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dimanche, 02 octobre 2016

Marcus Aurelius on Tribe & Passion

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Marcus Aurelius on Tribe & Passion

The Meditations [2] of Marcus Aurelius are a remarkable spiritual diary and, in general, a sure way for the modern reader to imbue himself with the practical wisdom of our ancient forefathers [3]. That said, I do not believe we should uncritically defer to anything, and on two points in particular, I believe comment and criticism are warranted.

Firstly, a pervasive theme of Marcus’ is his struggle to control his judgment and emotions, in particular anger, and thus be as detached and “philosophical” as possible. The goal is to accept non-judgmentally all that Nature — which is the law of the universe — gives us and to ensure harmony with the world and the rule of reason within oneself.

Marcus makes these comments particularly with regard to his colleagues and subordinates: do not get angry with their inevitable failures and ignorance, he tells himself, but rather try to make them see the light:

How cruel it is not to let people strive after what they regard as suitable and beneficial to themselves. And yet, in a sense, you are not permitting them to do so whenever you grow angry at their bad behavior. For it is surely the case that they are simply drawn towards what they consider to be suitable and beneficial to themselves. “Yes, but they are wrong to think that.” Well, instruct them, then, and show them the truth, without becoming annoyed. (6, 27) (Numbering refers to the book and paragraph in the Meditations.)

philosophie,philosophie antique,antiquité romaine,rome antique,marc-aurèle,philologie classiqueAnd elsewhere: “Even if you burst with rage, they will do the same things none the less for that” (8, 4). More generally, Marcus affirms that “an intelligence free from passions is a mighty citadel” (8, 48).

The potential problem in these affirmations is that one might be led to believe that Marcus is suggesting becoming a kind of harmless, emotionless monk. However, I believe these comments should not be misunderstood. Marcus does affirm that, when push comes to shove, coercion is justified: “Try to persuade them, but act even against their will the principles of justice demand it” (6, 50).

Marcus honors Diogenes, who was a great philosopher of an evidently very different temperament, for he sought to moralize society by repeatedly shaming and ridiculing the immoral and the ignorant through various shock tactics. Diogenes once reputedly criticized Plato saying: “Of what use is a philosopher who doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings?’ Marcus’ ostentatiously tranquil way is evidently not the only one available to us.

“Freedom from passions” furthermore must be understood in a wider sense, of one’s reason being invulnerable to not just emotions, but also pleasure and pain. The Romans in particular perfected this with an unbelievable gravitas in the defense of honor and duty: Seneca following Nero’s order to kill himself, in accordance with tradition, by slitting his wrists in a hot bath; Marcus Atilius Regulus who was captured and released by the Carthaginians, urged the Roman Senate to continue the war, and then returned to Carthage to fulfill his parole, where he was tortured to death; or indeed the famous soldier at Pompeii [4] who, having not been relieved, stoically remained at his post until he was buried by the ashes.

These sacrifices may seem futile, but they reflect the supreme manliness of the Roman tradition, a virility which reflected the discipline and sacrifice necessary to maintaining that greatest of world empires. In our age, the Roman example shames us for our cowardice. Marcus’ “mighty citadel” is a model for defending our people and the truth, whatever the personal consequences might be. When we are cowards, we should think of our forefathers, whether religious reformers or scientific innovators, who were willing to risk being burned at the stake to affirm the truth.

Having said all this, perhaps Marcus is too categorical in dismissing emotion. Plato argued that emotions were meant to be the powerful subordinate allies of reason. For example, anger is an emotion propitious to the extermination of one’s enemies. (Then again, Marcus was a fairly effective military commander in his continuous and often brutal campaigns against the Germans. So perhaps I am in no position to talk, but I share my reaction.)

Certainly in both elite and mass politics nothing is possible without the inspiration of emotions, in particular appeal to our deep-seated tribal and spiritual longings. Practically, the fact is that Christianity displaced ancient philosophy and the old Pagan religion by appealing to emotion. The philosopher may protest that this is irrational, but all the same, ancient philosophy died and only lived on in the Middle Ages, to the extent it did, in Christianity, because Christianity could better appeal to that irrational part of us, particularly among the masses.

