The “here and now” and cell phone use.

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Cell phones and the connectivity they provide are an amazingly powerful tool.  I did not have a cellphone until 2003-2004, my senior year in high school.  Back then, it was a flip phone, which could make calls, play the game Snake, send texts (with four pushes of the number 7 for an ‘S’, and text-only web-browsing which we did not pay for, and thus did not have.  Now many, if not most, phones can surf the internet, keep you plugged into social network with push-notifications, watch videos, find a partner or hook up, get directions with GPS guidance, and more besides.  You can even play GameBoy games in addition to Flappy Bird, Candy Crush, and Farmville.

Let’s not even touch the phenomenon of the “selfie.”

The tool is a powerful one, no question, and it’s one which has over the past decade taken an increasingly large share of our lives and attention.  This trend is one which caused me some concern, and I had the sneaking suspicions that something untoward was afoot.

My suspicion was that I was spending too much time on the device, and that this was pulling me away from my loved ones, my studies, and the people in my life.  Additionally, I had the suspicion that my cellphone was hampering my attention, my ability to concentrate, and was keeping me from focusing on the moment; the hic et nunc.  At any moment, we can pull out a device if we’re waiting, or sitting, or otherwise unoccupied.

For two weeks, I tracked my cell phone use.  I tracked the number of times I called the screen from off to on (Checky), and also the number of minutes spent using the device (QualityTime).  I tracked “checks” for longer than I did minutes, and for a portion of the “minutes” period, I was lacking a computer, so would have maybe watched a film or something, which you can see in the latter part of the week.   So, I tracked the number of checks, meaning the number of times per day I check the phone.  This could be to check the time, email, texts, SnapChat, Facebook, even WordPress for this blog.  All of which send me notifications.

Let me share with you the results, which are not flattering, but were eye-opening.

checks_per_day
For checks per day, there appears to be a mediating effect of measuring the checks.  Each day, at noon, I would get a report from the previous day, which would also show me the current day’s checks.  There’s a pretty clear trend downwards.  The same trend is not present for minutes, although for the latter part of the week, I did not have access to a computer at all, which I suspect was a contributing factor.minutes_per_day

Overall, this exercise pointed out to me with glaring, flashing, neon lights that I am using devices, connectivity, and social media in way which is not conducive to Stoic philosophy.

More on this idea, about restricting technologies, which I’ve been pondering over the past few weeks, is here.

In the coming weeks and months, I will undertake to re-focus how I’m spending my time, and which technologies I will permit to enter my day.  I suspect that there are some pretty significant changes on the horizon for me, and those of philosophical relevance will be discussed here.

I’m wondering if readers have any similar thoughts or realizations.  Have any readers here undertaken similar experiments, and what were your thoughts afterwards?  If anyone is inspired to undertake a similar experiment, there are a variety of apps available to track these metrics.  I simply kept track of the results on a Google Drive spreadsheet, which I also used to produce the graphs.  Feel free to share your results in the comments.

Camp Seneca: Day 13 – The Seventh Precept

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“For this is the object always set before him by the wise and good man … Is it to marry? No; but if marriage is allowed to him, in this matter his object is to maintain himself in a condition conformable to nature.”

— Epictetus, Discourses IV.5



The seventh of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

7.  To use sex only for virtuous purposes, and within the confines of fidelity.

We take it upon ourselves to use our sexual faculties with kindness and virtue. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XII, Lectures XIII A and XIII B, Lecture XIV, and Lecture XV in regards to family life.

 

I don’t think is a topic I’ve addressed much.  The other day, I promised an issue which I thought should raise some controversy… but really hasn’t.  So the section from Musonius on which this precept is based states that sexual activity is only acceptable within the confines of marriage and for the purpose of procreation.

You can see that I’ve made a change a here, for “within the confines of fidelity.”  I admit this is a divergence.  There’s a few reason for it.  One is that concept of marriage these days has a controversy surrounding its definition and applicability which I wanted to avoid.  It’s not my intent to exclude anyone from using this system.  Second, I think Musonius may have been a little short-sighted in this position which we took.

Musonius values the institution of family highly, and neglect the bonding and closeness between married persons which is only aided by sexual activity between them seems a glaring omission.  My thought, is that Musonius has actually made an error.  The sexual act is pleasurable, but the Stoic should be able to see its utility beyond the pleasure which occurs with it.

It’s important that he or she does not become a slave to it, but its presence shouldn’t be a reason to turn aside entirely.

For these reasons, I’ve adopted the term fidelity in the precept rather than marriage.

This is something which I expected lots of controversy around, but only ever received maybe one comment towards that end.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Camp Seneca: Day 11 – The Sixth Precept

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“Aeschylus at the Isthmian games was watching a boxing-match, and when one of the men was hit the crowd in the theatre burst into a roar. Aeschylus nudged Ion of Chios, and said, “You see what a thing training is; the man who is hit says nothing; it is the spectators who shout.” ”

— Plutarch,  How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue.



