Your best friend betrays you for political gains. The essay that you spent hours working on comes back with 51 per cent. A new driver runs over your foot with their BMW. You look in the mirror when you wake up in the morning and feel a deep, chilling sense of philosophical dread. Maybe you should consider adopting the great philosophy of stoicism to help you get through your exhausting life.
To help you get a basic, functional knowledge of the philosophy and how you can use some of its concepts in your exhausting, tempestuous life, we've put together a little guide to help you understand what stoicism is and how you can cherrypick its most convenient ideas.
What have you achieved on your front porch?
Stoicism was founded in the third century BC by Zeno of Citium, whose name sounds like a character from Scientology. The philosophy’s name comes from the the greek word stoa which means “of the portico.” This was because Zeno gave most of his philosophical lectures from the painted portico of his house, which was sort of like his front porch, making the creation of Stoicism the most — and probably only — significant thing to ever happen on a porch.
Stoicism’s influence spread quickly and became immensely popular in the Hellenistic world and Roman Empire. It has since been largely misinterpreted by urban, lumbersexual hipsters who saw “stoic” on a bottle of beard oil and thought it sounded right for them.
The commonly held misconception is that practitioners of the stoic life are cold, passionless, repressed people who are secretly waiting for the warmth of a lover to melt their glacial soul and show them what it means to be a human again.
Stoics don’t burst into tears and storm out of rooms with their fists clenched. Sotics don’t smash everything in the printer room when the paper jams for the third time. Stoics don’t get drunk and end up making poor life decisions. Obviously, they are just repressing their natural human tendencies to fuck everything up, and inevitably, they will snap under the pressure.
Wrong! In fact, if executed correctly, the stoic life will help you to become happier and more in control of your hectic, completely baffling existence that you only pretend to understand.
They’re nothing but a passive substance to me now
For you, a student with their shit falling apart at every turn, stoicism can bring a level of serenity and calm that you’ve previously only ever felt when summer finally arrives. It is about accepting the laws of fate that move the world around you and doing what you can to take charge of your own destiny by acknowledging what you can control and what you cannot.
Say you’re walking down Main Mall and you pass by someone you thought was a friend, except you recently discovered that they were posting mean things about you on a finsta next to lots of poop emojis. You might be tempted to confront them, engage in some fisticufs or challenge them to an honourable duel, but the stoics would tell you that this is not the solution that will make you happiest.
Stoics believe that concepts like good and bad aren’t real, except when they pertain to things that we can control. So what that backstabbing former-friend of yours did is not bad because it is not something you could have controlled. Good and bad are internal. It is good to maintain equanimity and calm. To respond emotionally by throwing a stats textbook at their head would be considered a moral bad.
By acknowledging what that sad excuse of a person did and allowing it to throw off your equanimity, you have given them some control over your life.
Instead, the stoic solution would be to use logic, focus and constant reflection to work through complex issues in order to find the most rational solutions. Instead, you might simply wave hello to them and continue on your way to class, completely unphased. By not allowing yourself to be affected by it and maintaining your moral character or prohairesis, you have done a moral good.
Stoic by day, hedonist by night
Obviously not all of this is going to gel with your hedonistic lifestyles. If you followed the stoic ways studiously, all those beers and coolers you throw back would become soothing camomile teas and glasses of water. Seeing as one of the main effects of being drunk is a reduced amount of control over yourself, drugs, alcohol and whatever else you can ferment or compress into a capsule would be considered a moral bad. Stoics would argue that the pathos — an amoral reaction — would undermine whatever pleasure you got from your craving.
That being said, some of the principles can still apply. Simply by knowing yourself and your limitations, then considering the risk versus rewards of ingesting certain substances, you are exercising some level of control over how fucked up you are actually going to get. This way you can wake up the next morning knowing that you brought this upon yourself… fool!
Where do I get that sweet rush that only bad decisions have brought me?
If you’re wondering what you gain from all of this — apart from the feelings of happiness, control and having your life together — wonder no more.
To be emotional is to be stuck in the “passion” of life. And you have to understand that in third century BC’s terms, passion means anguish — not what you feel when you are about to have sex or make a stirring speech. The stoics believe that this is amoral and can only bring you pathos. Whereas a moral character will be made happy by eupatheia, which is that feeling your parents always hope you have when you said no to drugs.
To be free from your unending passion and achieve a state of apatheia — without passion — you need to not do things like get into fist fights with people in the basements of Totem Park or take Molly and try to write a midterm.
By following the four cardinal values of wisdom, courage, justice and temperance; being very introspective and logical, as well as contemplating your inevitable and likely painful death while also remaining in the moment — or by just doing a few of those things and still having a few beers on Fridays — you might make the four-year grind toward that sweet, sweet degree just a bit easier for yourself.