Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 11 · 8 months ago

Failure is failure, and it's expected along the path

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Failure is failure, and it's expected along the path. Is one failure more or less forgivable than another failure? I think we only hurt ourselves by believing that so, in concerns to our stoic practice: I say no. This week we're working through Meditation 10 from Book 2 of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. “In comparing sins (the way people do) Theophrastus says that the ones committed out of desire are worse than the ones committed out of anger: which is good philosophy. The angry man seems to turn his back on reason out of a kind of pain and inner convulsion. But the man motivated by desire, who is mastered by pleasure, seems somehow more self-indulgent, less manly in his sins. Theophrastus is right, and philosophically sound, to say that the sin committed out of pleasure deserves a harsher rebuke than the one committed out of pain. The angry man is more like a victim of wrongdoing, provoked by pain to anger. The other man rushes into wrongdoing on his own, moved by action to desire.” Meditations: A New Translation (the book I read these meditations from) --> [link]

Hey, they're welcome back. I hope you are well. I'm going to start off with thanks yet again this week, and I guess fifty is the number of the day, because practical stoicism is now in well into the top fifty of philosophy podcasts in the US, the UK and Israel Apple podcast stores. It's also charting fairly high in Canada and Australia. All of you have also helped to push the podcast over fifty total reviews here in the US, and the show is just fifty downloads away from tenzero total unique downloads, which is all pretty damn cool, considering this is episode eleven. Now I haven't said it before, but my goal with this podcast is to help people. Maybe that's obvious, but this is the first time I'm saying it, and specifically to help people who have an interest in committing to a more stoic way of life. I want those people to feel encouraged and invited to do so.

I think that philosophically minded people can sometimes feel alone in society, and that can mean we adopt less than ideal behaviors to fit in and feel like part of a tribe. As an example, you might not like to drink, but all your friends do, and you like your friends and you'd like to spend time with them on the weekends, so you drink with them because, well, if you didn't, you just be alone at home, and maybe that doesn't feel great. One of the greatest challenges of my late s and early s was finding people who thought about their future the way that I thought about mine, and I don't mean their goals or ambitions, I mean their approach to living a good life. And so that means I understand what it feels like to be trying to change for the better and not to have any encouraging allies around you who get it and who want to be part of your success. And this is actually a great lead into today's meditation, which will be the longest thus far in the first seventeen meditations of book. To...

It's all about failure and it reads as follows. In comparing sins the way that people do, theophrastis says that the ones committed out of desire are worse than the ones committed out of anger, which is good philosophy. The angry man seems to turn his back on reason out of a kind of pain and inner convulsion, but the man motivated by desire, who is mastered by pleasure, seems somehow more self indulgent, less manly in his sins. Theophrastis is right and philosophically sound to say that the sin committed out of pleasure deserves a harsher rebuke than the one committed out of pain. The angry man is more like a victim of wrongdoing, provoked by pain to anger. The other man rushes into wrongdoing on his own, moved by action to desire. Okay, so before continuing, I want to point something out, because some of you no doubt heard what I just said, heard that quote, heard this meditation...

...and are immediately thinking about two things that there could be some serious conflict around, right mental illness drug addiction. So let me say this. Stoicks did not understand, and I'm talking about ancient stoics did not understand, because it didn't exist in the sphere of total known knowledge at the time, anything about Mental Health Disorders were drug addiction and how it rewires the brain. This isn't an excuse for their completely glossing over these things in their text and the way that they thought, but it is a reason, a person cannot be wise in concerns to the things they do not know, when they do not know they do not know them, and when knowing them isn't currently possible. Remember, we're talking thousands of years ago. Nobody had a good understanding of drug addiction. Nobody had a good understanding of, let's say, Adhd, which I struggle with, or perhaps the condition of being bipolar. Nobody knew what those things were, and so they couldn't have included this knowledge in the shaping...

...of their philosophy. Again, not an excuse, but a reason, and one, I think, that is going to require me, for the first time thus far, to part with Marcus a little bit in his thoughts, because to not do so would be like pretending we haven't learned a lot of new things since Marcus was alive. so in everything that follows, we are excluding mental health disorders and drug addiction. You don't tell a heroin addict, for example, ample that their current craving of heroin is because they lack discipline. You also don't tell someone who is bipolar that they can think themselves out of being bipolar. Now, in the former, I will admit that I believe the adoption of a stoic philosophy could prevent the initial drug use and thus perhaps prevent someone from becoming addicted to a drug. But there is a point beyond which philosophy alone cannot rescue a person from the throes of addiction. We have to recognize that. Likewise, there are conditions for which philosophy alone cannot...

