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The Four Attractors of The Stoa
March 22nd, 2021
Yesterday was beautiful. We had a beautiful party. It was a birthday party. The Stoa managed to survive its steward’s fickle trauma patterns, and now this place is one year old. Wow. One year of The Stoa. It is fucking amazing really, and last night was for sure the most beautiful session of The Stoa to date.
The event is up on the YouTube channel, but watching it probably will not do justice to being there. There was an energy in the room, and the chat was fucking lit. I could not have asked for a better session to cap off one year of stewarding this place. This is all I really wanted: to be a part of creating something beautiful.
As indicated in yesterday’s entry, The Stoa is not over. The Stoa is just getting started, and thanks to the party, there is a new energy now. Greg Thomas sent me a voice message after the party, congratulating me on one year of doing The Stoa. He also said that keeping people in suspense about The Stoa’s fate was an opportunity for them to practice what John Keats calls “negative capability.”
Yes, that is exactly right. The open secret all along is that being in relationship with The Stoa was itself a practice in negative capability. To quote Keats:
… what quality went to form a man of achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason...
The Wikipedia page also puts it nicely: to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty.
That is so fucking what this is about. When you listen to the daemon, and unapologetically follow your beauty path, things are going to get weird, people are going to get upset with you, and they will parasocially project shit on you. Small doubts will emerge, and great doubts will as well. But wow, it is so delicious to live this way.
Greg mentioned that he took a course on complexity which said that negative capability was the first step in navigating complexity. This 'being cool with uncertainty' stuff has totally been The Stoa’s jam since day one, and the party, including the build-up towards it, was in service towards this.
That word “maybe” in the “Maybe the End of The Stoa Party” was indeed annoying, but it was deliciously annoying. And yeah, keeping you in suspense was partly me projecting my Stoicism as well. You’re welcome. The whole process of being a Stoic is being cool with uncertainty, and being proactive in confronting all of the unpleasant emotions that can come from the unknown.
I felt like The Stoa needed a project for year two, but a project framing did not feel inspiring, at least not yet. It would feel forced, hence inauthentic. The daemon visited me again a week ago, and the word “attractors” came to my mind, and this was followed by becoming clear on four attractors of The Stoa.
These attractors may fade away, with new ones emerging. They may have a protean quality to them as well, and they could shapeshift often. In relation to these attractors, I am going to view The Stoa as an incubator for what emerges from being seduced by them, or perhaps it is better to frame The Stoa as a spiritual R&D lab for these daemonic attractors.
I am still going to hold onto The Stoa lightly, keeping it undefined and nebulous, and I am ready to brush it away like a sand mandala at any moment, but now is the time to be attracted towards something good, with thumos, and boy do I have a lot of fucking thumos right now.
What emerges from these attractors might not be housed in The Stoa, and they might become their own entities. Writing all of this feels really good, and I am getting excited now, so without further ado, here are the four attractors for year two of The Stoa ...
Attractor 1: Being a Lifework
After the party last night Daniel Kazandjian messaged me this: you’re an artist.
Last night’s party was indeed meant to be art, and as I've written about before, The Stoa itself is my work of art. I really dig the deathworks versus lifeworks distinction. To briefly summarize these terms: a deathwork is art that undermines the sacred, while a lifework is art that fortifies the sacred. To lean on Durkheim’s understanding of the sacred, it is something that has a unifying effect amongst a group of people, this is contrasted with the profane, which throws us into mundane individual affairs.
I view The Stoa as a lifework, or at least an attempted lifework. In a recent entry I gestured towards becoming a lifework myself: I am an artist who is becoming the art. I sense this is the right move. I want to become a lifework, so when somebody encounters me, and enters my orbit, a transforming effect occurs.
I sense becoming a lifework will be a countercultural act, and it seems like the right countervailing move against the predominant modus operandi that the attention economy is encouraging: instead of striving to become a lifework, people are striving to become a “supernormal stimulus.” They strive to be hot and interesting, so they can be eye-catching and mind-catching. This is so tiring, and people are seeing through this bullshit.
I tell the following story often, because it had a profound effect on me, and it relates to becoming a lifework. It was on my wedding day, which was an incredibly beautiful day. Camille and I got married in Ireland, at Gougane Barra. This really was an enchanted place. You could feel it in the air. It was a holy place.
