• Marcus Aurelius, the ante-litteram Dudeist emperor!

    Yeah, well, that's just, like, Emperor's opinion, man.

    Marcus Aurelius, the ante-litteram Dudeist emperor!
    Hello there fellow readers, and welcome back again on my sofa! It's been a while since my last article for The Helios, and honestly I was tailoring around this one for long, so I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

    Was Marcus Aurelius the greatest Roman Emperor of all times? Even more, was him the greatest Roman of all times? IMO, the answer is definitely yes. He's known for being a Philosopher, but he was also a very successful General and Administrator, and is character is known across the word and has been used (and somewhat abused) in many environments. I'm sure most of you remember the Gladiator movie, which gives a relatively reliable image of his last years, while of course allowing for fictional gimmicks, i.e. his homicide by the hands of his son, Commodus. What I liked of the movie in relation to the figure of Marcus Aurelius was his complete dedication to Rome until his last moments, which actually depicts well his character: despite having a troubled life both personally and as an Emperor, he never changed as a person and was completely and utterly loyal to his duties, much in line with what he believed as a Stoic.

    Stoicism was indeed central to his life, and is the main reason why I personally like him so much and consider him to be the prototype of the perfect Roman. If you are not familiar with what Stoicism is, here is a quote from Wikipedia (bolding is mine):

    Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness, or blessedness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
    Now, I need to do a short excursus: I'm sure many if not all of you know that I'm a Dudeist, which means that I'm practicing Dudeism, which despite being labeled as a religion, is in fact a philosophy, a way of life. To make it short, Dudeism is basically a modern interpretation of old Western and Far Eastern philosophies, mainly Buddhism and Stoicism. The word Dudeism come from the Dude character, as interpreted by the amazing Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski movie, 1998. If you are familiar with the movie, you know that it's a comical movie before of anything else, none the less it was of inspiration to some authors, who later published the The Abide Guide, which in turn gave birth to this "religion". It clearly has some commercial connotations, but I personally don't mind about this, as this is honestly a very US side of it, while Dudeism is nowadays spread around the world and many people find relief in it.

    What if I have to condense its philosophy in one sentence? Well that would definitely be: "Take it easy, dude!".

    That's precisely what associates Dudeism and Stoicism, the fact that the individual, no matter who he is, recognizes the lack of meaning of being stressed by life and simply does their best to enjoy it. This is one of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius:

    If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
    You see now where I'm going to get here? But let's step back to the movie, this is a quote from the review I linked above:

    Like a good Stoic, the Dude is above all calm in the face of adversity. When two angry mobsters push his head into a toilet bowl and demand “Where’s the money, Lebowski?” he stoically responds, “It’s uh… it’s down there somewhere, let me take another look.” After the Dude has suffered no end of misfortune, the narrator of the movie, ‘the Stranger’ – a Texan with a Nietzschian moustache – observes that life goes on, and that we can still look to him for guidance: “Up and down, the Dude is out there taking it easy for all us sinners.” ‘Us sinners’ are caught up in a debilitating rat-race and would do better to emulate a lazy man – “and the Dude certainly was that.” “True happiness”, as Seneca observed, “is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future” (Letters From A Stoic). And what constitutes contentment for the Dude is summed up in the words “bowl, drive around, and the occasional acid flashback” – in other words to live in the present and to be content with his lot. In this, the Dude is the very personification of Seneca’s definition of ‘the wise man’, someone who “is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not” (Letters).
    Living in the present is the key here, going with the flow and "be content with his lot". Marcus Aurelius said:

    Confine yourself to the present
    Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.
    With which I fully agree, and I myself have many times guided people at trouble along this road. Present is the only thing that has "power over you" and this is a firm concept of Stoicism. By not letting yourself to be distressed by the past and the future, you manage to keep the very source of pain, the stress, at bay. A further step towards this goal is achieved by realizing that you are in control of your own life. Again, he said:

    You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
    The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts
    If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
    Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking
    There would be more, actually. The focus is clear, anyways: Marcus Aurelius believed in the firm control of mind over anything else in life, and much like a modern Dudeist such as myself, he transferred this belief in his daily life, for instance in the way he dealt with his own physical conditions or with the bad luck of having a son which was quite his opposite.

