Most human beings … complain about the meanness of nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, and because this spell of time … rushes by so swiftly and rapidly that with very few exceptions life ceases … just when we are getting ready for it.Seneca
Seneca complained that ancient Rome’s degradation stemmed from people’s preoccupations. To rush around, without careful thought, was a waste of one’s life. To live, he said, is to be alive to the truth — to take account of reality. The problem with preoccupation, with ambition and career, is the way ambitious and preoccupied people disregard truth. After many years, instead of growing wiser, the ambitious man resembles a fool. He has not stopped to take account of his surroundings, or his associations, or his country, or the truth about himself.
Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Playing off this idea, Seneca penned his book On the Shortness of Life, saying the unexamined life is not only worthless, but painfully short. Those who live hurriedly, without stopping to think, succumb to the hamster wheels of greed, lust, ambition and envy. Life, under these imperatives, becomes a blind rushing to and fro.
The preoccupied man moves very quickly. He grasps every opportunity, without thinking. He does not see. He does not read. He does not think. His excuse is always the same. “I have no time.” Being empty, being thoughtless, the shallow ideas of such people are not even their own. When they try to reason, their immaturity is glaring. There is only the immediate reward of acting promptly, of seizing an opportunity. But since they haven’t thought things through, their opportunities lead nowhere.
“Old age overtakes them while they are still mentally childish,” says Seneca. This describes the result of the fast-paced Roman life of the first century — and the fast-paced American life of the twenty-first century. We are, at this time, confronted with a mass of fellow-citizens who do not reason well, and leaders who have led the country into the blind alley of dependency on enemies. The situation of the country is desperate — growing worse by the day. One hears foolish things from both sides of the political aisle. Everyone reverts to a knee-jerk series of reactions. Why? Because they were never very thoughtful in the first place. They never developed their curiosity, never asked the right questions, and never understood where they were headed.
If, as Seneca says, “the preoccupied find life very short” — one might add that the life of society may also be shortened when such people are in charge. Our politicians and pundits misjudged all the big events of the last 31 years. The West is now under attack from a Chinese virus. Did any of them see this coming?
I look to the left, and I see slogans. I look to the right, and I see slogans. Ours is an age in which thinking has been replaced with political nonsense. Such comes naturally to preoccupied people — as Seneca argued. How much do these people understand? Not much.
And now, more than ever, the masses are disoriented. There is nothing but confusion, nothing but the noise of contrary opinions. Our leaders’ focus is “economic,” not philosophic. We have set aside all the most important questions, being preoccupied with entertainment and prosperity.
“Oh what darkness,” noted Seneca, does great prosperity cast over our minds.” — Such has been America’s prosperity, which now undoes itself. Everything here is not merely idiotic. Seneca tells us that bad men take pride in not knowing what they do. “Indeed,” he wrote, “the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched … as they rob and are robbed, as they disturb each other’s peace, as they make each other miserable, their lives pass without satisfaction, without pleasure, without mental improvement.”
On The Shortness Of Life https://www.amazon.com/dp/1941129420/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_6DiVEb2GXDMCX