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Rather be Stoic than Cool
TLDR. Stoicism currently is not culturally deemed to be cool. You will not seem cool if you identify as a Stoic or get pattern-matched as one. You can still listen to cool music, though…
My last entry was about Stoicism. I do not like writing about Stoicism because I do not care about identifying as a Stoic. Besides, people attached to being a Stoic as their identity would not consider me a Stoic, given all the "transperspectival masturbation" I do, aka the exploration of the ecology of perspectives in the "noosphere," our collective mind.
When I saw my name mentioned in The New York Times last year, it elicited a "special-feeling" high. However, I was mildly irked to see myself mentioned as "a devotee of Stoic thought." I do not want to be associated with Stoicism publicly, especially not as a devotee. Stoicism has an uncool reputation from many sides of the culture:
Normies confuse dictionary stoicism with the philosophy of Stoicism, seeing it as some joyless emotionless disposition.
Leftists snark at it. They see it as something cringe that only anti-woke white guys trying to be badass call themselves.
“Woke people” see it as problematic; the philosophy adopted by the manosphere, alt-right, and white supremacists.
“Based people” see it as “mid,” choosing Nietzsche over Aristotle, receiving a vitalist rush from reading homoerotic bodybuilders instead of sexless Stoic authors.
Tech bros instrumentalize it. They use it as another life hack that will make them as successful and famous as Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.
Academic philosophers look down on it. The “badphilosophy” subreddit, a place where professional philosophers make fun of non-professional philosophers “doing philosophy,” considers Stoicism awful and unserious, illustrated by the following post: “It’s nothing but re-packaged bro-think and leaves no room for being human.”
Online intellectuals distance themselves from it, considering it a “larp” asdoes:
Personally speaking, I cannot stand seeing another Stoicism 101 book on a philosophy bookshelf,a clout-chasing Ryan Holiday thumbnail on my YouTube feed, or the overall dorkiness associated with some who talk about Stoicism online, larping Stoicism by displaying old statue busts and dusty photos of Athens on their blogs and podcasts. Stoicism, especially the modern expression, is not cool.
It is embarrassing to admit you want to seem cool because that is uncool. I want to seem cool. I must have an uncool gene. Loyalties to my Stoic-esque philosophy might make me seem uncool. I cannot help being loyal. I must have a loyalty gene. When I enter a relationship, I like to make it work. For example, I have only been in one committed romantic relationship my entire life, the relationship with my now wife, who I started dating 15 years ago.
Similarly, I started "dating" Stoicism 20 years ago. I have been in a relationship with the philosophy for 20 years now. Giving up on a relationship is easy, especially when the relationship might be responsible for me being uncool. I do not want to give up on Stoicism. I see its potential, or it sees mine. Many other perspectives in the noosphere do not see Stoicism as I do. They misperceive it. This misperceiving makes me sad.
My uncoolness used to make me sad. It does not make me sad anymore. Seeming uncool is a secret blessing because seeming cool is a curse. To seem cool, one must always be culturally a step ahead of everyone, which means one must be obsessed with what everyone is doing, taking great lengths to pretend they do not care. Moreover, one must find ways to make people obsessed with them, playing the “counterdependent” game to win over “co-dependent” spectators.
What a high a “cool person” must receive, conjuring “mimetic desire”in others, so people copy their style, personality, and philosophy while adopting an “antimimetic desire” for themselves, copying no one. The cool person is the foundation of culture, the generator function, the axis mundi upon which everything collectively beautiful depends. What a responsibility cool people unwittingly take upon themselves.
It’s such a heavy burden, exhausting, an impossible demand on one’s soul. No wonder why Kurt Cobain sang he’d “rather be dead than cool.” Bless those who take upon themselves the curse of being cool. Culture needs to be created somehow. Cool chasers create culture from lack, a fragment of their whole, as a surface patch for deep-rooted feelings of unlovability. When the cool chaser comes from a fragmented place, it only creates a fragmented culture.
Stoicism saved me from seeming cool. Thank God. I’d rather be Stoic than cool. I am done chasing cool. I am done chasing those who are chasing cool. It’s time for people to stop chasing, stop hurrying toward dead ends, achieving impotent highs of being looked at with envy. It’s time to start moving toward the whole. Wholesomeness will create a whole culture, but trying too hard to make wholesomeness seem cool is uncool.
My current philosophy is a hyper-minimal Stoicism, hence a minimum viable philosophy. However, I do not care about personally identifying as a Stoic. I sometimes flirt with doing so, attempting to make it seem cool, calling myself a “Weird Stoic” or something pretentious. That’s not cool; just cute at best and cringe at worst. I am interested in having a philosophy that does philosophy. For that, you cannot hold onto any identity, needing to buckle up to be transformed in surprising ways.
The less foolish path is clear: I will not care about identifying as a Stoic while allowing others to pattern-match me as its devotee, saving me from seeming cool; allowing the opportunity to become whole.
Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, which discusses why virtue is absent in the modern world, argues that in our post-virtue world, the honest choice for an ethical system is between an emotivist Nietzschean or virtuous Aristotelian philosophy.
“On closely examining the books there [in the philosophy section of a big box bookstore], most were not even philosophy. They were wellness-sounding or 101 books on Stoicism. What happened? Where did all the exciting thinkers go? They did not even have books from the big names of philosophy: Plato, Hegel, and Nietzsche. I thought this absence was surely a mistake. I looked at the bookshelf beside the philosophy section to see if the books were misplaced. There were no philosophy books there. There were a few interesting things, though: dildos.” - “The Dildofication of Philosophy,” June 6, 2023
The key phrase here is the “modern expression.” Some people, such as philosopher Thorsten Botz-Bornstein, view Stoicism as the philosophy of cool, which he links to hip-hop in his essay “What Does It Mean To Be Cool?”
There is no universal consensus on what cool means. I like to break it down into behaving cool (composure), being cool (chill), and looking cool (style), with giving “zero fucks” about others' foolish expectations of them as the throughline. Behaving cool is the composure that provides the external behaviors of giving zero fucks, being cool is the state that provides the internal experience of giving zero fucks, and looking cool is the style that gives zero fucks to what is fashionable, adopting an overall beautiful vibe (expressed through clothes, music, “second self”) that is bespoke to the person.
"Counterdependent" means being overly independent, while "codependent" means relying too much on others for emotional fulfillment. Counterdependence is excessive self-reliance, while codependence is excessive reliance on others for emotional needs.