When he was young, Seneca experimented with vegetarianism. It was a fad at the time—considered a transgressive but trendy idea from the philosopher Pythagoras. Then, soon enough, he abandoned it, forgetting quite quickly the thing he’d been so passionate about that he was willing to risk his life for (that’s how transgressive Rome perceived Pythagoras’ teachings).
The point here isn’t to comment on vegetarianism, but on fads. We can imagine that, in a different generation, maybe Seneca would have been wearing those silly glove shoes that were popular for a while, loudly telling everyone how superior they were to regular shoes, before quietly returning to regular shoes without comment. Or maybe he’d have been on the standing desk trend before reverting back to a chair like most everyone else seems to have done. Or less humorously, how easily might he—like many young people—have gotten caught up in extremist politics on the right and the left, falling prey to that corrupting force of radicalization that is destroying so many of us today.
It can be so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Or what a small group of people we want to impress are doing. The opinions of the mob can be like rip currents. They grab us and take us far away from where we thought we’d ever go. And then tossed outside them, they have remarkably little power and we embarrassingly swim back to shore… if we’re still alive to do so.
We have to be careful. We have to think for ourselves. This is what was so impressive about Cato. Because he’d practice not caring what other people thought, because he stuck with this mos maiorum, when the rip tide of Caesarism tore through Rome, he was not affected. This is what was impressive about Musonius Rufus—he was able to think independently and see that of course women should be allowed to learn philosophy, even if every other school was sexist and discriminatory.
You must avoid the mob. You must reject trends and fads. You must stick with that which is timeless and true.
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