There is a lot to be uneasy about these days. Most of us don’t understand the new social justice ethical system being imposed on us so it’s very likely that you are going say something perceived as racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic. In such a case, your means of making a living will be targeted by some self-righteous mob.
What if a past consensual dalliance decides to jump on the #MeToo bandwagon? Charged or not, your reputation will be ruined. In fact, our presence here on ROK is in itself “socially irresponsible” and has already shamed most of us into anonymity.
Indeed, the modern masculine man has good reason to be depressed, but depression is not a modern phenomenon. We are not facing some new problem, unique to our lives, that comes from outside the collective human experience on earth. Depression has been reflected on, and pragmatically addressed for as long as we’ve been able to share stories and offer advice.
This body of texts is often described by scholars as standing midway between theology and philosophy. You are probably most familiar with its Old Testament forms—the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job. But there are older Egyptian and Mesopotamian parallels.
As evidenced by the biblical examples, wisdom literature basically offers answers to questions a man may have about life and conduct. Psychological suffering is prominent as “Why me?” is consistently every man’s immediate response to misfortune. Regardless of who authored his social downfall, or how far-reaching the adversity may be.
Overall, the basic virtues advised by our ancestors for avoiding or coping with stressors can be limited to self-control, discretion and steadfastness. They were pragmatists, not idealists. Adversity can lead to depression, depression brings about self-loathing and self-loathing will motivate an attempt to undo your own existence. So this is about basic survival.
This seems to be the most eminent virtue and should certainly be part of the disposition of every modern man. Most familiar to readers would be the fact that Marcus Aurelius starts with this in the first sentence of the first book of his meditations — “refrain from all anger and passion”. That’s much easier said than done as there certainly are current issues deserving of your anger. So let’s be more specific.
The Instruction of Ptahhotep, composed in Egypt around 2400BC has a more modern feel.
The wise man rises early in the morning to establish himself, but the fool rises early in the morning only to agitate himself.
It would be preferable to avoid agitation and anxiety altogether and Ptahhotep, throughout his instructions, suggests keeping your world simple and small. That is to say, do your duty by your work and your wife, and you will be happy. The implication here is that a calm and controlled mind is way more capable of performance while kindness rather than harshness towards your wife will make her more obedient.
And here’s something direct to avoid any “he said / she said” issues:
If you want a friendship to endure in the house you enter as master, brother or friend. In whatever place you enter beware of approaching the women! Unhappy is the place where it is done. A short moment like a dream. Then death comes for having known them. He who fails through lust of them. No affair of his can prosper.
Do not take risks with women. There was never a time for gallant and courageous dalliances! Women dream of that stuff, and men have always suffered for trying to make it real.
Maybe our internal system simply rejects this control? Maybe we just take very long to learn our lesson? But the instruction is very clear and has been for some time now: There aren’t things you can’t say, but there are people you can’t say certain things to. You wouldn’t want to catch a cold.
Give your ears, hear what is said. Give your heart to understand it. It is useful to put it (what is heard) in your heart, but woe to the one who neglects it. Let it abide in your breast, that it may be a key in your heart. Then when there is a whirlwind of words, it will be a peg for your tongue. If you spend your life-span with this at heart, you will find that it brings success.
This extract is from the Instruction of Amenemope, composed in Egypt around 1200 BC. There are rules of etiquette for our current cosmopolitan society just as there were in the past. Knowing the instruction by heart gives a man a firm point of orientation in situations where feelings can be the cause of confusion and there are multiple cross cultural opinions to be considered. Let the rule pin your tongue, protect you from rashness, filter your language and prevent what is essentially avoidable grief.
It’s worth noting that Egypt was an imperial power when this became a precept for a successful life. Similar circumstances mandate a similar collective resignation to humility and discretion.
“Man and God”—the “Sumerian Job” is a poem about theodicy. It is thought to have been composed in the 3rd millennium BC. Meaning that, the “why me” part of the question on unjust suffering probably can’t be answered.
There is no effective medication, amount of sunlight, exercise, socializing, or caffeine deprivation that will help alleviate anything other than short term symptoms. What Mesopotamian Wisdom literature generally advocates, like the Egyptian and Biblical parallels, is steadfastness.
Humiliation, shame, the loss of wealth, health, social status or security is the common lament of every sufferer when there is change in a hierarchical system. There is even the predisposition to feeling a sense of conspiracy.
I am a (young) man of understanding – (yet) though I have understanding, it is of no use to me. My true word becomes lies. The deceiver has brought the (destructive) south wind upon me, (and now) I must serve him.
The rehabilitation of the sufferer is consistently achieved through steadfast faith in their god—be it Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian or Hebrew. This may not fit well with our modern supercilious mindset since religion doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to the treatment of diseases. But it does seem, at least in a literary sense, that it can be applied to the treatment of depression.
Lament your lot as much as you want. In fact, bemoaning the unfairness of our adversities has become a form of excitement appropriate to neomasculinity. This means that, on some level, we’ve already tuned into the new system. We’ve just gotten lost in it.
But if you allow a few basic principles to guide you through this social and ethical chaos, you will find your way back to an acceptably dignified social position.