DEFINITION OF ‘LIFE WILL GET THE BASTARDS ANYWAY’
The concept of ‘life will get the bastards anyway’ is defined by this simple statement :
“Life will cause your adversaries dissatisfaction, disappointment, grief, setbacks, despair, depression; in short, far more suffering than you can ever dish out onto them.”
Superficially, This concept, which is a particular way of looking at things, appears malignant but take the time to look at it this way. If we substitute the consequences of anger, the emotion itself and the possible actions that could follow from it, for instead, this philosophical concept and its thoughts. We can, by channelling our energy into this concept, aid ourselves to be free from the passions of anger and other associated negative emotions towards our adversaries. So then, we will be able to preserve our Ataraxia (peace of mind) much better.
‘What is more restful than a mind at peace and what more toilsome than anger?’
-Seneca De ira
So again to reiterate in brevity, the aim of this concept is to give us greater freedom from the attachments of anger, of the adversary occupying our minds, plotting revenge and other things relating to the adversary in question.
This concept was inspired, on the one hand, while reading Seneca’s On Anger:
‘As it is a consolation to a humble man in trouble that the greatest are subject to reverses of fortune, and a man weeps more calmly over his dead son in the corner of his hovel if he sees a piteous funeral proceed out of the palace as well; so one bears injury or insult more calmly if one remembers that no power is so great as to be above the reach of harm.’ De Ira, book 3, ch25
The conclusion at the end ‘no power is so great as to be above the reach of harm’ identifies the name of this concept of Seneca’s. Even though this concept is mentioned briefly in a passage of De Ira I wish to promote this idea as a remodeled, improved and above all modern idea for Stoicism. This idea should join the ranks of other Stoic ideas such as negative visualisation and living in accordance with nature, as the concept can be contemplated and summoned up in our minds during the situations appropriate just like the ‘this too will pass’ concept used during times of hardship. This concept differs from that of Seneca’s because:
1) it is concerned with enemies/adversaries
2) the belief that ‘no power is so great as to be above the reach of harm’ is used to help us to extinguish the passions of anger and not let our reason be conquered by said passion.
3) It aids in perishing from our minds thoughts about our adversaries.
4) It may possibly make us take pity on our adversaries instead of anger or at least lessen the anger.
On the other hand, from my own personal reflection the inspiration came about while trotting around town. So story time on that half of the inspiration!
One day, weeks ago, I leave my home in the countryside sticks and pay a visit to my nearest town with its commercial high streets and residential areas. I walked around one of the many residential areas which was only terrace houses that stretched on and on for many metres ahead. I decided to switch to a mindful state of mind while walking and what happened next, genuinely now, the new concept for Stoicism from my mindfulness to brooding thoughts was inspired.
Looking at all these terrace houses a dawning realisation came to mind ‘out of all these houses, someone must be going through some terrible adversity in life. Yet, I’ve no hand in causing their suffering I don’t know these people, I don’t wish it upon them but whether I like it or not these circumstances happen anyway.’
It may be the case that in one of those houses someone is grieving the loss of a loved one but then as Seneca says: “Who is grieved at the loss of what is not his own?”
Of this Lucretius poetically chimes in too.
“How sweet it is to watch from dry land when the storm-winds roil
A mighty ocean’s waters, and see another’s bitter toil –
Not because you relish someone else’s misery-
Rather, it;s sweet to know from what misfortunes you are free”
The denizens of these households may probably be facing problems with their own health, relationship troubles or financial troubles like scrapping up enough to pay the rent and have their heads remain above water a while longer.
Speaking of money, I don’t think it matters either if they are rich or poor. One can have rich people problems or poor people problems. In addition from the perspective of Stoicism on the rich, it may not be financial difficulties that are the problem but the Stoics argued that rich people are vulnerable in their own way because they have too many attachments, that when in the event that they do lose money they will experience actual grief than if they didn’t possess it in the first place, as Seneca says in Of Peace of Mind:
“Reflect, then, how much less a grief it is never to have had any money than to have lost it: we shall thus understand that the less poverty has to lose, the less torment it has with which to afflict us: for you are mistaken if you suppose that the rich bear their losses with greater spirit than the poor: a wound causes the same amount of pain to the greatest and the smallest body”
Of course it is not just money but other forms of wealth can cause distress when we are dispossessed of them; from landed properties to mobile phones slipping out of our pockets. The mindset of the rich have experienced so much luxury and not knowing poverty, so being accustomed to all these conditions they have taken it for granted and when they have parted from it, then suffering ensues. The spoilt brat idea has been around since ancient times! This quote for example:
“The more pleasures a man captures, the more masters will he have to serve”
William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life
On the bastards!
