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Welcome to James' Philosophical Agora - James' Meeting Place On-Line. (Updated September 2017)

This blog is the place where I write in a more personal way on various areas of philosophical interest. Please be careful when I say 'philosophical' because this does not often mean about purely academic or abstract subjects and ideas; but rather like much of the philosophy of Socrates, it means an investigation of some fundamental things that have a very important baring on the way we live our lives as individuals and as communities.

I have a separate blog where I share my enthusiasm for the specific philosophical tradition and ideas of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle Plutarch and others at: Socrates 4 Today However, this blog James' Philosophical Agora expresses mostly personal viewpoints and so I prefer to have two separate blogs.

Please feel free to comment on any of the blog posts, or add some thoughts of your own to the subjects discussed. You can also contact me personally if you would like to discuss any particular items further at: jamesdelphi2000@gmail.com

Monday, May 23, 2011

Companions for that Long Voyage - Know Thyself

(Reviewed May 2011)
A Letter to My Friend George:

02- The Boats and the Choice of Companions for the Voyage.
(First Written Spring 2004)


‘But this much it’s fair to keep in mind, friends: if a soul is immortal, then it needs care, not only for the sake of this time in which what we call “life” lasts, but for the whole of time; and if anyone is going to neglect it, now the risk would seem fearful'. (Socrates / Phaedo)

Now George, I should first tell you that what I have previously described to you in ‘The Library of Life’ (see blog post) with regard to the boats at Piraeus is not exactly true. When I say this, what I mean is that I have left out many details of the allotment of the places in the boats and indeed the nature of the voyage we take after death itself – well so many people believe including me. So it is not quite the case that I have lied to you George, but merely for the sake of brevity and relevance, I left out many details in my previous letter to you.

I should now therefore like to fill you in on some of the gaps I intentionally left, but warn you that it is not possible for any mortal man to tell you the exact details of what happens to our souls when at death they leave the body. It is only possible to tell you ‘some of the storey’ as it were, and again it is necessary to do this by way of allegory because once more only a God could tell you exactly what happens. Mere mortals such as I - or anyone else for that matter - can only tell you what it resembles and is like – or rather what they believe it resembles; or at least so says Socrates in the Phaedo. Indeed, Socrates' philosopher friend General Xenophon even goes as far as to say: 'Concerning the gods and whatever I say about anything, no one has any certainty, nor ever will; and if someone should happen to utter the absolute truth, how would he know it? Seeming is present in everything.'

As I have said to you, in many ways it does not matter what book of life we choose to follow or what religion we finally decided to adopt, or even if we chose not to follow a well recognized religion at all. When it comes to the crunch and we turn our toes up to this life on earth – I believe it really depends on what sort of person you are deep down inside that counts. Now this is quite a good opportunity to give a little advice as I explain the process and this is most easily done by asking the occasional question as we go. So for the moment let me ask you: “What sort of person are you deep down inside?” And here immediately we have the crux of the problem for most people dear George. They really cannot look you in the eye and answer you sincerely on this question - because in truth they have no idea themselves - since they have never given the question any great thought or indeed any thought at all. So the first thing we must do sometime in our 30’s the latest I should say is to: ‘Know Thyself’ –or if you prefer – begin to truly know ourselves. Once we do that George, we are in a position to comment a little on whom and what we actually are. Well, let’s not delay the journey too long or we will both still be standing on the quayside in Piraeus waiting for those glorious sailing boats before I finish this letter to you.

Well, like I have said to you in the past, the voyage we take on death or rather our souls takes on death when it leaves our body can be likened a bit to a sailing trip around the Greek islands. This may seem a strange way to look at it George – but hear me out and I think you will agree that what I am saying is largely true.

Sometimes as we both know well, the going on a sailing trip is easy and the winds are favorable, and sometimes it is not easy at all to say the least. As you know the winds and sea conditions can change very quickly around the Islands of Greece. In other words, we cannot just sit on the deck of the boat with a glass of ouzo or wine and a cigarette on death - and then expect somehow to finish up in heaven just because we were basically decent enough people in what we call “life on earth”, the state where our souls are attached to our mortal bodies. Unfortunately, that just isn’t going to be the case; well not all the time that is for sure.

Another point to remember is that the crew of a sailing boat is a team - and one lives in very close proximity to that team - and at times one must rely on one’s fellow crew members to do their part on the trip depending on the skills, natural talents, opportunities, and experiences they have all had.  So the situation with the boats we go on after death is not so unlike booking a Greek Island sailing holiday and reserving a place with other people you have never met before. Probably like me you have already done this before; or at least been in similar situations which give you the idea of what I am trying to describe.  You know even before you go on the holiday that there will be some people who you will take to and get on with immediately; some people who grow on you after a few days when you get to know them a little better; others who you can’t stand after a few days, and others again who you know you cannot stand from the moment you meet them – even standing on the quayside before either of you has stepped onto the sailing boat.

Now as to the skipper (the captain) that is another matter entirely. It’s his or her boat and you are stuck with them anyway whether you get on with them or not. Of course one hopes and prays for a pleasant, competent end experienced skipper on these occasions, but for many people this won’t be the case. Their skipper will be harsh and thoughtless, and mean spirited to say the very least.

From a personal point of view, it doesn’t matter to me if some of the crew of my boat are Hindu, Christian, Muslim or whatever, or in fact whether they are religious at all, as long as they are decent enough people and show me the same courtesy and respect as I hope I show to them.

