This is an account of day 16 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 16 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to read an old newspaper. The point is to find evidence that this saying is true: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” No matter what happens in the world, whatever headlines are reported on a daily basis, it has all happened before.
When we get overwhelmed or puffed up, we must find relief in remembering that none of this is new. All of this is running according to a tired script as old as time. Don’t let it get you down. This, Seneca believed, is the way to make all our problems, even the really vexing and painful ones, loosen their grip on us and seem less severe as a result.
Today’s instructional email from the Daily Stoic goes into further detail:
The truth is, just as Marcus repeatedly wrote, history is a never-ending repetition.The same stories unfold over and over again. The same events happen over and over again. With the same characters, just in different skin at different times. And, guess what, we’re all still here.
There is psychological and existential freedom knowing, as Ecclesiastes said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” On the temple to Athena at Athens was inscribed the epigram “All human things are a circle.” It is one of the core symbols of Buddhism, found on the outside walls of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries—The bhavachakra, meaning “cyclic existence.” And more recently, Rust Cole, in True Detective, famously reminded us that time is a flat circle, which he borrowed from Nietzche’s theory of eternal recurrence.
Your challenge today is to see for yourself just how true it is. Find the front page of your local newspaper from 1 year, 10 years, 100 years ago. Watch a local newsclip from this date, 5 years ago. Dig into the New York Times archives or search your hometown paper in this database. See how common things are. Notice how little has changed, how much has changed.
For today’s task I dug out an old copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport that I picked up on a trip to Italy a few years ago. There’s no better example of history repeating itself, of things changing but staying the same, than sport. Teams win and lose, players score goals and get injured, fans celebrate and commiserate. The actors in the spotlight may change, but the story remains constant – the perpetual battle for supremacy from the beginning to the end of a season. And then it starts all over again.
Granted, my Italian still isn’t good enough to read the paper from cover to cover, but I get the gist of it! The bulk of the content is results, match reports, and standings – I can’t imagine that has changed much today.
In the challenge’s group Slack channel, fellow participant Shawn found it humorous how little has changed in US politics in recent years:
I found these articles from the day I was born. Hilarious. “pledges to work with congress.” When have we heard that before?
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The evidence is all around us.
“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging. Produce them in your mind, as you know them from experience or from history: the court of Hadrian, of Antoninus. The courts of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All just the same. Only the people different.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.27
“If you’ve seen the present then you’ve seen everything—as it’s been since the beginning, as it will be forever. The same substance, the same form. All of it.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.37