    Marcus Aurelius as depicted in the Roman Emperor Project from Daniel Voshart. The resemblance with Jeffrey Lebowski is amazing, honestly.

    To further venture along this path, here are few more quotes about how to deal with bad luck or negative events in general:

    Is your cucumber bitter? Throw it away. Are there briars in your path? Turn aside. That is enough. Do not go on and say, "Why were things of this sort ever brought into this world?" neither intolerable nor everlasting - if thou bearest in mind that it has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in imagination. Pain is either an evil to the body (then let the body say what it thinks of it!)-or to the soul. But it is in the power of the soul to maintain its own serenity and tranquility.
    Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth
    If any man despises me, that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt.
    Or even further, what not to do when stressed:

    How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it
    Another point which I find very much in common with modern Dudeism is his view of the very idea of death:

    Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.
    Not long ago I wrote a blog titled "Memento Mori", which refers specifically to the fact that too many people live like if they would never die, while death is really the only constant in everybody's life, since the very first day of life itself in the whole Universe. By extension, on the other hand, not living your life because of the fear of death, is as bad as not taking it into account. He said:

    It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.
    Once more, I wrote a lot about this concept. You'll pardon my shameless self promotion, will you? But if I am to tell you that Dudeism and Stoicism go side to side, I have to prove it somehow.

    Jeffrey Lebowski as portrayed at the beginning of the movie. He signed a check for 69 cents!

    Another point in common is the ironic view of life both philosophies have. Not taking yourself seriously, not exceeding in loading yourself with burdens, even to the point of withdrawing when it's causing you stress, it's always an option:

    You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can't control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone
    It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own
    But there's of course more in them, a deeper understanding of the value of an individual and their purposes in life:

    If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.
    A person's worth is measured by the worth of what he values
    A man must stand erect, not be kept erect by others.
    As you can see, hiding the Stoic soul behind a facade of laziness and disinterest is common to both, after all, "the Dude abides", doesn't he? To illustrate this point, I kept my favorite quote for last:

    When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.
    For a complete list of quotes from Marcus Aurelius, just follow this link. Also, I suggest to read more about his life and in particular to have a peer at his Meditations.

    There are two lessons we can take from this I believe: first, that some philosophies are always valid and could be applied in any age of the history, this because such philosophies are detached from the actual moment but are instead attached to the very nature of the humankind and of life in general; we change very slowly as a race, hence we should be paying much attention to what past thinkers said, for our own good. And second, that the humankind would do much use of more rulers like Marcus Aurelius... if a nobody like me says such things, well, it's just me.. but when you have a man like him, who was trained to become an Emperor, that then chose the path of wisdom and balance, well, you'd probably better listen to him.

    Until the next time..

    Your friendly neighborhood Dudeist
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Jake Armitage's Avatar
      Jake Armitage -
      Sic itur ad astra
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jake Armitage View Post
      Sic itur ad astra
    1. Aexodus's Avatar
      Aexodus -
      Yeah, well, that's just, like, Emperor's opinion, man.
      Beat me to it
    1. Septentrionalis's Avatar
      Septentrionalis -
      I found this one quite suspicious, because it doesn't seem like something Aurelius would say in my opinion.

      Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth
      I don't remember it from the Meditations or previous writings about Aurelius. I did some searching, and it does seem to be falsely attributed to Aurelius. Our fine author may have fallen prey to the internet's meme factory

      That does not prevent us from assessing its value nonetheless.
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aexodus View Post
      Beat me to it

      Quote Originally Posted by Septentrionalis View Post
      I found this one quite suspicious, because it doesn't seem like something Aurelius would say in my opinion.

      I don't remember it from the Meditations or previous writings about Aurelius. I did some searching, and it does seem to be falsely attributed to Aurelius. Our fine author may have fallen prey to the internet's meme factory

      That does not prevent us from assessing its value nonetheless.
      ahh that could really be so, as a matter of fact. However, I'm pretty sure I sourced all the quotes from the Meditations, so if anything has gone wrong, is definitely Alwyn's fault
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