The final theme for the week , the View From Above, is all about thinking of one’s place in the grand whole of things (something of which the Stoics were quite fond).
I took the picture I’m using in this post from an airplane window with my phone, as I flew from Las Vegas back to Des Moines back in February. I have no idea what the name of the space pictured is. It’s mountains and snow, and what looks like the roads and runs of a ski resort of some kind.
The distance is deceptive. It’s both astonishingly far off and appallingly near, as if one could just hop down to do some skiing, maybe curl up by the fire with some cocoa afterward. From so high up, it is easy to imagine that one is seeing more, getting the “big” picture. One is certainly getting more of a picture, or a larger picture. At the very least, it’s a picture taken from an angle unavailable on the ground.
I think it is that — the possibility of an angle unavailable where I am — that does more to prompt thoughts of my “place” in the grand scheme of things than the notion that there is any such grand scheme. It’s an odd bit of mental acrobatics, twisting oneself about to re-center the view on something or someone else. I prompts all sorts of ethical considerations with regard to the world of which one is a part, as well as (at first) a kind of panic — nothing sends home the absolute certainty of things being outside of your control like really buying the idea of yourself as a functioning piece in a grand system that is entirely indifferent to the specifics of its parts (the suffering or joy of those specifics, for example). Of course, as Epictetus might well have pointed out, it is a lot harder for some of us than for others to deal with the indifference of the universe to our plight; it may turn out to be the case that Emperors and slaves need this view for very different reasons, and that those reasons need interrogating above all else.