- I have made bad choices in the past. These are outside of my zone of control. I will make bad choices in the future. These are also outside of my zone of control. All I can do is control my present choices. Sometimes the appropriate thing to do is to make plans for the future or examine the past to see how I could have done things better, but I should never fool myself that I can control such things. All I have is now.
- Responsibility is heavy, but I am strong enough for the load. I must not falter. This is not an injunction for the future, but an injunction for right now.
- To be virtuous is difficult, but it is what I must do. Being virtuous means controlling my emotions, wiping out irrelevant thoughts, and doing what is appropriate to the moment and context. There is no rule for determining what I ought to do at a given moment, only the question of what is appropriate now.
- Willpower is a limited resource for me, but it can be cultivated, inch by painful inch.
- I must observe my environment. I must remember that, regardless of whether or not causality fits in modern physics or not, the fact remains that causality, or something like it, is an intimate part of my life. In the everyday human world, it is at least useful to assume that every event has a cause. I must see everything as part of the constantly-evolving interconnected web of causality. At all times, I must observe what leads to what. When a cause leads to a bad effect, prevent that cause from obtaining if possible. When a cause leads to a good effect, cultivate that cause.
If you want to know what Stoicism was as it was practiced by the ancient Greeks and Romans, then you should probably go read Wikipedia or something. I am sure that there have been endless numbers of books written on the history and implications of Stoicism. I’m not in the business of re-inventing the wheel, so I have something different in mind here. First, I want to say what this blog is for. Second, I want to outline my own conception of Stoicism.
What This Blog is About, and What It’s For
What you will find here, that you will not find anywhere else on the internet, is the day-to-day life and reflections of a young Stoic in the 21st century. Yes, I consider myself a Stoic. No, I don’t consider myself a Stoic sage (there haven’t been any Stoic sages). No, I don’t care if you find my self-designation to be anachronistic, arrogant, pretentious, or silly. I call myself a Stoic because I do my absolute damnedest to follow those teachings of the Stoics that I think are correct, which is most of them. I call myself a Stoic because I believe that I have a particular personality and cast of mind that benefits greatly from Stoic philosophy.
My intention is twofold. One, keeping this blog will keep me honest. Hopefully, I will attract readers who can call me on my bullshit when I say something completely ridiculous and/or stupid. More to the point, if I have to put my thoughts on the internet, I will be more careful about the kinds of things I allow myself to think. It’s much harder to retain ridiculous notions when you have to put them out there in front of God and everybody (and, ladies and gentlemen, I am capable of entertaining some very ridiculous notions). Two, while I don’t consider myself at all wise or virtuous or even very Stoical, I want to share my thoughts on Stoicism with the world. More accurately, I want to share Stoicism with the world, because it’s a system of thought that, since my discovery of it, has made me happier than I’ve ever been, and I hope that someone else will benefit from my thoughts as much as I’ve benefited from the thoughts of the Stoics before me.
What Is Stoicism, Anyway?
I make no pretensions to being completely historically accurate in every detail on this point. I don’t want to give an exhaustive definition of Greek or Roman Stoicism. Rather, I want to communicate the general tenor of Stoic philosophy, in a way that shows both its usefulness to me and its relevance to modern life.
Stoicism, as I see it, consists in four things.
- Striving for apatheia. Apatheia sometimes translated as “apathy,” and while I don’t speak ancient Greek, I’m familiar enough with Stoicism to know that “equanimity” is a much more accurate term. Apatheia is the state that every Stoic aspires to, a state of perfect equanimity, where no outside influence can bother us. No one can reach perfect equanimity, of course, although some people come close; think of the Buddhist monks who burn themselves alive on camera as a form of protest, without crying out or even flinching! We can’t all have equanimity to that extent, but I use that example to show that more equanimity is humanly possible than perhaps you realize. Anyway, some of the ancient Stoics seem to think of apatheia as a state reserved for the mythical Stoic sage. But I follow Epictetus, who said, “Begin therefore from little things. Is a little oil spilt? A little wine stolen? Say to yourself, ‘This is the price paid for apathy, for tranquility, and nothing is to be had for nothing.’” This is important because it stresses that apatheia comes in degrees, which is something that I hold to be true.
- Striving for kindness. The Stoics speak often of being kind, gentle, and benevolent. I think of being kind as distinct from being polite or nice. If someone is being a jackass and embarrassing themselves, then the kind thing to do might be to tell them, in no uncertain terms, that they’re being a jackass and that they need to knock it off. That wouldn’t be very nice, but it’s ultimately in their best interest and is thus kind. Of course, niceness might be a kind of default; I think it’s generally a good maxim to be as nice as possible until someone gives you a good reason to behave otherwise.
- Striving for wisdom. “Wisdom” is a slippery term, but I define it as a useful and veridical understanding of how things work, especially human beings. A wise person should also be difficult to deceive.
- Striving for virtue. This one kind of sums up all the previous points. If you are equanimous, kind, and wise, then ipso facto you’re virtuous. Indeed, Zeno of Citium (not to be confused with Zeno of Elea), the founder of Stoicism, thought that virtue was the highest good, and that “the good life” consisted in being virtuous. Most of the posts in this blog will concern virtue or one of its three tenets.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I must be a real douchebag if I think I’m equanimous, kind, wise and virtuous. Well, I don’t think I’m any of those things; I may be a Stoic, but I’m not a good Stoic. On that note, I should probably mention that, if I weren’t somewhat fucked up, I probably wouldn’t need Stoicism. I doubt I’ll ever be a Stoic sage, but it’s something I aspire to. I can be more equanimous, kinder, and wiser than I now am, which really isn’t saying much, considering how anxious, mean, and foolish I am right now. It’s only been in the past few months that I’ve really discovered how much I need and desire virtue, and it’s taken all this time for me to begin my quest. This blog will be a documentation of that.