Gloom (and doom) | Seth’s Blog

Doom is inevitable.

Gloom is optional.

Gloom has no positive effects on ameliorating doom.

Doom happens. Gloom is a choice.

— Read on seths.blog/2018/10/gloom-and-doom/

Yep.

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Stoic Optimism

This Timeless And Boldly Optimistic Idea Could Change Your Life:

“Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.

And then [Marcus Aurelius, in Mediations] concluded with powerful words destined for a maxim.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

These words were scrawled by Marcus Aurelius himself, to himself, likely on the battlefront as he lead the Roman Army against barbarian tribes or possibly at the palace amongst the intrigue and pressure. Not exactly a happy or encouraging place to be.

Yet in the years since I first read it, I’ve started to understand is that this little paragraph is the perspective for a special kind of optimism. Stoic optimism.

I’m sure that sounds like an oxymoron, but stoicism gets a bad–and unfair–rap.

What Marcus was writing — reminding himself — is one of the core tenets of Stoicism. What it is prescribing is essentially this: in any and every situation — no matter how bad or seemingly undesirable it is — we have the opportunity to practice a virtue.

(Via Ryan Holiday)

It’s a long-ish but worthwhile read regardless of your view on Stoicism. Ryan cites specific examples of this view in his pleasantly digestible way.

In our daily lives we forget that the things that seem to be blocking us are small and that the obstacles blocking us are actually providing us answers for where to go next. It’s a timeless formula that can be revisited again and again.

All I can say is that this attitude is something I try to think of always. I try to envision these people facing much more significant problems than me, and seeing it not only as not bad but as an opportunity.

We all face tough situations on a regular basis. But behind the circumstances and events that provoke an immediate negative reaction is something good — some exposed benefit that we can seize mentally and then act upon.We blame outside forces or other people and we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. But there is only one thing we really control: our attitude and approach

Which is why the Stoics say that what blocks the path is the path. That what seems to impede action can actually advance it. And that everything is a chance to practice some virtue or something different than originally intended. And you never know what good will come of that.

The obstacle is the way.

Indeed.

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What You Can Control

What You Can Control:

Taking Positive Action on What You Can Control

Remember, the things you can control are your own actions, your own thoughts, and your own emotional responses to situations. You control your body. You control your mind.

Throughout any given day, you are given countless choices about what you might do with your time, your money, your energy, and your focus. You decide how you will spend that money. You decide how you will spend that time. You decide how you will spend that energy. You decide how you will spend that focus.

If you make a lot of bad choices, choices that are not in alignment with your big long-term goals, you’re going to get bad results.

If you want to save for the future but then proceed to spend lots of money on clothes and entertainment and hobbies and meals at restaurants, you’re not going to save much for the future. The choices to spend money on clothes and entertainment and hobbies and restaurants are choices you made of your own free will. Yes, there may be other factors in your financial state, but a healthy part of that state are the choices you made, and you can make better ones.

If you want to lose weight but you eat enormous meals or snack all the time or drink calorie-rich beverages, you’re not going to lose weight very quickly if at all. Again, it comes down to choices.

Yes, some choices might be hard – very hard. If they were easy, then everyone would make those choices.

What about the things that are somewhat under your control, like the behavior of your children, your boss, your employees, or your customers? It is well worth your time to learn about how you can best use what you can control to be a positive influence. You can’t fully control your kids, your boss, your employees, your customers, or anyone else in your life, but you can influence them in a positive way.

There are, of course, very different ways to influence the people around you depending on your relative situation. The key thing you can do is recognize what you can influence and what you can’t and what things you can do to maximize your positive influence.

(Via The Simple Dollar The Simple Dollar)

Trent Hamm’s essay is a Stoic review of control – what is in our control and what isn’t. I don’t have much to add other than that if this speaks to you look for some other writings on Stoicism.

