Category: History Page 1 of 3

11 Lessons From The Fall Of The Roman Republic: It Is Disturbing How Relevant They Are For Today

History can teach us a lot about the present, because it can show us analogies from what happened in the past. Human nature stays the same throughout the ages and similar conditions can give rise to similar outcomes. However, you need to keep in mind that these are not perfect predictions for the future, but instead warning signs of possible troubled times ahead.

The Roman Republic serves as a great analogy for the present state of chaos, not only in the United States, but around the world. What we are experiencing is the rise of populism, rule by mobs, and great threats towards freedom and prosperity. It is almost eerie how many parallels there are between what happened then, and what is happening now.

I have written a much longer article on this topic, where I look at the conditions in detail, but here I go back to some of the ancient sources themselves to paint a picture of what happened then, and what could happen again, if we are not careful.

The need to study history is reflected in this passage from Livy’s monumental history of Rome called “From the Foundation of the City”:

“The subjects to which I would ask each of my readers to devote his earnest attention are these-the life and morals of the community; the men and the qualities by which through domestic policy and foreign war dominion was won and extended. Then as the standard of morality gradually lowers, let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downward more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin, until he reaches these days, in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies.

There is this exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past, that you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you may select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its issues, you are to avoid.”
from “From the Foundation of the City” by Livy

History can teach us lessons without us having to make the same mistakes as in the past. As ancient historian Polybius noted, there are two ways to learn: from your own mistakes, and from those of others. The second option is much less painful than the first one.

“This I mention for the sake of the improvement of the readers of this history. For there are two ways by which all men can reform themselves, the one through their own mischances, the other through those of others, and of these the former is the more impressive, but the latter less hurtful.

Therefore we should never choose the first method if we can help it, as it corrects by means of great pain and peril, but ever pursue the other, since by it we can discern what is best without suffering hurt. Reflecting on this we should regard as the best discipline for actual life the experience that accrues from serious history.

For this alone makes us, without inflicting any harm on us, the most competent judges of what is best at every time and in every circumstance.”
from “Histories” by Polybius

Polybius described government types as occurring in cycles, a process he called “anacyclosis”. First you have a monarchy, which degenerates into a tyranny, which is then replaced by an aristocracy, which then degenerates into oligarchy. At this stage, the people rebel and create a democracy. However, democracies have a tendency to degenerate into chaos and mob-rule, a state of affairs that Polybius called an “ochlocracy”.

Once this chaotic state of affairs gets unbearable, the people start clamoring for peace and order. Usually one man steps up promising to bring this about and the cycle resets itself back into a monarchy.

This is exactly what happened in Ancient Rome.

“With man,—by Hercules! most of his misfortunes are occasioned by man.”
from “The Natural History” by Pliny the Elder

1) Large economic disparities can lead to grievances

Large economic disparities between those at the top and those at the bottom are like a powder keg waiting to explode. An unequal distribution of wealth can lead to many social problems, with the poor becoming more and more dissatisfied and voicing their grievances. In countries with greater economic equality, there is more social cohesion and people tend to trust each other more. When the inequalities start growing, this cohesion is lost and trust diminishes.

“Thus certain powerful men became extremely rich and the race of slaves multiplied throughout the country, while the Italian people dwindled in numbers and strength, being oppressed by penury, taxes, and military service. If they had any respite from these evils they passed their time in idleness, because the land was held by the rich, who employed slaves instead of freemen as cultivators.”
from “Roman History” by Appian

After the of the Punic Wars, an economic scissor effect came to heed in the Republic. The rich got richer beyond their wildest dreams, while the poor got poorer. After a series of conflicts, soldiers returning to their farms, found them in disarray, had to take on great debt, and then ended up selling them. The buyers came from the rich upper classes, who got vast amounts of money because of the plunder and the trade that came with the Roman control of the Mediterranean Sea.

“Affairs at home and in the field were managed according to the will of a few men, in whose hands were the treasury, the provinces, public offices, glory and triumphs. The people were burdened with military service and poverty. The generals divided the spoils of war with a few friends. Meanwhile the parents or little children of the soldiers, if they had a powerful neighbor, were driven from their homes.

Thus, by the side of power, greed arose, unlimited and unrestrained, violated and devastated everything, respected nothing, and held nothing sacred, until it finally brought about its own downfall. For as soon as nobles were found who preferred true glory to unjust power, the state began to be disturbed and civil dissension to arise like an upheaval of the earth.”
from “Jugurthine War” by Sallust

“In former years you were silently indignant that the treasury was pillaged, that kings and free peoples paid tribute to a few nobles, that those nobles possessed supreme glory and vast wealth. Yet they were not satisfied with having committed with impunity these great crimes, and so at last the laws, your sovereignty, and all things human and divine have been delivered to your enemies.

