I read it while recovering from surgery when I was unable to walk for a few weeks, and found it to be very helpful in keeping sane.
I also read "Stoicism and the Art of Happiness", but did not enjoy it as much. I think Irvine's book is more to the point.
I've found that stoic practices help me in things I would not have thought of: job interviews, for example. Doing negative visualization, imagining interviewers asking me stuff I don't have complete knowledge of, and imagining how I'd respond to it was extremely helpful recently.
Massimo Pigliucci also have a great web site, how to be stoic
I believe that the Stoicism's appeal (for modern tech people) is that it is basically a very rational approach to life and its problems.
It is also very adaptable to modern day culture: it downplays Religion but respects Society, for example.
Last but not least, the image of dour, ascetical, judgemental party poopers is a bit off mark, I think.
The ideal Stoic is of course quite restrained in everything, but feeling somehow superior, a part of some elite is a mistake in itself.
I suspect stoicism also appeals strongly to a personality that enters tech at a disproportionate rate -- like bodybuilding, nootropics, hackathons and life-hacks, it presents rigid, rationalized mastery of the self as both desirable and achievable. I'm hesitant to attempt to characterize the personality order to which this so strongly appeals, but it seems observable.
This is a good observation. It reminds me of some kind of digital protestantism on steroids. The same kind of displayed humility, work obsession and so forth.
I think it's very self-aggrandising in a way.
The most helpful parts of Stoicism for me are understanding and accepting that awful things might happen I can't do anything about, the hedonic treadmill exists and a little more money, a car, a speedboat, or whatever I currently desire probably won't make me happy in the long term.
If I spend a week or a month in tatters over something minor, I can learn to adjust myself rather than trying to change the world to fix my own head. Long-term happiness is a mixture of changing the world to fit my goals and changing my goals and what I demand from it to fit the world - to learn that I cannot get everything I want.
Where I disagree with Stoicism is the ideas that my goal should be to optimize myself to some sort of perfection, and that I can ever have perfect control over myself mentally. My thoughts themselves live inside a biological brain which is affected by its construction, genetics, hormones, and many other physical influences. Beyond this, the idea that any specific thing must be the moral goal of all persons seems, as it is put here, like a gross presumption. But I never went in that far to the philosophy.
What does strike me, though, is your identification of various "self-improvement" techniques together under the Stoic banner - I've recently been confronting aspects of my personality in that sense and it made me jump a bit to read your description - it makes me think there is a bit of "There" there I should reconsider.
If by "profligate" he means "wasteful in the use of resources" then this whole thesis falls apart immediately.
It's actually Nietzsche -- "Beyond Good and Evil," Part 1, §9. I have very serious reservations about Nietzsche, but he doesn't pull his punches.
"Protestantism on steroids" (Puritanism / Calvinism) did conquer the world, so maybe there's something to it.
- Rejection of the cult of personality & "cult of the founder": Stoicism promotes rejection of ego and constantly finding points for growth and adaptivity
- A reaction to current events in politics and tech: Stoicism promotes grounding yourself in what you can control, and not worrying about what you can't (such as the past, increasing complexity in social networks, whether or not North Korea or Trump is going to drop the bomb somewhere, etc.)
- Big names with big platforms like Tim Ferris have been promoting the philosophy lately
...though this is anecdotal and probably doesn't encompass all the reasons.
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The modern world confronts us with a planet of people who are better than us at one thing or another and a planet of risks we have no ability to confront. We might work five years on a project that never ships without ever experiencing the gratification of chopping wood to burn that night. I would bet there's a genetic correlation between programmer / good at tech and overthinking / predisposition to anxiety; even if not, humans placed in an environment which causes our brains to run wild will look for some sort of peace. We find this from many sources - especially through addictions (legal, illegal, television, refreshing HN) - prescription medications (different from addictions? sometimes!) - but the idea of being able to train ourselves out of our internal agony is quite appealing.
Stoic philosophy itself is the foundation of the ideas which come to us through every part of culture, so people who are into tracing the source are liable to find it sooner or later.
I would not call myself Stoic but there is a lot of wisdom there. I particularly like Seneca and Epictetus. The best modern book for me is "A New Stoicism" by Lawrence C. Becker.
Later, I found that if I tweaked those techniques, they were also useful for staying focused and clear-headed in stressful startup situations, as well as compartmentalizing work and life, and a number of other things. In practice it meant that by adopting certain mental exercises, I was able to sleep better, work better, take care of myself better, etc. I didn't encounter the term "Stoicism" until several years after, and I found that its practices aligned pretty well with what I was already doing.
