A Fool’s Bargain (pt.II)


Vanity and love of oneself, two passions very different in their nature and their effects, must not be confused.  Love of oneself is a natural sentiment which inclines every animal to watch over its own preservation, and which, directed in man by reason and modified by pity, produces humanity and virtue.  Vanity is only a relative sentiment, artificial and born in society, which inclines each individual to have a greater esteem for himself than for anyone else, inspires in men all the harm they do to one another, and is the true source of honor.  This being well understood, I say that in our primitive state, in the true state of nature, vanity does not exist. -Rousseau

According to Rousseau, the ultimate source of inequality is the competition for status released by vanity.  What Rousseau seems to be saying is that society encourages people to derive their sense of self-worth from how others view them and incubates an obsession with showmanship that gives the reins to vanity and thus creates vice and artificiality.  This is what the people in the Capitol thrive on and is epitomized in the character of Caesar Flickerman in the Hunger Games series.  Not only do the people of the Capitol revel in the misery of others, they value showmanship over true compassion.  I think Rousseau would agree that society would bestow its greatest honors on those that are adept at appearing good while nature rewards those who actually are good.

Although I want to form the man of nature, the object is not, for all that, to make him a savage and relegate him to the depths of the woods. It suffices that, enclosed in a social whirlpool, he not let himself get carried away by either the passions and opinions of men, that he see with his eyes, that he feel with his heart, that no authority govern him beyond that of his own reason. – Rousseau, Emile

Katniss pays a high price to be authentic in an very inauthentic world.  Is it “all big show” and is it “all about how you’re perceived”?  And what price do we pay to be ourselves?
“Panem et circenses” translates to bread and circuses.  Since the Hunger Games is similar to the “circuses” the Roman Emperors put on to “appease” the people let’s take a look at what Seneca thought about some of the problems back then.  Seneca distinguished between Good, Preferable, and Bad.  Good: Virtues like Justice, Wisdom, or Courage, ect.  Preferable: Money, Fame, or Power.  Bad: Foolishness, Injustice, or Malice, ect. When Peeta says “I don’t want them to change me in there…Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.” I think Seneca would tell Peeta that his virtue is something the Capitol can never take away, because it depends on the exercise of his free will.  Seneca might also say that if we begin lusting after things that are only preferable, as if they were the source of happiness, then we would become more like President Snow and trade our virtue in the pursuit of wealth and power.  It is a fool’s bargain.  Seneca warned against overindulgence and he also paid a huge price to be himself when he was ultimately ordered by Emperor Nero to commit suicide.
to be continued…


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