A feature of living organisms is how broad the range is of conditions under which they can adapt and survive. The conditions under which they can flourish is much smaller. Take slavery for example: humans can persist under very adverse conditions where they are greatly hampered and restricted from engaging in human activity freely, under severe threat of violence, and even abused.
It is the capacity to adapt to suboptimal conditions which interest me. And I would like to immediately transfer the spotlight of attention onto the self-enslavement of vice and what is commonly called addiction. Humans find themselves gravitating, leaning, and indeed “voluntarily” assenting to the most self-destructive behaviors. They see the overseer or master as clearly as a slave would his master. And here the difference is even more astounding. The human does have the power to not assent, to use choice to move away from that which calls it, but it returns again and again to that which does it harm.
Choosing poorly is a kind of slow suicide. It is slow enough to be more difficult to notice, more subtle in its death by a thousand cuts, and since he who is choosing this form of death is for all intensive purposes around and functioning well-enough, and the tragedy of life is heavy enough to draw attention to those much closer to death, it is easy to look away and chug-along.
Appearances can be so deceiving.
That which is hidden is more important. And yet it is invisible. That which requires the most care is intangible and hard to pin down, and yet learning to harness it is learning to be it and accept the responsibility.
Socrates says in the Crito, after Crito has come to Socrates in his immaturity and presented Socrates with multiple well-intentioned but ill-formulated “reasons” for escaping from his death sentence and breaking Athenian law:
Socrates: and should we, Crito, not care more for that part of us which is of more importance than the body and is made better by right action and mutilated by wrong action?
Crito: Yes. It is more important.
The trickiest part of living is integrating this truth deeply into living. The soul is more important than the body and is brought closer to full actualization or total destruction by the freely chosen acts of the self. It is a weighty responsibility, but all that is good and true is in it. And there is nothing else. Everything else is subsidiary.
The body merely follows the soul. And so it goes. Do not enslave the more important part to the less important part. The soul is made to rule, the body to be ruled. To put the body and its longings in the driver seat is to court disaster. How often the passions of the body rage.
Anger brings murder. Lust brings unwanted and uncared for children. The absence of real courage, temperance and justice invite all manner of trouble. And no, I preach no prosperity gospel. Having the virtues will not bring material riches necessarily. The sun seems to shine on the good and the bad. But, the virtues will make either presence or absence of material riches endurable. Ask Robin Williams or Philip Seymour Hoffman.