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Tag: Stoicism

what, me worry

philosophy-final-state-1907-jpglarge

    “Philosophy (Final State) (1899-1907) 

         Gustav Klimt

              ______

at lunch recently, a friend was telling 
me about taking her family, kids,
grandkids, to Hawaii

I hope we have a good time, she said

what do you mean, I hope, I asked 

I’ve been worrying a lot lately, I wake 
up in the middle of the night, I worry
about sharks, for instance, off the 
coast of Maui

I know what you mean, I answered, I
worry about an earthquake hitting 
while I’m asleep, the whole city does 
in fact, I confirmed, those here who 
worry

when I was going to Munich in December 
and January with my mother, I continued, 
and people were saying it’d be cold, 
determined that we’d have a wonderful 
time despite whatever obstacles we might 
encounter, I meant it as a gift to my mother, 
after all it was for the magic of the C***mas 
and New Year’s Eve festivities there we 
were going, kind of like your Hawaiian 
beaches, I pointed out

there was the uncomfortable flight over,
the usual stomach upsets, cold and 
snow, which I hadn’t experienced in 
several years, an unruly Internet 
connection, but they were the price of 
admission to the wonderland I’d 
determined to fashion out of the 
elements that we’d find there, and did  

there were neither sharks nor earthquakes 
eventually, nor even the terrorist attacks 
that had threatened, but that no amount of 
worrying anyway could’ve done anything 
about 

and I just read something out of the New 
Yorker, I continued, that put me back on 
track, put everything back together again 
before any great existential fall

it’s all in your head, it said, or rather it
quoted EpictetusEpictetus, the Stoic 
philosopher I’ve always profoundly 
admired, I said, I’ll send it to you, the 
articleStoicism was a way of facing 
the world bravely and seeing it as a 
condition of your worth

is still a way, I extrapolated

also I’ve found that focussing on what
you’ve been worrying about, and 
thinking about what you can do about 
it, helps

about sharks, for instance, what would 
you do – don’t go in the water – after 
which there isn’t much else to think 
about but go on to the next problem 

meanwhile, you’re not worrying, but 
actually being productive, and reducing 
everything to what you can indeed do,
which ends up being most often not 
much

pray for grace, I’ve been telling myself
for the longest while, and make sure 
your tie ‘s on right, that’s all you 
can ever do, I repeat to myself, and to 
anyone who’ll listen, like an incantation, 
a refrain

but still I take my anti-depressants just 
in case, I said

we drank to Stoicism

afterwards we saw a new play about 
Queen Elizabeth

Richard

psst: the New Yorker article 

    How To Be a Stoic

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born a slave, around 55 A.D., in the Greco-Roman spa town of Hierapolis—present-day Pamukkale, Turkey. I first encountered his teachings in 2011, shortly after moving from San Francisco to Istanbul. I lived alone on a university campus in a forest. In the midst of a troubled long-distance relationship, I sometimes went days without talking to anyone but my boyfriend’s disembodied head on Skype. I was demoralized by Turkish politics, which made both secularists and religious people feel like victims. If you were a woman, no matter what you were wearing—décolleté or a head scarf—someone would give you a dirty look.

The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion—“Some things are in our control and others not”—made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’ ”

Reading Epictetus, I realized that most of the pain in my life came not from any actual privations or insults but, rather, from the shame of thinking that they could have been avoided. Wasn’t it my fault that I lived in such isolation, that meaning continued to elude me, that my love life was a shambles? When I read that nobody should ever feel ashamed to be alone or to be in a crowd, I realized that I often felt ashamed of both of those things. Epictetus’ advice: when alone, “call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods’ equal”; in a crowd, think of yourself as a guest at an enormous party, and celebrate the best you can.

Epictetus also won me over with his tone, which was that of an enraged athletics coach. If you want to become a Stoic, he said, “you will dislocate your wrist, sprain your ankle, swallow quantities of sand,” and you will still suffer losses and humiliations. And yet, for you, every setback is an advantage, an opportunity for learning and glory. When a difficulty comes your way, you should feel proud and excited, like “a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck.” In other words, think of every unreasonable asshole you have to deal with as part of God’s attempt to “turn you into Olympic-class material.” This is a very powerful trick.

Much of Epictetus’ advice is about not getting angry at slaves. At first, I thought I could skip those parts. But I soon realized that I had the same self-recriminatory and illogical thoughts in my interactions with small-business owners and service professionals. When a cabdriver lied about a route, or a shopkeeper shortchanged me, I felt that it was my fault, for speaking Turkish with an accent, or for being part of an élite. And, if I pretended not to notice these slights, wasn’t I proving that I really was a disengaged, privileged oppressor? Epictetus shook me from these thoughts with this simple exercise: “Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: ‘For such a small price, I buy tranquillity.’ ”

Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons. The sense of doom and delight that is programmed into the human body? It can be overridden by the mind. The eternal war between subconscious desires and the demands of civilization? It can be won. In the nineteen-fifties, the American psychotherapist Albert Ellis came up with an early form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, based largely on Epictetus’ claim that “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.” If you practice Stoic philosophy long enough, Epictetus says, you stop being mistaken about what’s good even in your dreams. 

                                                                                                 Elif Batuman

up my idiosyncrasies – Plato‏

school-of-athens-detail-from-right-hand-side-showing-diogenes-on-the-steps-and-euclid-1511.jpg!Large

      “The School Of Athens (1510-1511)
 
                   Raphael
 
                       _____
 
 
he sounds just like you, my friend said,
who’d bought me the works of Plato
for C***mas maybe, or my birthday, or 
maybe just because he knew I’d very
much appreciate them
 
we were reading him together, as is 
always my inclination, his Meno 
according to my calculations, 
Socrates was doing most of the 
talking, with Meno, a Sophist 
acolyte, a school of philosophy then, 
the Sophists, which claimed it could 
prove anything by using the right 
arguments 
 
lawyers, of course, ensued, politicians
 
and rhetoric, the art of proving anything 
by using the right arguments 
 
philosophy had reached a structural,
indeed an existential, impasse, why, 
they therefore wondered, philosophy
 
wherein it entered a phase of moral 
speculation, StoicismEpicureanism,
ScepticismCynicism, and can you 
blame them, theories about the 
stars, the moon, the world, even 
matter itself, had become so 
questionable, was it fire, air, water, 
atoms, at its source, who knew
 
 
I thought so too, I said, and told 
him that Plato’s were the first   
texts studied in philosophy when 
entered university, that’s where I 
learned to talk like that, philosophy 
from the scratch, as my German 
teacher would’ve said, which is to 
say, from its very beginnings, 
whence I could view, I figured, the 
evolution of received wisdom in 
Western culture
 
I was young then, the young have 
such dreams 
 
 
my father had been agnostic, ever
asking questions, though we were 
being raised Catholic, my sister 
and I, on account of our mother 
tongue, our entire community, 
having been historically linked 
with that religion, and cause my 
parents wanted us to be educated 
in French
 
an existentialist crisis would
eventually follow, I intuited, as
indeed it did, so I majored in 
philosophy
 
 
Socrates taught me to ask 
questions, that no one had  
all the answers
 
Plato, usurping his master’s voice, 
created the paradigm for our present 
version of a Divinity, and Its Paradise
 
there is an ideal version of any 
item we might consider, he spouted,
an ideal table, for instance, exists
of which every material table is an
imperfect example
 
to virtue, love, beauty, truth, he 
applied the same principle, which
early erudite Catholics, Augustine
Thomas Aquinas, for instance, and
others, despite rejecting all of the 
other Greek cultural achievements
appropriated in order to bolster their 
impression of God, the ideal of the 
Ideal
 
this lasted uncontested for just
over a thousand years
 
for a thousand years our salvation
had been extraterrestrial, 
supranatural, this, our very, 
perhaps only, existence, an 
imperfect reflection of somewhere
else an ideal, a mere simulacrum,  
we were, a metaphor
 
Socrates had only asked questions,
what is virtue, what is justice, what
is beauty, truth
 
Plato presumed to have known the 
answers
 
 
Aristotle is making a comeback,
whose method, in opposition to 
his contemporaneous forebear,  
was much more like Charles 
Darwin‘s, working from the facts, 
which proved then, and are 
proving still now, to be multifarious, 
diverse, astonishing, and nearly 
enough to make you believe in 
God/dess again, this time, however, 
through the back door 
 
or in a multiplicity, a panoply, a 
very pavilion, even, of natural 
deities, otherwise known as 
angels, for better or for worse
 
God/dess bless, or angels
 
 
Richard

“Meditations”, Book 5 – Marcus Aurelius

“In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present – I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm? – But this is more pleasant. – Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature? – But it is necessary to take rest also. – It is necessary: however nature has fixed bounds to this too: she has fixed bounds both to eating and drinking, and yet thou goest beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient; yet in thy acts it is not so, but thou stoppest short of what thou canst do. So thou lovest not thyself, for if thou didst, thou wouldst love thy nature and her will. But those who love their several arts exhaust themselves in working at them unwashed and without food; but thou valuest thy own own nature less than the turner values the turning art, or the dancer the dancing art, or the lover of money values his money, or the vainglorious man his little glory. And such men, when they have a violent affection to a thing, choose neither to eat nor to sleep rather than to perfect the things which they care for. But are the acts which concern society more vile in thy eyes and less worthy of thy labour?”

Meditations“, Book 5, 1

Marcus Aurelius

___________

though Marcus Aurelius produces
a seemingly logical argument in the
first paragraph of his fifth book of
meditations, his premises are not
air-tight

are we meant to “work”, a notion
already roundly infiltrating Christian
ideology, by the “sweat of its brow”,
as it were, at the time of Marcus
Aurelius, with those roots already in
early Stoicism, with Zeno of Citium,
a good 350 years before Christ

this notion is alive and well, indeed
thriving still, in the Protestant Ethic,
where very salvation is achieved
through labour, a consequence of
the Fall, which is to say, the expulsion
from the Garden of Eden

and Utilitarianism, where effort, which
is to say, work, is required to maximize
happiness, minimize suffering

these are profound pathways based
on faith, not necessarily ineluctable,
Epicureanism, an opposite philosophy,
of savouring the moment, though less
purported, less proclaimed, appears
ever flourishing nevertheless in our
voluptuous 21st Century

Marcus Aurelius brings up another
issue tangentially here, though he
expounds on it in later passages,
that of the primacy of either the
person or the community, a central
question of our times, socialism
versus democracy

he favours community, after Plato,
so, incidentally, does Jesus

these are not easy questions to
answer, what, essentially, are the
conditions required before one
starts to smell the flowers, is
smelling the flowers an abomination
when people are cruelly suffering,
dying

how can I help, should I, and when
do I say no to myself

therefore philosophy

your life, indeed your very next step,
depend on it

cheers

Richard

“Meditations”, Book 3 – Marcus Aurelius‏

“If thou workest at that which is before thee, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract thee, but keeping thy divine part pure, as if thou shouldst be bound to give it back immediately; if thou holdest to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which thou utterest, thou wilt live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.”

Meditations“, Book 3, 12

Marcus Aurelius

_________

the idea of the virtuous man, or the
interpretation of Marcus Aurelius of
such a person, goes back of course to
Socrates by way of Plato, 427 – 347
B.C., who’s ideal was primarily
political, what to achieve within a
political order, rather than a private
meditation, an advice rather than
a contemplation as in Marcus
Aurelius, 121 – 180 A.D., 550,
not inconsequential, years later

other moral perspectives meanwhile
applied, Epicureanism, for instance,
notably, after which the stranglehold
of Christianity produced not philosophy
but dogma, for a subservient and,
biblically labeled, fallen people,
nearly fifteen hundred years spent
trying to figure out how many angels
fit through the eye of a needle,
essentially, how many irrationalities
could prove the existence, and
authority, of a mandated God

René Descartes inadvertently in this
very quest, but not before 1637, put
an end to that, introduced a new, and
revolutionary, perspective, I think,
therefore I am
“,
which put the individual
instead of the Church in the driver’s seat,
this, if it didn’t bring on the Renaissance,
at least gave it a significant push

but because of his famous scientific
method
, studies afterwards in what
we now know as the humanities
became more empirical than
specifically moral, how do we
perceive rather than how do we live
according to what is right or wrong,
Nietzsche‘s Beyond Good and Evil“,
1886, reoriented that investigation,
as it happened, ominously, in an age
where any kind of god had become
irrelevant, Beethoven would be
transformed into a Hitler, an
uncomfortably fateful Übermensch,
Superman

now philosophy is concerned with
language, what do we mean when
we say what do we mean, and can
anybody understand that

our closest moralist, our modern day
Marcus Aurelius, is at present Miss
Manners
, whom I wholeheartedly
recommend

as well as, of course, Marcus Aurelius

Richard

psst: Miss Manners‘ question and answer
format, incidentally, is not at all unlike
what Plato does in his Socratic dialogues
,
she just has a larger, more flip audience

true happiness

 
in the movie Never on Sunday” Homer Thrace, an American moralist and armchair philosopher, objects to the libertine ways of the modern Greeks, Ilya especially, a whore, disconcerts him, she likes her job, so do the dockworkers, and the other women who ply her trade at the port of Piraeus, near Athens 
  
Homer Thrace accuses them all righteously of pursuing the Stoic and Epicurean philosophies that came out of the fall of Greece, instead of the true and noble ideals of the more upstanding Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who believed that the greatest happiness comes from the joy of understanding  
  
when he tells Taki, who plays the bouzouki, that he can never be a true musician because he can’t read music, Taki, who is too old now to learn, hides in the bathroom forlornly, and says he will never play again 
  
Ilya, Melina Mercouri, in a star turn, tells him composers need his music to be able to write his notes down, what would composers do without him, if birds can’t read music, she asks, should they stop singing  
  
Taki comes out of the bathroom
  
so had I   

  
Richard

 

 

 

                   

                       ______________________________