Commentary on “Taking Stoicism Beyond the Self: The Power To Change Society”

Kai Whiting wrote an insightful article entitled Taking Stoicism Beyond the Self:  The Power To Change Society.  It explores the need to look into Stoicism, in particular its emphasis on the social virtue justice.  After reading it these words just flowed from my fingers as I responded to it:

Ayn Rand’s philosophy has really poisoned the intellectual/philosophical well of the United States. And I don’t mean academic philosophy, I mean the philosophy of the common American. Not only, as Isaac Asimov warned, have we attached ourselves to anti-intellectualism in this country, we have managed to individualize our experiences to the point of moral solipsism. We think of ourselves as me vs me vs me. The only time we ever collectivize is when its us vs some other that we poorly understand.

It’s true that Stoicism has no political ideology but it is of course political, as it cares about justice, which means it will care about the downtrodden who are exploited by corporate sociopaths. It will care about women who still endure sexism from their employers through their unequal pay or something sinister like their male colleagues mansplaining to them how to behave or express themselves, constantly silencing their opinion through interruption.

It’s time that we care about social virtue. It’s time that we read Stoicism exactly as it was intended, to create a pluralistic society that unifies everyone in a common cosmopolis of humankind.

We need to break away from intellectual laziness and embrace wisdom in its pure and practical forms. As Socrates said before he drank the hemlock, “the unanalyzed life is not worth living.” Epictetus says that we’re all little spooks carrying around our corpses. Well, sometimes, I see no evidence of a spirit in some of these corpses that lost their soul years ago when they learned to embrace willful ignorance.

It’s time that we enlighten a few of these spiritless corpses and bring back the spirits.

pexels-photo-1046399.jpeg

Advertisements

5 Reasons Why Stoicism Is Better Than Communism

  1. When Communism has been tried, it’s killed between 85 to 100 million people.  When Stoicism has been tried, it’s killed less than 85 million people.
  2. Communism believes in the utopian vision that one day we can have a classless society of everyone contributing their fair share and receiving their fair share and there would be no more exploitation of the working class by anyone for profit.  Stoicism has never made such promises.  Zeno’s Republic was an idealized vision that Stoics could live in communal harmony but there’s no evidence that it made any promises that all societies would or could live in communal harmony.
  3. Communism believes in a power struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie.  Stoicism puts the power in your hands by declaring that the only thing in your power is your judgment, opinion, goal, and desire.
  4. While some people have claimed that Communism has yet to be tried successfully, Stoicism has been tried successfully for thousands of years.
  5. Communism, like capitalism, is about your freedom to work.  It’s a philosophy that emphasizes your freedom to work.  Capitalism and Communism of course have major differences in how to go about this but they care ultimately about human beings as working animals.  Stoicism is much cooler than this.  Stoicism believes you should have the freedom to philosophize.  You are a rational animal and a social being so the emphasis is on your freedom to live an analytical life, a life worth living.

