My Name is Platon
“His faith in the right ordering of the universe,” Tolstoy writes of Pierre today, “in humanity, in his own soul and in God, had been destroyed.” Further, Pierre’s belief in the utter cruelty and meaninglessness of existence now rivals that of a nauseous Jean-Paul Sartre with a stubbed toe. It’s bleak. It’s bleak, indeed.
Pierre has his reasons for this crisis of faith. His country is ruined. His friends are dead. He’s just witnessed a horrible execution and now he’s a prisoner of war. Worry plagues him and he cannot sleep so, like someone who braves a political thread on twitter, he opens his eyes and stares vacantly into the darkness.
That’s one way to handle a bad situation.
There is, however, another way to handle a bad situation and that way is provided by Platon Karataev, a fellow prisoner Pierre meets today.
Platon is also a prisoner of war. He has also seen his country ruined and his friends die. He’s a peasant though so he doesn’t have Pierre’s rich, aristocratic heritage to draw strength from. Yet, despite being in such wretched conditions, he seems to be content with his lot.
He has his reasons for his robustness in the face of adversity. As it happens, Palton is an exponent of some of the practices we’ve advocated for in A Year of War and Peace. Surely you’ll recall Day 45’s meditation from Marcus Aurelius: “As physicians have always their instruments and knives ready for cases that suddenly require their skill, so do you have principles ready for the understanding of things divine and human, and for doing everything, even the smallest, with a recollection of the bond that unites the divine and human to each other.”
The instruments Platon carries around with him are pithy maxims he employs whenever confronted with hardship. “Where there’s law there’s injustice,” he replies to Pierre’s complaint of arrest. “Never decline a prison or a beggar’s sack!” he exclaims echoing Seneca’s dictum that fire tests gold as hardship tests brave men. Reflecting on their tribulations Platon endorses Marcus Aurelius’s hard brand of fatalism telling Pierre, “That’s how it is, my kind friend. Fate looks for a head. But we are always judging, ‘that’s not good — that’s not right!’ Our luck, my little friend, is like water in a fish-net; you tug and it bulges, you pull it out there’s nothing there! That’s how it is.’”
Perhaps Pierre, in an effort to adjust his outlook, could adopt one of our recent meditations on the importance of having a role model to pattern our behavior after. Platon Karataev, a man seemingly immune to the vicissitudes of life, seems to be a good role model. If Pierre is able to develop a character like Platon’s he’ll be able to endure even the most difficult of hardships.
Hence the life of every man is stamped with the same character throughout, however much his external circumstances may alter; it is like a series of variations on a single theme.
Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life