The Stoic Traveler

"Wherever I go, it will be well with me."

27 April 2007

Bah! Humbug!

L.A.S. s.d. C.L.:

My apologies for the delay in updating, amice, I have been working on an argument that keeps falling apart when I try to bring it together. In the meantime, I have a pair of articles you might find of interest. They are on the same subject, though they come at it from different perspectives and for different purposes.
For the Stoic, as my previous missives might indicate, there is virtue in minding one's own business. These two articles (one on philosophy, the other on the Middle East) convey some of the practical benefit of leaving others alone.


17 April 2007

Groan with Friends

L.A.S. s.d. C.L.:

It seems that events always cast into confusion our best laid plans. Events, though, can be made to serve a purpose.
I do not by any stretch intend to say that the Divine Order caused the recent horror in Virginia simply to provide me with teaching material. That would be foolish on more levels than I can count. Instead, I am going to attempt to tackle one of the harder elements of Stoic ethics: grief and loss.
Dealing with loss is at once the hardest and most rewarding aspect of Stoic practice; it is also the point that probably generates the most antipathy towards Stoicism in the modern world, which is so obsessed with maudlin display.
Recall an assertion made earlier in these public epistles: of the things that are, some are in my power, some are not. The things not in my power include reputation, honors, property. In a word, anything that is not my own action. Things in my power include conceptions, conceits, aversions. In short, my own actions are in my power. (Epictetus, Encheiridion, 1.1)
This would seem to suggest that my response to the events in Virginia is also within my power. I choose, therefore, whether to feel grief, whether to share in the mass grief.
Stoic practice has one aim: to train me to keep my will in conformance with nature. That is, I am training myself to accept what happens so that I may say "wherever I go, whatever happens, it will be well with me" and mean it.
This is not to say that I should ignore what I feel. As I have said, Stoic philosophy is about nature and keeping in accordance with nature. Sadness over the loss of a loved one is natural. But to wish that our loved ones live for ever is not in accordance with nature; it is foolish and brings undue pain.
What of the loss of a friend's loved ones? Or the death of another with whom we had no connection?
In that case, I examine that sadness. Did I have closeness with the deceased? If so, then I do feel. If not, then for the sake of my friend I will groan with him, but I will not force myself to groan at my core, to feel what I do not naturally feel. I will not upset my inner equanimity for the sake of a stranger, or even a friend. There is no flaw in going through the motions, but not feeling the pain.
That pain, which stems from others unconnected to me, is not natural to me. It has no place in my being.
This element of seeming inhumanity often gives Stoic practice a bad reputation. We are cold for not displaying emotions not our own, for letting our own emotions pass by without display or histrionics. But we can endure the pain and loss of life, feel them and know they are nothing to us. Wherever I go, whatever happens, it is well with me.

Cura ut valeas.

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12 April 2007

Students for Ochlocratic Society

L.A.S. s.d. C.L.

As I traversed the Internet last night, I received an invitation to join the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World). On the same page, I noticed with some alarm that Students for a Democratic Society has re-emerged from its oubliette to start causing trouble again.
On the organization's Facebook page (here for those of you who have succumbed), these halcyon hearkeners and putative protesters have broken the name into its component parts: Students, Democratic, and Society, and placed them into questions following the function "what" They give "Students" a broad, inclusive definition that excludes almost no one with even a modicum of intellectual curiostiy. Likewise, "Society" is more than "communities, cities, or nations;" it is the fabled brotherhood of man, a cosmopolis if you will. Putting it all together, they claim to be a teaching/activism movement that aspires to put democracy into all aspects of society.
Leaving aside the confused conflation of society and government, SDS's conception of democracy is fundamentally flawed. They say democracy is self-rule; that it is a continued evaluation of events and policies and engagement in politics.
I'm not sure it's possible to be more wrong.
Democracy, first and foremost, is a system of government; it is not a system of social interaction. What they call a democratic society is anarchy, plain and simple. Second, democracy does not mean self-rule, except on the national level. Here's why: democracy is, literally, rule by the people. That is to say, power for directing affairs rests with the citizens. Historically, this system of government has only functioned in very small communities, with very limited franchises. Moreover, the communities that have adopted this form of government have also adopted very stringent moral codes along with it. Indeed, democracy requires that the citizens have no concerns, or very few concerns, apart from the running of the state. This was true in Athens, was true in Geneva, was true in Rome. It means, essentially, that there must be a productive class, in the ancient world a slave class, that allows the luxury of government to a non-producing class. Essentially, the further one gets from the national level of government, the less self-government actually exists. It becomes not self-rule but rule by others.
All democracies function on a majoritarian principle. Except in the rare cases of unanimity, even the largest majorities entail minorities. These minorities, under a democratic system, really have no means of redress. They have no protections, save the good will of the majority. These democracies can, and frequently do, devolve rapidly into ochlocracies, or rule by the vagaries of the mob.
The great mass of mankind has no interest in politics; they are occupied with their own affairs, trying to make their livings and improve their lots. SDS would force them away from their affairs and into the workings of government. Not only that, but they would sacrifice good order and reasoned policies in favor of a mob rule. What we currently have in the West is not perfect, but it provides the opportunity still for real self-government. Pay attention to your own affairs, mind not the affairs of others.