The Modern Marcus
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The Modern Marcus

Modern Marcus: The Ninth Book

‘Outside your front door, that’s the world. It’s what it is, no more, no less.
It’s not self-aware, it doesn’t pass judgement on itself.’

1. All manner of sins

Acting unfairly is just plain wrong.

Any rational being will help others who deserve it and, certainly, avoid harming them.

The same goes for lying.

Everything in existence is connected to everything that’s ever existed. Truth is core to this. A lie is wrong because it is, at heart, an act of injustice. Even an unintentional lie upsets the harmony of the universe. And the more people lie, the less they’re able to tell lies from truth.

It’s also wrong to seek pleasures as if they’re good and avoid pain as if it’s evil. We see it all around us — bad people chase after pleasure and the stuff that gives them pleasure while good people suffer pain and hardship.

Besides, anyone afraid of pain is ultimately afraid of something that’ll happen to them anyway as part of the natural order of things. This is crazy. It’s the same with the fool that doesn’t hesitate to do whatever unjust thing gets them closer to the pleasures they lust after.

Ultimately, the universe is indifferent to pain and pleasure. So if we’re going to live in harmony with reality, we should be too. Agony and ecstasy. Death and life. Fame and obscurity. It’s all the same in the end.

In saying all this, I mean that step follows step, from the Big Bang to the second you read this sentence.

It’s all part of an endless chain of cause and effect. And so here we are.

2. Time to escape

Given the choice, most people would prefer to never experience lies, hypocrisy, greed and pride. But as that’s not an option, the next best thing is to push them away.

Or are you happy to go on putting up with it all?

Hasn’t experience taught you to do everything you can to escape from this plague? The damage it’s doing to your mind and inner peace is far deadlier than breathing the air of a polluted city street.

It’s not just that it harms our minds, it damages our humanity.

3. Well hello death

Don’t be afraid of death. Give it a winning smile and a cheeky wink. It’s just another essential part of nature after all. Like being young or growing old, with all its wrinkles, aches and forgetfulness.

The ultimate end is just another event along the way. If you’ve given it some thought, you won’t view death carelessly, impatiently or scornfully. Even as you await the birth of your firstborn child, you should also anticipate the moment you finally depart the world of the living.

But if you need a bit more reassurance, there’s no better comfort than to consider the world around you — the people you’ll no longer have to put up with, the crap in the attic you’ll never have to sort out.

While you should treat others fairly and respectfully in everyday life, ultimately they don’t view the world as you do. If the one thing that would have glued you to the mortal world was the desire to hang out with some kindred spirits, all the petty disputes and arguments and one-upping should make you welcome death with open arms and a cheery, ‘Let’s do this before I forget myself.

4. Sinners

Sinners sin against themselves. But evildoers do evil to themselves by being bad.

5. Sins of omission

Evil isn’t just about what people do, it’s often what they don’t do that causes the most harm.

6. Enough already

Everything is good if you’re being objective in your thinking, unselfish in your actions and calm in your attitude no matter what’s happening.

7. Give room to rationality

Ditch the fantasy. Curb your impulses. Dampen your desire. Let your mind rule.

8. Sharing is caring

Every living creature shares the same life force. All humans share the capability to be rational. And we all share this single planet, with a single sun and a single atmosphere.

9. Gravitational pull

As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together.

Everything has gravity. Water flows to meet more water. Gases mix and blend. (Only hard barriers or brute force can keep them apart.) Fire leaps skyward and towards anything that burns easily (and which can’t therefore resist it).

It’s the same with anyone who shares a core spirit of rational thought. They’re eager to join with other like-minded people (if anything, this pull is even stronger given their focus).

In the rest of the natural world, bees swarm, cows herd, birds flock. Likewise, rational people hang out with others in cities, coffee shops and clubs. Even in wartime, these are the ones who forge the truces.

This attraction extends all the way up to the stars whose gravitational pull draws them together over vast distances.

Of course, in these crazy times we live in, we see people forget this natural attraction. They drift apart. They disagree. But even as they do, they can never escape, the pull is too strong.

You’re more likely to find an atom not of this universe than you are to find someone totally divorced from all of humanity.

10. Give me some sugar

Everything bears fruit in its own time. It’s not just plants, reason also bears fruit, both for itself and the wider world. And man, it tastes sweet.

11. Be kind, always

If you can change people’s bad behaviour, do it. If not, remember to be kind.

The universe sometimes conspires to help such people, leading them to better health or greater wealth. So what’s preventing you from doing the same?

12. Hard work

Work hard. I don’t mean like a slave or someone looking for pity but as someone totally committed to doing the right thing.

13. Free again

Today, I freed myself from confusion. Well, to be clear, I freed confusion from me. You see, it wasn’t outside, it was within and relying on my point of view.

