The Trap of Stoicism

The Trap of Stoicism

Marcus Aurelius and stoicism have become a popular choice of role model.

Stoicism teaches that men should not show emotion no matter the provocation. Stoicism denies the emotional and irrational part of our nature and asks us to suppress it.

Stoicism is presented as an alternative, an antipode to psychology. Men don’t talk through their feelings, they should strive to have none. Or at least, none of the bad emotions. 

At its root, stoicism is a close cousin to psychology. It imposes a foreign model of thinking and being that deny basic elements of human nature. 

These basic elements evolved over time, as an adaptive response to our environment: 

“One variety of mammal, a tiny set of primates … began to use their eusocial skills to fan out from Africa 60 thousand years ago. (They) gradually became far more dominant even than the social insects.

“The term ‘eusocial,’“ Wilson said, “means a society based in part on a division of labor, in which individuals act altruistically, that covers two or more generations, and that cares for young cooperatively.”

That eusociality is so rare suggests how difficult it is for altruistic traits to evolve. The powerful evolutionary force to make individuals that successfully reproduce has to be overcome by some form of selective pressure which generates altruistic individuals who yield their interests to the interests of the group.”

EO Wilson proposes that we are both social and selfish / self-centered, and that this duality has evolved among Homo Sapiens due to its benefit — this dualistic nature means that people are highly adaptable to a changing environment. 

Ants and bees didn’t come to dominate the Earth, human beings did. This adaptability is a key reason why. 

Existentialism, at its core, sees the world as less than ideal. It recognizes our dualistic nature and how we’ve lost much of our eusocial tendencies via the spread of modernism.

Kierkegaard refers to the fallen nature of man, Nietzsche sees our modern world as the natural result of cultural self-destruction. 

Existentialism and stoicism begin from a similar place, but where a stoic would urge you to keep a stiff upper lip and carry on … an existentialist would challenge you to see beyond the brokenness and view the world as a canvas for a life lived along lines of excellence in a world affording them scope. 

“It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.” — Soren Kierkegaard

A stoic accepts; an existentialist reifies their dreams into a new reality. 

Psychology teaches that we’re broken, psychology labels us and provides ready excuses to explain away our failures, then prescribes drugs to make us feel ‘normal’ again. 

Stoicism teaches that we shouldn’t feel the bad emotions, just tuck them away and worry about the ulcer and heart damage later on. 

Existentialism teaches that none of that matters, that the way to deal with chaos and lies and fear is to evolve and self-overcome. To rise above the noise. To create. To fix things. To work hard towards living a life of excellence.

This process does not presuppose a lack of mortality, ethics or honor: 

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” - Soren Kierkegaard’s ‘Provocations’

Acting accordingly means acting with charity, honor, kindness, and seeking empathy with all living beings. Most especially with other human beings.

This core of wisdom can be found in the Bible, in Buddhist texts, and in many secular forms of teaching. 

Self-overcoming is fundamentally an act of adulting, of becoming more wise and empathic, because existentialism insists on seeing the reality of the world with unfiltered eyes. 

One cannot see the world with unfiltered eyes if they’re wearing rose colored glasses or if they’re doped up on ‘mood stabilizing drugs’. 

One must see the world with eyes unclouded, or else the past will define our futures.

A brief clip, analyzing the Japanese movie Princess Mononoke (which is loosely based on the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh): 

Just a we are both eusocial and individualistic, the world itself if also dualistic. It does not readily conform to our internal biases and filters. It exists outside of these internal barriers to understanding. 

We see the concrete, the physical, the separation between individuals. What we don’t see as readily is the fundamental interconnectedness of all living beings. 

We are all one, and we are also individuals. 

It is a poor quality man who believes himself to be an island, who acts as if honor and empathy are ‘outdated’ and that self-aggrandizement and elevation of the ego is the way to get ahead. 

Written by Erik Schimek

Erik is an entrepreneur and self-improvement expert. You can learn more about Meliora Meditation at Infinite Chorus.

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