Do What Little You Can, And Do It As Best You Can

In Walker Percy’s 1961 novel The Moviegoer, the stoic philosopher is not the character based on Percy (though Percy loved Stoicism and wrote about it often), it’s his Aunt Emily. A rich, Southern aristocrat in New Orleans, she wanted the best for Binx Bolling, the boy she had essentially adopted and raised. She would give him inspiring speeches and mail him letters with passages from Marcus Aurelius on them. She tried to get him jobs and important tasks. But like many modern people Binx doesn’t want to try, he is paralyzed, afraid, obsessed with frivolous things, disillusioned by the pointlessness of it all. The speech she gives him one night is wonderful and we’ll give it to you hear because it’s better than anything we can write–better even than some of the ancient Stoics themselves.

“I don’t know quite what we’re doing on this insignificant cinder spinning away in a dark corner of the universe. That is a secret which the high gods have not confided in me. Yet one thing I believe and I believe it with every fibre of my being. A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.”