5 Reasons Why Stoicism Is Better Than Objectivism

  1. Objectivism is a pretty selfish philosophy.  You spend all of your time thinking about your self interest.  Sure, it’s enlightened selfishness so it’s not like you’re pure evil.  But, at the end of the day, you only care about yourself.  Let’s face it, it gets kind of lonely thinking only about yourself and what you get out of any relationship.  Rather, why not practice Stoicism where you actually care about other human beings enough to actually sacrifice yourself for the team?  You’ll feel much better thinking of yourself as part of a greater whole and people will love you for your sacrifices.
  2. Objectivism cares entirely too much about externals like productivity. and even makes productiveness a virtue.  Sometimes in life it’s difficult to be productive.  You might have a physical disability or a mental illness that makes it hard to be productive.  Rather than cry yourself to sleep at night about not being productive, maybe you can try Stoicism.  In Stoicism you don’t need to meet external goals to be happy, you just need to meet internal goals of trying to be a good person.  In Objectivism if you can’t be productive you’re a sad human being.  In Stoicism if you’re not productive, it’s completely fine.
  3. Objectivism stresses its own virtue of independence.  But let’s face it, in life, you’ll be dependent quite often.  Sometimes you’ll have to ask your friend for money or get so poor you’ll need welfare.  Objectivism would tell you you’re a parasite for needing help.  But let’s not forget that Stoicism looked up to Diogenes who was a complete beggar.  Human beings are interdependent animals.  We’re not atomistic individuals who are completely self-sufficient and Stoicism says that’s perfect.
  4. Objectivism defines justice way too selfishly to make anyone happy.  An Objectivist would say justice is achieved when everyone pursues their own selfish interests and no one else interferes with their pursuits.  Unfortunately, if we allowed for this to be the case, the rich would just own everything and, the majority, the poor would be living on breadcrumbs and sick and dying.  Fortunately, Stoicism wants you to be your brother’s keeper and so demands that you sacrifice a lot of your own interests for the team.  In a Stoic society, the rich may not be as happy as they would be in an Objectivist society, but, hey, the poor will be a lot happier and not as dead.
  5. The most obvious reason why Stoicism beats Objectivism is that Objectivism only uses its own virtues as a mere means to happy selfishness.  Unfortunately, as we have seen Objectivism requires never being dependent or always being productive and that’s just implausible in many people’s lives.  Stoicism, on the other hand, just wants you to mean well.  In Stoicism, you may be paralyzed from the neck down, but as long as you have a benevolent heart, you’re a good person.  And for a Stoic virtue is its own reward.  So being benevolent in itself will lead one towards eudaimonia (true happiness).

    File:Ayn Rand.jpg
    The Objectivist Ayn Rand being her selfishly selfish self!

Non-Aggression Principle and Stoicism

A lot  of (but not all) right-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists believe in NAP or non-aggression principle.   The non-aggression principle is deontological in that it is a universal commanding principle with no exceptions that states one should never initiate aggression.  Of course it’s ok to use aggression in self-defense when someone has initiated aggression against you.  Some people believe the non-aggression principle is the only moral dictum you need in your life.

There’s only one problem:  the non-aggression principle isn’t an all encompassing ethical theory.  Suppose you’re walking home from school and you see someone drowning.  Naturally, if you’re an empathetic person, you’d want to do something to help.  Well according to the non-aggression principle, by itself, there is no moral obligation to help.  The drowning person isn’t harming you, no one is initiating aggression against the drowning person, no one is being aggressive towards you.  It wouldn’t be a form of self-defense to help the drowning person.  So what do you do?  Well, the non-aggression principle essentially doesn’t tell you what to do.  If you believe only in the NAP, then you can either just walk on by or proceed to try to help.

But there’s something really wrong with this picture of total supremacy of NAP.  It seems like you’re morally obligated to help the drowning person or try to help.  You don’t want to drown along with the other person while trying to save the drowning person obviously, so you grab a long stick and you tell the person to grab on.  Or maybe it’s just a kid that weighs significantly less than so it would be easy to swim to the kid and save the kid without much risk of you both drowning.  Or maybe yell for help or call for help if you can’t swim and there’s hardly any feasible way for you to help the person drowning.

Stoicism explains our gut feeling of why we feel we should save someone drowning.  Stoicism says we have social ethical duties to help others when they’re in need if we can help.  We are obligated to help people whether or not there is an issue of violence at hand.  The NAP is simply too limited of an ethical principle to explain our gut feelings about how we should help others in need.  It simply only cares about the need for aggression only in self-defense against a person who wrongly initiated the aggression.

Stoicism can do a lot more for us than what the NAP can accomplish.  The NAP means you only care about aggression so you don’t necessarily care about types of behaviors that aren’t aggressive but what others would find wrong like lying.  Lying isn’t a clear aggressive act so it seems like it’s permitted by the NAP.  But most people do not like lying liars.  They understand lying to help others but they don’t understand people who lie for themselves or their reputation.  And the NAP could easily be interpreted to allow for self-interested forms of lying.  You’re not actually initiating aggression by telling a falsehood purposely to trick someone.  It’s just semantics and syntax at play.

If you had to choose between ethical theories, you would fair much better with Stoicism than the NAP by itself.

Anarcho-capitalist flag