The gangster Al Capone lived a colorful, if romanticized life. He amassed wealth, disposed of rivals, and thwarted the law.
But his life ended in a sad mess. Delusional and incontinent, Al Capone faded from the world.
A recent movie, Capone dramatizes the events in excruciating detail. It is not fun to watch. I'm not recommending it by any means, but I was struck by the following line in a review:
The question every producer or studio executive asks before plunging into production is “why do we care about this person?” The answer here is we don’t... He’s [Capone] a spent shell casing, a victim of dementia whose paranoid visions come from B movies and verge on parody.
In a movie, we expect the producers and actors to show us why we should care about the characters. But Capone, apparently, just showed the sad ending off, what appeared to an unremarkable man. He could been anyone.
But that's perhaps that the point. We don't care about the ending of Capone's life. That's not the exciting, romanticized period of Capone's life.
It reminded me of Marcus Aurelius's meditation:
Hippocrates cured many illnesses—and then fell ill and died. The Chaldaeans predicted the deaths of many others; in due course their own hour arrived. Alexander, Pompey, Caesar—who utterly destroyed so many cities, cut down so many thousand foot and horse in battle—they too departed from this life. Heraclitus often told us the world would end in fire. But it was moisture that carried him off; he died smeared with cow dung. Democritus was killed by ordinary vermin, Socrates by the human kind.
The American philosopher, Robert Nozick, wrote that we prefer lives that slope upwards in happiness to those that slope downward. We'd prefer to have an immature, immoral, and unhappy beginning to our life than an immature, immoral, and unhappy ending. Even if both options have the same amount of happiness.
The upshot for Stoics is to focus on progressing one's character. That's how the good in one's life slopes upward.
Capone's delusional fantasies and breakdown were the product of earlier decisions. We cannot avoid how things will end or control the state we'll be in at the end. But we can control who we are.