Stoicism for Every Day

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A very nice “Intro to Stoicism” was brought to my attention the other day that I wanted to share with folks here. NJLifehacks “10 Stoic Core Principles” is an interesting and handy read on the subject. One of the most interesting aspects of stoicism (besides the fact that it is widely misunderstood) is that it is NOT an academic pursuit, but a method of achieving what the Greeks called “eudaimonia.” For reasons that have long mystified me, this term is generally translated as “happiness,” but a vastly superior translation would be “living well.”MarcusAurelius

The “eu” in “eudaimonia” is the Greek particle meaning “well,” but it also translates as “healthy”. Thus, if you’re a dog owner, you’re probably aware of the dog food Eukanuba. Since “kanuba” comes from the Greek root meaning “dog,” the brand name literally translates as “healthy dog.” The “daimonia” in eudaimonia means something like “spirit,” though in a different sense from the Greek word “pneuma.” So eudaimonia means something like “healthy spiritedness” or, as already noted, living well. That is a little like happiness, as long as we don’t confuse happiness with pleasure. Being a stoic does not mean a life of giggles, kittens, and carnival rides. Continue reading

You’re So Vain

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(Respects to Carly Simon. Minor amounts of “adult” language in the following.)

So, the story is making the rounds that Trump’s “spiritual advisor” (who knew that was a cabinet position?) is saying that Trump, “whether people like it or not, has been raised up by God.” She says this in the context of how the Bible says God “raises up kings,” apparently indifferent to, and unaware of, the pitifully uneducated irony of classifying Trump as a “king” (regardless of how much the fascist Trump would like that to be true.) She (and yes, it is a female televangelist) goes on to say that,

God says that he raises up and places all people in places of authority. It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.

This has been making the news rounds quite a bit of late; you can find one example (from which the previous quotes are taken) HERE.Me

It is easy enough to mock the infantile stupidity of this blathering numskull; indeed, such mockery is well deserved and as likely to have any positive effect as any effort at reasoned discussion. But the number of people who swallow – and then, in turn, spew – such fatuous twaddle is not so small as can be safely dismissed out of hand. I suspect some, possibly many, of my own family members fall into this category. So I want to point out a fact about these people’s own belief system, a fact that is based exclusively ON their belief system, and the sacred text known as “the” Bible. Because you see, the woman above, and so many others like her, are, by their own supposedly fervently held beliefs, doing is committing a sin: these people are so pathetically self-absorbed, they believe God is their string puppet to command; in so doing they are taking God’s name in vain. Continue reading

Privilege and Simplicity (thoughts on Thoreau)

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Today marks the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau, and rereading Walden always inspires me to say some uncharitable and unfair things about Thoreau. Knowing that they are unfair (see HERE, for example) I’m going to say them anyway, since having once been said it will be possible to see how and why they are unfair – as applied to Thoreau, at least – and then say some things that are fair, though mostly about some of Thoreau’s “readers.” So, let’s start by presenting the unfair in its simplest, and most privileged terms.

Sears Roebuck

Many years ago, the Science Fiction author Robert A. Heinlein elucidated what he called, “the Sears-Roebuck” fallacy. (Memory tells me this was in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. You should not credit my memory with any authority.) Describing this in my own words, young Henry David decides to head off into the wilderness, and make for himself the life of a True Man. Upon arrival, the first thing he needs to do is build himself some shelter, so he grabs his trusty ax, and sets out to fell some trees. But wait a minute! He was supposed to be leaving civilization behind; so where did that ax come from?

Why, the Sears-Roebuck catalog, of course! Continue reading

Hegel Makes Everything Funnier

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Good comedy and good scholarship are about challenging expectations. Still, they are an odd couple to pair in a single blog post (it doesn’t fit our expectations): there is seldom anything scholarly in comedy, and even rarer is there anything intentionally comic in scholarship. Philosophy jokes are even rarer, and less funny, than fencing jokes. For example:

When you’re at a party, you can always tell who fences with which weapon by what they talk about. In one corner will be the foil fencers, and they’ll be talking about the style and the finesse of the moves. In another corner will be the epee fencers, and they’ll be talking about the dynamics and continuities of the moves. In the third corner will be the saber fencers, who will all be talking about themselves …

It is actually a lot funnier if you’re a fencer, but it is still clear enough that even non-fencers might well be amused by the wordplay. Here, on the other hand, is pretty much the only philosophy joke I know:

Herr Doktor Professor strides into the lecture hall, turns and faces the terrified students in attendance. “I have come,” he declares, in his booming but gravelly voice, “to talk to you about … ZE UNIVERSE!! Und vhy, you ask, am I here to talk about … ZE UNIVERSE??!!” Herr Doktor Professor pauses, glares at all the intent faces, and then shrugs. “Because zats all zere is …”

Like I said, pretty sad. I’m the only person I know who has ever laughed at that joke. And that was even before I’d read much Hegel.

