A new fb group for Appalachian Stoics: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2415356041866522/
If virtue promises to enable us to achieve happiness, freedom from passion, and serenity, then progress towards virtue is surely also progress towards each of these states … if, when someone gets up in the morning … he bathes as a trustworthy person, and eats as a self-respecting person, putting his guiding principles into action in relation to anything he has to deal with, just as a runner does in practising running … this then is the person who is truly making progress; this is the one who hasn’t travelled in vain.
— Epictetus, Discourses 1.4. 4, 20-1
I have participated in Stoic Week every year since 2013, although not always during the specified time frame. I think I first learned about it in April of 2014, and did the previous year’s by myself.
Stoic Week is like a philosophical Lent for me, a call to reorient, reengage, and rededicate myself to philosophy.
While I think that many times it skips over important practical and theoretical underpinnings of our School, it’s an excellent introduction.
This is not really on any particular topic, and we’re not talking a +2 Charisma amulet, but I wanted to toss an idea out there that I’ve been chewing on for a little bit. It’s not really even Stoicism-per-se, or even philosophy, really. It is however meta-relevant to us, our practice, and our School. And, it’s fairly serious.
I don’t have a moral problem with profit or people being fairly remunerated for their efforts. And yet, I’ve always had a … distaste for the popularizers of Stoicism who seem to be focused on making money, or focused on helping their readers make money, or get power, or just get their way in social situations. They are often sardonically called “$toics” or something along those lines.
Outside of the $toics, we have popularizers who make money doing actual philosophy, that’s a separate thing, but one which is still orbiting this discussion, if at a great distance. Whether I agree with them or not isn’t the operative thing for these categories, it should be clear to any reader who goes in which camp. I disagree (often at length) with some folks who make money doing philosophy but are by no means “$toics.” So, to be clear, that’s really not what I’m writing about here. However, these two should have these same concerns for themselves, I do for myself.
I think I may have finally identified why I feel this way about money and philosophy. (I stress “finally” because this post has been a half-written draft for quite literally more than three years. WordPress tells me this is the 16th revision.)
In most societies in the east and west, long running traditions in which we have specialized people guiding and teaching about life would have an opportunity for impropriety which would be extreme. Think middle age indulgences in the Catholic church, as an example. Their ability to influence people and money is different and greater than the average person’s. As such, their need for concern here is much higher than the average person.
One protection against this are vows of poverty and chastity, or so it seems to me. In fact, we see that lots of societies chose this route. Where these exist, the people in “high leverage potential positions” aren’t “playing the game” that the people listening to them are. It’s harder to leverage property, money, sex, power or anything else when everyone knows you’re not handling those things yourself. You can ask someone that you know won’t be competing with you in the market, or in the political area for advice on the moral course of action and have a little more confidence that you’re getting good advice if they don’t stand to benefit from your loss. Not perfectly, but maybe better than it might otherwise be.
This doesn’t work all the time, obviously. We have scandals and crimes in the east and west over sexual assault, misappropriation of funds, and other awful crimes. Oftentimes, the organizations become so large and powerful despite this, that they can protect the criminals from justice. We even have organizations posing as religious institutions to leverage the space we’ve carved out for them. That’s also not good. Historically, the Roman Church was a government in Europe, and the Orthodox Church in Greece today leverages a lot of influence in the government of that country. So again, not perfect.
This isn’t the only solution, clearly. It may not even be the most efficient one, or the best. But is a solution. We don’t even have a bad one at them moment. Thus this discussion…
The opportunity for impropriety exists in the modern Stoic renaissance we find ourselves in, and the rewards for churning out low-effort, low-accuracy information that appeals to popular demographics are great. This skews the signal-to-noise ratio of our discourse, and not in the direction we would like. The folks who are selling book after book, trinkets, coins, etc. may have gone astray. Others will certainly follow. We, ourselves have to constantly monitor our work and our efforts to ensure we don’t tend in that direction.
With all that being said, is it fair to expect “philosophical workers” to do so for free? How can we support those folks so they have the time and space to actually do that work?
How do we handle this, as a community?
In summary, my two questions are:
1) What voluntary system or standard can we propose to the Stoic community which will help protect against this sort of corruption?
2) What can we create that will allow us to support folks so that they have the time and space to do philosophical work?
Many folks here are in some way or other involved in producing philosophical content, teaching, moderating, or even just consuming the products of these efforts. So it seems a likely place to brainstorm possible solutions. Feel free to share this wherever you have the best discussions online, within the rules as allowed there. If you do, please tag me in the comments, so I can read the responses, and participate in those discussions.
Thanks in advance.
Longtime readers will remember that I’ve written about Socratic Meditation in the past. I recently came across this paper, and am in the process of reading it. I can’t speak to its conclusions or methods (as I haven’t read them yet) but I thought I would share it with you in case you’re also interested in this avenue of exploration.
Here’s the paper: “Socratic Meditation And Emotional Self-Regulation: A Model For Human Dignity In The Technological Age,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 24 (2013): 1-29. (with Paul Carron). This link may require registration to download, but should be readable without logging in.
I would like to devote more time in the coming weeks to developing a meditation practice. While I wrote about it previously, I haven’t done much of it of this sort. I’ve been reading a bit about different meditation types, and this hint about Socrates’ practice keeps nagging at me, and really merits some further investigation.
If any readers of the blog have a formal meditation practice, I’m interested in your findings experiences, and thoughts in this regard. Please let me know in the comments or privately as you choose.