And they who have done these things are neither ashamed nor sorry, but they walk in grandeur before your eyes, some flaunting their priesthoods and consulships, others their triumphs, just as if these were honors and not stolen goods.”
speech of Gaius Memmius from “Jugurthine War” by Sallust

The Punic Wars marked an end of the old system in the Republic. This state of affairs led to great economic disparities between the different social classes, which caused great discontent among the worse off.

The Roman Republic went from a country with relative income equality among the different strata of society, to one with greater and greater inequality. The social cohesion and trust between the groups was lost and contributed to growing tensions.

Compare this to the current state of affairs. The amount of wealth controlled by the top levels of society in the world has skyrocketed. Whereas only 30 years ago, the super-wealthy controlled only a relatively small proportion of the total income earned in a country, now the percentage has grown exponentially. This effect is most profound especially in the US, where the top 1% of the population went from earning around 7 or 8% of the total income in 1975 to earning almost 20% of the total income today!

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The Year Ahead 2019: The Dangerous Trends That Are Shaking Up The World Today

Edward Gibbon started his description of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire at a period of history when it was at its peak. During the reign of the so-called Five Good Emperors, the Empire had attained its greatest geographical extent. Its population lived in relative peace and prosperity. Yet, it is also here that the first cracks that would eventually bring down the greatest state of the ancient Mediterranean world began to appear.

The people of that era did not know that the Empire would eventually fall, and even in the times of chaos that would later come, the fall of such a superpower appeared unthinkable. The end did arrive and the Empire crumbled, ushering in an era of darkness from which it took a long time for civilization to wake up.

In hindsight, this collapse appears inevitable. The structure on which the state was based was clearly eroding slowly but surely, until one day it was no more. History can often serve as a mirror on which to reflect our own times and that’s why it is useful to take lessons from the things that happened in the past. What is alarming is that the same types of cracks that slowly brought down Rome have started seeping into our own modern structures.

As the Cold War was coming to an end, Francis Fukuyama triumphantly declared “The End of History”. From that point onward things were going to move in only direction: the direction of progress, peace, and unlimited hamburgers. However, just as the wise fortune tellers were popping open bottles of champagne to celebrate this momentous occasion, new menacing creatures were starting to crawl out of their dark caves, foreboding a new era of unimaginable terrors.

The current age brings with it numerous seemingly new challenges. Decisions need to be taken in order to set a course through these troubled waters. It might seem frightening, but for the student of history, some of these challenges are far from new. They have been here before. What was old is new again, and what is new will become old. It is up to us to construct the correct path, so that in the future our epoch does not become a warning sign, talked about by our descendants as a lesson in what not to do.

While the time of the Roman Empire can teach us many valuable lessons, I would argue that it is a preceding era in Rome’s history that can serve as a better analogy for our modern era, and offer us many illuminating parallels to what is happening today. It is in fact the fall of the Roman Republic, that is in many ways very similar to the situation in the present day.

This is because our own modern institutions are modeled on those of the ancient Roman Republic. The so-called Founding Fathers of the United States studied that era in great detail and set up the newly independent republic to resemble Ancient Rome. While the United States has the closest parallels, other countries (Europe, but also elsewhere), also owe much to their Roman heritage. That is why if you want to better understand the processes at play today and where they can lead us, you should look at what happened in Rome after the Punic Wars.

Yes, you can argue that the analogy is not perfect. After all, our modern era differs greatly from that of Ancient Rome in multiple ways. However, human nature has not changed since that time. If you dropped a baby born in that era into the 21st century and have it grow up in one of the countries of today, they would not differ from anyone else. The point of a historical analogy is not to model perfectly, but instead to teach us lessons and show us potential dangers.

Polybius was an ancient Greek historian who spent much of his later life in Rome and wrote an extensive history of that city. He is also credited with developing a cyclical theory of political evolution called anacyclosis. According to the theory, states undergo cycles of development going from monarchy, to tyranny, then to aristocracy, which gives way to an oligarchy, which is then replaced by a democracy, which then degenerates into an ochlocracy (or mob-rule). Once this is completed, the cycle resets itself and goes back to a monarchy.

This is a powerful model that gives us predictive capabilities. Polybius wrote his “Histories” at the height of the Roman Republic, when its greatest rival had been vanquished, and riches beyond imagination began pouring into the city of Rome. Yet of one thing he was certain: Rome too would one day fall. Amid the triumph, he was starting to see the first signs of the problems that would lead to the eventual collapse of the Roman Republic.

Have we hit up Ochlocracy?

As the clock ticked down the last moments of 2018, and fireworks around the world welcomed in the new year, the headlines in the leading global newspapers were dominated by ominous signs of looming chaos. Trump shuts down the federal government over financing for his pet project, Brexit descends into utter retardedness (even after we thought we had already hit rock bottom in 2016 with the referendum), Putin rattles his sabers against Ukraine, and the first order of business for newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is the signing away of the rainforest.

