A friend emailed me and mentioned that he’d encountered the term Stoicism several times lately. That stimulated some online research and thought, and here is the result.
I stopped to think about it, and realized that when I think of Stoicism, I usually think of Asceticism; just 3 seconds’ thought makes it clear that isn’t correct, so I googled Stoicism quickly, and figured out where that misapprehension came from:
Stoics face their fears by deliberately trying to experience what they fear. Since fear of poverty (starving, freezing, etc) is a fear most people have, the Stoics recommended periodic stretches of deprivation to help one realize material things aren’t that important. So asceticism is a Stoic exercise, but not necessarily a tenet of the philosophy.
Here’s a definition of Stoicism:
[Stoicism] asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.
The other impact of googling it was realizing that even though I never overtly studied Stoicism, over time I have separately arrived at many of the same views as Stoics. I often say I am a philosophical Buddhist, because although I don’t embrace the religion at all, I do think one significant source of unhappiness in life is wanting more than you have, especially when those goals are not achievable.
(Aside: which puts me in the curious position of my guitar angst coming from wanting to want less…so I have more than I want and should be happy, but I manage to make myself unhappy by wanting to want even less, so to want less than I have, in this case, would be to accept that I have more guitars than I want to have. Okay, now I’m dizzy)
Anyway, one core touchstone of my personal philosophy is that you can’t control what you feel, but you can control what you do about what you feel. That grew out of the realization that I can’t control other people, I can control only myself.
I found a long time ago that I was much happier when I was “centered”, a term I borrowed from New Age or some crap, but what I meant by it was “within myself”, i.e., worrying only about what I can control, i.e., my own actions, and letting everything else go.
My wife is very capable of pulling me off-center, of course, although over the last year I’ve gotten much better at remaining centered even despite her influence and impact on me.
And I’ve also dealt with the frustrations and disappointments of being a Chiefs fan by inadvertently developing a Stoic attitude toward their game results.
“It is what it is” is Stoicism, right?
Here’s a picture of a bust of a Stoic:
Back in my Army days, when I got frustrated because we were not only spending the day doing boring training, but we had finished all the standards and they still held us there because we finished too early, I thought up the idea that, “Everyone has to be somewhere. I have to be somewhere, too, sometimes, and right now, this is where I have to be. So I might as well accept it.”
Later, starting a few years ago, I started thinking: This is life. This is all there is. I can’t know there is an afterlife or that anything I do matters. Okay, fine. I should enjoy every moment, while it lasts; when I’m stuck doing something not so fun, don’t waste my mental energy fretting about what I’d rather be doing, but make the most of it.
That seems Stoic, too.
It makes me wonder if I could somehow make it through actual torture by trying to analyze and experience the pain, to change it into something else. Probably not, and I hope I don’t have to find out.
I’ve also analyzed, learned, and tried to teach my kids: there are perhaps three sensations in life: stimulation, peace, and sating of appetites.
Stimulation is infatuation, sex, drunkenness, flavor, excitement, etc. Those are enjoyable because they are strong. But you need ever more input to feel the same level of stimulation…besides the body developing a tolerance, the Primacy/Recency principle means that you can only have one first time, and repeated applications of a stimulation will inevitably have a lesser mental effect. Stimulation is always a relative sensation, and is measured in degrees.
On the other hand, peace is an absolute sensation: you either have it or you don’t. You can never have too much peace. So I seek peace, satisfaction with myself and with life, acceptance, sufficiency, etc, and have tried to teach my kids to seek the same things.
Sating of appetites is a basic urge that constantly renews. You will always return to hunger, and you can reduce your the tolerance you build up for certain appetite satisfactions via abstinence. I’ve tried to control my appetites, and also tried to teach my kids that, too.
To restate, the point of this interminable musing is that I now think I have been living a life based on many Stoic tenets without realizing it. But looking at this, I can see I could do more to deliberately follow the philosophy. Not that I (or anyone) have to fulfill a Stoic ideal, but even after just a quick scan of the list, I think I would be happier and more satisfied with myself and my life if I did work harder on achieving Principles 6-9, particularly in relation to my aspirations to be a professional writer.
In my highly-subjective opinion, Stoicism is very closely related to Right-wing ideology, and incompatible with Left-wing ideology. However, apparently the New Yorker ran an article very recently on How to be a Stoic.
I cannot imagine a philosophy less compatible with modern Progressivism than Stoicism. The cornerstone of Progressive ideology is victimization gives power, i.e., the more outraged you are about things outside your control, the more consideration and benefits you deserve. Progressives don’t actually want the power to fix the problems they think they have, they just want to have power in other areas to compensate. If they were ever given the power to fix the problems, they would then be responsible and no longer be victims.
To me, it seems like Progressives could use a healthy dose of Stoicism. Moreover, the stereotypical Millennial could also benefit greatly from embracing Stoicism, recognizing that all emotions come from within rather than being compelled from external events, accepting that living often means failing, and that growth comes from overcoming failure.
If this article has stimulated interest in Stoicism, here is another good article that puts the philosophy into context with competing philosophies, so you can grasp a better understanding through the comparison and contrast.
Finally, here’s a picture of a guitar: