on twitter and finding a "cato" (4/25)

There’s a lot of nonsense on Twitter these days.

Political jargon. Startups advertising their latest AI developments. Shitposts that only a handful of people find funny.

I used to be fairly out of touch with all this, with what’s performing well with the algorithm. But ever since I started writing, I’ve had no choice. Social media’s just part of the game – I had to turn to it. I had to, as author Ryan Holiday says, throw myself into the seat of intelligence.

There were a lot of things that I expected in my jump to part-time social media professional, including all of the wish-wash I included above. But, naively, one thing I didn’t expect was the amount of advice that users give out to their followers. The amount of guidance that one is expected to provide through their platform.

In a way, it makes sense. Intuitively, one should enjoy and relatively respect the words of those they follow.

Yet, at the same time, it’s completely counterintuitive to not only what we should be learning, but also who we should be learning from.

In one of his famous letters, speaking to his old friend Lucilius, Seneca says that if Lucilius is to “measure” himself, to fix himself straight, he must find himself a “Cato” – an ideal role model, someone to hold his principles up against at any time.

It’s not enough to scroll on social media, or watch a YouTube course, or even read a book to find our own Catos. What Seneca left out, had he known that millions of people would read his letter thousands of years later, was that he was younger than Cato, that he had lived to see Cato’s actions through and through. He saw first hand the effects that Cato’s actions had on Caesar’s civil war, and, in part, he developed his philosophy around it.

Searching for a Cato, for someone to live by on social media, is a Sisyphean task without that first-hand visibility. Social media provides a highlight reel – not the full game.

I’m not saying that you can’t look up to someone without having ever met them. Thelonious Monk got his “less is more” style and personality from listening to Count Basie. James Stockdale was able to survive a POW by listening to the advice of Epictetus (partially).

But, the path to wisdom is rarely lined with soundbites and Capcut edits. The greatest danger in searching for this guidance isn’t necessarily the inanity, but rather the illusion of knowledge – we risk mistaking the trailer for the movie itself.

The true Catos, if they do exist, are rarely the loudest voices in the room – it’s just a matter of listening to them.