Stoicism and how politics should be to ethics like biology is to physics

I admit I’m little frustrated.  Not with politics.  But mostly with how people treat it.  People can’t just talk about it with each other without attacking the person either indirectly or directly.  More frustrating is that Stoics can’t seem to be above the personal attacks.  The Stoic Facebook Groups are just filled with people hiding their political prejudices that they then project on others who are questioning them.  They have agendas but when someone talks about anything political, no, it’s not them who have the agenda, it’s the other person talking about the political situation that has the agenda.  I’m just going to go ahead and call out the elephant in the room: if you think you’re not actually political you’re just rationalizing your comfort with the political status quo.

Let me make it really easy for people who don’t understand how politics relates to Stoicism.  Think of physics.  Physics is the bedrock of science.  You can then build chemistry on top of physics.  Further still you can build biology on top of chemistry.  And you can build up higher and higher until you get to sociology.  So this analogy works the same way with ethics.  Ethics is kind of the foundation of all ought claims.  All prescriptive claims.  You can go a little lower into the basement and give a meta-ethical description if you want.  But ethics is basically the bedrock.   What can you put on top of ethics?  Public ethics.  Otherwise known as politics.

So did the Stoics end at just furnishing an ethical theory?  No, in fact, we have evidence of Zeno’s Republic.  Most importantly though, we have an excerpt from Diogenes Laertius that the Stoics were proponents of a Republic with a combination of a Democracy, Aristocracy, and Kingship.  It’s a very small fragment but it’s very telling.  Basically in the contemporary world, we have hundreds of governments throughout it that the Stoics would’ve approved of.  The United States, the UK, Canada, the rest of Western Europe, there are Republics all with a balance of Democracy, Kingship, and Aristocracy.  Exactly what the Stoics would’ve wanted.

So that’s what we want as Stoics, ancient and modern.  We want a society that is Democratic vs Aristocratic vs Monarchical.  We want there to be that kind of balance.  Whether it’s Parliamentary with a Prime Minister or American with a President.  Is there anything else that can be added to this?  Well, we probably want leaders that are cosmopolitan.  We don’t want to elect leaders that are against liberal and tolerant values.  If you don’t agree with any of this then you might just find yourself siding against Stoicism.

I don’t know how else to make this any clearer.  If you’re interested in living a life of Stoic virtue, then you’re going to have to be political.  Don’t act so naive or mean spirited about it.  Just embrace the political nature that we all have.  Aristotle was not a Stoic but he was definitely right when he said, “man is a political animal.”

All I ask is stop with the whole, “ugh, politics” mentality when anyone in the group mentions their political beliefs and is attempting to justify it using Stoicism.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  Where people might be going wrong is when they try to change Stoic principles to meet their politics.  And even then, just correct them where they’re going wrong and explain to them where they’re bending the principles.  Don’t say, “don’t bend Stoicism for your politics!”  Think past that and just explain to them where they’re wrong.  Use reason.  Stop with the cynicism.  Stop it and learn.

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Stoicism: How Might It Inform Your Politics?

How might Stoicism inform your politics?  Well, Stoicism in a democracy would want you to vote for who seemed to be the most virtuous person.  But what kind of policy would Stoicism want you to endorse?  Sometimes I think the answer might be in the preferred indifferents: wealth, education, and health just to name a few.  How would these preferred indifferents matter to Stoic public policy?  Well, preferred indifferents are useful means for performing virtue, so a Stoic would want all society to excel in preferred indifferents.

So the Stoic would be for policies that help create wealth and redistribute wealth to people in need.  The Stoic would be for educating the public by supporting public education.  The Stoic would be for people’s health so they would support some kind of system of healthcare available for everyone from the very poor to the rich.

Security might be another preferred indifferent so the Stoic would certainly support a military specifically for the purposes for protecting the nation from external threats.  Also the Stoic would support funding of police to handle internal threats.

How would Stoicism handle monopolies and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few? I’d imagine Stoics would have a problem with it if it meant that the poor were being deprived of basic requirements for health, wealth, education, and security.  The Stoics would vote for policy that would break up monopolies and concentration of wealth if it turned into a zero sum game.

One particular preferred indifferent would be having a job.  Most people desire a job not just for monetary reasons but for psychological reasons since having a job really helps them feel like they’re doing something productive.  The Stoic would be for a policy to help create job growth and give people job security.  The Stoic would also support policy to ensure everyone had a minimum fair wage.

So these are just a few areas where I imagine Stoicism would inform your politics.  I’m curious to know all your thoughts and opinions.


Stoicism and the Art of Apathy? Not So Fast!

Stoicism has become fairly popular as a philosophy.  When you compare it to other philosophy schools on Facebook, Stoicism Facebook groups’s membership greatly outnumber other philosophical schools’s membership like Kantianism, Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Schopenhauereanism, for example.   Unfortunately with large numbers in any group comes with members who have large misconceptions.

One major misconception of Stoicism is that it is about being apathetic and apolitical.  If you’ve read Donald Robertson’s Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, you’d know that Stoicism isn’t about being apathetic.  Some individuals are attracted to the Stoic groups because they see themselves as placated with careless apathy and think Stoicism is all about careless apathy.  But they couldn’t be anymore wrong! Stoicism isn’t about not giving a care, it’s about decreasing negative passions such as anger and sorrow, as a few examples.  When Stoicism talks about apatheia, it’s meaning that you’re free of negative passions.  But in place of the negative passion, it substitutes positive passions such as compassion and joy.

People misread the view that judgments should consider externals as indifferent as “judgments should consider externals as completely valueless.”  To Stoics indifferents are very important, they just don’t matter to our eudaimonia (the good life).  Some also misread indifferents as meaning we shouldn’t care about people either because they’re external to us.  But they forget that one of the virtues of Stoicism is justice.  Justice usually includes piety, fair dealings, being equitable, and compassion.

One thing that annoys the people who misunderstand Stoicism the most is when someone in the group posts something political related to Stoicism.  The people who misunderstand Stoicism complain that political posts are not “Stoic.”  Little to do they know that Stoicism is very political.  It’s difficult to decipher exactly what you should believe politically on any particular issue via Stoicism but Stoicism does stress the importance of being involved politically.  So all Stoics ought to be prepared to justify their political positions as Stoically or rationally as possible.

In conclusion, Stoicism may want you to achieve apatheia (freedom from negative passions) but it doesn’t want you to achieve apathy.  If you want apathy, you’re not really going to find a very developed school of philosophy for that.


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.