Hello and Welcome to Practical Cynicism. My name is Eric DeMott and today’s episode is Cannibalism Part Two! Don’t worry if you didn’t see the last episode, you can always go back. Turns out its an interesting topic, and in researching the point I wanted to make today, I went down a deep dark rabbit hole and took you all with me. I assure you up front that today’s episode will be less blood and chaos. It’s much lighter, like a wafer thin mint after a heavy meal of liver, fava beans and Chianti. I promise that was the last cannibalism joke. This episode is really about other forms of consumption and was originally inspired by Tanner’s “Soul Saturation Point” episode. In this Meditation, Marcus ponders how the earth is able to absorb all of the dead bodies of men and animals, and how the air is able to contain all the souls released by their deaths. My brain might have short-circuited a bit to come up with today’s episode, I liked the idea so much it’s become this two part episode. But before I get to my lightbulb moment I want to flesh out what Marcus was talking about.
To paraphrase and recap, Marcus asked himself: “If souls survive the death of the body, how does the air contain them all? How does the earth contain all the dead bodies?” And he explains easily enough that the bodies are digested or decomposed into the earth, which eliminates them and makes room for more bodies. He hypothesizes that souls must decompose similarly into the air, and are returned to the Logos. Pretty straightforward, right? Asked and Answered.
In Greek the word for soul used here is psuche, which is where we get our word, psyche, like psychology. The first definition you’ll find for Psuche is breath, as in the air in your lungs, very early and interesting uses of the word in Homer’s Iliad describe the last breath of a fallen warrior escaping his body, “passing the barrier of his teeth”. It’s no big leap of imagination to see how this word became the word for soul or spirit, the invisible somethingness that was within us, and without it we are just a body to be eaten, or decomposed. So it struck me as poetic, and beautiful, and maybe a bit sad to think of Marcus writing in his journal, after a long day of Emperor’ing, thinking about how all the final breaths linger in the air, before returning, and decomposing into the cosmos, like bodies into the earth.
Souls behave like bodies.
This is where I got excited 😂
If souls behave like bodies in death, then why not in life?
Marcus comments that while some bodies are buried in the ground, some countless number of creatures are eaten, buried alive in the bellies of other beasts. If souls are like bodies then they must need to eat too, which begs the question of what would a soul eat? In my last episode, I said that all living things are made of food, and are consumed by other living things. Food eats Food. Like eats like, and by that logic a soul must eat other souls. Sure there’s no chomping or chewing, or digesting, none of those analogies work, they must simply flow into each other, mingle together, disperse like air would, be absorbed into one another, like some sort of Absorbathon? Absorbaling? An Absorbaloff. Yes, I like that.
Soul: The other White Meat
It made me ask myself, what has my soul been feeding on? Not what, Who! Who has my soul been feeding on? You see now why I landed on cannibalism, and I find the analogy so interesting. We’re not what we eat, we’re who we eat. Think of all the souls we’ve been exposed to in our lives: our parents, siblings, spouses, friends, teachers, and coworkers. As I get older I realize how much personality I’ve inherited from my father, a lifetime of exposure and soul nibbling. Best friends are so much more than inside jokes, and secret handshakes, it’s your friend’s soul becoming indistinguishable from your own. When Diogenes was asked what is a friend? He replied,“One soul dwelling in two bodies.” And all the parents listening will know exposing your children to other children, daycare, school, etc. impacts them, ever so slightly changing them. I’m sure you’re thinking of your own example of someone who impacted you and changed you, for better or worse. The eating metaphor is so apt here. Who have you nibbled and still want seconds of? Who is your bread and butter? The person you would eat everyday if you could? Of Whom have you had your fill? Who would you vomit up and be done with if you could?
And not just people you’ve met, musicians, authors, YouTubers and, dare I say, podcasters. All those souls spread out like a buffet, ready to be absorbed, and integrated into or rejected from our souls, influencing who we are, what we know, how we act. Although for these artists and content creators, the influencers, we already use this language. We are consumers. Influencers create content. We consume content. I’d like to think that I am creating content with this in mind trying to be very careful with my words, because in some way I do feel that our souls are at stake. I’m an avid content consumer myself, and frequently binge on videos, podcasts, books usually always centered around some individual person. As you know from the show, I’ve focused on Diogenes almost exclusively but there are a handful other Cynics that I’ll eventually turn my attention towards. But in my life I have gorged myself on such people as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nietzsche, Marco Pierre White, Chiyonofuji, Mark Rippetoe, Gary Taubes, Chef John, and so many others that I’m certainly forgetting. Most recently I’ve been binging hours of John Vervaeke and Hans Georg Muller, and would strongly recommend them to anyone interested in smart people talking about interesting things.
