KT Answers: Stoics in the Age of -isms pt.1
In the new episode of our “Ask Kali” series, we address MT White’s remarks and questions on the subject of Stoicism and peculiar attitude contemporary psychologists hold towards what is considered to be “ideology of masculinity”. Whereas the very fact that American Psychologists Association can indulge into such semantic nonsense as defining “masculinity” – or even “masculinities” – as ideology rather calls for the application of flame thrower, than that of the rational argument, we, as rational creatures, cannot help but try to argue the point instead.
On the other hand, there is an argument that stoic attitude doesn’t bode well with liberal optimism and hence indicates to a certain pathology in stoic person, that, for some reason, cannot see that he lives in the age of infinite progress in happiness and well being and not in the wake of the decline of the Roman Empire.
Again, flash of fire before mind’s eye … and … trying the argue the point again.
However, before we address the peculiar understanding of what contemporary academic and psychic hygiene experts have of male “stoicism”, we’ll devote a full first part of the two-part podcast to drawing an outline of the original Stoic doctrine as it developed in the Mediterranean of mid to late Antiquity.
I’m curious for your thoughts on Stoicism. There seems to be a miniature “culture war”, in the USA at least, over the value of stoicism as a philosophy by which to live—especially if you are a man.
For example, On the secular side, the American Psychological Association wrote in their “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” that psychologists can strive to “reduce mental health stigma for men by acknowledging and challenging socialized messages related to men’s mental health stigma (e.g., male stoicism, self-reliance),” framing “traditional masculinity” in a constructivist yet highly reductionist manner: “In Western culture, the dominant ideal of masculinity has moved from an upper-class aristocratic image to a more rugged and self-sufficient ideal.”
Another paper states “Past research has shown positive relationships between stoicism and depression” and that “When we compare the tone of Marcus Aurelius with that of Bacon, or Locke…we see the difference between a tired and a hopeful age…The Stoic ethic suited the times of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, because its gospel was one of endurance rather than hope”.
From a Christian perspective, it seems kind of mixed. Anglican theologian NT Wright said St. Paul’s writing was “similar” to that of Epictetus. However, St. Augustine himself criticized the Stoics in “The City of God” for lacking an eschatology, even stating “The virtues of the heathens are only splendid vices”. Fast forward a bit: Michel de Montaigne was quite an admirer of the likes of Seneca in his Essays. But a hundred years later, his fellow Frenchman Pascal found the “superbe diabolique” of Stoicism in trying to produce “natural miracles” that had no need for the miracles of God with its reliance on virtue and detachment from the outer world. Of course this is not in the least a comprehensive view.
And yet…Stoicism still has its admirers especially in military and law enforcement circles. James Stockdale, a Navy Pilot and US candidate for Vice President, claimed that the writings of Epictetus helped him survive a Vietnamese prison camp when his plane was shot down. Stockdale called Stoicism the most complementary philosophy to monotheism. My friend, a police officer and practicing Roman Catholic, suggested I read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations when I was having some personal issues and after taking his advice, am thankful for the recommendation. Nassim Taleb, a popular writer, also champions the Stoics.
But once again, these are all MEN recommending Stoicism, with our modern and increasingly puerile world looking at things inherently masculine as anathema. Yet great Christian thinkers had issue with it, with even Frankfurt School adherents using the arguments of the likes of Augustine to help deconstruct the philosophy. This, of course, can lead to reactionary forces to both criticize and lump together the forces of modernity and Christianity for being “soft” and champion the “pagan” ideals of Stoicism.
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