"It is the month of December" [December est mensis] [Letter 18], and on a good day for business, I return to Seneca, who asks his interlocuter, if we should not join in with the mob, to appear in sync with public mores [ne dissidere videremur cum publicis moribus], but then redefines courage and self-command in terms of being (inconspicuously) out of sync with the the activities of (less refined/cultivated) others.
Seneca's letter is a guide to those that need to be undercover in society as well as (more obviously) a training manual into acquiring dispositions (by way of daily commerce with poverty) that allow one to cope with what we would call, 'really bad luck' (or serious reversals of fortune).
It would be not entirely untrue if I said that I deliberately waited to resume my Seneca series until December. I was happy for an excuse to delay writing about Letter 18, yet unsure about my antipathy to it.
Perhaps, it's because upon re-reading, I noticed that Seneca has a very narrow understanding of what true fellowship/worthiness with God is, namely it is reserved only for those that scorn wealth [nemo alius est deo dignus quam qui opes contempsit]. I am unsure how to put my reservation precisely and fairly, but it strikes me that by Seneca's own lights true religiosity or sanctity (this is how I interpret his fellowship with God (whatever his God involves)) should be orthogonal to one's attitude toward wealth (which is proper to what I have been calling the axiology of the market-place). Seneca kind of implies this, too, in the letter. But his conception of true religiosity in this letter seems to reduce to being prepared for massive reversals of fortune. Maybe because I grew up around folk that were, amidst the trappings of wealth and functioning welfare states, always prepared for exile and, while clutching their multiple passports, becoming refugees, again, I would wish to distinguish between true religiosity and being dispositionally unattached to wealth.
But on further re-reading, it's Seneca's entire rejection of anger and madness that stalls me. I won't deny that madness is the consequence of mighty anger [ingentis irae exitus furor est]; and I agree with Adam Smith (a careful reader of Seneca) that anger is the "greatest poison" to the happiness of the mind. But that is no reason to reject (as Seneca seems to suggest) all anger. As Smith puts it "just indignation" is the right sort of anger (partially restrained and channeled into moral ends and thereby giving splendour to the other virtues). Finally, by appealing to madness as that which needs to be avoided at all cost, Seneca comes close to rejecting all madness.
Now, we need not rejoice in madness or deny its many shapes that are worth avoiding, but here I find the source of my hesitation: I recoil from the soberness of Seneca's philosophy and wonder at the price of the good health he advocates during these short, dark days.