July 1, 2019: Stoical in a Time of General Sorrow?

Stoic n. a member of a Greek school of philosophy founded by Zeno about 308 B.C., holding that all things, properties, relations, etc. are governed by unvarying natural laws, and that the wise man should follow virtue alone, obtained through reason, remaining indifferent to the external world and to passion or emotion. Webster’s New World Dictionary, 3rd ed. 1994, Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Prentice Hall).

Stoical adj. showing austere indifference to joy, grief, pleasure, or pain; calm and unflinching under suffering, bad fortune, etc. Webster’s New World Dictionary, 3rd ed. 1994, Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Prentice Hall).

Liberalism is a political and economic doctrine that emphasizes individual autonomy, equality of opportunity, and the protection of individual rights (primarily to life, liberty, and property), originally against the state and later against both the state and private economic actors, including businesses.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/liberalism

This liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done.  That migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected.  Every crime must have its punishment. The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Valdimir Putin (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/russia-s-vladimir-putin-liberalism-europe-obsolete-n1024411)

That which doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you—but it can leave you tweaked.  Hoo-nōs

If one is in a position like Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 who landed on the Hudson River off Manhattan after the plane was disabled by striking a flock of Canada geese immediately after takeoff (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesley_Sullenberger), being stoical is indeed a virtuous ability.  But if one is stoical in the face of starving or molested children, murderous intent, ethnic extermination, dehumanization of anybody, etc., that kind of indifference is not a virtue.

Personally I fail to understand Putin’s comments and am happy that some backlash, including from Trump, was forthcoming.  Perhaps the concept of liberalism is basically misunderstood by many besides Putin.  I think the same is true of conservatism, though I do not know Putin’s stance on that topic.  Certainly, folks in the U.S. have drawn lines as though one side or the other is nothing more than the devil in action.  Personally, I fail to understand a notion of “unvarying natural laws” as much as I fail to understand why liberalism or conservatism are ideas breeding strident action no matter what the context is.  I guess I could say I’m passionate about crap masquerading as necessary truth—like some folks are inherently better than others or that some folks deserve what they get and how they live (the “just world” notion).

I favor the notion that superiority is about becoming better than one was.  It is a highly individual issue, not a holier-than-though one.  And becoming better is not a straight line always headed up.  One could be better at something in a temporal or transient sense, like winning a footrace.  One could be better at something because one does best what one does most.  Those kinds of “superiority” are about a particular skill, granting no general genius to other areas of knowledge

I also favor the notion that inferiority can be a blessing, as in a learning curve is clearly ahead.  A child possesses “inferior” knowledge about the workings of the world when compared to most adults.  As a professor, I am likely to have more knowledge about my chosen discipline than the students.  I am not a superior person and students are not inferior people because of such a particular delineation.  In fact, I’m not clear I’m the teacher and they are the students, as those positions are highly fluid and overlap considerably at times.

But to regulate and designate classes of people as superior or inferior (c’mon—ethnic supremacy or gender dominance as an inherent attribution!?) is about as far afield of the “democratic” ideal as it can be, even if “democratic” behavior is not always in evidence.  It’s crap and crap is something best left responsibly disposed of as opposed to crapping in one’s hand and throwing it at others (no offense to monkeys).

I suppose if I was a pilot the likes of Sullenberger, who found themselves in a disabled plane with souls onboard, being stoic would be a great trait—at least until all that could be done was done (I suspect Sullenberger was less stoic sometime after the water landing on the Hudson River and the rescue of all on board).  But I find much of the ill treatment of others repugnant and likely nothing more than a ruse to make oneself feel better by creating a veneer of general superiority.  I wonder if we can learn to live well—to thrive in heart and mind (reason is necessary, but insufficient, as is emotion)—if we shed the general encumbrance of superior/inferior (including how we treat our own being)?

What if pure loyalty to a leader or a group was really a joke—a sign we’ve lost our hearts and minds?  What if the citizens of the world were truly dedicated to the virtues of humanism and stewardship instead of partisan politics and dominion? What if we were truly dedicated to inclusivity even while we had particular “tribes”?     What if we did not elect or follow “leaders” who ruled, but who listened and practiced the virtues of reason and emotion and humanism and stewardship?  We would still follow those principles and behave as would be appropriate, but we would have granted our elected representatives the organizational power to get any stuckness unstuck and get us back to flowing freely again.  And then they go about their business of watching and helping and we go about our business of watching and helping.  Maybe we would learn that charisma may be enchanting or poison, but we would not be so enamored as to lose our passion and our joy to live and thrive or our stoicism in the face of great danger.  Sobriety and passion as needed; well chosen, well placed, well-practiced.  More joy and less sorrow?  What exactly do we think we have to lose—a hierarchy of good and bad, of haves and have nots?  Where is the joy when others struggle because some want to be better than others?  That is an economy of sorrow.  That is not the principle of either liberalism or conservatism, much less democracy.  That is not the principle of individual and “tribal” well-being.  We can have it all if we can get past cultivating the seeds of fear.  And that would be nothing to be stoical about—it would at least be worth a smile and gleam in the eye.

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