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 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

11 thoughts on “On the Shortness of Insight

  1. “Saibam, quantos o queiram, que por isso sou odiado: é que digo a verdade, e que tal é a calúnia contra mim e tais são as causas. E tanto agora como mais tarde ou em qualquer tempo, podereis considerar estas coisas: são como digo.” (Platão, Apologia de Sócrates)

  2. “That the object of life is self-perfection, the perfection of all immortal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be correct by the fact alone that every other object is essentially a new object. Therefore, the question whether thou hast done what thou shoudst have done is of immense importance, for the only meaning of they life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?” Leo Tolstoy

    John 3:16

  3. Such a great essay.

    You really need to start a YouTube (BitChute and Brighteon) channel. Too many today are unwilling to take the time to read and think. If the eloquence of this essay were paired with a some video stock footage (like Black Pigeon), I think you’d achieve 10 times the reach at minimum.

  4. An extremely well written and insightful piece Mr Nyquist. I don’t normally comment, but I have been reading your work for over 10 years. Here is a quote from St Augustine.
    “Though there are very many nations all over the earth, …there are no more than two kinds of human society, which we may justly call two cities, …one consisting of those who live according to man, the other of those who live according to God ….To the City of Man belong the enemies of God, …so inflamed with hatred against the City of God.”
    Unfortunately, the majority of humans live in the City of Man and their blindness and hatred of the truth is complete. It is very sad to witness this blindness and hatred of the truth, even among Catholics.
    I appreciate your writings, yet I feel that so much more could be added. Who would listen though?

    1. It is sad that most men prefer blindness. It is also good to share with those who CAN see, and thereby make palpable the City of God.

    2. “The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even the East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God.” Will Durant

  5. This thread seems to have a pretty high level of discussion – but here it goes.
    Perhaps the following may be relevant to the topic of shallow thinking in our society. There is a priest and intellectual by the name of Fr. George Rutler. If you look on You Tube you can listen to his short talk entitled Shallow Religion. I would assert this his insights apply to the Christian church but perhaps to our society in general. His “chewing gum theosophy” has perhaps permeated many in our society.
    Taking this literally, theosophy / New Age / masonic thought emphasizes the self. And the physical self. Any conceptions of spiritual realities outside of ourselves, God as a deity who requires virtue, suffering as necessary for personal and societal development are either nonsense or anathema to the modernist / materialist.
    I’ve found in my own life that any amount of wisdom or maturity or virtue that I have has been only at the cost of suffering / school of hard knocks. Is there any way around this ? Or perhaps it should be this way. I guess in the current societal situation ( including foreign and domestic threats ), is there any way to raise the level of thought and politics in our society without first having everybody beaten up and put back to square one ?
    So shallow thinking, but perhaps shallow religion and shallow character also lead to many problems. I think many people want the easy solution : national security without sacrifices, income security without hard work, prosperity without capitalism and without any risks.
    I guess I’ll hope for the best and prepare for the worst. What say everybody else ?

    1. Tom,
      There is so much truth in your comment. Look at what Abraham was called to endure. Today’s observer would ask: “why would God make him murder his own son?? What kind of love is that??” Love isn’t the bestowal of stuff or hollow words, is it? Look at what the Savior suffered. Sacrifice (I think it is a more accurate term than suffering) breeds character and growth. To today’s generation sacrifice is anathema; it’s unfair, unjust, or something for bad guys to do.

  6. Thanks for posting the links to some of the books you mention. I have ordered it from Amazon. So true about “slogans,” left and right; platitudes everywhere. ” . . . always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    And to Melissa: you’re right. Few listen. And I’m convinced the separation of the two camps (the inhabitants of the City of God and the inhabitants and aspiring inhabitants of the City of God) is becoming more stark by the day. I could write my own essay about how God fearing people are viewed as freaks and fetishists nowadays. It will not get better. Hunker down and continue to be true.

  7. Abounding prosperity can only be suitably handled by a mature and pious civilisation that knows how to keep the manifold temptations that come with plenty, in check. Once a society gives in to these temptations, decline, even ruin, is inevitable.

  8. Your mentioning slogans reminds me of John Carpenter’s sci-fi movie “They Live” in which the hero of the story finds specially treated sun glasses that reveal the truth behind who is
    “running the show” and the subliminal messages behind advertisements of all kinds. As a co-worker once said to me, “I know it is just a movie, but if it was true, it would sure explain a lot.”
    Not much has changed since ancient Rome. Bread and Circuses are still used to control the masses, and keep them preoccupied with mindless entertainment, so they do not think about the realities facing them every day. If they did think about those realities facing them everyday, they would become restless and unhappy, and perhaps decide to change out the leadership to one more favorable to their wants and needs.

    “Even when repressed, inequality grows; only the man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom, and in the end superior ability has its way.”

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