What should arguably be humanity’s greatest era is quickly descending into a mix of chaotic protest movements rampaging through national monuments, brain-dead individuals plowing their cars into masses of people, all set to the background tune of the raping of the environment. The solution to petty grievances has often been either shooting yourself in the foot or setting your hair on fire. The camps on both sides are fortifying their positions and building up barricades, leaving normal people stuck in the middle to be hit with the crossfire. Say goodbye to nuance. It is my way or the highway.

According to Polybius, democracy degenerates when citizens become greedy, entitled and corrupt, which then makes them fall prey to various demagogues who try to entice them with seemingly sweet, but ultimately bitter promises. What we are seeing is the rise of bread and games for the unthinking masses, combined with fiery rhetoric promising to solve all their real and imaginary problems.

The solutions that are rising up in popularity are nothing more than a mixture of pipe dreams and delusions. Any normal person should be able to see that they are far from reality, but mind-boggingly some people will still get fooled by the simple, but dangerous messages.

While the solutions offered up by populists are just hot air, they arise because there indeed are real problems:

1) Rising inequality between the rich and poor, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer (or at least perceiving themselves getting poorer).
2) Unstable economy driven by greed and corruption.
3) Rising debt levels among the population and countries.
4) Decadence, rise of reality TV and druggie culture, coupled with a loss of real values.
5) Massive migration flows from poorer countries.
6) Wars abroad, and terrorism at home.
7) A degradation of the environment, climate change, and loss of biodiversity.

Yet the years leading up to 2019 have been the best years in humanity’s history. After the end of World War 2, we saw a rise in prosperity for most of the world’s population. At least in the developed world (but also in many parts of the developing world), people had more money, better education, better healthcare, and more leisure time than all the generations preceding them.

Advances in technology have also allowed us to travel to the other side of the world in hours, and share information within seconds. Almost anyone now has access to vast stores of knowledge just with the click of a button. This would be something hard to imagine for the people of any era that came before us.

How come our political institutions are getting messed up then? What are the driving factors of all these worrying trends? To answer these questions, we don’t need any sophisticated analytical tools. We can just look into the past. Ancient history can serve as an analogy to show what can happen when a certain combination of factors start unraveling the deepest fibers of society.

How the Roman Republic won its greatest battle and seeded its own destruction

The defeat of Carthage once and for all in 146 BC had established Rome as the sole superpower in the Mediterranean world. It was now controlling vast swaths of land, and with them enormous resources. The conquest of new territories and the opening up of the trade routes brought in great riches. Rome went from a city-state to a world power almost overnight.

This had a tremendous impact on the social fabric of the Republic. The elites grew enormously wealthy, while a new class of impoverished arose. Traditionally, the city was built around a class of small farmers, who owned their own land and produced crops on it. They were the backbone of society, growing the food, not prosperous by any means, but generally satisfied with their lot in life.

The Roman army was composed of citizen soldiers who would be called up to battle in times of need. As the wars that the Republic fought in started to take place further and further away from, many of these small-time farmers ended up spending many years on campaigns. With no one to work their land back home, their plots would deteriorate. When they came back after the wars, their farms would be in ruins and they would end up racking up debts. Unable to pay those debts, these farmers would then be forced to sell their land and move to the city as landless poor. And who would buy up these plots of land? It would be the aristocratic elites now with deep pockets full of gold from the wars.

What made the problem even worse was that after losing their farms, they were unable to find work. The wars had also brought in many slaves, who ended up doing most of the jobs. The newly landless Romans were not competitive on the job market against these slaves. After all, you can’t really compete with free.

Discontent among this newly impoverished class grew. Social strife was nothing new in the Republic. Since its founding, there had often been periods of social conflict, as the plebeians tried to gain more rights from the patricians. By the time of the Third Punic War, this process had largely been completed, and the plebeians had acquired almost equal rights to the patricians. A new aristocracy composed of the patricians and some newly rich plebeians arose.

However, this new strife was different from the previous struggle between the classes. While in the old conflicts, the main protagonists were the plebeians who were rising up from the bottom with visions of improving their prospects, the new struggle included large sections of people who had been better off before, but lost out.

Of course this was not the only struggle. For centuries now, Rome had been controlling the Italian peninsula through a system of alliances with neighboring cities. These cities provided a large proportion of the Roman armies, but only received a meager portion of the spoils of war. The people of these cities were clamoring for more rights and most of all, to be granted Roman citizenship. They argued that they earned it through their loyal support of Rome. However many current Roman citizens were against this, fearing that they might lose influence.

The tensions between the different classes and groups were growing. The battlelines were hardening. The poor wanted to move up in life, while the rich wanted to keep their privileges.

Then in 134 BC came Tiberius Gracchus. This was a man who came from a wealthy and well-connected family, however his main political aim was to reform the system and alleviate the struggles of the poor. How much of his acts were due to genuine caring for the down and out of society, and how much of them were due to his own personal ambitions is up for debate. Probably it was a mix of both.

