LETTER VII

Avoiding the crowd.

Seneca sees avoiding the crowd as an extremely important activity. He sees it as an activity that is full of daily risk. Seneca feels that he never comes home feeling quite of the same moral character as when he went out - mixing with people during the day has a negative effect on his inner peace. Apparently mixing with more people makes the problem worse.

He gives an example of a show he went to in Rome during lunch time - he was appalled by the barbarity and stupidity of the crowd that was cheering the whole event on. It was similar to going to a modern day football match - hordes of educated lawyers and accountants all chanting - the referee’s a wanker in unison. These mob events feel good in a tribal way, but they do little for my own development.

Seneca claims

when a mind is impressionable and has none too firm a hold on what is right, it must be rescued from the crowd: it is so easy for it to go over to the majority.

Seneca’s advise here is not to hate the majority or to follow them - he recommends retiring into yourself as much as you can

Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.

The virtuous cycle of learning that is so common with Seneca: it is held up as a key tool is staying apart from the crowd. It works simply because no one else does it. It’s a way of thought that is alien to the majority. He goes on to comment that in sharing with others do not expect the majority of people to understand you - if you are doing something different most people will either ignore you or laugh. It’s the best possible sign.

Seneca finishes up quoting something that he read for me a single man is a crowd and a crowd is a single man. The advice given is not to value the respect of a crowd over that of a few. It seems that group intelligence declines as the group gets bigger. Having the approval of one million people is not as good as winning the approval of ten people. I suppose that the “winner takes all” effect has a massive sway on group approval. Once you get past the “tipping point”, you have it made.

I have to say that I have found this chapter very challenging - especially as I have being making a big effort to be more social and outgoing. I think that a more social life certainly has undermined my own personal decisions - especially in a town like Byron bay. Hanging out with a group of dedicated hedonists really has a negative effect on getting anything done - this is something that I have observed a while ago.

Seneca’s answer here is to focus on socialising with people that I can learn from and people that I can help out. The focus on the learning process as a joyful experience can help to allow me to socialise widely while keeping my personal focus.

This all sounds good in theory - I feel good writing it down and thinking about - experience as told me that this is tremendously challenging. It’s not a process that can be done half heartily or in a complex way. If I want to engage with this, I will need to simplify what I learn and double down on my commitment to doing it.

In conclusion, I was about to skip this chapter as it rambled about the disgrace of the gladiator games for a good section. But in the end I found it an interesting and challenging read. I respect people who ignore the majority, but I am well aware that to actually do it goes against my nature.