Stoa Nova event: what is wisdom?

“Wisdom” is arguably one of the most slippery, and yet important, concepts that concern us all. One way to summarize humanity’s problems over the past several millennia is that our intelligence and technology have far outpaced our wisdom. And things are likely to get worse, since our technological advancements are accelerating, possibly leading in the near future to the development of very intelligent, but unlikely to be wise, AI. Let’s explore the concept of wisdom, both inside and outside of the Stoic tradition

Suggested reading here.

Admission: $5 suggested donation, free for members of the Society for Ethical Culture. Learn more about our host organization, the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

When: Monday, 25 November 2019 at 6pm

Where: New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 W 64th St., Manhattan

RSVP here

Recent Stoic Meditations, #34

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

Let us replace all of anger’s symptoms by their opposites; let us make our countenance more composed than usual, our voice milder, our step slower. Our inward thoughts gradually become influenced by our outward demeanor. (listen here)

Seneca runs us through a long list of reasons why people do us wrong. And then concludes that we should be magnanimous, not vengeful, toward them, in part because they are human beings like us, and like us they make mistakes. (listen here)

Say to fortune: Do what you will, you are too feeble to disturb my serenity: this is forbidden by reason, to whom I have entrusted the guidance of my life: to become angry would do me more harm than your violence can do me. (listen here)

Let us  be more gentle one to another: we are bad people, living among bad people. There is only one thing which can afford us peace, and that is to agree to forgive one another. (listen here)

Recent essays, #34

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Thucydides and the human condition

In the year 427 BCE, not long after the onset of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta took its time to send naval relief to the allied city of Mytilene, which had recently revolted against Sparta’s longtime rival, Athens. As a result, the city was captured by an Athenian contingent. This would have been just one more of a number of back-and-forth episodes between Sparta and Athens, which lasted from 431 to 404 BCE and which, even though it technically ended with a Spartan victory, weakened all of the Greek city-states, thereby opening the way for the Macedonian conquest of all Greece, which began in 338 BCE.

What sets aside the Mytilenean revolt is that Thucydides wrote about it in detail in his classic, The History of the Peloponnesian War (full text here). And what makes me write about it is one of the speeches connected to that episode and recorded by Thucydides. It contains some fascinating insight into the human condition, and reminds us that things have not changed that much, in certain respects, over the past two and a half millennia.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

$toicism, Broicism, and stoicisM — Part I: it’s not about becoming rich & famous

Stoicism is back, baby! As anyone who has been paying the slightest attention should have realized by now, the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy founded around 300 BCE by Zeno of Citium is more popular than ever. As modern Stoic Bill Irvine told a large gathering of Stoic practitioners in New York three years ago, “this is the largest group of Stoics ever assembled.” And it’s gotten bigger since. Stoicism’ online presence (over 58k members at the largest Facebook Stoic group), the growing number of books on popular Stoicism, and the ample media coverage are all witnesses to that fact.

Yet, modern Stoicism has a problem. Three, actually. I’m not talking about the still surprisingly many people who criticize our philosophy from the outside, usually on the basis of simple misconceptions, such as that Stoicism is about suppressing emotions and going through life with a stiff upper lip. (Examples here, here, and here, just to mention a few.) I’m talking about three somewhat related “internal” misapplications of the philosophy: what I call $toicism, Broicism, and stoicisM. The first one is a distortion of Stoicism that is employed to achieve wealth and fame; the second one is a different kind of distortion, which makes Stoicism into a precursor of and philosophical foundation for “men’s rights” nonsense; while the last one is a potentially even more dangerous distortion that turns Stoicism into a tool for military training and aggression.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

The Daily Stoic on How to Be a Stoic

The Daily Stoic, the site started and maintained by Ryan Holiday, author, among other things, of The Ego is the Enemy, has recently featured by book, How to Be a Stoic. The article begins:

“Imagine how much easier life would be if we could learn to regard everything bad that happens to us as an act of nature. To keep our cool in the heat of an argument. To not shy away from a challenge, or to let our ego get the best of us.

Throughout history, Roman emperors, prisoners of war, entrepreneurs and many others have moved through life with a sort of steadiness—an unshakable perspective. The commonality amongst them is the diligent practice of the ancient philosophy known as Stoicism. 

In Massimo Pigluicci’s How To Be A Stoicreaders are given a clear, concise, and creative breakdown of how to become their best selves. Organized as a discussion between the author and the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus, How To Be A Stoic entertains while it educates, covering everything from how to control our desires, to overcoming the fear and anxiety that cripples society today.”

Read the rest here, including 3 takeaways from my book, 3 favorite examples, and the 12 best quotes.

Suggested readings, #34

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Against economics: what the dismal science still gets wrong, despite all the evidence pointing away from its classic assumptions. (New York Review of Books)

The Fermi Paradox: ‘Fact A.’ [And one more example of the fact that talk of SETI is purely speculative, more a parlor game than a science.] (Medium)

Business education helps create a culture where the profit justifies the means. Business students learn about accounting techniques, but not enough about ethics. This is why corporate scandals persist. (Guardian)

Making a case for Cicero: was he the most influential writer of all time? (Medium)

It’s the era of the Twitter pile-on. Isn’t there something healthier we can do with our rage? After years of being told to ‘think positively’ we no longer know what to do with our negative feelings, so we blurt them out online. (Guardian)

Live with Massimo: episode 2, Epictetus' Enchiridion

Here is the second episode of a new ongoing series of live chats on YouTube, where the audience can ask me questions in real time and I do my best, impromptu, to answer them during the hour of the show. This second episode was entirely devoted to Epictetus’ Enchiridion, or Handbook, one of the crucial texts of ancient Stoicism.

I begin my reading and commenting on the famous first section of the Enchiridion, which sets up the entire book by introducing the famous dichotomy of control: some things are up to us, and other things are not up to us… After that, I respond to a number of questions having to do with either specific passages in the Handbook or more general aspects of Epictetean philosophy.

P.S.: episode 3 of “Live with Massimo” is scheduled for Sunday, 8 December, at 12pm Eastern time. The topic will be Seneca’s Letters to Lucilius. Here is the link.

Recent Stoic Meditations, #33

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

Anger pays a penalty at the same moment that it exacts one: it forswears human feelings. The latter urge us to love, anger urges us to hatred: the latter bid us do good, anger bids us do harm. (listen here)

We should live with the quietest and easiest-tempered persons, not with anxious or with sullen ones: for our own habits are copied from those with whom we associate. (listen here)

Do something that relaxes you, change your environment to make it soothing, and most importantly don’t engage in anything major if you are tired, stressed, or hungry. (listen here)

It is said that Socrates when he was given a box on the ear, merely said that it was a pity a man could not tell when he ought to wear his helmet out walking. (listen here)

While you are angry, you ought not to be allowed to do anything. Why?, do you ask? Because when you are angry there is nothing that you do not wish to be allowed to do. (listen here)