In that year, he was elected one of the plebeian tribunes. This was the position meant to defend the rights of the plebs and thus had wide-ranging powers, including the power of the veto. He had to share these powers with several other guys who were also elected as tribunes for that year.

His main political agenda was to get a land reform passed. The proposal on the table was a quite simple one. A large part of the lands in the Roman Republic were so-called public lands, lands that in theory were owned by the state. In practice, most of these lands were farmed, usually by rich Roman landowners.

The proposal was to limit the amount of public land that could be farmed by a single person to a certain amount, and then redistribute the rest to the landless poor. Yet this was met with strong opposition from many wealthy senators. One reason for this was that they were set to lose lands that they started considering as theirs. Another, and probably more important reason was, that whoever would preside over the land redistribution would become very popular with the people. This would get them many clients, which was incredibly important in the patronage system of Rome.

The Senate blocked this reform. Tiberius was furious and was resolved that the reform was going to be passed in any way possible. Traditionally, the Senate had to register its opinion before the vote would pass onto the people in the Assembly. However, Tiberius decided to bypass the Senate altogether and move directly onto a vote in the Assembly. The senators were furious, and devised a devious plan to block the reform.

The plebeian tribune had the powerful right of being able to block any legislation with a veto. Tiberius was not the only tribune. There were several others. The senators went to one of them, Marcus Octavius, and convinced him to use his veto power to stop the entire process.

Tiberius tried everything in order to unblock the proceeding, including talking to the senators and coming up with some sort of a deal, but it was of no use. He then decided to do a much more radical action. If a tribune is blocking the will of the people, then he should be deposed, he argued. This was something that was never done before, but for Tiberius passing his law was incredibly important. The Assembly voted to depose Marcus Octavius. With him out of the way, the land reform law passed.

The Senate continued to try to derail the implementation of the legislation, but Tiberius always came up with a way to bypass them, often not in a very legal way. The final nail in the coffin was when he decided to run for re-election as tribune. This was never done, and gave the senators proof that he wanted to make himself king.

Kings were detested in Rome due to historical reasons. For some senators it became logical that if Tiberius wanted to make himself king, he should be killed in order to prevent him from doing so. A group of senators gathered up, armed themselves with all kinds of things, got up on stage while Tiberius was speaking and beat him to death, along with many of his supporters. They then dumped the bodies into the Tiber River.

For the senators, this was supposed to be the end of this. They got rid of a potential tyrant and brought back things to normal. Instead, what happened is that this was the start of a shitstorm that a hundred years later ended with the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

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A Fake Mental Boost Can Be Worth More Than Gold

At times you can be faced with a situation that might seem overwhelming. An enemy can be camped out in front of you, larger in size and in a better strategic position.

However all is not lost. When you and your team are facing a tough opposition, you can apply lessons from the “Strategemata” of Frontinus, an Ancient Roman general and engineer.

One of these lessons can be taken from the acts of Fulvius Nobilior, a Roman general. When facing an enemy superior in numbers compared to his army, he did one trick in order to boost his men’s confidence:

“Fulvius Nobilior, deeming it necessary to fight with a small force against a large army of the Samnites who were flushed with success, pretended that one legion of the enemy had been bribed by him to turn traitor; and to strengthen belief in this story, he commanded the tribunes, the “first rank,” and the centurions to contribute all the ready money they had, or any gold and silver, in order that the price might be paid the traitors at once.

He promised that, when victory was achieved, he would give generous presents besides to those who contributed for this purpose. This assurance brought such ardor and confidence to the Romans that they straightway opened battle and won a glorious victory.”

There are many psychological principles at play here. One of these is fake it till you make it. Many of the cognitive biases work in a way as to boost your ego, or at least keep it from crashing.

This is because many battles are often won or lost in your mind. A person going into a battle believing he will lose, will most likely lose.

It’s not that you can willpower yourself to victory in every case, but having confidence in yourself does give you an extra boost, and in battle every little thing counts.

Often, people need some sort of a mental crutch in order for them to keep on plucking away at their goals. For many people, religion has served that role.

Faced with an absurdity of the world, many studies have proven that people who have a religious belief can often persevere in tough circumstances. This is not because some hidden deity is helping them, but because they believe that even if things seem to be turning out badly, there is always a golden exit at the end of the road.

Fulvius Nobilior realized that if he wanted his men pumped up for battle against a superior enemy, he needed to boost up the level of confidence of his men. He did this by using a little trick.

He made them believe that the other side is not as big and powerful as it seems. By stating that one part of the enemy will defect, Fulvius tricked his men into believing that the odds are not as bad for them as they initially seemed.

This worked in the same way that superstition works. The men started to believe that they have much more control over the situation that they are in, than they really do.

Another trick that Fulvius did was to make many of his men give up their money. Now they had something to lose. They had skin in the game if you will.