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Some Senecan Realism About Happiness by Paul Stanley

Some Senecan Realism About Happiness by Paul Stanley:

Of course, how we cultivate the attitudes and reactions that will enable us to achieve this (truly) happy state is another question. But it’s important to know where we should be headed.

(Via Modern Stoicism)

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Marathon Man

Marathon Man:

(Eliud Kipchoge) says in the (New York Times) piece:

Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.

That rings so true to me.

(Via AVC)

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Some advice from Jeff Bezos

Some advice from Jeff Bezos:

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

(Via Signal v. Noise)

I was talking yesterday morning with a young new hire. She asked me how I share my opinions with people, the implication being that I do it in an atypical way compared to most Japanese. I talked on a bit, I hope not too long, but in my musings I covered essentially the above.

This was also something we talked about a lot on the late, lamented PVC Security podcast.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.

Mind Like Water, indeed.

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A Guide to the Good Life

Even though I ordered it (Amazon Japan short term deal), I expected nothing. I accept what I received, and what I received is a hardcover copy of William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (US edition).

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

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The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match: The Ancient Greeks Versus the Germans

For those already in World Cup withdrawal …

The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match: The Ancient Greeks Versus the Germans:

Today, as the 2018 World Cup draws to a close, we’re revisiting a classic Monty Python skit. The scene is the 1972 Munich Olympics. The event is a football/soccer match, pitting German philosophers against Greek philosophers. On the one side, the Germans — Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Marx and, um, Franz Beckenbauer. On the other side, Archimedes, Socrates, Plato and the rest of the gang. The referee? Confucius. Of course.

Note: Some years ago, this match was recreated by The Philosophy Shop, a group dedicated to promoting philosophy among primary schoolchildren. The Telegraph gives you more details.

Enjoy.

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Related Content:

Monty Python’s Best Philosophy Sketches

Noam Chomsky Slams Žižek and Lacan: Empty ‘Posturing’

Free Philosophy Courses

(Via Open Culture)

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Epictetus’ Handle

I read Ryan Holliday’s The Daily Stoic [US] [JP] for each day’s entry. I write them in my daily journal (more often than not).

The 14 June account confused and confounded me:

Every event has two handles – one by which it can be carried, and one by which it can’t. If your brother does you wrong, don’t grab it by his wrongdoing, because this is the handle incapable of lifting it. Instead, use the other – that he is your brother, that you were raised together, and then you will have hold of the handle that carries.

(Via Holliday’s translation of Epictetus, Enchiridion [US] [JP], 43)

I understand the overall moral in Epictetus’ message but the handle metaphor makes no sense. Events don’t have handles. If they do, then why two with one useless handle? Who is making these handles?

The further description from Holliday’s book failed to enrich:

The famous journalist William Seabrook suffered from such debilitating alcoholism that in 1933 he committed himself to an insane asylum, which was then the only place to get treatment for addiction. In his memoir, Asylum, he tells the story of the struggle to turn his life around inside the facility. At first, he stuck to his addict way of thinking—and as a result, he was an outsider, constantly getting in trouble and rebelling against the staff. He made almost no progress and was on the verge of being asked to leave.

Then one day this very quote from Epictetus—about everything having two handles—occurred to him. “I took hold now by the other handle,” he related later, “and carried on.” He actually began to have a good time there. He focused on his recovery with real enthusiasm. “I suddenly found it wonderful, strange, and beautiful, to be sober. … It was as if a veil, or scum, or film had been stripped from all things visual and auditory.” It’s an experience shared by many addicts when they finally stop doing things their way and actually open themselves to the perspectives and wisdom and lessons of those who have gone before them.

There is no promise that trying things this way—of grabbing the different handle—will have such momentous results for you. But why continue to lift by the handle that hasn’t worked?

Again, this makes no sense to me. I get the moral – there’s an easy way and a hard way; embracing opportunity instead of fighting to hold on to cherished opinions (paraphrased from a quote of Seng-ts’an I saw somewhere) – but “the handle” still threw me. Off I went to reference another translation to see if this metaphor was poorly conveyed.