Marcus writes that one should not aim for “Plato’s ideal state . . . For who can change the convictions of others?” (9, 29) The answer, to the degree men can be socio-culturally programmed and moralized, is of course education and religion. In the ancient world, the ability to do so in a vast realm like the Roman Empire was limited. In the modern era however, fascists have emphatically and convincingly argued that there are enormous possibilities for mass education and civil-religion, especially given the new technological and material means enabling mass communication and mass ceremony.

Secondly, and this is a more critical comment, Marcus’ Meditations are a striking example of pre-Christian universalism in Western thought. As Kevin MacDonald has stressed, both universalist and ethnocentric trends are evident in the Western tradition. While Diogenes declared himself a “cosmopolitan,” Plato’s masterwork The Republic [5] powerfully makes the case for ethnocentric morality [5].

Marcus adheres to Stoic cosmopolitanism, a kind of dual citizenship. He writes: “As [emperor], my city and fatherland is Rome; as a human being, it is the universe; so what brings benefits to these is the sole good for me” (6, 44). He elsewhere defines himself as “a citizen of this great city [the universe]” and argues that one should not be dissatisfied with a short life, playing only a small part in this vast play (12, 36).

I do not believe this is problematic. The laws of Nature are the same for all creatures and, in this sense, all human must seek to be in harmony with them. This is a message which will resonate as much with the Jeffersonian deist as the esoteric National Socialist, and indeed perhaps with almost all of the world’s religions. Since Darwin in particular however, we as evolutionary thinkers understand natural selection and survival of the fittest as fundamental principles and imperatives of life. These principles must be recognized and lived up to if we and indeed any creatures capable of conscious morality and reason are to survive and thrive, for all this, whatever the spiritual beyond, rests upon a biological foundation and genetic prerequisites.

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I believe all of this is compatible with ethnocentric morality: solidarity with one’s kin is a natural principle, and Nature expresses herself uniquely in every creature. (What is required of a donkey to be in harmony with the universe is not the same as what is required of a man, and so forth in the infinite diversity of humans and other living creatures.) More generally, the world would in fact be a better place if all societies recognized genetic homogeneity and quality as social goods in and of themselves. While I am no expert on moral philosophy, I do not believe the Kantian moral imperative necessarily undermines nationalism, perhaps the contrary in fact.

More problematic however is the following:

Say to yourself at the start of the day, I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people. They are subject to these defects because they have no knowledge of good and bad. [. . .] [H]is nature is akin to my own — not because he is of the same blood and seed, but because he shares as I do in mind and thus in a portion of the divine. (2, 1)

This comment needs to be understood in the context of Marcus’ attempt to get along with inadequate and unsociable colleagues, arguing that frustration is inevitable but improvement is possible through appeal to a common reason. Elsewhere Marcus is more explicit still: “how close is the kinship which unites each human being to the human race as a whole, for it arises not from blood and seed but from our common share in reason” (12, 26).

The assertion that “his nature is akin to my own – not because he is of the same blood and seed, but because he shares as I do in mind and thus in a portion of the divine” is of course partly true today (all humans have some capacity for reason) and was probably truer still in the Roman Empire of Marcus’ day, which was far less racially diverse than are the United States and even much of Western Europe in our time. (That the Empire had intermingled Europeans and Semites in uneven quantities cannot be compared with societies made up of people from different ends of different continents with no contiguous clinal link at all, e.g. Western Europeans, Sub-Saharan Africans, East Asians . . .).

As evolutionary thinkers however, we are cognizant of the fact that intelligence and personality are significantly heritable [6], and thus they in fact do ultimately stem from “blood and seed.” There is a large body evidence that different racial groups have differing average levels of intelligence (also varying by kind of intelligence, e.g. verbal, spatial . . .) and, more importantly, different average temperaments. Reason is the same for all but in different brains manifests itself in different degrees and is inflected with different motivations.

This has enormous implications for political morality: ethno-genetically heterogeneous societies are disharmonious both because of each ethnic group’s differing preferences and in the lack of identification/solidarity between the groups (the latter made especially problematic when the different groups, inevitably, become socially unequal due to differing behavior). This prevents, in multiethnic societies, the possibility of a collectively rational and solidary cohesive community, which must be the organic unit of human history.

