7 Comments
Jun 25, 2023Liked by Ryan Pendell

I came to this site as a result of entering "how to be a stoic in a democracy" into Bing Chat. What a great choice! Thanks for your insights. I have been studying Stoicism for two years now, mostly relying on Ryan Holiday's books. Lately, though, I developed a need to leave Ryan H. behind. I have read Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus (starting on Epictetus for a second round). And the question still nags at me. Your analysis hit the nail on the head. Aurelius and Seneca seem to me to be too aristocratic to appeal to me fully, whereas Epictetus seems more like a "normal" citizen. My biggest issue is this: Epictetus tells us that what is important is not impressions, but our opinions about impressions. The thing about democracy is that to be an active, good citizen a person must not only have opinions, but also be mindful of the opinions of others, especially politicians. I'm thinking that our founding fathers were not Stoics. Otherwise, we would be saluting the Union Jack.

Expand full comment

A compelling read and well-constructed argument! While I've studied a fair amount of Philosophy academically, I've not done an indepth ananlysis of stoicism. I've tended to favor more eastern thought in many cases. And while, there's much I appreciate within Stoic ideas, I must admit I've also often found it to be far too individualistic and possibly hegemonic, but also I think this criticism works for much of Western Philosophy.

Thanks again for a really interesting piece!

Expand full comment

I wish I had time to interegate this post a little :). I tend to agree with your criticisms of the Popular Stoic approaches ie Holiday/ Life Hack Crowd, Fitness Influencers and Broics. I do think the selfish, chest beating, I take cold showers, crowd are possibly not the best for democracy.

I’d only have an issue if those criticisms extend to the Stoicism practiced as a philosophy of life. The two are chalk and cheese.

On Stoic emotional theory, have you read Margaret Graver? The theory of how emotions are constructed is about 2000 years ahead of its time. Only the passions (negative emotions) are considered errors in judgement, the Stoics were big fans of developing Good Emotions. So I find the questioning of my own reactions in emotional situations extremely valuable (if very hard). I find I communicate more with my loved ones, and am less angry.

I have issues with some of the value pairs too, but I think they may be applicable to the Popular iterations you’ve discussed.

Expand full comment

Nice essay. I had avoided stoicism because of the "I'm better than you" tech bros of Holliday and Ferris. I was thus pleasantly surprised when I read the Penguin selection of his letters to Lucilius.

Given the current state of tech-stoicism, I can't bring myself to go all in on the philosophy — its current proponents are also its worst detractors. The explorations in your essay elucidates some of my subconscious concerns. Thanks!

Expand full comment

Stoics say to accept the non categorical imperative reality as teleologically valid? Ahem, what? e.g.: I mean, sure, you can carve out a reality chunk where minus/negative doesn't exist and ignore the reality of Z, affirming only a plus/positive N reality, but this particular affirmative is a-priori weak (for being particular :D) by itself. Damn, logical translation into words is fuzzy....

Expand full comment