I checked out The Enchiridion Translated by Elizabeth Carter, made available by MIT.

Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don’t lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried.

This is, to me, a subtly better version. I still don’t fully appreciate the handle metaphor. It remains awkward. “There are two sides to every coin.” “Every cloud has its silver lining.” Something about swords or cheeks or keepers or better angels or walking in shoes all come close to the idea here.

One more check, this time the copy on Project Gutenberg:

Everything has two handles: one by which it may be borne, another by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, do not lay hold on the affair by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be borne, but rather by the opposite—that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it as it is to be borne.

These are all variations on a theme. I remain unable to grasp this.

Who is making handles that can’t be used to carry? Is there supposed to be both a “just” and “unjust” handle to all things? If so, how are they distinguished? Can there be a third or more, like “practical but compromised” and “pragmatic but ineffective”?

Taking the constructs of the brother and the addict and bringing them together, I can love him for the fact that he is my brother and we grew up together and I know his better side. But as he is an addict, would I do my brother or myself any good by metaphorically “grabbing the other handle”? If your brother, actual or symbolic, isn’t an addict or similar but you and he are otherwise in conflict, that’s where I think this comes into play.

I think. Maybe. I don’t know.

After all of this I still don’t get Epictetus’ handle metaphor. Would someone care to help illuminate me?

Meanwhile I’m thinking about reaching out to my erstwhile prodigal brother. He’s not an addict or anything. He’s just a dick.

Stoic movie review: RBG – How to Be a Stoic

Stoic movie review: RBG – How to Be a Stoic:

Now, why do I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a Stoic role model, and have included the documentary about her in my Stoic movie reviews? Three reasons, all of them explored in the film. First off, and most obviously, she embodies at least three of the Stoic virtues: courage, justice, and temperance. The above biographical sketch should leave no doubts about her commitment to social justice, in a sense that is aligned with the Stoic conception of it, and which unfortunately is easily forgotten by a number of self-professing modern Stoics: we are all human beings, members of the human cosmopolis, to be treated fairly and equally. But she also clearly showed plenty of courage, standing up for the right thing to do, both in terms of her own professional career and on behalf of millions of women, for many decades. She did all this in the right major, rarely if ever departing from a no-nonsense approach that would calibrate her reactions to the problem at hand, thus practicing the virtue of temperance. (I cannot comment on her practical wisdom, as that one is a virtue that is usually deployed only by people who consciously think of themselves as Stoics.)

Second, her firm rejection of anger as a useful emotion. The documentary mentions this several times, adding that she inherited the attitude from her mother. Anger, as Seneca puts it, is temporary madness, and not conducive to act reasonably, even when it may be justified by an injustice. RBG has suffered plenty of personal injustices, and has fought on behalf of many others treated unjustly, throughout her life. And yet she has managed to maintain her calm in the midst of plenty of storms, a most Stoic trait.

Finally, and most surprisingly, her apparently genuine friendship with the now deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite their diametrically opposite positions on all sorts of social issues, they were warm toward each other, went on vacation trips together, and made several joint public appearances. I have to admit that I probably would not have the fortitude to stomach a friendship with a person like Scalia, who I found to be despicable. But that’s because I’m not a sage, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a better Stoic than I am. Her behavior toward Scalia embodies the difficult to internalize Stoic notion that nobody does evil on purpose, but only because they are misguided. As Marcus says:

“They are certainly moved toward things because they suppose them to be suitable to their nature and profitable to them. ‘But it is not so.’ Teach them then, and show them without being angry.” (Meditations VI.27)

(Via How To Be A Stoic)

There certainly has been a push lately around Justice Ginsburg. I like the story of her and the late Justice Scalia. Regardless of the political perspectives each held they could have not just an honorable debate but a genuine friendship.