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We are mad, not only individually, but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders; but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of genocide? There are no limits to our greed, and neither to our cruelty. And as long as such crimes are committed by stealth and by individuals, they are less harmful and less portentous; but cruelties are practiced in accordance with acts of the senate or of a popular assembly, and the public is invited to do that which formerly was forbidden to the individual. So we come to this clearest manifestation of insanity: that deeds which rightfully would be punished with a sentence of death when committed by an ordinary man, are suddenly praised and celebrated when committed by a general wearing a uniform. By his nature man is a gentle creature, yet does he not revel in the blood of others without shame? … Against this overmastering and widespread madness, philosophy comes as a matter of great effort, only slowly assuming the strength gathered by the forces of barbarity.
–Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, epis xcv, sec 30-33 (CE 64) (S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”