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Marcus Aurelius: How To Have Character

A man’s character is what defines him and what carries him through life. It is character that drives your choices and helps you deal with difficulties. The Stoics believed that virtue was the end-goal of anyone’s conduct and one of the few things that you truly had control over in this world.

A man can rise or fall just due to the virtues or faults of his character and it is often this that leaves a legacy. Marcus Aurelius is one of these men, who even after almost two thousand years is remembered for the strengths of his character and shown as a role model for conduct in times of difficulties.

Cassius Dio, Roman Senator and historian, who lived through the times of Marcus Aurelius, as well as those of his son, Commodus, had this to say about Marcus:

“He didn’t have the luck which he deserved, but was confronted throughout his reign by a multitude of disasters. That is why I admire him more than any other, for it was amidst these extraordinary and unparalleled difficulties that he was able to survive, and to save the Empire.”

Marcus Aurelius was not perfect, and he himself acknowledged it, but instead of falling prey to temptations, he struggled every day to reach perfection and lead the life of a philosopher. With the word “philosopher” we don’t mean someone who delivers hard to understand discourses on the meaning of life, but instead a man who tries to overcome his faults and live life according to reason, always striving to improve himself.

In order to do that, he kept a personal journal, where he noted down his thoughts and daily lessons. This journal was meant to be private, but did not remain so, and instead has been passed down to us as the “Meditations”. It is full of wisdom, which can be applied to your own life.

What types of things can you learn from the way Marcus conducted himself in daily life and which traits should you adopt? The first Book of the “Meditations” describes well the things that he learned from others.

Marcus Aurelius, just like anyone, was a man who learned from others. It was the people around him who shaped him.

You too were most likely shaped by those closest to you. I was lucky to have a good family, and wrote an article on what I learned from my grandfathers.

This is the first thing that you can take away: be thankful for what you have.

“To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good.”

Marcus was always thanking his good fortunes. Many people are not so lucky, but even in the worst of times, they can find things to be thankful for.

More than 250 years after the times of Marcus Aurelius, when the Roman Empire in the West had fallen, Boethius, one of the last true Romans of Antiquity, was sitting in jail having an imaginary discussion with himself. He was condemned to die, but realized that even in such a dire situation, he can find positive things. One of these was that his family was OK.

Once you adopt this wider perspective on your situation, going about adopting other positive traits will be made much easier.

So which were the traits that Marcus Aurelius adopted?

Good morals and not raising your temper:

“From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.”

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The Wisdom Of Marcus Aurelius: How To Gather The Strength To Survive In Adversity

In one of his most famous works “The Republic”, Plato presents the notion of philosopher kings. These are wise rulers who live a simple life and rule for the benefits of their own communities.

One of two things needs to happen in order for philosopher kings to rule:

“Philosophers must become kings, or those now called kings must genuinely and adequately philosophize.”

Unfortunately, most people in power are far from wise and often become less wise the longer they are in power.

However, in history, one man stands out as the archetype of a philosopher king. One man truly reflects the image of a wise ruler. That man is Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. The other four Emperors who preceded him are remembered as the most able administrators and generals that the Empire had ever known and for ruling wisely and justly.

They left a legacy of “Pax Romana”, an era of peace and prosperity that had hardly been rivaled until modern times.

Marcus Aurelius ruled at a time when the Roman Empire was at the peak of its power, although during his time, you could see the first chinks in the imperial armor begin to develop.

Germanic tribes were starting to stir up trouble north of the border and Marcus Aurelius spent a large portion of his life on campaign across the Limes Romanus.

On one bleak day in his camp located on a river which is now called Hron in today’s Slovakia, he started to keep a personal journal in order to reflect on things and to keep himself rooted. This journal later became what we know as the “Meditations”, a series of thoughts and wise sayings collected into 12 books (or chapters).

These were supposed to be only personal lessons and reflections and were not meant to be shared with the outside world, but soon thereafter ended up being published anyways and distributed far and wide.

Their influence was immense, since many of these sayings and thoughts had very practical applications for anyone, irrespective of their social standing or situation in life.

The power of this work stems from the fact that Marcus Aurelius was a man with tremendous responsibilities and power, yet he managed to keep sane and humble amid all the surrounding chaos.

Most people will never get to be in the same position as him, but can find themselves in very similar situations. “Meditations” give solutions to common everyday problems, and can help you gain a wider perspective on things, as well as to develop mental strength and resilience.

They are based on Stoic teachings, but incorporate a wide variety of other influences as well. One source of inspiration for Marcus Aurelius was Epictetus, who we have already visited in a previous article. The fact that an Emperor drew on the wisdom of a former slave just further demonstrates the fact that these teachings can be taken by anyone and applied in any walk of life.

There are some very powerful lessons to be learned and used:

1) Human nature is the way it is. You need to learn to live with it.

One passage that immediately struck me when reading it, was this:

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.”

Another translation of the same passage reads:

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself: I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.”

It is amazing how this passage (irrespective of the way it is translated) reflects one of the most common problems that people face in their lives even today.