Yet there is something both incredibly fascinating and terribly tremendous about a world in which you can download hours and hours of video, audio, and text about a person and mainline that directly into your soul. There was a time where I read and listened to so much Dave Ramsey, I was basically his understudy, and If he was sick I could have hosted his show. I had heard all of his caller’s problems and all of his responses. I knew what he would say before he said it. At a certain point, the impact of all that content, all that soul, was overwhelming. The world appeared to me only through the lens of Dave Ramsey, and the lens was no longer my own. Eventually the Otherness subsides, the pieces of soul that were identifiably Dave, become so thoroughly mixed in with all the other souls that it starts to feel like ourselves again. Unless you’re like me and you’re onto the next interesting soul to binge on, offering their counterpoints, and new ideas into the mix. At some point during all this the word “ego” becomes meaningless, one realizes as Marcus did in Book 1, that he has a lot of people to thank for informing him, teaching him, sharing their time and their souls with him.
To Eat and Be Eaten
But there was a thought that escaped Marcus in Book I that I think is fundamental to Cynicism: Our souls are being eaten as well. Marcus never knew his private journal full of his innermost thoughts would survive for thousands of years to be consumed by and influence generations of people. But the core of Cynic philosophy was its performance in public, where all could see, the more observers the better. Many Cynic stories take place at the Olympics where huge crowds would have gathered to see the Games, and they would have seen and heard Diogenes as well, offering up his soul, for their consumption and, as he saw it, their benefit. And what did he tell them? He told them their souls had become so bloated and filled with smoke and nonsense that they could no longer be considered humans! Which is pretty rude, but the evidence suggests that the message was actually well received. And the citizens were all too happy to Thank him! There is a story about how when a boy had broken the large clay pot that Diogenes lived in, he was formally punished by the city of Athens, and Diogenes was given a new pot on the taxpayers dime. When Diogenes died in Corinth, the city erected a statue of a dog outside the gates to serve as his grave marker. So it’s easy to imagine that Diogenes’ soul was taken up by the Athenians and the Corinthians, perhaps begrudgingly, and it probably didn’t taste that great, more like medicine than food. Diogenes’ soul was medication, doled out in clinical doses, like emetics, or laxatives, so that the townspeople could vomit and, ahem, expel the poison, sickness, and ignorance from their very souls.
Food for Thought
To summarize, I think I’ve both made my point and exhausted this cannibalism metaphor for all it’s worth. We consume and are consumed. We influence and are influenced. You may be thinking to yourself that you are not an influencer, you don’t have a podcast or a youtube, you are not being consumed at scale, but the reality of all social media platforms is that they pull everyone into the game. Tanner and I make content, you consume the content, the app you use consumes you and your data. Bits of you, floating through the internet like Wonkavision, to be ingested by some massive computer, who, in turn, creates recommendations, trends, categories, hashtags, viral videos, etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseam. All of this technological advancement is fueled and powered by human souls. But outside of social media and technology the problem is the same, you have consumed the souls of your friends and family, and strangers from the day you were born, you carry them with you, and as people meet you, the totality of your souls, they are affected, influenced whether they know or not. That piece of you stays with them becomes them, and as they are consumed by others still, that piece of you is consumed along with them, and you are passed on in this way. How many millions of souls have consumed you? And how many millions of souls have you consumed?
Since we no longer have a Diogenes around to call us names and deny our Humanity, it falls to me to create elaborate metaphors and implore you to be mindful of who and what you are eating, in body and in soul. Like the food critic in Ratatouille, who says “If I don’t like it, I don’t swallow,” you have a choice if you stop long enough to decide whether or not you like the souls you’re consuming. This series is called Practical Cynicism, I’ve provided the Cynicism, now you must provide the practical. At the end of this episode, ask yourself if there was something of value here, something worth accepting into your soul, and carrying around as your own. Or remember that interaction with the rude cashier the other day? The one that put you in a funk all day? Made you feel not-yourself? Did you pause after that interaction and ask yourself if you wanted to chew on that soul all day? Or did you grab your bags, and your receipt and storm off with a soulful of god-knows-what? Maybe you can stop next time, take a smaller bite, or none at all, and maybe find a little compassion for a rude clerk who obviously had too many angry souls for breakfast, or a lifetime of breakfasts.
Literal Food for thought.