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After reading the paper, this isn’t too much here as far as non-technical information that I didn’t cover in my first description. It was nice to see some of my conclusions and inferences supported. I don’t have the technical background to speak to the section on research and brain states, but it was interesting.
My overall conclusions remain the same: that this is a practice which merits further exploration.
“[Typically we wail] ‘How unlucky I am, that this should have happened to me!’ By no means; say rather, ‘How lucky I am, that it has left me with no bitterness; unshaken by the present, and undismayed by the future.’”
This section has two main themes as I see it. The first, being on the shortness of life, that no matter the trial or efforts spent in extending it, it is always blazingly short. The second, on which I would like to focus today, is on that the suffering of life occurs as judgments, and not as facts of themselves. The quote I pulled for today leans us that way.
This has been one of those tenets of Stoicism that has been gathering rust on my tool bench. It’s a strange one, because from the outside it seems impossible. But, once you take up the lens, and begin to examine in the world, it sees self-evident. “Why is this physical affliction happening to me? Woe is me!” is so entirely different from “this body falls apart, but nothing eternal has been lost.” It could be, that in looking at my Stoic tools, since I’m sliding into something akin to a well worn pair of shoes, they fit. I don’t remember finding this as simple a chance in the past as it seems today.
Every being on this planet, and likely in the cosmos, suffers. Or so it seems to me. All life requires death, and so far as we know, only humanity has the meta-awareness to observe this. And so the suffering *means* something to us. You can see pain in a dog, and you can see learned behaviors of avoidance, anxiety, etc. This is often heartbreaking to many of us. Yet, that same dog sets those signals of emotion aside when his favorite human enters the room. He’s not plagued by the thing once it has left, or been replaced by something else.
That seems to be a human characteristic.
Yet, we too can set those aside, especially when they have been incorrectly assented to. Is this pain of the leg an evil? No, it’s a pain of the leg. The fact that I cannot walk well today means I’ll be a bit slower. I no longer hear well, so I ask for some help, I use tools to aid me, I learn a new language, and make new friends as well.
That’s been something I haven’t discussed on the blog much at all, but I’ve been having some changes in my hearing as a result of childhood and genetic issues. As such, I’ve been wearing amplifiers, learning American Sign Language, and making new friends in the Deaf community. Such is life, it sometimes takes us down unexpected paths.
I mourned the loss of my hearing for some time, quite a while actually. I quit going out to see friends, I got angry and bitter. Now I have some projects to work on, increasing my proficiency with ASL, meeting new people, and learning to navigate what is becoming to me, a new normal.
Hopefully I can be the rock Marcus wishes for himself, while the waves crash around it only to fall still once more. And all of us making progress can pick back up a tool we’ve laid aside.
“Very soon you will be dead; but even yet you are not single-minded, nor above disquiet; not yet unapprehensive of harm from without; not yet charitable to all men, not persuaded that to do justly is the only wisdom.”
Frequently, in this section I think sarcastically, “Jeeze, Marcus, just @ me already…” I’ve been in a weird spot lately, and for some reason I haven’t been using the tools I developed through my Stoic practice to handle them. I have start over. I’m fairly aware that progress is a thing that slips if we’re not careful, and I more fully understand Hadot’s description of it as tension. I let loose of it, and it’s slipped away.
It’s possible that such a phase was needed, required for what comes next. I will take it as such.
In these sections, Marcus admonishes himself and then offers the solution. The turmoil and lack of progress that we often see in our lives is accepted, and then he moves on with a Stoic therapy. I see hints of Heraclitus’ river, and Marcus’ own View from Above. He describes the machinations and activities of generations, each arising, and then falling away, to leave only fossils in the minds of men.
Yet he takes solace in the connection that he has with the cosmos, with God, if you will. His part to play, his duties, his chance for virtue; these bring some comfort in the face of an eternity which quickly wipes clean the slate of our lives.
It’s probably because Marcus was an emperor, and I am not, but I do not take the same comfort in the yoking of duties as Marcus does. Oftentimes, those seem to me to be just another, more complicated form of distraction or preoccupation. Maybe if I had the fate of the west on my shoulders, I’d feel differently.
But I don’t.
We know a lot about Diogenes, who made himself a paragon example, that some fraction of it might take root in the minds of his fellows. But we (or at least I) know less of the Cynics which came after, those who are often described as fashionable non-conformists, watered down, and haranguing the citizens. Do they know they were watered down? Was it a ploy? A way out? Or did they think they were doing their best, or even to improve?
Ah, yes. Well, those questions are not answerable, but their parallel can be seen in our School, too. Are we watered down? If we veer, have we improved or faltered? Are we brave enough to ask? Hard to tell until we get there. I might veer a bit, we’ll see.
“To be in the process of change is not an evil, any more than to be in the product of change is a good.”
Conclusion: bears are just not that into Stoicism.
* Pink shaded are locations of readers’ traffic to this blog. This is pretty neat, to see the wide variety of interested parties, or at least the preference for VPN traffic.
This blog has been running for about five years now, which is quite some time. It saw the beginning of the Great Popularization of Stoicism, the peak, and what I suspect now is a sort of decline and probably a ground floating point. I’ve seen the signal to noise ratio fluctuate dramatically, and I think we’re actually at a low point of that, currently. I hope to see it get a bit better in the coming years.
This blog’s function has fluctuated in that time, also. Its level of discourse has risen and fallen, as has my activity here. But stats like the ones represented by the map above are pretty humbling.
Thanks for a half-decade of readership.