There will always be people who will try to bring you down. You might be the nicest, most unselfish, most helpful person ever, but there will still be people who will hate you or try to cause you harm.

“No man can rob us of our free will.”

There are bad people everywhere. This is a fact of life. You should remind yourself of this, but don’t let it bother you.

This is due to the basics of human nature. People are inherently selfish and this is due to inner drives.

Humans, just like any living being, are driven to survive and this means having access to resources in order to be able to do that. This implies behaviors which maximize their own chances.

One of these primal behaviors is status seeking, since being higher in status means having better access to key resources.

These people who are trying to trip you up might see you as a threat to their own ambitions and power.

This survival drive is also probably the reason why status-seeking cognitive biases (as I describe them in my Cognitive Biases Framework) developed and continue to be part of how people behave.

Even if people know they are behaving badly, they often try to rationalize what they do.

“With what are you discontented? Is it with the badness of men? Recall to your mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily.”

In Book 4, Marcus explores this further. He notes the social nature of people (as well as other animals), and that many of the things that people do are deeply ingrained in the psyche.

I explored this in a bit more detail in the article on my cognitive biases framework, where I have created the categories of ego-based biases, as well as social-animal based biases.

One first principle on which I based my framework is that humans are primarily social animals and the brain developed some internal patterns in order to promote this.

Cognitive biases evolved to be because in many ways they boosted an individual’s chances of survival, and hence are usually involuntary. As Marcus noted, oftentimes men do wrong due to internal processes in their brains and are not really conscious of doing wrong. This is exactly how cognitive biases work.

Another factor that drives a person’s behavior is the internal principles that they have.

In Book 4, Marcus gives this advice:

“Examine men’s ruling principles, even those of the wise, what kind of things they avoid, and what kind they pursue.”

In Book 9, he gives similar advice:

“Penetrate inwards into men’s leading principles, and you will see what judges you are afraid of, and what kind of judges they are of themselves.”

This is very helpful and useful when dealing with other people. Look at people’s principles and you will see what type of a person they are.

When you develop the skill of being able to judge a person’s driving principles, you will be in a better position to be aware of people who are potential threats to you and also to be able to develop a strategy of what to do when they try to bring you down.

In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things which are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast.

Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us on this road.

This passage illustrates Marcus’ thinking on what to do about people who try to bring you down. The first thing was not to give a fuck. Of course, Marcus put it much more eloquently, but essentially, this is what it boils down to.

This is also a good strategy for overcoming obstacles of any kind. You can always spin negative things into something positive. For example you can look at failures as learning opportunities, and this way failures will no longer be obstacles on your road, but instead help you to get to wherever you want to go.

The second part of that above quote is very interesting in terms of what to do when an obstacle comes your way. The translation of this passage by Pierre Hadot in his book “The Inner Citadel” makes this much more clear:

“People can perfectly well prevent me from carrying out such and such an action. Thanks, however, to action “with a reserve clause” and to “turning obstacles upside down,” there can be no obstacle to my intention, nor to my disposition. For my thought can “turn upside down” everything that presents an obstacle to my action, and transform the obstacle into an object toward which my impulse to act ought preferably to tend. That which impeded action thus becomes profitable to action, and that which blocked the road allows me to advance along the road.”

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Diogenes Of Oinoanda: The Ancient Secret To Happiness Discovered On A Philosopher’s Stone – Find Out What It Is

If you walk around the upper valley of the River Xanthus in what is now southern Turkey, you might come across a large hilltop which is littered with ancient ruins. The area seems deserted and there are few signs to point to the fact that millennia ago, this site was home to a large city.

Unlike many of the commercial centers of the Mediterranean, the ancient city of Oinoanda was not situated on the crossroads of any major trade routes. Its economy relied on growing wine and olives, and tight relationships with its surrounding areas. This did not make it a fabulously wealthy city, but did ensure a certain level of prosperity.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the history of the city, but archaeologists have uncovered one very interesting find.

They discovered the remains of a wall which was originally over 80 meters long and covered with old Epicurean writings. It had been erected by Diogenes of Oinoanda in order to:

To help those who come after us.

Epicurean teachings had helped him a lot in his own life and he wanted to give back to his wider community. Another part of the inscription describes the purpose:

The majority of people suffer from a common disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and their number is increasing. I wished to use this stoa to advertise publicly the medicines that bring salvation.

Unfortunately only a part of the inscription remains and even that is broken up into pieces of various sizes, but those parts that have been uncovered so far give us a glimpse into life in those ancient days.

However, more importantly, the writings also preserve ancient wisdom, much of which is still pertinent even today. This wisdom dealt with the eternal question of almost every person: How should you live your life? It gave advice on how to lead a good life and how to achieve something that almost everyone strives for: happiness.

The rise and influence of Epicureanism

In the times of the late Roman Republic and the early Empire, Epicureanism (together with Stoicism) was one of the most important philosophical schools that many Romans adhered to.