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Hegel makes everything funnier …

Continue reading

Rules

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(“More what you might call ‘guidelines’ …”)

If you don’t get the above reference, then I pity the life you’ve led.

Anyway, it turns out that I have “rules.” The idea hadn’t occurred to me so much, one way or the other, until some 20 years ago, when I happened to formulate these “rules.” (I’ll stop scare-quoting the word now.) I may or may not have mentioned the fact that I was (for a while, at least) a moderately serious Renaissance Faire participant, what is often referred to as a “rennie.” And by “participant,” I mean I had invested something in the neighborhood of $1,200.00 in garb and gear (about half of that was for my custom made, thigh-high boots alone) to participate in character as a low ranking German nobleman of the 16th C. The attached picture really is me (and yes, that is my hair). I share it here with the generous permission of the photographer, Jeffrey Gibson, D. Phil. The hyper link at his name is to his photographer’s website, and I encourage everyone to follow that link and take a look at some of his work.Gerhard11 - Gibson photographer

In any event, it was at Ren Faire – in garb and in character – that I learned that I had rules. Rules about interpersonal, social/sexual interactions. This would be a matter of scarcely any interest even to myself, except that the nature of those rules has some interesting philosophical characteristics over and beyond just what I personally will or will not do. It is to this latter I wish, ultimately, to address myself. But first I have to say a bit about the rules themselves, so that the philosophical implications have something to build upon. But to get to the rules themselves, I first must tell a story. Continue reading

HERSTEIN’s SECOND LAW:

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Never assume intelligence when stupidity will do the job.

This is a recently composed notion of mine, unlike my “first law,” which I’d entertained for many years prior to writing it up HERE. Now if only I can come up with a third law, I’ll have a complete set. “Laws” like these always come in threes: Asimov’s laws of robotics, the laws of thermodynamics (although some de classé fools claim there are four of these), and so on. Anyway, I’ve got a ways to go to come up with #3, and in the meantime I’m here to talk about the second law. (Notice how I avoided saying, “I’m here to talk about #2” … )LAW

So, “Never assume intelligence when stupidity will do the job.” Every conspiracy theory in the world is predicated upon ignoring this fundamental law of reasoning. This rule has been variously expressed as, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups” by the good folks at Demotivators, Inc. But while this latter formulation drops out as a corollary to the above, the Second Law is the more fundamental statement of the principle involved. So, my discussion here will start with a few examples of conspiracy theories, because these provide the clearest examples of violation of the law. But these are merely exempli gratia, and I don’t want them to overwhelm the larger problem of the ability of gross stupidity to make things unboundedly worse than they already are, without any shred of planning or design. Continue reading

Bridges

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I don’t like bridges. I mean the physical, not the musical, ones. Your typical short span over the local creek won’t upset me. But those huge, arcing monsters traversing vast rivers or bays give me the willies. Perhaps the Sum of All (my bridge) Fears is the Coronado Bay bridge in San Diego, pictured below. It is high, it is long, it is curved, and it doesn’t even have any external skeletal structures to give you any sense of containment or safety. As you can see from the picture, there’s barely even a guard rail at the side. Look again at the little dark bump a bit right of center of the picture, on the bridge. That’s a vehicle driving by. I’m sure it has never happened, but in my nightmares I envision cars flipping over that rail and going into the bay.san_diego_bridge_05

But the nightmares get much worse than that. In them, there is no rail at all, and only a line separating oncoming traffic from each other. The curves are canted at such an extreme angle that you have to accelerate into them or risk sliding right off. But if you accelerate too much, you’ll fly off the outside edge. The whole thing is more twisted than a knotted shoelace, with multiple on and off ramps and cars streaking past at insane and uncontrollable speeds.

Go ahead: you can make that jump …San Diego Bridge Construction

You might ask yourself, why I am sharing these sleep disturbing images with you? Well, good question, glad to see you’re paying attention. For the record, I did tag and categorize this post as “personal,” meaning that the reflections are largely personal ones that need not have any deeper philosophical significance. Although, in this instance, there is a deeper personal significance to last nights squirrelly dreaming. Continue reading