Loaves and Fishes

Objective wealth.– Wealth, understood not in its typical, purely relative sense, but as an objective state of being, is not a measure of how much you possess, but of how little you need; not of what you earn, but of what you save; not of how much you can spend, but of how little you waste. Needless to say, poverty may properly be understood as the reverse of this. 

Moderation.– To understand moderation as it is understood by the popular mind, one would think that virtue were essentially a painful and never-ending war within the soul to subdue a million dangerous inclinations. True moderation, however, by which I mean something akin to what Socrates meant by “philosophic,” as opposed to “civic,” virtue, is not about struggling against desire at all, but rather about honing desire. Moderation, most correctly, is a matter of bringing life into focus, such that peripheral distractions recede to the blurry and inessential fringes. That is to say, it involves wanting a higher-order object of interest so intensely that other objects of potential attraction fade into insignificance or subordinate status by comparison. The attractive power of these other objects is weakened indirectly and inexorably (or in some cases negated outright) by the developing rationality of the soul’s rank-ordering, much as one naturally loses one’s enthusiasm for childhood games when one discovers the higher-order joys of mature pursuits. Eventually, the man consumed by naturally superior aims will feel even less inclination toward the so-called “base desires” than I feel today toward the idea of lining up in the schoolyard for a game of four square. The development of moderation, then, is less a matter of punishing oneself over the useless or harmful things one might care about than of learning to care about more worthwhile things.

Spiritual education.— The soul, not only in childhood but always, naturally imitates its dominant surroundings, in accordance with its own innate temperament. The prisoner’s soul thus often becomes the prison, the slave’s soul his thickest chain. The coward’s soul becomes the strongest voice in the endless chorus of warnings with which demagogues and tyrants of all kinds seek to manipulate him. By contrast, when I listen intensely to Vivaldi, I become a city of impassioned but orderly men, and when I listen to Socrates, I am free — and this is true especially when I listen to them while in prison or in chains. Loaves and fishes.

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