My twitter bio says “value investing & the humanities (esp Stoicism)” and I realize I have not made a single post on the humanities part so I thought a review of one of my favourite essays will be a good introduction. “On the Shortness of Life” is a moral essay by Seneca dated and addressed to a man named Paulinus (most likely his father in law) who was the superintendent for Rome’s grain supply at the time.
Seneca was a philosopher of the Stoic school. He is a complex character because he was tutor to the young emperor Nero, who had one of the worst reign’s in Roman history. A case of the student ignoring his teacher. Does the blame lie with the student or the tutor?It has also been speculated that Seneca was the wealthiest man in Rome during this time and might have used his political power to build this fortune. I do not particular find it at odds to be wealthy and espouse Stoic values of simple living. In fact, I think it shows him as both a philosopher/doer but all history is open to interpretation.
The Lindy effect is an idea I came across when reading Nassim Taleb’s “The Black Swan” way back when. According to Wikipedia it is the “concept that the future life expectancy of some non-perishable thing like a technology or an idea is proportional to its current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy.” For example, the idea that some Holy texts will be around in a 1000 years is backed by the fact that they’ve been around for 1000 years prior.
Seneca is Lindy because even though “On The Shortness Of Life” was written in 49 AD it is just as relevant today, maybe moreso. Below are my 10 favourite quotes from my favourite essay from my favourite philosopher.
“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it.”
“Life, if you know how to use it, is long.”
“No one lets anyone seize his estates, and if a trivial dispute arises about boundary lines, there’s a rush to stones and arms; but people let others trespass on their existence.”
“The distracted mind takes in nothing really deeply but rejects everything that is, so to speak, pounded into it.”
“But learning how to live takes a whole lifetime. The person who devotes every second of his time to his own needs and who organizes each day as if it were a complete life neither longs for nor is afraid of the next day.”
“In the midst of their solitude, and even though they’ve withdrawn from everyone, they are troubling company for themselves; their existence is to be termed not leisurely but one of idle preoccupation.”
“It was once the well-known failing of the Greeks to ask how many rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, and also whether they belong to the same author, and other questions of the same stamp which, if you keep them to yourself, do nothing to improve your private knowledge; and if you divulge them, you’re made to appear not more learned but more annoying. And now this vacuous enthusiasm for acquiring useless knowledge has infected the Romans as well.”
“They obtain with great effort what they desire, and they anxiously hold on to what they’ve obtained; and meanwhile they give no consideration to time’s irretrievability.”
“You manage the revenues of the world, it is true, as scrupulously as you would a stranger’s, as diligently as you would your own, as conscientiously as you would the state’s. You win affection in a post in which it is hard to avoid being hated. Yet it is nevertheless better-believe me-to know the balance sheet of one’s own life than that of the public grain supply.”
“Some, after they’ve clambered up through a thousand indignities to arrive at the crowning dignity, are assailed by the wretched thought that all their toil has been for an inscription on an epitaph.”