I don't call myself a Stoic because it's really not a religion or philosophy to me. It's more of a set of mental practices that help me go about my life with a clearer head. However, if you dig through Stoic writings, there's a ton that resonates.
1. Notice when I am feeling stress, anxiety, fear, anger, etc. Mentally identify and acknowledge the feeling, and then step out of the cycle. Meditate if I'm really having trouble detaching from the immediate situation.
2. Once I'm no longer stuck in the immediate situation, I have the space and mental presence to figure out the source of my problem. Why was I feeling anxious or stressed? What event caused it? What about it was bothering me?
3. Once I have that answer, I can understand my emotional situation rationally, and I can decide what I'm going to do about it. My goal isn't to stop feeling emotions, but rather to address the root cause or the mental pathway leading to it.
For the anxiety issues I mentioned, the conclusion to step 3 was to slowly recondition myself by exposing myself gradually to the triggering condition. Rationally, nothing bad was going to happen, so I needed my brain to learn that. I combined that with developing mental exercises to distract myself and get me away from the downward feedback loop of anxiety.
For general life situations, the answer comes closer to Stoic philosophy: understand what I can and cannot control, and then either decide to do something about it, or let go because further worrying about an effective dice roll is a waste of energy. Trying to influence the odds and making contingency plans counts towards "doing something about it."
The key to my happiness day to day was understanding that I actually have much more agency than I might initially assume. One or even several setbacks don't necessarily mean I fail my actual goal, and situations that look bad often only look that way because I think I'm out of options, or because I'm trying to eat my cake and have it too when I actually need to make a hard choice.
Among all of this, the key insight for me that CBT and meditation unlocked was that many of my limitations had a huge internal mental component, and if I can intentionally mold how I perceive the world, I can live much more effectively, and happily. The goal isn't to delude myself so much as to put myself in a mental state where I can be be more open-minded and deliberate.
I still think stoicism is interesting but you are better off reading the original texts especially Epictetus and some books from historians about that time-frame for some context and criticism.
It also just seems more sustainable than constant jubilee, and more honest for considering the possibility of failure.
It's pretty insightful to connect the increased interest in stoicism to the boom-and-bust cycle. As the specter of a bust looms larger (hallucinatory or not), I can imagine that people who would be affected by the bust might find themselves seeking out ways of psychologically weathering the storm. Stoicism ain't it, in my book, but it certainly presents itself as if it were.
I think there is value to be derived from Stoicism but I'm leery about any reason to commit whole-heartedly to an extreme.
The name. 'Stoic' sounds cool. ('Ubermensch' just doesn't sound good. (Ahem. Was tempted to write "sounds like a Jewish thing".)
It's reassuring for those who feel they have no real control over their lives.
A strong resonance with a puritan loathing for the impure world.
Apatheia is the emotion for the modern world.
Edit: the four fold cure of Epicureanism is too easy: Don't fear the gods, don't worry about death, what is good is easy to get, and what is bad is easy to endure.
The book is called On the Shortness of Life: Life is Long if You Know How to Use it.
>Duration: Approx. 10 min.
Is it some meta stoicism to react stoically to that?
For me, at least, one of the points of stoicism is learning how to take a step back and look at the situation through more rational lenses, and then figure out how to deal with it.
Take the situation you mentioned: failing to support for one's family. I think someone who strives to practice stoicism would do something like this:
- What are the reasons I'm failing to provide for my family? Am I spending too much? Is my salary too low? Is the place I live too expensive? Does my family spend too much money?
- Of those reasons, which ones do I have full control of? (This is were you can actually act on).
- Which ones do I have some control of? If your family is the cause of financial distress, there are some actions you can take (like talking to them and explaining things have to change), but you can't fully control their actions and thoughts.
- Which ones do I have no control of? Don't worry about these, there is nothing you can do anyways. But here is the catch, you are eventually going to worry about them. This is what people fail to get about stoicism. It is not a silver bullet that is going to take away all your worries. It is an instrument to help you overcome them, with reason. It takes some practice to get good at it.
Billions of people live surrounded by crimes, wars and poverty.
If your family can't continue "functioning" (like in pay rent maybe for a smaller place, pay for medical, pay for children's education) with only 1 active member working (your wife), you're living waaaay above the level you should be living at... Only one gaining form this is your employer because he knows you're "job addicted" and he can basically make you do anything. You're in a really bad deal, even if you're "livin' the dream" and not noticing it.