Now an experienced, kind, and considerate skipper when choosing his crew will be very conscious about these very important matter of “group dynamics” as people call it – this matter of will these people get on with those people OK. It’s the same thing when you are giving a small party – you hope everyone will get on OK together. Anyway, when the experienced shipper chooses people for his or her boat, I think they are well within their rights to ask people a few questions before they choose who will make up the crew. It would only be sensible and responsible for a good skipper to do so. Now there is a legend I heard from an old Greek friend, a sailor in fact from Crete, that one of the first questions these skippers ask people is actually: “What sort of person are you deep down inside?” And like I said above – here is the problem for many people – ‘They really cannot look you in the eye and answer you sincerely on this question - because in truth they have no idea themselves - since they have never given the question any great thought or indeed any thought at all.’  Hence my earlier advice to you George to: ‘Know Thyself’ and the answer to this seemingly simple question.

Now you can believe this legend the old Cretian sailor told me or not as you like; but it’s a pretty straight forward question I think for any competent skipper to ask, and one that we should all know the answer to anyway at the end of our days, and particularly on that day that it is our turn to walk the quayside at the Port of Piraeus near Athens and find a place on those wonderful brightly colored boats which will take us on that most mysterious, important, challenging, wonderful  and inevitable of voyages.

The skipper is also rumored to ask some more questions about the kind of life you have lead and that kind of thing, since the last thing anyone wants is a person on board who complains all the time. You know the sort of person George: ‘I’m hungry’, ‘the beds are too hard’, ‘I washed up yesterday’, ‘why do we have to do this again’ and all manner of similar moans which can be damn irritating on a sailing trip as everyone knows. Personally, I just think the skipper is after easy going people who can take the rough with the smooth without complaining too much when times get a little hard, or showing hubris and showing off when times are easier.

In a way I can quite believe that that old Greek sailor friend I mentioned who says that the first question – or the most important one anyway – is what kind of person are you deep down inside. In questioning people on the quayside the skipper is simply looking for people who in their lives on earth have shown: ‘Moderation in All Things’; and indeed some basic concern and consideration for those few people around them. While we are on the subject George, and again only in my view, I think we should consider those types of people which we might group together under the broad heading of: ‘a pain in the neck for a sailing trip’ although of course everyone will have their own opinion on this. These people would include in my opinion:

-         Greedy people who are happy sitting in the galley (kitchen) all day.
-         Lazy people, or people who think they are too important to wash up after a meal and always leave these small things for other people.
-         People who talk too loudly or too much, or those who won’t say anything at all.
-         People who are a damn nuisance sexually. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are gay or straight, just people who won’t take no for an answer or who keep staring at people in an inappropriate way.
-         Smelly people who won’t take a shower when the opportunity comes up on the trip or wash their clothes out when they get a chance. (Bloody murder in a cramped sailing boat cabin as we both know!)
-         Unreliable and irresponsible people who fall asleep on the job, don’t turn up on time and keep the rest of us waiting, or otherwise let you down.
-         Show offs or ‘Nelly know it alls’
-         Arrogant people who will probably rent a boat by themselves anyway, foolishly thinking they can sail the Greek islands by themselves without any real previous experience of the waters that lie ahead. I’d sooner let a blind man navigate the voyage than get in a boat with one of those foolish and arrogant people.

This list is in no way definitive of course George, it’s just a few things that spring to mind personally at this time about the sort of people you do and do not want to go on a sailing trip with.  I am sure you get the idea though. ……

The skipper will I think in his little chat on the quayside with prospective new crew members be trying to avoid people like I have just mentioned above and quite understandably so. Well, the skipper of the nicer and well run sailing boats do anyway and it is done for good reason, to ensure the smooth running and more pleasant voyage for everyone aboard.

There is just one thing George that I think I should mention to you or rather warn you about. You see, as with holiday sailing boats for the Greek Islands, the number of better boats with friendly and able skippers is a bit limited, and others are less so by degree. Some boats are OK - but a bit crowded and have fewer facilities on them. Some boats are awful and it’s impossible to enjoy the voyage on these. Indeed, some people have suggested that the worse boats are better not even to talk or think about…..  but the idea as I am sure you agree is to get on board a nice boat, with a friendly and capable skipper, so that the voyage can be enjoyed rather than endured. So it really is in one’s advantage, and I can’t over emphasize this, to find a decent skipper, with a decent enough boat, who will take the care to choose decent enough people to be your companions on the trip. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a man and his wife or girlfriend, a couple of friends, someone by them self or whatever.

Finally then we are all ready to set out on the voyage and if you’re in the right boat with a good skipper you can relax a bit knowing that it will largely be a great adventure, and that you’ll make the trip safely although there might be difficult challenges along the way. As we both already know George, in some ways it’s the more challenging bits that are the bits you have a grin about when the day is over and one relaxes and talks together with the other crew members around the dinner table under the moonlight.

Happy sailing to you dear George when your time comes.

Love James.

Note: There is a rumor or some legends put about by some people that some of the boats are very bad indeed – and the skippers very cruel and unkind. I don't know whether that is true or not – and who can say for certain – no mortal man that’s for sure as I said at the start of my letter. You will have to make your own mind up about that.  All I can say to you with any sense of integrity is that quite a few people get to sail on the lovely sailing boats with the bright colored sails and bright shining decks. What happens to those people left behind on the quayside, or who choose to take one of the worse boats I do not know or even want to know anything about if there is any truth in those legends.


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