Thinking about this more I thought of other things that happened to people especially to our adversaries; which from now on we will call bastards. ‘the reach of harm’ happens to all, as Seneca said at the beginning. Look at the first noble truth in Buddhism it states the truth of suffering, suffering is ubiquitous it comes in so many physical and mental forms and in so many ways. No one is exempt from it but it is hard to have knowledge of the suffering of non-companions especially bastards because we are adverse to them and do not spend time in their company nor trade information as trust is non-existent between ourselves and them. So even though we don’t know what they’re going through it doesn’t mean that they are doing better or worse in life compared to you.
Even Socrates’ bastard Meletus the chief accuser had his comeuppance as Diogenes Laertius says here:
‘So he was taken from among men; and not long afterwards the Athenians felt such remorse that they shut up the training grounds and gymnasia. They banished the other accusers but put Meletus to death; they honoured Socrates with a bronze statue’
One of my friends thinks that their bastards are doing better than them, that they never have problems and always come out smelling the roses. I ask ‘what is your reason for thinking this?’ the ‘reason’ I got was not really reason at all! They were various answers from gut feelings to assumptions. So they felt that they are being bested. I repeat again, they ‘feel’ that they are being bested. People create these stories and narratives and imagine their bastards riding off on a galloping white horse up upon a hill and into the sunset like a Grimm’s fairy tale story! If you dwell and say that your bastards are doing better than you without empirical verification and only feelings to back you up. Then you might be suffering from low-self esteem.
Only self-reflection can answer this, for instance, how do you know that others are doing better than you? ask yourselves, what is your reason for thinking that? You don’t know their current life circumstances perhaps they are going through worse things than you can imagine! It seems to me that the mind craves answers into the status of others to keep updated on their life circumstances so that they can compare themselves or use the information for gossip!
Let’s look at the contrary, say you do know that the life circumstances of your bastards are in fact doing better than you like in their careers, social status, wealth and health. With all this under their belts are they, though, exempt from losing all this? Is it guaranteed that they will hold on to favourable life circumstances forever? Just losing one of these can have a cascading effect on the others as they are interrelated features in a person’s life. Let’s give an example, they may very well possess careers, social status and wealth and the perks that go with it however, just the other day they got a diagnosis from the doctor telling them that they have an aggressive genetic cancer and given two to six months to live. The negation of their health renders the other favourable life conditions nullified, as death proves they can no longer enjoy the gratifications of the rat race. Yet you did not have to lift a finger as the mindless laws of physics played out in a way to cause this series of unfortunate events.
If you start wishing that a particular calamity will befall your bastards then what happens if nothing gives? How will you react? You will suffer because the ill will you want to happen to your bastards has not come to fruition and consequently backfires on you, it is like throwing burning hot coal at them and always missing the target while during the act only our hands are burned in the process. No passion if more eager for revenge than anger.
Let life repay it instead
Seneca said that anger is the desire to repay suffering whether it is from an injury or feeling wronged. How will you react in a situation with your bastard? What if they insulted you? Will you return the insult? Could you return the insult without feeling anger knowing that anger’s influence causes our attacks to be disorderly rather than regulated and under control? What if you instead dismiss the insult (whatever it may be) knowing that ‘life will get the bastards anyway’ If do decide the former , to return the insult, then regard the insult as useful and pretend to be angry without feeling the disorderly emotions of anger. The Stoics did not turn the other cheek they did not condemn violence but the feeling associated with it; anger. They regarded violence or force as useful when it is necessary of course, such as in self-defence:
‘When things have to be done somewhat briskly, let him call force, not anger, to his aid.’
– Seneca De Ira, Book 2, ch 17
Ultimately anger can venture upon nothing by itself without the approval of mind. It is your mind that stamps the approval of that aroused burning anger and also to commit the deeds that follow.
Let’s go back to this concept called ‘life will get the bastards anyway’ let me say this, that if by following this concept you instead feel that you are bottling up your anger instead of it being prevented or mitigated. Then you must either change your mind to become more flexible and give belief in this concept better strength so it can become more effective or simply abandon it. Don’t tolerate bottling up anger as it will slowly erode your peace of mind. For this concept to be of any benefit it must first be approved by your mind and practised and consider this, if this perspective leads us to pitying our bastards instead of being angry with them, will this be a more productive way of looking at things? What is more destructive to our peace of mind? Is it pity or anger? I think it’s the latter emotion don’t you? The whole point of Stoicism is the attainment of tranquillity by mastery of the mind by reasoned argument or the logos, a daunting task indeed! But with many long-term benefits.
Let reality do the work for us instead. Why toil away and sacrifice our peace of mind, risk doing deeds that may not go according to plan and maybe probably backfire while reality makes things happen freely without us needing to invest energy on our part!