The sixth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

6.To strengthen the body and soul through cold and heat, thirst and hunger, scarcity of food and hardness of bed, and abstaining from pleasure and enduing pain.

We take it upon ourselves to experience austerity, that we might become more wise, more just, more temperate, and more courageous. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture VI and Lecture VII in regards to training and austerities.

I’ve discussed training at least or twice on the blog.  The core theory is described in this post.  Then, some of the specifics were distilled here.  Finally, the Rule of Musonius was produced from these ideas.

Epictetus gives a warning:

“We ought not to train ourselves in unnatural or extraordinary actions, for in that case we who claim to be philosophers shall be no better than mountebanks. For it is difficult to walk on a tight-rope, and not only difficult but dangerous as well…”

— Epictetus, Discourses III.12.

So we know that we’re not engaging in beds of nails, or emaciated bodies, or damaging the body.  Not all movement is progress, and considering the wide variety of human practices that we have available, we need to pick and choose carefully.

“Since it so happens that the human being is not soul alone, nor body alone, but a kind of synthesis of the two, the person in training must take care of both, the better part, the soul, more zealously; as is fitting, but also of the other, if he shall not be found lacking in any part that constitutes man.”

— Musonius, Lecture VI.

Musonius breaks down the two kinds of training, in the above.  In one of the previous posts I broke that down into:

  • Soul and Body:
    • Designed to instill discipline to both by exposure to:
      • cold and heat
      • thirst and hunger
      • meager rations
      • hard beds
      • avoidance of pleasure
      • patience under suffering (note: not causing suffering)
  • Soul Alone:
    • Designed to build the habit of handling impressions appropriately
      • to have ready to mind the proofs regarding apparent and real goods and evils
      • distinguish between apparent and real goods and evils
      • practice in not avoiding apparent evils
      • practice in not pursuing apparent goods
      • practice in avoiding real evils
      • practice in pursuing real goods.

This precept is geared to the first type, of body and soul together.  Parts of this practice are woven throughout the other precepts, in eating only once per day, we’re experiencing hunger, in dressing modestly and not for fashion we can choose things that allow us to feel the heat or cold.  In controlling our sexual urges and abstaining from alcohol, we’re avoiding pleasures, etc.

“I am inclined to pleasure: in order to train myself I will incline beyond measure in the opposite direction. I am disposed to avoid trouble: I will harden and train my impressions to this end, that my will to avoid may hold aloof from everything of this kind.”

—Epictetus, Discourses III.12

The issue of pleasure is an interesting one.  Since pleasure and pain are classed as indifferents.  We have the story of the Spartan boy who asked if pain were not a good, Musonius references this, .

If then we place these two young men in the position of pupils of a philosopher arguing that death, toil, poverty, and the like are not evils, or again that life, pleasure, wealth, and the like are not goods, do you imagine that both will give heed to the argument in the same fashion, and that one will be persuaded by it in the same degree as the other? Far from it. The one reluctantly and slowly, and fairly pried loose by a thousand arguments, will perhaps in the end give sign of assent—I mean of course the dullard. The other quickly and readily will accept the argument as cogent and relevant to himself, and will not require many proofs nor a fuller treatment. Was not just such a lad that Spartan boy who asked Cleanthes the philosopher if toil was not a good?

— Musonius, Lecture 1.

and it’s also related in Lives VII.5

A Lacedaemonian having declared that toil was a good thing, he was overjoyed and said,

          “Thou art of gentle blood, dear child.”

— Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers VII.5

 

The danger of the doctrine relating to pleasure is that the situation is one in which self-delusion is possible.  “If pleasure is an indifferent,” we might be inclined to say, “then it doesn’t matter if I indulge.”

But indulgence trains the moral will.

And that is the core reason behind this precept.

 


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Camp Seneca: Day 10 – The Fifth Precept

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“Socrates, I supposed that philosophy must add to one’s store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest: the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic.”

— Xenophon, Memorabilia I.6.2



The fifth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

5.  To cut not the beard, and the hair only to remove what is useless.

We men take it upon ourselves to leave the beard, nature’s symbol of the male as it is formed by Nature. All of the προκόπτωντες take it upon ourselves to only cut the other hair as necessity and utility may demand, not for fashion nor to appear beautiful in the eyes of others. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XXI in regards to the cutting of hair.

I’ve discussed beards before in this post.  Surprisingly to me, the thing in the Rule of Musonius that gets the most criticism is this precept on beards.  Which is strange to me, because there’s a much larger criticism that could be levied that we’ll talk about towards the end of these daily precept posts.