14. No change there then

Every experience is commonplace, short-lived and easily corrupted. It’s the same today as it’s always been, reaching back to the dawn of time.

15. Get out

Outside your front door, that’s the world. It’s what it is, no more, no less. It’s not self-aware, it doesn’t pass judgement on itself.

So how do you judge it? Use your mind.

16. I don’t care how you feel

Good and evil lie in what people do, not how they feel. Just as their behaviour, good and bad, is about what they do.

17. Ups and downs

To a yo-yo, there’s no evil in dropping just as there’s no good in rising.

18. Everyone’s a critic

If you take time to look inside people’s motivations, you’ll see the kinds of critics you are so scared of. But you’ll also see how rubbish they are at criticising themselves.

19. Transformers

Everything changes. You too. Every day, you’re in a process of transformation. But so is the universe.

20. Leave it alone

When others do wrong, just leave it.

21. Many deaths

When anything stops — an activity, an impulse, an opinion — there’s no evil.

Look at the stages of life: babe in arms, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age. Each ended in a kind of death. Were they so scary?

Or think about how you lived with your parents or your grandparents or with aunts and uncles but have now moved on. When you look at all these changes, ask yourself, ‘Was there anything to be afraid of?

No. And it’s exactly the same with your ultimate death.

22. Mind-reading the universe

Be quick to look into your own mind, your neighbour’s mind and the mind of the universe.

Make sure your mind is fair. As for your neighbour, figure out whether they act on purpose or out of ignorance, and never forget, they are a fellow human. And as for the universe, simply remind yourself that you are part of something far bigger than you.

23. Community values

You are part of the community around you. So every action should benefit that community. Anything else harms the community as a whole. It’s like that guy on Twitter who can’t resist trolling everyone around him.

24. You couldn’t make it up

Childish arguments and temper tantrums. Petty games of make-believe. Tiny breaths sustaining corpses.

The world of ghosts and fairies is more solid than this.

25. How long?

Job one: Get to the heart of what’s causing events. Split this out from the effects. Study it closely. Then work out how long the root cause can sustain the effects.

26. Enough is enough

You are on the receiving end of all sorts of problems simply because you won’t let reason guide you. Enough already!

27. Caring, not caring

When people are dicks towards you, look deeply into their hearts. Try to work out what kind of people they really are.

Chances are, you’ll quickly see that there’s nothing to be gained by making efforts to get into their good graces. All the same, try to view them with kindness. They are fellow humans. They face all the same trials and tribulations you do.

28. Cycles within cycles

The universe works in cycles. Maybe there is some kind of fate that triggers everything. If so, go with it. Or maybe there actually was some form of master event that started the ball rolling and that everything else is simply a consequence.

Fate or consequences, who cares? Whichever it is, you can’t do much about it apart from applying your mind to what to do next.

Pretty soon, we’ll all revert to a bunch of atoms. Later, so will the Earth.

Whatever the consequences, change will be inevitable and endless (until time itself ends). To understand all this is to view our little bit of mortality with indifference.

29. Keeping it simple, keeping it real

The progress of the universe is like a flood that carries everything else along. How pathetic it is that small people play at politics and imagine they’re some gift to the world. Snot-nosed toddlers!

What does it really take to be fully human? Precisely what nature is demanding right now. Right. Now.

No delay. No worrying if anyone is watching. Don’t try to boil the ocean, just get started. Small steps. And understand that this is a pretty big deal in its own right.

You’re not going to change people’s true convictions, and without that, it’s all just a façade. The best you can hope for is some grudging obedience or face-saving acceptance.

Go ahead. Tell me all about all the gurus and heroes and wise eggs. If they learned about the will of nature, good for them. But if they were just playing the part, why should I follow their examples?

The good life is a simple one, a modest one. That’s what will stop me becoming a pretentious jerk.

30. Cruising altitude

Imagine you’re in a plane, looking down on the mass of people and all their comings and goings, in good times and bad.

Look at all the fantastic creatures that are born, live with each other and then die. All the long-dead generations before you. All those who haven’t been born yet. All those living in some far-flung region of the planet.

How many haven’t even heard of you? Or how many have quickly forgotten your name and unsubscribed from your thoughts, posts and updates?

How many are loving your work right now but will be slagging you off in the near future?

Whether it’s fame, glory or whatever, it’s all ultimately worthless.

31. Paint a rainbow

When you’re up against something you can’t control, relax. When you do act, always be honest and fair. In either case, focus on making the world a better place for others while being true to yourself.

32. Think bigger, think wider

A lot of the stuff that winds you up can easily be got rid of. The reality is, it’s all in your head. You can always think bigger, expanding your mind to focus on the wider universe or the eternity of existence or on how everything is always changing.