Cicero, while arguing against the Epicureans, still corresponded with and counted among his friends many Epicureans, including Atticus, a wealthy Roman who retired to Athens. Many famous Roman poets such as Horace or Lucretius were Epicureans, and even the great Gaius Julius Caesar was a fan.

While Epicureanism was pretty popular in Ancient Rome, it had actually started in Ancient Greece and its founder was Epicurus.

Epicurus was born on the island of Samos in 341 BC, but spent most of his life living in Athens, his father being a citizen of that city. There he founded his own school of philosophy, called the Garden, where he taught until his death in 270 BC.

Once he died, his school was taken over by one of his disciples, Hermarchus, and continued to grow. Its influence grew far and wide and by late Roman Republic times, it was one of the major philosophical schools in the Mediterranean region.

However, it began to decline in the 3rd century AD and died out completely when Christianity took over the Roman Empire. Many of the Christian writers penned extensive treatises against Epicureanism, in the process grossly misinterpreting its message. Epicureanism became a synonym of hedonism, when in fact it preached something totally different.

Epicurean ideals weren’t revived until the Renaissance, and later the Age of Enlightenment. Many famous figures of that era were influenced by them, and their thoughts in turn shaped the way society looks today.

If you are an American, you have “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in your founding documents as an inalienable right. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The reason is that Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of Epicurus and Epicureanism. In one of his letters he wrote:

I too am an Epicurean.

Since he was one of the principal drafters of the American Declaration of Independence, some of these ancient ideas found their way into it. That pursuit of happiness comes from this.

Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by the works of Epicurus and they formed a foundation for his worldview and the way he lived. In fact, Epicurus had such a huge impact on his life that he sometimes called him his Master.

While the traditional teachings of Epicurus taught to “live unknown”, that is to try to steer away from politics, public life and all the chaos associated with them, Thomas Jefferson (just like many other famous people influenced by this philosophy) put his own distinct spin on Epicureanism and combined it with a life in the public spotlight.

Many hardcore Epicureans preach dettachment from society and tending your own little garden somewhere in the corner as the epitomy of life. However, you can get the benefits of these teachings even without withdrawing from public life completely.

How to do this? Thomas Jefferson is a good example. He was an Epicurean at heart, yet he still managed to become one of the principal figures of the American Revolution and the 3rd US President.

So Epicureanism has many paths which you can take. You can either take the road of Epicurus himself and some of his followers and withdraw from the hustle and bustle of society to tend your own Garden, or take the example of people influenced by Epicureanism like Thomas Jefferson, and tend your own Garden, while still trying to influence the society you live in.

The main tenets of Epicureanism

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Epictetus – The Wisdom Of A Stoic Master: The Secrets To Living A Good Life Revealed

One of the most important questions we ask ourselves is about the way we should live our lives. What is really important and how should we act?

Luckily, there is guidance available and some of the most profound thoughts on this were formed already two thousand years ago.

These words of wisdom were uttered by a man named Epictetus, who went on to influence the lives of some of the most powerful men of his era, all the way up to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Yet this man was born a slave and supposedly had one of his legs maimed by a former cruel master, so that he always walked with a limp. This did not detter him from living a good life and achieving happiness.

Epictetus was not a theoretical philosopher living in his own world, but instead tried to make his philosophy down-to-earth and practical. This advice can be taken and applied in the real world as a guide for your day-to-day life.

His powerful words served as inspiration for many people undergoing hard times. Picture this: a man sitting in a prison with no knowledge whether he will ever get out.

The man could feel no hope, but instead his thoughts are turned inwards and draw inspiration from Epictetus.

There is a great similarity to the tale of Boethius and his reflections on life that I already wrote about. However the year is 1967 and the man is James Stockdale, an American pilot captured by the Vietnamese and put in a prisoner of war camp.

Stockdale credited the works of Epictetus for showing him the way on how to survive this ordeal. If these words could guide a man in such desperate times, just imagine what they could do for you.

We know the philosophy of Epictetus primarily through the works of his pupil, Arrian. Arrian noted down the teachings of Epictetus in two surviving works: “The Discourses” and “Enchiridion”, which is the Greek word for handbook.

It is the “Enchiridion” which is the most easily accessible work, as it is short and contains many practical lessons for your own life. It doesn’t take long to read, but can really change the way you view life in a very fundamental way.

All people search for happiness, but they usually go about it in the wrong way. They don’t realize that happiness can only come from within, from things that you have control over.

What are the things that you have control over? Your thoughts and your actions.

The main idea of the Stoics was that you should live a simple life, where you don’t concern yourself with things that you cannot control, and instead focus on the things that you can.

The world is what it is, random things will happen, and they might block your progress. Learn to accept it.

Living a simple life, where you act in a disciplined way, and where you act in accordance with your moral principles (virtue), will lead you to happiness.