We decided to do the elopement-esque thing, but our Airbnb host, who fast became known as our “Irish mother,” did join us on our wedding day. The day before we were waking up in Dublin, with a hangover because we had been pounding back Guinness after Guinness the night earlier. Given all of these factors, there was no way I thought I was going to be nervous on my wedding day.
I was nervous though. A part of me wishes I was more like Kazandjian, who Stoically experiences no nervousness, but I do get nervous often, and I did get nervous before we were about to get married. Something shifted though, and it was when our priest arrived. He was a cheerful Irish man, and right away I knew he was a man of God.
He sensed my nerves right away, and he touched my arm and gently said in an Irish accent: No worries, Peter. No worries at all. He was so grounded in the mystery, and he was emitting lightness, and simply being in his presence dropped me into that state as well. I just dropped into that state right now, reflecting on that moment.
My nerves went away after he said that, and I was fully present for the ceremony, in a tiny church in an enchanted place, with an Irish mother crying behind us. It was so beautiful. Reflecting afterward, it dawned on me that what our priest did was an ethical act, and he was just being him, or put more accurately, he was just being.
I would like my life to have that effect on people. Our priest was a lifework, and that is the best gift you can really give someone. So yeah, I am going to consciously strive to be a lifework here. This also corroborates with Arran Rogerson’s advice he gave to me when I asked him what he’d like to see The Stoa become. He said that he’d like to see more of me, and that I inject more of myself into the lifework that is The Stoa. I agree with this, as this feels more authentic than hiding behind feel good platitudes that tend to haunt most spiritually ambitious spaces.
This is probably not the perfect example, but it does gesture towards the spirit of what I want to do here: a few weeks ago when I smoked my first cigar of the year, I created a random Clubhouse room with Khalil Martin, called “A Stoic Smoking a Cigar on Clubhouse.” I did not care about clout chasing and “clearing the room,” which means frequently pausing the flow of the conversation to onboard new people who are coming to the room, which is in service to having them stay.
In that conversation I only wanted to have a beautiful conversation, and I did have one. I was also really drunk on whiskey, so perhaps it was only beautiful to me, but that is where I have to start. If it is not beautiful for me, it will not be beautiful in the way that allows me to find the others.
Attractor 2: Culture War to Culture Dance
I asked the artist who drew the illustrations accompanying this entry to draw ContraPoints and Jordan Peterson dancing together. A conversation between the two will be hard to make happen, and it could get messy if it happens in the wrong space. A good space for it to happen of course is The Stoa.
Perhaps it is also the most realistic space that it could happen, as ContraPoints has already visited us, and as regular readers of my journals know, Peterson was my therapist for two years. I could more aggressively try to get him on The Stoa, but I am energetically turned off from him at the moment.
I am very sympathetic towards his health concerns, but he has not been very interesting to me lately, especially in his recent appearances. Unlike John Vervaeke, his former colleague, he is not putting himself at the edge of his thinking in his conversations.
I do sense this would be a good conversation to happen, and perhaps the illustration will serve as a sigil to help make it happen. It will need to happen under the conditions that will afford dialogos, and The Stoa does have those conditions in place. If that conversation happens under the conditions we have cultivated at The Stoa, it will have a positive impact on the wider culture.
Conversations like that will not alchemically transmute the culture war to a culture dance right away. It will help obviously, but landing big conversations is bait. It is bait towards getting culture right. Every relationship has a culture, and those relationships can be practiced, and they can be practiced at The Stoa.
Cultivating the conditions and capacities that allow communitas to manifest is something I am very attracted to. I sense the telos of The Stoa’s wisdom gym should be in service towards this. This is where I philosophically depart from Peterson: I do not think that the individual (or individuation) is the primary spiritual unit.
I do not know if Peterson would agree with the wording of my last sentence, but from speaking with him, reading his work, and listening to enough of him, he seems to believe this: that in order to avoid the political nightmares of Communism and Nazism in the 20th century, society needs to anchor itself in the individual.
With this belief it makes sense why he is politically a classical liberal, and as Aleksandr Dugin points out in “The Fourth Political Theory,” the individual is the axiomatic subject for liberalism: In liberalism, the subject was represented by the individual, freed from all forms of collective identity and any ‘membership.’ Dugin contrasts this to communism, whose subject is class; and fascism, whose subject is race.