One might answer: reason is the same for all creatures, even if their capacity for it differs. Perhaps if one could strip emotions away, but that would also vary by individual and group. It is obvious that reason manifests itself differently in different groups, who find different things intellectually interesting and emotionally compelling. (For instance, northern Europeans seem prone to a kind of selfless piety, only among sub-Saharan Africans have I observed this quite spontaneous phenomenon [7], and Jews more than any other group seem to get a kick out of criticizing the host population’s real and imagined flaws.)

Put another way: Reason is the same for all? Quite. If so I invite our colored cousins to answer the question: Is the slow bit steady disappearance of the European peoples reasonable? Is this event in the higher interests of the human race and universal consciousness and morality? I observe that in arguing against us, these same people resort to moral principles founded in the West (“international law,” “human rights,” “democracy” . . .) and use Western technology which thus far, only the East Asians have shown any talent for emulating, let alone inventing. Furthermore, innumerable millions of colored people throughout the world are so convinced of their own inability to create a good society that their only plan for improving their lot in life is to . . . move to our societies! And then, I should add, the process repeats itself within countries, with the notorious dialectic between forced integration and white flight. Well, colored cousins, these antics will not work when you run out of white people.

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In their heart of hearts, all must know that the disappearance of the Europeans is a supremely immoral act, and some colored people might even be endowed with sufficient reason to overcome their ethnic pride in acknowledging this. And some will come to the conclusion that the defense of ethnic European interests is reasonable and in the universal interest. But only an infinitesimal number, for such is the power of the call of the blood [8].

But all that is none of our business, for you should not “allow your happiness to depend on what passes in the souls of other people” (2, 6). We take our own side. Inspired by the best of our magnificent tradition [9], including the formidable Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius and the other great men of the West whose wisdom and character put us to shame, we must become Eurocentric Hereditarians.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/09/marcus-aurelius-on-tribal-passion/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/MarcusAurelius.jpg

[2] Meditations: http://amzn.to/2cF2GNZ

[3] practical wisdom of our ancient forefathers: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/09/the-prayers-of-marcus-aurelius/

[4] soldier at Pompeii: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/okLaQ0u1aq4/maxresdefault.jpg

[5] The Republic: http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2016/08/platos-racial-republic/

[6] intelligence and personality are significantly heritable: http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v47/n7/full/ng.3285.html

[7] this quite spontaneous phenomenon: https://twitter.com/TheAmerikaner/status/775338414405214208

[8] the call of the blood: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/12/the-call-of-the-blood/

[9] our magnificent tradition: http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2016/04/the-testament-of-a-european-patriot-a-review-of-dominique-venners-breviary-of-the-unvanquished-part-1/

 

dimanche, 08 novembre 2015

Stoic indifference is a personal power

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Stoic indifference is a personal power

Ashley Bailey

© Raymond Depardon/Magnum

Ex: http://www.therussophile.org   

As legions of warriors and prisoners can attest, Stoicism is not grim resolve but a way to wrest happiness from adversity

We do this to our philosophies. We redraft their contours based on projected shadows, or give them a cartoonish shape like a caricaturist emphasising all the wrong features. This is how Buddhism becomes, in the popular imagination, a doctrine of passivity and even laziness, while Existentialism becomes synonymous with apathy and futile despair. Something similar has happened to Stoicism, which is considered – when considered at all – a philosophy of grim endurance, of carrying on rather than getting over, of tolerating rather than transcending life’s agonies and adversities.

No wonder it’s not more popular. No wonder the Stoic sage, in Western culture, has never obtained the popularity of the Zen master. Even though Stoicism is far more accessible, not only does it lack the exotic mystique of Eastern practice; it’s also regarded as a philosophy of merely breaking even while remaining determinedly impassive. What this attitude ignores is the promise proffered by Stoicism of lasting transcendence and imperturbable tranquility.

It ignores gratitude, too. This is part of the tranquility, because it’s what makes the tranquility possible. Stoicism is, as much as anything, a philosophy of gratitude – and a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything. Philosophers who pine for supreme psychological liberation have often failed to realise that they belong to a confederacy that includes the Stoics. ‘According to nature you want to live?’ Friedrich Nietzsche taunts the Stoics in Beyond Good and Evil (1886):

O you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power – how could you live according to this indifference? Living – is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is not living – estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different? And supposing your imperative ‘live according to nature’ meant at bottom as much as ‘live according to life’ – how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourself are and must be?

senecaFUJR6XH4W_1.jpgThis is pretty good, as denunciations of Stoicism go, seductive in its articulateness and energy, and therefore effective, however uninformed.

