Seeing Things As They Really Are

“Just as when meat or other foods are set before us we think, this is a dead fish, a dead bird or pig; and also, this fine wine is only the juice of a bunch of grapes, this purple-edged robe just sheep’s wool dyed in a bit of blood from a shellfish; or of sex, that it is only rubbing private parts together followed by a spasmic discharge — in the same way our impressions grab actual events and permeate them, so we see them as they really are.”


There’s a whole lot of wackiness going on in today’s quote, but Marcus is simply illustrating the basic truth that Stoics are meant to cut through the bullshit and name things for what they really are. People dress things up with fancy names and clever decorations, but at the end of the day when you remove the fluff, you’re left with the essence of what it really is. That’s what stoics do — we test everything.

And how do we test? How do we cut away the extraneous and see things for what they truly are? Ryan Holiday does a great job in today’s chapter explaining this — he calls them “contemptuous expressions”, which is what you read in the quote above. It’s when you slightly look down your nose at something and call it what it is, the straight truth.

Marcus uses contemptuous expressions to discuss gourmet cuts of meat (just a dead animal), special vintages of wine (just a bunch of grapes), and fancy clothes (just wool and dye). He even has one for sex, which I don’t think I can type without blushing.

But the point is to use these “almost cynical” terms to describe what things really are, so that we’re not captivated or carried away by the flowery names or descriptions they normally have. It’s part of our never-ending quest to always seek the truth, and shun anything that would distract us from that!

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