The Daily Stoic for March 30th: “Reason in all things”.
“Hurry to your own ruling reason, to the reason of the Whole, and to your neighbor’s. To your own mind to make it just; to the mind of the Whole to remember your place in it; and to your neighbor’s mind to learn whether it’s ignorant or of sound knowledge—while recognizing it’s like yours.”
—MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 9.22
I’ve always thought that in spite of philosophy, literature, the wonders of technology, and the amazing accomplishments of mankind, we are still animals. Civilized animals, but animals nonetheless.
As a result, in my view, there are always two main forces at play in our decision-making process.
On the one hand, there’s the rational mind, the one that seeks transcendence. This is the one that cries listening to Arvo Pärt or Sigur Ros, or gets goosebumps when reading Cortazar.
On the other hand, there’s the animal, the one that’s been trained to keep you alive. This is the one that urges you to become the alpha male (or female), earn more money, get a bigger house, more properties, and secure the best couple to have sex with and reproduce yourself.
This is not a “devil vs angel” scenario like the one depicted in uncountable cartoons and biblical metaphors. Neither the animal, nor the person, are good or evil. They just operate at very different levels. They’ve been taught very different things.
Reason In All Things
The animal has developed and perfected itself during thousands of years as part of our survival mechanism. In comparison, the rational mind is relatively new to the game.
While it might seem like the animal’s importance has dwindled in our society, it has not. It has just morphed and adapted. Switch on the TV and have a look at any hip hop video, with a muscled black man loaded with golden collars and rings, surrounded by several hot chicks twerking. That’s the animal.
In my opinion, the animal is an essential part of our lives. We cannot get rid of it, even if we want to. However, I think we need to know how to put it in its place. Yes, you need to keep the animal happy if you want to be happy yourself. But ultimately, the things that can bring you peace of mind and real, long term happiness, come from the rational mind.
It’s the one that can help you remain steady and calm, under the most stressful situations, when the animal would react with a fight-or-flight response. It’s also the one that can help you understand some things that ultimately allows us to be happy, no matter what.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “reason in all things”, asks us to try and apply our reason in all situations. In my mind, there’s a dichotomy between our rational mind and our animal impulses. While both parts are essential for the whole equation, we need to keep the animal under control and reason all things, as often as possible.