatic president, capable of delivering stirring rhetoric, but ill prepared to govern this massive government.  
Big Governments’ answer to our education problem is the same answer it has for every problem – THROW MORE MONEY AT IT!
After eight years of night school and forty years in business, one thing I have learned is, decisions are best made at the source of the activities.  Education is a typical example.
Local government and local school boards produced a good school system years ago, before the government became involved. Yes, the situation is different today – the internet should be a part of the education system, but make the decisions locally – please, don’t have Big Government mess it up.
Bob Alm 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fatal Decision

[from Ron St. Laurent]
Was back in the forties we entered The War.
When Japanese aircraft hurled bombs at our shore.
Pearl Harbor was blazing, our Navy dismissed.
In less than two hours, it ceased to exist.

In Europe the Germans, grew ever so bold.
Crushed Poland and France then, toward Russia they rolled.
 So we strapped up our boots, sent men Over There.
Told Nazis and Fascists, they’d better beware.

We fought in the deserts and perilous seas.
And died on the beaches that are Normandy.
On islands like Midway and Guadalcanal.
At Luzon and Iwo, with strength we prevailed.

Then came that sweet morning, the sun brightly shone.
When Johnny at last, came marching home.
There were far fewer Johnnies, than left us that day. 
For those who returned not, we wept and we prayed. 

After that came Korea, a frozen landscape.
From cold and from suffering there was no escape.
Then on to Cambodia and North Vietnam.
We burned up the jungles, with shells of napalm. 

We moved on to Iraq, they called “Desert Storm”.
Afghanistan next, our mission took form.
September Eleven, were threatened once more.
So we rushed into battle, its blood and its gore. 

To Syria now, they ask us to go.
Al Qaeda, Jihadists, our help to bestow.
How much more can we give, of our youth and our sons?
To save people, who Christians, they loathe and they shun? 
We offer our pleas, with the hopes they won’t ask us
To send more dear children, down the Road to Damascus.
Let “Johnny” stay home, safe from history’s page.
Have him raise a fine family and live to old age.

Secretary Kerry, on one thing you’re right.
No child should be poisoned or shot in the night.
But Middle East politics are savage at best.
Leave Middle East countries, to quell their unrest.
I am an old man.  I wrote this poem because I have grown weary of watching our most precious commodity, our youth, going into battle and spilling their blood to protect people who despise us as Christians and Jews.  We are not the police of this planet.  It’s time we pulled in our borders and have Americans protect America!

Ron St. Laurent