We conform too much. We are too normal. We behave as if we have something to lose. Do we have anything to lose? We have taken a beating from life, we have become afraid. Having no pain is the best state, let’s keep it this way. Pain is always there? Then let’s praise small breaks.
I wonder how Montaigne’s stress was. Despite his early retirement, he did not enjoy too much peace and leisure in his lifetime. There were always wars and turbulences. A thousand times he went to bed with the expectation to be killed in his sleep.
Nobody can be more disillusioned by human beings than Socrates was. His countrymen, by a vote of (though marginal) majority, agreed to put him to death. He was already 70 years old, but his fellow citizens had no patience to let him die naturally. This most just man, who preferred risking his life to committing any injustice even under tyranny, had the reputation (a true one) of being the wisest man in his time. Having done nothing but discuss fundamental ideas all his life, he was considered an intolerable criminal and sentenced to the ultimate penalty. His country, where the majority of citizens were his murderers, was the city state of Athens, the most illustrious of all places in human history, the source of Western civilization.
As he calmly drank the hemlock and embarked on an unknown journey, what was his final impression of the men of Athens? Judging from his tranquility throughout the trial, his opinion must have been finalized long before. Unlike politicians and revolutionaries of his time and of later times, he would not consider “the masses”, or “the public”, or “the people”, to be qualified as the ultimate judge in any matter. Any honest man, such as John Stuart Mill, could not help but objectively define them as a group made of a few wise and many foolish men.
What can be done about this human predicament? How is history progressing? History does progress, to our amazement. All our material comforts, civil rights, and mental enjoyments, owe to the efforts of people before us. And these efforts, I imagine, are not just made by the great individuals, but also by the unconscious blind following herd.
So this collective of the human race is much like a monstrous, gigantic individual human being: clumsy and heavy, slow and blind, savage and timid, selfish, desiring both self-preservation and self-destruction, capable of both good and evil, committing right and wrong in no particular order, waddling through his muddy cognition, fumbling and tumbling, making many mistakes along the way, suffering and inflicting sufferings upon others, killing and mocking his benefactors, admiring vices. With a moment of luck, sometimes he rises from the mud pit he was born into, wipes his eyes, and casts a glimpse to heaven— a glimpse into what life can be. Chances are he will fall back again. But in his dark, chaotic, subconscious dreams, will he remember that sight of heaven, that clean windswept height which for a moment seemed within his reach?