The Golden Age of Every Yesterday

You’ve likely heard the points below from countless sources, both political and familial:

  • Mankind has become estranged and disconnected from nature.  We are irreparably damaging it at a rapid pace.
  • Pollution and overuse of new cultivation practices has ruined the land from which we gather our food.  What passed for food now is practically poison.
  • Violence against our fellow man is at intolerable levels never seen before.
  • Culture is becoming watered down.  Shallow and materialistic motives drive creativity.  The best in music, art, and creativity is all in the rear view mirror.
  • Community is eroding with every year.  Kids these days have got no respect!  Life seemed simpler before all this technology and choice.

Now read the 2000-year-old passage below from “Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca.  Seneca is reflecting on people presumably from only a few generations before him.  Generations which had not yet worn out the earth with dangerous aqueducts and new farming practices.  Generations which had greater moral character and capacity for meaningful hard work.  Generations which were less materialistic and vain.  Generations which were less violent in civil life and war.  Generations which had not yet discovered the disgusting sport of ‘Sexting’ (okay, that had yet to come).

There can be no doubt that before this earth was worn out it produced a better type of offspring.  But though they all possessed a character more robust than that of today, and one with greater aptitude for hard work, it is equally true that their personalities fell short of genuine perfection.  For nature does not give a man virtue: the process of becoming a man is an art.  Certainly they did not go in search of gold or silver or the various crystalline stones to be found in the nethermost dregs of the earth.  They were still merciful even to dumb animals.  Man was far away from killing other man, not out of fear or provocation, but simply for entertainment.  They had yet to wear embroidered clothing, and yet to have gold woven into robes, or even mine it.

I chose this passage because it demonstrates that each of these complaints is timeless.  His opinions of the past and his feeling about the present echo sentiments felt in modern times — no doubt every time.  If you read on further you’ll see that Seneca credits the earlier generation’s fuller existence to a life without much of the lifestyle-enabling technology and corrupt leadership (sound familiar?).  Remember Seneca the next time you feel high-minded and timely about these age-old problems.  It may not be your distinguished wisdom and sound judgment illuminating important concepts with immediate repercussions.  Ask yourself, could these thoughts and feelings just be a result one of our many human defects or cognitive bias clouding reality.  Could negativity stemming from these classic generational crises be a cognitive blind spot impacting your outlook and hurting your investment decisions?  How does this type of crisis thinking affect investment and business cycles?

This is not criticism of the book or Stoic philosophy.  I’m rereading it after enthusiastically recommending it countless times.  The teachings of Seneca and Stoicism have been described as an operating system for life.  I couldn’t agree more.

Source: Letters from a Stoic (Amazon)



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