Monday, October 24, 2011

Don't Just Sit There, Do Something - Stoic Indifference vs. Apathy

This is the second attempt at this post. The first time through, I had slipped into 'Teacher' mode, and was waxing long on the hows and whys and wherefores. But that isn't what this blog is for (that is reserved for the Stoic Workshops).

This is my forum for talking about my actual life. So here goes.

The thing people don't get (and seem to be incapable of getting past) is the concept of Stoic Indifference. I talked about Emotions in my last post, this time I want to talk about Actions. Anyone who has read up on Stoicism should have a pretty clear idea of some of the central Stoic tenets. Virtue, that is behaving in an excellent way, is the only moral 'good'. Vice, it's opposite, is the only moral 'bad'. Everything that isn't linked to our behaviour does not make us either good or bad people, and so is morally indifferent, or morally neutral.

The second big Stoic principle is that most things are not in our control, especially the things that happen to us, while the only things that are in our control are our choices and actions. Putting two and two together, things we do (i.e. therefore in our control) = our virtue or vice. Things that happen to us, which are therefore not in our control = indifferent.

So here is the thing. There has been a lot of news and not a little noise surrounding the Global Occupy movement. Some IDIOTS seems to think that calling themselves Stoics gives them license to disengage from humanity because other people's suffering is an indifferent to them. Indifferents only apply to oneself! Read Heirocles, Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius! And yes, even Epictetus. Every one of them will tell you that you are here, on the planet, you are a human, to serve other humans! Why?

Because THAT is what being Virtuous is! We can't be 'justice', but we CAN act, in fact we MUST act justly. That is to say, we must stand against injustice! I am not here telling you what cause you should fight for, that is for you to discover. But we need to fight for it! If we are knowingly NOT fighting injustice, cruelty, greed, foolishness, then we are knowingly acting with vice. A virtuous life is about LIVING, not about contemplating our freaking navels.

We need to get off our collective asses, get off our couches, get off our high horses, and get out of our ivory towers and go and do something, anything! There is NO shortage of things that we can do virtuously. And unless we do, we aren't being virtuous then, are we .


  1. In regards to activism, it is important to note the Stoic view of humanity: we all possess reason, that divine spark, and it makes us related whether our lives intersect or not. In today's globalized world, though, most everyone's lives intersect. The suffering of one part of the human body -- and Marcus Aurelius viewed that human body literally -- is the suffering of another.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. smellincoffee - Exactly, this is what the Ancients had in mind when they talked about being cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world.

  4. Eric Reynolds - not to worry. No one is telling you what to do. It is like Frank Herbert said in Dune - "The proper teaching is recognized with ease. You can know it without fail because it awakens within you that sensation which tells you this is something you've always known." And from your post, it seems to me that you are already doing it, and much more than I am. I applaud you.

  5. Hi Michel - looks like I accidentally deleted my comment. Sorry about that. Thanks for your response. (love the Dune quite - favorite SF book)My background is in meditation. This is the main focus of my work with chronic pain patients. What I admire about the Stoics is their rational, thoughtful approach to serenity. That beautiful peace of mind so coveted by so many. Let's do our part to promote it in ourselves first and then expand to those around us. Imagine an expanding circle of serenity!

  6. I think I like the plain speaking, Michel. And, great point about indifference. O'l 'RG' up there reasons pretty well. A pleasure to be related to you all.

  7. Thanks Scott! And you are welcome to the team. While some Stoics are contented with arguing how many Sages can dance on the head of a pin, I keep thinking of Stoic warriors, statesmen, and benefactors of humanity. Even the Epictetus, which the heartless hold up as some kind of hero, adopted an abandoned child and married to provide him a mother. Not the acts of one who sees the suffering of others without caring about it. Anyhow, I ramble. Thanks for the comment.