On the Dangers of Association With Ourselves

Source: What Should I Do?

In his 103rd letter from a stoic, Seneca warns us about the dangers of association with our fellow-men. He cannot find words strong enough to describe the everyday dangers coming from them.

“There’s no evil more frequent, no evil more persistent, no evil more insinuating.”

Seneca’s answer to this threat is, not surprisingly, to take refuge with philosophy. Philosophy will make us “safe, or, at any rate, safer than before.” Seneca encourages us to “let [philosophy] strip off our faults.

To me, this is where the essential part of his message lies. Philosophy is a tool to focus on our faults and help us become better versions of ourselves.

Indeed, out of the three most common associates, which one is the most dangerous?

  • The business associate?
  • The love associate?
  • Or ourselves?

The third might come as a surprise, but is there anyone with whom we spend more time? Is there anyone that has more influence on our lives?

And is there such a thing as a single self?

The modular mind theory suggests that there’s not. Instead of a single “I,” we should see our minds as committees consisting of the different perceptions, impulses, goals, and desires that are constantly in conflict for power.

We want to reach a faster mile per hour running pace, but we don’t want to train under the rain. We stay home and eat ice-cream instead.

We want to go to bed early to be at our best the next day, but we stay on the couch and watch one more episode.

Examples are endless. The committee is permanently in session and has a significant problem: the lack of a chairman. There’s no “I” that could set the course and impose its vision for a brighter future. There are only committee members trying to push their agendas forward. And many of them have a short-term view of things. Very few members are thinking of investing countless hours to reach the long-term goal of having a Ph.D.

What can we do?

We can keep on telling ourselves that there’s a committee chairman; it’s a convenient fiction. We can also believe in Santa Claus, another convenient fiction. And we can mix the two.

We can tell ourselves that the chairman is caring and forgiving like Santa Claus. We can tell ourselves that the chairman exists and wants our best.

It will make for an additional member of the committee, one with our best interests at heart. And the more committee members voting in our favor, the better!


If you’re interested, the Rugged Pyrrhus beautifully reads Seneca’s letter 103 (and all the others) on YouTube.

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