Is There Comfort In Knowing That Cruelty Is Nothing New?

A provocative view of how Stoical Philosophy might help us deal with current struggles, by John Sellars:

“Much has been written about the Stoic idea of premeditation on future evils: Pre-rehearse potential bad events so that if they come you are better prepared to deal with them and, if they don’t, be all the more grateful for your good fortune. But what about past evils? Is there anything to be gained from reflecting on evils that have already happened?

“…In the early 1600s, Justus Lipsius wrote that the public evils then afflicting people were, when put into an appropriate historical context, neither especially grievous nor unusual… He recounted the death tolls of ancient wars involving Jews: 20,000 died at Caesarea, 13,000 at Scythopolis, 2,500 at Ascalon, 2,000 at Ptolomais, 50,000 at Alexandria, 10,000 at Damascus…

“…Public evils are constant features of history and so we should not be surprised to find them in our own time. Indeed, it would be truly miraculous if our own time were exempt from such events.

Our natural sympathy is for those closest at hand but, according to David Hume, this is a distortion that we must overcome when making moral judgements.

“…Lipsius aimed to show that moral distance can distort our perception of public evils, making our own immediate troubles appear much more significant than they actually are. If we step back and consider those evils within a wider historical context we shall see that in fact they are neither especially grievous nor unusual.”

“…Among contemporary generations, “the Holocaust has come to be seen as the archetypal example of public evil, and for good reason. Reflecting on horrific events from the past such as the Holocaust is important for a number of obvious and well-known reasons: some things should never be forgotten. For Lipsius this sort of reflection on past evils can also be a chilling way to put our current troubles into stark perspective.

Link to John Sellars’ article: