Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's a Stoic to do?

An aspiring Stoic is bound to ask himself/herself:  What is the appropriate, which is to say Stoic, response to our recent presidential election, its unusual result and its likely effects on our nation and the world?  What's a Stoic to do?

I don't know of any tenet of Stoicism which requires that we ignore what took place or the poor qualities of the candidates and the electoral process generally.  Nor do I think a Stoic is in any way bound to consider the circumstances to be anything but what they are, i.e. that we've elected as our president an inexperienced, arrogant, ignorant, vulgar, obnoxious and seemingly scatterbrained person.  That person will soon fill the executive branch of our government with his yes men (maybe even a woman or two, if they're physically attractive) and like-thinking lackeys.  A Stoic values reason, and that's what reason indicates.

Stoicism doesn't demand that we ignore reality.  Instead, it teaches that we should not be unduly disturbed by things outside our control.  A great deal of what's now taking place is quite beyond my control, and is disturbing.  However, as a Stoic, I'm enjoined to remain tranquil and, essentially, unaffected.  As Epictetus said, I should do the best I can with what I have, and take the rest as it comes.

Very well, then.  I shouldn't allow the capering of those we've foolishly entrusted with the future of our nation and the world to render me miserable.  So much for taking the rest as it happens.  What is the best I can do with what I have, though, in the here and now?

What I have is what is in my power.  So, I have myself; what I think, feel and do.  There's nothing that hinders me from doing what I do well, or doing good, or being just, fair, kind, using my reason, etc.; in short, there's nothing which prevents me from doing what a person should do in order to live a life in accordance with nature, secundum naturam.

There may be some who claim, however, that more than this is required.  It's been maintained that Stoicism accepts the status quo, that it's a form of quietism, and that in its emphasis on indifference to what's beyond our control it ignores the need to take action required to change the world for the better.

But what's in our power may well enable us to do such things, and such things may be the best we can do with what we have.  So there's no conflict between changing the world for the good and Stoicism.  It's reasonable, though, to determine first what we can do for that purpose that would be effective.  In other words, we shouldn't feel obligated to engage in action of any kind provided it expresses the fact that we're displeased with the status quo.  Some of that action could be foolish or harmful.  Whether or not we engage in violence is something within our power, for example, and violence isn't something which is consistent with Stoicism in most cases.

Marcus Aurelius wrote:  "Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."  The Stoic will let the future come, then, and in response to it do that which reason indicates is appropriate, and condemn that which reason indicates is not.

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