Stoicism and Ingratitude – Legend All the Way Down

The popularity of Stoicism is on the rise, and it’s not hard to see why. It offers some sense of direction and purpose to a generation that is lost and has been taught from birth that everything is meaningless. It speaks some hard truths people are desperate to hear. It calls for responsibility and discipline and is above all a very practical philosophy, with maxims to practice and do.

It also has the advantage of having a large body of literature that is accessible and readable, and the Stoics should probably we required reading for all people of the West.

A pagan could do much worse than Stoicism. Though ultimately, it can lead to despair. Just read up on the lives of some popular Stoics and how their lives ended. Or how they wrote about suicide.

One of the other dangers, I think, is a cultivation of ingratitude. This isn’t unique to Stoicism, but it can fester in unique ways.

Take this quote from Marcus Aurelius:

“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood. Or making love – something rubbing against your penis, a brief seizure and a little cloudy liquid. Perceptions like that – latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time – all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust – to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.”

If this is the lens you start to see everything through, your life will start to seem rather drab and dreary. True, it will help inoculate you if you ever lose access to the finer things…but to what end? What if the vaccine is worse than the disease?

Better the Christian way. In everything, give thanks. Everything is sanctified through thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). All things are a gift from God. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and either way, blessed be the name of the Lord. It was never ours to begin with. We were just stewards for a time.

Enjoy them, but let them point you to the One who is eternal and never-changing.

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” – Psalm 34:8

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  – Isaiah 25:6

May your fountain be blessed,
    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
     A loving doe, a graceful deer—
    may her breasts satisfy you always,
    may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” – Proverbs 5:18-19

This is how the Bible talks about these things. Revel in the legend that encrusts them, because the creator of the legend was God himself, and it turns out that when you get through the crust, it’s still legend all the way down.

Stoicism wants us to see things as they really are. But that’s only possible through unrelenting gratitude and the eyes of faith.

Even a Whisper – Malleability of the Mind

The mind is a malleable thing, sensitive to outside influences. Waitzkin, in The Art of Learning, talks about how a Soviet player unknowingly interrupted his natural rhythm of thought by tapping a chess piece against the table. The sound was barely audible, yet it caused him to make careless errors at critical moments.

Only when the tactic was explained to him was he able to notice it and counteract it.

Our minds are not immune to outside influences, especially if they are subtle and we aren’t paying much attention. Just what are we putting into our mind? Are we being intentional about it? Are we paying careful attention to what we read and watch and allow to enter our ears? Even a whisper has the potential to alter our behavior.

To be careless in this seems dangerous. In this, we should train to be as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).

Domain Dependence – When Your Subconscious Rolls its Eyes

To be truly creative, one of the central problems to overcome is domain dependence. We become so dependent on the surrounding context of an idea, that we fail to apply that idea in other areas or domains. We fail to make useful connections.

Continue reading Domain Dependence – When Your Subconscious Rolls its Eyes

Children of Voldemort

Those who harp on privilege, steeped in postmodern thought, are the children of Voldemort. “There is no good and evil, there is only power…and those too weak to seek it.”

Ironically, they try to gain this power by claiming victimhood and oppression. By claiming to be weak. This is a stark parody of Jesus, who did indeed gain power and authority by humbly submitting to being a victim.

And He is the only true victim.