The key to all aristeia and wisdom and gnosis is a seed that conformist and mediocritist and democratist Americans haven't got even a scintilla of a prospect of nourishing, and that is sapere aude: DARE TO BE WISE.
In this world, not to be concerned with the pursuit of arete means to be doomed not just in the struggle with life but also in the struggle with other peoples: a people so facile, slack and fatuous as not to prepare to defend itself has already naively resolved to live out its existence as the enslaved subjects of others. War is omnipresent, to some a demoralizing eventual fate of all cities, and to others "the [Heraclitean] father of all things," i.e. the spur to all forms of virtue and excellence. We should be as energized and passionate about our commitment to our utmost values and self-culture as the warrior must be in learning the arts upon which his very life will depend.
Men who have made "life" easier and more bountiful for moderns have done nothing to make life more eminently VALUABLE, fit to be valued. We appreciate our inventors and benefactors but in truth they have done nothing whatsoever to teach us how to make ourselves more excellent, more WORTHY of freedom and life and culture. It is all very well to feed multitudes with self-replicating fishes and loaves; but the question that goes unperceived is, AS WHAT are we helping man to survive? What are we encouraging this consumer to BECOME, to AIM AT, to HUNGER AFTER as the fulfillment of the whole purpose of his living?
Learning to free up or liberate one's mind to capture precisely the most essential points in anything is an athletic exercise in which, for the first time, we discover just what the actual cash-value of our "culture" truly is: has our culture contributed to making our minds more acute, clearer, more nimble and elastic? Has it given us a richer vocabulary of essences or concepts to facilitate our rational and moral digestion of issues? Or is our "culture" really no enzymatic culture at all, but merely a scheme of encumbrances, of intellectual and rational impediments that have been compounded out of endless Pavlovian conditionings, by which we came to accept fallacies and equivocations and deceptive connotations and lying rhetoric etc. as if they were the gospel truth? The premier value of reading the ancient thinkers lies in their aristocratic culture's determination to put an absolute premium on the development of acuity, directness, economy or essentiality of characterizations, etc. To be competent as an "aristos" (one committed absolutely to the cultivation of excellence or "arete" in its superlative degree), an individual was expected to keen his insights and judgment as much in the domain of intuition (being sensitive to the subtleties of the evidence, the realities) as in the domain of intellection (mustering the most apt tools of expression to characterize, conceptualize and evaluate these realities). Moderns have only the feeblest grasp of both of these processes.
Greek culture understands the key to understanding nature, instinct and organism as consisting in the endowment of each creature with some distinctive "excellence" or talent (arete). Among humans there is great controversy whether (because of the diversity among different character-types and the clash of different political and philosophical perspectives) there is at all such a unitary, universal or congruent thing as "excellence" for man per se. There are many aspectival or specialized excellences; but does man in general have a defining purpose or a metaphysically obligatory excellence that everyone, just insofar as he is human, is obligated to cultivate and pursue? --Or do we have a problem here in trying to extend the term "human" to creatures who really have little substantial in common with one another?