I do not write about politics much, but I am definitely not a communist nor a fascist, and I am also not really a liberal either. I am slowly making a post-liberal turn, but not in a reactionary way like Dugin and some other people who use the term. I do think being an individual is important, but more so as a prerequisite towards communitas, which I see as a communion of sovereign individuals.
In this transition to a new world, we need new skills, or to use a psychological term, we need to create new skill constructs. Two skill constructs that will be good to have are social alchemy and communitas crafting: the former is about transmuting I-It relationships to I-Thou relationships in the social wild, while the latter is about consciously designing spaces to afford communitas to emerge, and communitas is where I-Thou relationships have a home.
I would like to slowly add more intersubjective practices to The Stoa’s wisdom gym, like Circling and Vince Horn’s Social Meditation, to support these I-Thou capacities to emerge, and maybe this is the attractor that will inspire the first course that will happen at The Stoa.
Attractor 3: Stoicism Reborn
While The Stoa has become a nexus point for memetic tribes that are in the Kegan 5 stage (Game B, metamodernism, and postrationalism), I actually do not want The Stoa to be about those things. The memetic tribe I actually want to turn my attention to is Stoicism, and I want to attempt to transform it into an embodied tribe, which it should be.
As I was telling Jordan Hall yesterday, in stewarding The Stoa for a whole year, I have converted exactly zero people to Stoicism. This is funny to me, and it also makes me happy, because it tells me I am doing Stoicism right. A good Stoic should not proselytize Stoicism, and I have zero interest in converting people to it, nor am I convinced that it is the best philosophy for everyone. I am not even convinced it is the best philosophy for me.
That being said, I do think virtue needs to make a comeback. Academic philosophy had what was called an “aretaic turn” in the 20th century, which is the term describing a movement where some modern academic philosophers started to focus on virtue ethics. I sense it is time for virtue to seep back into culture writ large, and for an aretaic turn to happen beyond the academy.
We might have to be playful with the word though, as the word 'virtue' seems to have a trauma reaction for many, probably because certain strains of Christianity that use the word have been traumatizing on a worldwide scale. The word Stoicism is also pretty hard to work with, as it has a bad rap on a felt sense level. Good. An opportunity to practice my Stoicism.
The thing that is attracting me to this virtue thing is this: how do you actually practice virtue? There are a bunch of practices to help with various spiritual units such as individuation, communitas, and awakening, but I have not seen much on virtue. This seems like an opportunity to develop something.
I have been talking with a few people about experimenting with semi-public “virtue squads,” which will be partly a performance art and partly a character transformation. I want friendships of virtue to be the kind of friendships people become hungry for. I was also thinking of launching a lovingly intense mastermind accountability group called “Stoic Comitatus,” that will be in service to virtue, and cultivating these friendships of virtue.
I am not going to rush any of this virtue stuff though, as all of this has to be done right, which is to say, it has to be done virtuously.
Attractor 4: Philosophical Coffee Shop
The last attractor of The Stoa, and the most ambitious one, is the philosophical coffee shop. I have had this idea for years now, since way before The Stoa started, and even before I started my in-person philosophy groups.
When I was hanging out with Jordan Hall in London at the beginning of last year, he asked me what my “ikigai” was, and I said it was the philosophical coffee shop. At that time it kind of felt like a fantasy that would never happen, perhaps because I had never started a business before, and it is a scary thing doing something you've never done before, especially when there is a bunch of money on the line.
After doing a year of The Stoa though, my confidence (and thumos) has increased tenfold, and this fantasy is starting to feel like it can become a reality. I am having vision-like glimpses of making cortados for people in coffee cups that have printed quotes from Epictetus on them. Team meetings will be like Collective Presencing sessions, and difficult customers will be an opportunity to practice our Stoicism. In essence, it will be fucking delicious.
The personal priority now is for me to take some time off though. I’ll be doing some gentle spring cleaning this week, then Camille and I will be going on a road trip around Ontario. We are going to start house hunting now as well, which will require our focus.
The Stoa will be back in full spiritual business on April 5th, and I will soon begin new conversations with the daemon to find out how all of this will unfold. In the meantime, here is a question for you Mr. Daemon:
What is the best way for me to be seduced by these attractors?