The issue about hair might at first seem to be about vanity, or about culture, or some other issue which we generally class as vicious at worst, or indifferent at best.  So why should this be something the Stoic προκόπτων concerns him- or herself with?  Female προκόπτωντες do not need to worry about the prescription regarding the beard, but the cutting of hair matters to both.  We’ll address each in turn.

Epictetus’ reasoning is that the beard is placed by nature as the symbol of the male, like the rooster’s comb, or lion’s mane, to which Musonius also agrees.  To keep the beard, is κατὰ φύσιν, or in accordance with the nature of things.  For Epictetus, the beard is a matter of piety, so important that he would accept death rather than to go against nature.

“Come now, Epictetus, shave off your beard,”
        If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not shave it off.

“Then I will have you beheaded,”
        It if will do you any good, behead me.

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2.29

Hair is not burdensome, Musonius tells us, like feathers to a bird unless there is some illness.  To trim or cut the hairs of the head for utility is as in accord with nature as letting it grow, this comes from Zeno, but it shouldn’t be for fashion.

There’s even a section of this lecture where Musonius attacks a specific hairstyle, examples of which can be seen at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

“For they, you know, plait some parts of their hair, some they let fall free, and some they arrange in some other way in order to appear more beautiful.”

If we took a very close look, we might even then restrict ourselves to hair cuts of a single length, either letting it grow, or more a short buzz-cut.  If I’m correct, the statues that Dillon mentions which I’ve included above would be these, but views from the side and back are not available:

Pair of Portrait Busts of Youths and Two Marble Eyes

Pair of Portrait Busts of Youths and Two Marble Eyes, at Getty Museum.

So for the Musonius and Epictetus, they’re clearly of one mind on this issue, the beard and hair is worthy of attention.  It’s important to remember that while these external things are externals, how we handle them is a matter of virtue or vice.

For Epictetus, the beard is a matter of piety, so important that he would accept death rather than to go against nature.

“Come now, Epictetus, shave off your beard,”
        If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not shave it off.

“Then I will have you beheaded,”
        It if will do you any good, behead me.

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2.29

 


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Camp Seneca: Day 9 – The Fourth Precept

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“Socrates, I supposed that philosophy must add to one’s store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest: the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic.”

— Xenophon, Memorabilia I.6.2



The fourth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

4.  To dress simply, for protection of the body, and without vanity.

We take it upon ourselves to dress for the minimum protection of the body and for modesty, and not for fancy fashions or mere proclivity. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XIX and Lecture XX in regards to clothing, furnishings, and coverings.

I’ve discussed clothing before, it’s an idea I’ve been chewing on for over a year now, in The Philosopher’s Cloak Mark I  and Mark II.  If you read those two pieces, you’ll see what I think is the core of the practice related to the Fourth Precept.

For Camp Seneca, I’ve restricted myself to a black button-up shirt and jeans as an exercise in minimal protection, and avoiding vanity.  The temperature here is also flirting with three digits in Freedom Units, so there is a bit of practice for toleration of cold/heat as well.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Camp Seneca: Day 8 – The Third Precept

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“[T]he rational and the irrational appear such in a different way to different persons, just as the good and the bad, the profitable and the unprofitable. For this reason, particularly, we need discipline, in order to learn how to adapt the preconception of the rational and the irrational to the several things conformably to nature.”

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2



The third of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

3.To eat no animal-flesh, with moderation and simply.

We take it upon ourselves to eat no animal-flesh, but those things produced by animals are acceptable.  We take it upon ourselves to eat for health, with self-control (σωφροσύνη), and according to our nature. We take it upon ourselves to train to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lectures XVIII A and XVIII B in regards to food and drink.

On the first day, we discussed food in general.  Musonius devotes a rather long lecture (usually broken into two parts) to food.  The text says its a topic which was often discussed, and that for Musonius the foundation of moderation begins with eating.

For Camp Seneca, I’m interpreting ‘with moderation’ as eating once a day, or sometimes twice if need be.  This is noted in the texts as the frequency with which we are presented with the choices surrounding food.

Eating once a day has gotten much easier since day one, although I did have two meals over the weekend.  Coupled with the vegetarian diet he suggests, I have eaten less than I generally do.  As a result, I’m losing some weight, a little less than 4-lbs last week.

I’m doing my best not to make “Musonius’ vegetarianism” a “pizza, pasta, and rice” diet, and I’m trying to focus on healthier choices.  I’m also trying to avoid “wallowing in the pickles and sauces,” as it were.

I have also been abstaining from alcohol, which is not something explicitly stated in Musonius, but we do have some cautionary tales in Seneca.  As I stated before, the Stoic position on alcohol is not one of complete abstinence, but I’m finding this period useful to me.

I have also cut out caffeine and sugary drinks, excepting an occasional cherry juice for my joints.

So far, the exercise has a been a good one, and the regimen seems like it’s very do-able for a period of time.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.