Which is why it’s so disheartening to see Nietzsche fly off the rails of sanity in the next two paragraphs, accusing the Stoics of trying to ‘impose’ their ‘morality… on nature’, of being ‘no longer able to see [nature] differently’ because of an ‘arrogant’ determination to ‘tyrannise’ nature as the Stoic has tyrannised himself. Then (in some of the least subtle psychological projection you’re ever likely to see, given what we know of Nietzsche’s mad drive for psychological supremacy), he accuses all of philosophy as being a ‘tyrannical drive’, ‘the most spiritual will to power’, to the ‘creation of the world’.

The truth is, indifference really is a power, selectively applied, and living in such a way is not only eminently possible, with a conscious adoption of certain attitudes, but facilitates a freer, more expansive, more adventurous mode of living. Joy and grief are still there, along with all the other emotions, but they are tempered – and, in their temperance, they are less tyrannical.

If we can’t always go to our philosophers for an understanding of Stoicism, then where can we go? One place to start is the Urban Dictionary. Check out what this crowd-sourced online reference to slang gives as the definition of a ‘stoic’:

stoic
Someone who does not give a shit about the stupid things in this world that most people care so much about. Stoics do have emotions, but only for the things in this world that really matter. They are the most real people alive.
Group of kids are sitting on a porch. Stoic walks by.
Kid – ‘Hey man, yur a f**kin f****t an you s**k c**k!’
Stoic – ‘Good for you.’
Keeps going.

You’ve gotta love the way the author manages to make mention of a porch in there, because Stoicism has its root in the word stoa, which is the Greek name for what today we would call a porch. Actually, we’re more likely to call it a portico, but the ancient Stoics used it as a kind of porch, where they would hang out and talk about enlightenment and stuff. The Greek scholar Zeno is the founder, and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius the most famous practitioner, while the Roman statesman Seneca is probably the most eloquent and entertaining. But the real hero of Stoicism, most Stoics agree, is the Greek philosopher Epictetus.

He’d been a slave, which gives his words a credibility that the other Stoics, for all the hardships they endured, can’t quite match. He spoke to his pupils, who later wrote down his words. These are the only words we know today as Epictetus’, consisting of two short works, the Enchiridion and the Discourses, along with some fragments. Among those whom Epictetus taught directly is Marcus Aurelius (another Stoic philosopher who did not necessarily expect to be read; his Meditations were written expressly for private benefit, as a kind of self-instruction).

Among those Epictetus has taught indirectly is a whole cast of the distinguished, in all fields of endeavour. One of these is the late US Navy Admiral James Stockdale. A prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years during that conflict, he endured broken bones, starvation, solitary confinement, and all other manner of torture. His psychological companion through it all were the teachings of Epictetus, with which he had familiarised himself after graduating from college and joining the Navy, studying philosophy at Stanford University on the side. He kept those teachings close by in Vietnam, never letting them leave his mind even when things were at their most dire. Especially then. He knew what they were about, those lessons, and he came to know their application much better than anyone should have to.

Stockdale wrote a lot about Epictetus, in speeches and memoirs and essays, but if you want to travel light (and, really, what Stoic doesn’t?), the best thing you could take with you is a speech he gave at King’s College London in 1993, published as Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (1993). That subtitle is important. Epictetus once compared the philosopher’s lecture room to a hospital, from which the student should walk out in a little bit of pain. ‘If Epictetus’s lecture room was a hospital,’ Stockdale writes, ‘my prison was a laboratory – a laboratory of human behaviour. I chose to test his postulates against the demanding real-life challenges of my laboratory. And as you can tell, I think he passed with flying colours.

Stockdale rejected the false optimism proffered by Christianity, because he knew, from direct observation, that false hope is how you went insane in that prison. The Stoics themselves believed in gods, but ultimately those resistant to religious belief can take their Stoicism the way they take their Buddhism, even if they can’t buy into such concepts as karma or reincarnation. What the whole thing comes down to, distilled to its briefest essence, is making the choice that choice is really all we have, and that all else is not worth considering.Who […] is the invincible human being?’ Epictetus once asked, before answering the question himself: ‘One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice.’

