Being a Stoic
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May 27, 2020
Are you actually a Stoic?
That is what Andrew Sweeny asked me when I spoke with him last week. I chuckled, because I was waiting for someone to ask me that question. The honest answer at the moment is that I do not care, but I understand this can be an annoying answer for some.
My buddy David McFadzean and I had an exchange on Twitter yesterday. I imagine he found it annoying, but I found it somewhat fun. I did find his first question annoying, hence I desired to respond in a way that I sense would annoy him.
I find my reliable male friends annoying these days, and boring, at their obviousness, and predictability. There is a masculine beauty in being predictable, and there is a currency in consistency. I can be consistent, which should be evident from my consistency in writing these, but it strikes me as the wrong move to be too obvious, because being obvious neuters the real.
There is no seduction in the obvious, and what appears like jazzy logical inconsistencies to some, could simply be them having a poverty of vision. Or maybe I am full of shit. There is a time and place to be obvious, and maybe that time is now. Am I actually a Stoic?
If I were to answer that with an earnest forthrightness I sense I would sound like Peterson answering the “do you believe in God” question, which surely sounds unnecessarily convoluted to some. Probably to those nerdy New Atheist types, and the ameliorate-my-anxiety-through-control rationalists, and the logicbros who have memorized all the logical fallacies to signal their prowess of logical coherency. Fuck it. These types annoy me, so I will happily sound like Peterson. Here is my answer:
On Stoic propositions: I nod my head to a lot of the core premises of Stoicism. I prefer key rephrases though, e.g. instead of live in accordance with nature, I prefer being in right relationship with reality. I am grounded in the cardinal virtues, especially prudence, or practical reasoning, the mother of all virtue. If you have ever been in dialogos with me, which my close friends have often, it is clear that I readily change my mind when presented with good reasoning. But what do we mean by reason? As Johnny V talked about at the last Stoicon conference in Toronto, it is not as easy of an answer as some would like us to think.
On Stoic temperament: I think I belong to the temperament that is drawn to Stoicism. Daniel once referred to Stoicism as mindfulness with muscle. Donald Robertson and I were talking about the types of people drawn to Stoicism: entrepreneurs, military personnel, extreme athletes, etc. Any one whose vocation deals with high uncertainty. These people become Stoics without even knowing the philosophy of Stoicism.
I’ll contrast this to people who are drawn to more Buddhistic schools, which will give me an opportunity to playfully throw shade at them. I was never attracted to Buddhistic thought, but I did dabble in it when I was younger. I recall going to one of Johnny V’s meditation classes years ago, before we became good friends. I invited one of my friends to the class, who happened to be a Korean Buddhist. After the session I asked him how he liked it, and this was the first thing he said: everyone was white.
Yeah, everyone in attendance except him was white. They all were stylish hipster-esque it is cool not to be white but I am still white type whites. I noticed most of my earnest white Buddhist friends usually have more sensitive temperaments, and they were all born in the Protestant tradition. My story here is that they were spiritually orphaned by Protestantism, and that Buddhists are philosophers of the monastery, not philosophers of the world, hence you do not need to put on too much muscle with that path.
On Stoic practice: at the Stoicon conference I mentioned above, I explicitly made the theme practice, because there is no consistent or agreed upon understanding of how Stoics actually practiced, or how they should practice. I wanted to launch the discussion to figure it out. The Modern Stoicism movement has some ideas, and practices are emerging out of the Stoa, such as Steve Beattie’s Stoic Breath.
When I talked to the beautiful and Stoic-as-fuck Alfsvoid on my podcast, she mentioned she practices in a simple and elegant way: remind yourselves of the principles, such as the dichotomy of control, amor fati, preferred indifferents, reserve clause, negative visualizations, etc. I view Stoic principles as improvisation-guiding heuristics won from lived and well-worn reasoning from Stoics of the past, in complex and chaotic environments .
As Alfsvoid was conveying to me yesterday, this type of Stoic practice is not enough, and I agree with her. However, in my darkest moments, this has been my consistent go to, and it has been a reliable friend.
On Stoic marketing: when I was last talking to Soryu, the head teacher at the Monastic Academy, we both agreed that our uses of Buddhism and Stoicism are partly marketing. Like Soryu, I am not egoically attached to the label of my philosophical tradition, and in the past I said I did not even identify as a Stoic. As well, at the Stoa, amongst the facilitators, it's basically only Daniel, Steve, and I who “practice” Stoicism. It is highly possible the daemon is doing a marketing bait and switch here.
So, am I actually a Stoic? I don't have a yes or no answer, and I return to my original one, which is still the most accurate: I do not care. I do care about the questions Andrew Sweeny just tweeted out though:
Is stoicism a ruse? What does a stoic worship? Is stoicism the religion that is not a religion?
Fuck. Now those are juicy questions.
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