For it is within you, that both your destruction and deliverance lie.” Epictetus

Below are some of the main lessons from the “Enchiridion”:

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Click-Bait, Fake News And What’s In Store For You In 2017

A while back, I wrote an article on what it means to be a contrarian. It’s someone who goes against the current and doesn’t just blindly follow the herd.

Since that time, the internet has exploded with people professing to be contrarians, but in fact using the same type of herd-mentality tactics and arguments that the average Joe or Jane usually fall for.

How do you distinguish between a real contrarian and a wanna-be contrarian? A real contrarian is someone who is a critical and rational thinker first and foremost. He is someone who is aware of his own cognitive biases and tries to overcome them.

Instead, the fake contrarians that are popping out from left, right, up, down and whatever other hole they were previously sitting in, are not only deeply unburdened by any sense of logic, they in fact actively try to exploit the cognitive biases of others.

It all started with click-bait

The internet has come onto the scene in the past two and a half decades and brought the average human access to vast stores of knowledge than any time previously in history.

However with that knowledge also came dangers.

Humans are fallible creatures easily tricked by their own emotions and it didn’t take long for internet marketers to take advantage of it.

In the early times of the internet, this was a bit harder to do. Yeah sure, there was advertising, but it consisted largely of static banners (and later annoying pop-ups), which while effective at getting money, were still relatively harmless.

A bunch of people did fall for those penis pump ads, but seriously the people who did were ripe for the Darwin Awards.

At that time, if you clicked on a website, or if you typed in a certain term in a search engine, you would be served the same banner ad or the same exact results as everyone else.

While at uni, I remember interviewing an exec of an online advertising company (the ones creating the banner ads) for one of my school projects. At the end of the interview he mentioned what the El Dorado of online advertising would be for him: people seeing the right ad at the right time.

I had a hard time imagining how that would work. In those days, you were still largely anonymous on the internet. Cookies were starting to make an appearance, but they collected relatively little significant data on you.

However, the times changed fast. The technology that was used got more sophisticated, the algorithms got tweaked and started to incorporate more and more user data (including their surfing habits) in order to get a more personalized experience.

There are many positives with that. Instead of getting all the standard ads you didn’t care about, you got things that might be of interest to you.

Also your search results became a bit more relevant to your own context and situation.

Yet, with all this you also started to get entrapped in your own little bubble. These things promoted different cognitive biases that your brain often falls for, chief of which being confirmation bias.

It wasn’t long before internet marketers started taking advantage of this state of affairs.

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The Consolation Of Philosophy: How A Man About To Die Found Happiness

It is a time of decay. Rome, once the mighty capital of an Empire spanning three continents, is a rotting, crumbling shadow of its former self.

The old institutions of the city, like the formerly powerful Senate, are still there, but entering the last few decades of their existence.

The ruler of Rome is no longer a Roman, but instead a barbarian King named Theodoric.

Theodoric was the King of the Ostrogoths, a Germanic tribe which had been previously settled in Pannonia on the banks of the Danube River. Always in search of land, they had then moved downriver into the Balkans.

From their settlements deep in Lower Moesia, the Ostrogoths had been pillaging the Eastern Roman Empire, even threatening the capital of Constantinople itself.

In order to protect his lands, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno urged Theodoric to instead turn his wrath towards Italy.

There the ruler was Odoacer, the Germanic chieftain and King who had overthrown the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus. Thus he had ended the Empire in the West for all eternity.

Theodoric sent all his forces into battle and defeated Odoacer, founding an Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Rome became just another city in his kingdom.

It is 523 AD, and a man is sitting in a darkly-lit cell, awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. He was falsely accused and brought down by dishonest men who coveted his position.

The man, in his mid-40s, takes up a pen and starts writing. One question bothers him: How is it that in a supposedly just world, good men suffer bad things, while evil men often triumph?

Boethius, or in his full name Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, was born into an ancient Roman noble family. Among his ancestors he could count Roman emperors, consuls and senators. He was a senator himself, who rose to become a consul, and later a high-ranking official in the court of Theodoric.

Boethius had jumped to the aid of a friend who was falsely accused of treason against Theodoric and for that had been in turn accused of treason himself. His enemies brought out false witnesses against him and he was thrown in jail.

Being a man of learning, Boethius used the time during which he was locked up for productive purposes. As a scholar of ancient philosophy, he used his knowledge to draft a manuscript which in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance would become one of the most influential works of Late Antiquity. It is called “The Consolation of Philosophy”.

It was a dark time in the man’s life, knowing that his days were numbered and he was about to die. This was made even more difficult by the fact that this situation was not of his doing. He had tried to be a good and honest man, but shady and dishonest men brought him down.

An honest man was about to be executed based on false accusations, while crooked men were enjoying riches and privilege. This state of affairs caused him to lose sleep. How could this be in a world supposedly ruled by a just God?

This is the question that many people have asked themselves throughout history and continue asking themselves now. Why do good people get punished and bad people rewarded?

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