Any misfortune ‘that lies outside the sphere of choice’ should be considered an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it. This is one of the truly great mind-hacks ever devised, this willingness to convert adversity to opportunity, and it’s part of what Seneca was extolling when he wrote what he would say to one whose spirit has never been tempered or tested by hardship: ‘You are unfortunate in my judgment, for you have never been unfortunate. You have passed through life with no antagonist to face you; no one will know what you were capable of, not even you yourself.’ We do ourselves an immense favour when we consider adversity an opportunity to make this discovery – and, in the discovery, to enhance what we find there.

How did we let something so eminently understandable become so grotesquely misunderstood? How did we forget that that dark passage is really the portal to transcendence?

Many will recognise in these principles the general shape and texture of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Indeed, Stoicism has been identified as a kind of proto-CBT. Albert Ellis, the US psychologist who founded an early form of CBT known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) in 1955, had read the Stoics in his youth and used to prescribe to his patients Epictetus’s maxim that ‘People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things.’ ‘That’s actually the “cognitive model of emotion” in a nutshell,’ Donald Robertson tells me, and he should certainly know, as a therapist who in 2010 wrote a book on CBT with the subtitle ‘Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy’.

This simplicity and accessibility ensure that Stoicism will never be properly embraced by those who prefer the abstracted and esoteric in their philosophies. In the novel A Man in Full (1998), Tom Wolfe gives Stoicism, with perfect plausibility, to a semi-literate prison inmate. This monologue of Conrad Hensley’s may be stilted, but there’s nothing at all suspect about the sentiment behind it. When asked if he is a Stoic, Conrad replies: ‘I’m just reading about it, but I wish there was somebody around today, somebody you could go to, the way students went to Epictetus. Today people think of Stoics – like, you know, like they’re people who grit their teeth and tolerate pain and suffering. What they are is, they’re serene and confident in the face of anything you can throw at them.’

Which leads us naturally to ask just what it was that was thrown at them. We’ve already noted that Epictetus had the whole slavery thing going on, so he checks out. So does Seneca, in spite of what many have asserted – most recently the UK classicist Mary Beard in an essay for the New York Review of Books that asks: ‘How Stoical Was Seneca?’ before providing a none-too-approving answer. What Beard’s well-informed and otherwise cogent essay fails to allow for is just how tough it must have been for Seneca – tubercular, exiled, and under the control of a sadistically murderous dictator – no matter what access he sometimes had to life’s luxuries. It was Seneca himself who said that ‘no one has condemned wisdom to poverty’, and only an Ancient Greek Cynic would try to deny this. Besides, Seneca would have been the first to tell you, as he told a correspondent in one of his letters: ‘I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.’

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Marcus Aurelius lay ill in that hospital, too. As beneficiary of the privileges of emperor, he also endured the struggles and stresses of that very same position, plus a few more besides. I know better than to try to improve on the following accounting, provided in Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life:
He was sick, possibly with an ulcer. His family life was a source of distress: his wife appears to have been unfaithful to him, and of the at least 14 children she bore him, only six survived. Added to this were the stresses that came with ruling an empire. During his reign, there were numerous frontier uprisings, and Marcus often went personally to oversee campaigns against upstart tribes. His own officials – most notably, Avidius Cassius, the governor of Syria – rebelled against him. His subordinates were insolent to him, which insolence he bore with ‘an unruffled temper’. Citizens told jokes at his expense and were not punished for doing so. During his reign, the empire also experienced plague, famine, and natural disasters such as the earthquake at Smyrna.

Ever the strategist, Marcus employed a trusty technique in confronting the days that comprised such a life, making a point to tell himself at the start of each one of them: ‘I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people.’ He could have been different about it – he could have pretended things were just hunky-dory, especially on those days when they really were, or seemed to be. But how, then, would he have been prepared to angle both into the wind and away from it – adapting, always, to fate’s violently vexing vicissitudes? Where would that have left him when the weather changed?

Lary Wallace is features editor of Bangkok Post: The Magazine. He has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, The Library of America Reader’s Almanac, and others.