The Bravery and Virtue in Intentional Interdependency: A Proposed Letter to President Trump from Baruch Spinoza

by Shaun Terry

Note: This is intended to be a letter written in the voice of someone else, expressing their ideas. These aren’t necessarily exactly my thoughts, nor is this exactly my voice.

Dear President Trump,

I believe that there is not sufficient reason for us to worry. While I mean to suggest that I should not worry and my neighbors should not worry, I write this letter to you, so I want to talk with you about worries that you and your supporters have alluded to.

Instead of trying to conform the world to our will, we are likely to be more content by trying to understand the world and behaving harmoniously with it. Seneca knew this well, and compared us to dogs tied to the back of a chariot: the leash may be long enough to give some freedom of movement, but ultimately, the chariot determines where we are to go; resistance only results in our strangulation by unreasonable desires.

I believe that your rise to the presidency represents a perfect, necessary moment in time, just as all history is a matter of nature responding to expressions of nature’s volition. Nature constantly adjusts to changing intensities of material realities. To anyone who is troubled with the present time, consider that life often goes in ways for which we do not wish, so it is up to us to decide on the best response. If we respond with our passions, we may end up like the dog, choking ourselves with frustration and grief. To put this more succinctly, I think that the rise of Strong Man leaders as yourself is a response to growing, and recurring, sentiments in the world: fear and mourning of a better time.

As the world changes, it can bring loss and uncertainty, but I suggest that we will not return to the past. If we consider history, there is no known precedent of return to a previous iteration of our world, regardless of people’s attempts to return to idealized pasts. We can attempt to isolate ourselves from others and from the natura naturata, or knowable empirical truth if you prefer, but isolation is counterproductive. Resisting truth, resisting full education for all, and placing ourselves on the margin of international society is unlikely to result in greater safety or contentedness. However, the future will not have been more dangerous than the past was, unless our fears keep us from doing that which is necessary.

I understand the temptation. We want to survive and we sometimes perceive and react hastily to threats. But, instead of attempting to force our will upon others and trying to reshape the world to our liking, we instead can look inside ourselves and become our most authentic, most perfect selves. That is to say that we seek to distinguish ourselves from one another, but we can best do this by perfectly understanding ourselves. Imagine those times when, instead of impulsively reacting to the seemingly random and brutal world around you, you might have considered your ideal response. The result of this is calm self-assurance and greater awareness. I previously wrote, Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself to say that goodness does not cause positive feelings; rather, they are the same. I suggest that becoming the most essential versions of ourselves increases our power to survive. If we combine this kind of act with a prioritization of education, we can then make optimal decisions. We can all be free by becoming that which we essentially are and by doing our best to understand the world, but we have to accept the consequences of ourselves if we wish to be free from pains of bitter, distorted passions.

We can embrace the inevitable truth that the world is destined to change and we can play an intentional role in that change. We can implement policies that work best for everyone, as we are all inextricably connected. Where there are imbalances, there is likely to be complication, but if we work for the improvement of everyone’s conditions, then together, we might reach a kind of enlightenment, but not before then. This world can be better for us and we can be more joyful and contented. Instead of isolating from one another, concealing information, and making education more difficult for some people, we could embrace one another in an attempt to learn. This would help to improve conditions, but it requires an emphasis on inclusion, tolerance, democracy, and full education for all.

We cannot reach our goals without knowing ourselves, without trying to understand the world, and without others doing so, too. If we wish to feel safe, we can eliminate threats through education, helping to free everyone from the chains of their passions.

Sincerely,

Baruch Spinoza

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