Think of the brief span of human life, sandwiched between the endless nothing before you were born and the boundless stretch of time after your death.

33. It all equals out

Look around. What you’re seeing will soon be dead and gone. And soon after, so will everyone else who’s watching it too.

Then there’ll be no difference between an ancient grandparent and a babe that died in the cradle.

34. Look into my eyes

Take time to examine the instincts that guide others.

What are they working towards?

Why do they value and love what they do?

Look at them with a calculating eye, as if their souls were laid open before you. They think their thoughts and opinions should affect you?

Whatever.

35. It’s not so bad

Loss is just change. And the universe loves change.

Ever since the Big Bang, things have come into being in the same way and will continue to do so until the end of time. How can you claim then that everything is getting worse? That the world is condemned to turmoil and despair forever?

36. No exceptions

Everything is destined to decay — water, earth, bones, everything. Stone is just compressed shells and sand. Clothing is merely tufts of cotton or the silk from the back end of a worm (if you’re fancy). And every breath is the same. In. Out. In. Out.

37. Give it a rest

Enough bitching and grumbling already. Why stress yourself out? Nothing new is happening to get you all riled up.

So what gives?

Is the issue down to what’s causing these things? Then take a deeper look.

Is it the results? Then focus on that.

Beyond cause and effect, there’s nothing else. Wherever you are in life, look to become a simpler, better person. (The task is the same whether you work at it for one year or one hundred.)

38. Real harm?

If someone has done wrong, they’ve harmed themselves. But what if they haven’t done any harm?

39. Baa

Either everything has its roots in some kind of single intelligent source or else it’s made up of atoms brought together by chance and evolution.

If it’s the former, no part of the whole should complain about its position and purpose.

If it’s the latter, again, what are you going to do?

So don’t worry. Keep your mind true to yourself. Are you already dead? Are you simply going through the motions? Are you just another sheep in a field, eating grass the same as all the rest?

40. Do the gods care?

If there are gods (of any religion), they are either powerful or powerless.

If they’re powerless, why bother with them?

If they’re all-powerful, rather than begging them to be spared this or that problem, why not pray simply to not be disturbed by whatever happens? If they exist and can help at all, surely this is in their power (and won’t affect anyone else).

Of course you could say, ‘Isn’t this something the gods have given me the power to do myself?’ Good point. Then surely you’re better off using that power yourself than begging for things outside your control.

Anyway, who says that a god wouldn’t give you a helping hand in this way?

So instead of praying to capture the eye of someone you fancy, try praying to avoid lusting after them in the first place.

Or instead of praying to your god to defeat your enemies, pray to be free of your desire to be rid of them.

And instead of praying that you never lose your child, instead pray not to fear the loss of them.

Give this a go and see what happens.

41. Feeling ill

Epicurus was a smart man. When he was sick, he never spoke about his aches and pains. Instead, he carried on focusing on how the mind could stay distant from the pain even while being a part of the rest of the body. How it was still free to do its own thing. Neither did he give his doctors the chance to boast about their achievements in making him well. He just got on with life, calmly and happily.

So if you’re ill, be like Epicurus. Don’t let it affect your mind or get caught up in all the nonsense you’ll hear or read on Doctor Google (pretty much every expert agrees on this).

Keep doing your thing with the tools at your disposal.

42. Helping hands

When someone is a dick towards you, ask yourself, ‘Will there ever be a world without dicks like these?

Of course not, so don’t ask for the impossible. These people are just a part of everything else in the world. Keep this in mind whenever you come across any liar, troll or idiot. In doing so, you’ll find they don’t get to you so much.

And don’t forget, you already have the ability to deal with these kinds of things.

If people are rude, be polite.

If they are harsh, be gentle.

If they are loud, be quiet.

Remember, you have the power to show people that they’ve got it wrong, that they’re off the mark.

Besides what harm has this caused you? Nothing they’ve done can really hurt you unless your mind lets it.

Is it so surprising that a dick behaves dickishly? Shouldn’t you blame yourself for not expecting this? You had the mind and the ability to realise this and you didn’t. And now you’re surprised.

Whenever someone winds you up, turn your thoughts inwards first. The mistake is yours — especially if you put your faith in that kind of person or did something for them expecting a reward other than that of doing something good in the world.

Once you’ve done a good deed, what more do you want? Isn’t it enough simply to have done the right thing?

Anything else is like expecting to reward your eyes for seeing or your ears for hearing. It’s just what they do.

It’s the same with people. We are made to help each other. It’s just what we do.

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Jason Ball

Jason Ball

I split my time between running B2B marketing consultancy Considered and writing about modern approaches to Stoicism.

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