The new idea for the week.
This week I am taking onboard a few new ideas and concepts that might have rewarding changes into the way I process events.
One of the new things I am exploring is Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy that has a reputation as self-defeatist. Below is a link to a very useful resource on the philosophy, that I have just begun to scratch the surface of.
Disparaging comments on Hedonism.
Is it hypocritical of me to dislike hedonism. To cringe at the mention of celebrity culture. To cower at the sight of overt hubris. To be shocked by overt vanity. Am I unjustified in thinking that fashion in hedonism is the plight of this century. Or is it a backlash given the present state of my generation. Children of the baby boom generation, the great majority of us do not share in wealth, consumerism and and abundance. Do we crave it or despise it as something unattainable?
Given that we are the generation that hasn’t seen growth is it not more understandable to hold a stoic attitude to life? When we are confronted with those in our generation who are ostentatious hedonists, don’t we see it as one of the most selfish behaviours? I certainly do. In the professional world showing success is acceptable.
Consider this situation, think of a sharp suited student pulling up to a lecture theatre in a chauffeured vehicle. All the other students are living of ramen and just getting by, while the student who was driven to school acts as a harsh reminder that despite your efforts at university, inequality will offer endless challenges to being successful.
Always wary of the thoughtless hedonist, uncharitable and the self-absorbed I relish the religious and philosophical machinations of Buddhism and Stoicism.
Buddhism in comparison with Stoicism.
Here is an interesting article that looks at the key differences between Buddhism and Stoicism. The author differentiates between Mindfulness and Mindlessness. Stating that Buddhism offers complete detachment while stoicism prefers to divide mind and body, with the mind engaging. But this can be hurtful, with active suppression of of stoicism causing delayed reactions, potentially more extreme.
I, before exploring Stoicism, held the quiet belief that engagement with Buddhist thought would offer different and valuable ways of understanding the world and would give me vital ways of dealing with stressors. Only Western culture isn’t very accommodating Buddhist ideology as many aspects clash with our rationalism. We over-rationalise, contemplate and involve our selves in all manner of issues and rarely accept our situation. No matter how tempting Buddhism might be to the Westerner, the cultural sacrifices often out-weigh the benefits. For me there are certain techniques that I can take from Buddhist ideology and there is a collection of ethical beliefs that i agree with, but the overall ethos is something that I cannot import into my own life.
Are you able to hand pick elements of a philosophy/religion?
For me this raises the question, can you hand pick parts of a philosophy or do you have to be a whole sale advecate. Certainly with my partial intake of Buddhism I will never reach Nirvana. Nor will I benefit from trance like states of bliss, which are beyond me. Dis-engaging from rational thought as recommended by most Buddhists contradicts my Western upbringing and makes me feel guilty. So I would say that we can certainly learn from other philosophies and religion but we can never gain what proper adherents can through devout belief. Most religions ask for complete immersion for you to be able to benefit from their philosophical pantheon.
Nicholas Taleb, the celebrity intellectual is the person who introduced me to the advantages of Stoicism. To understand why stoicism, in theory, sounds so attractive is because the notion of antifragility is itself such an attractive notion. There are different facets of the antifragile, but it is an idea the supersedes the robust, it is something that is strengthened by randomness. Stressors strengthen the antifragile where they would destroy the fragile and perhaps not affect the robust.
“Antifragility implies more to gain than to lose, equals more upside than downside, equals (favourable asymmetry)”.
And Taleb views stoicism as a philosophical form of antifragility. It is a philosophy that strengthens oneself against being negatively impacted by events.
For me looking at the ridiculously wealthy or celebrities is damaging to my psyche. To make these situations less damaging I would have to either isolate myself from the events, remove myself completely from this feeling using the Buddhist ideas or rationalise and contemplate them but realise that my body is separate and not affected. If you read through the pamphlet published by Exeter University linked above they offer various stoic methods for dealing with ‘stressors’. One of these is evidently meant to be antifragile, and that is picturing yourself in the worst possible situations. Once aware that you are in the grips of the worst possible turn of events, any other outcome is highly positive and one to which you react almost positively, in theory.
I find this idea very hard to put into practice, but the idea does suit my temperament as well as my culture, as it does suit someone who uses the ‘nothing to lose’ idea frequently as a means of acquiring confidence.
I will follow this article with more enquiries into Buddhism, Stoicism and Hedonism.