...be the treatment, like if you're bipolar, and I firmly believe that we're, Seneca or really US epictetus or Zeno or any of the rest of them, all possessed of a modern understanding of these things. In their time, they would have come to the same conclusion, but they weren't, so they didn't. So we're excluding those things from applying to the discussion that's about to follow. So, with that said, let's return to the meditation and work through it. The angry man seems to turn his back on reason out of a kind of pain and inner convulsion, but the man motivated by desire, who is mastered by pleasure, seems somehow more self indulgent, less manly in his sins. First let's define what Marcus means. When he says sins, he means all those behaviors that are inconsistent with, or antithetical to, quote, living like a STOIC. So it's not just anger, it would also be jealousy or greed or gluttony. It's all that a STOIC would call,...

...quote, unbecoming of a STOIC. Here he focuses on anger. So he's talking about people who are moved to anger through inner pain and people who are moved to anger because something is in the way of obtaining pleasure. As an example, imagine you're at work and you get a phone call from your local law enforcement agency and they inform you that your cars have been stolen. You Slam your fist on the desk, you violently sweep your arm across it and knock a Coffee Cup and a bunch of papers onto the floor while screaming your favorite expletive. Marcus and theophrastis would both agree that this is poor behavior for a STOIC, but that it is more excusable, or at least less sinful in nature, than the following example. Imagine you're accustomed to having a pint of ice cream every night and one night the store is fresh out of ice cream. You immediately get in a bad mood you're in a funk, you yell at the clerk on the way out, you storm out the door, you drive home and a snit and when you get home, missing your favorite nightly treat, you snap at your wife or your husband or your kids and you're generally unpleasant to be around. Now some of US might call this being...

...angry, but I'm sure you've been there. There absolutely is a kind of childlike petulance associated with the latter scenario that isn't as associated with the former. Certainly, throwing a fit is childish in any case, but throwing a fit in the moment and in reaction to bad news or quote, internal pain isn't as childish is being upset you didn't get ice cream. And I think it is here, for the first time, that I will break with Marcus and say that I think that they're actually is no difference. As human beings who have never had the good fortune of great philosophical training from the start, and specifically stoic training from the start, both these sorts of behaviors are simply the expression of ingrained behavioral patterns and a lack of sincerity and discipline in how we choose to execute and consider all that we do. where I will agree with Marcus in the case of this meditation is that, once you begin your STOIC Journey, once you've elected to don the mantle of Procopton, anger in reaction...

...to pain is more understandable than anger in reaction to a road block to pleasure. Why? Because anger and reaction to pain happens as quickly as the striking of a match, and just as quickly it is possible to recover from that anger, that sin, as Marcus puts it. Anger in reaction to a road block to pleasure, however, is sustained anger, ever present anger, anger that worsens the longer you're blocked from that pleasure. To think back to our ice cream example, it's a kind of anger you cannot recover from the way you can from a moment of pain and douced anger, but still here to even with that considered, there's something missed. I think Marcus talks about a reaction to pain, and that could be an unexpected prick on the finger or bad news. Sure, but what about a rage or an anger that builds over time? Is that the same sort of anger, or is that more like a road block to pleasure? Because your serenity is increasingly made less and less each day. As an example, imagine you know a friend has...

...lied to you and you go on not confronting them for one reason or another, and for weeks and months your anger towards this person increases until finally you explode and confront them in grand fashion. Is that forgivable anger? It's certainly not the swift sort of anger that marcus alludes to in this meditation. The angry man is more like a victim of wrongdoing, provoked by pain to anger. The other man rushes into wrongdoing on his own, motivated by action to desire. I think the crux of this meditation, for Me Anyway, is that anger as a reaction to that which is external is more forgivable than anger as a result of our own addictions to pleasure. And I'll admit that I find that odd, since in the case of the prior we are reacting to that which is outside of our control, and in the latter we are refusing to control our thoughts and emotions. Responding emotionally to external stimuli things we can't...

...control is something we've learned we should try not to do. We've also learned that we should try to control our internal responses, both emotional responses and physical responses, to either our thoughts or external stimuli. Now, I agree that both these kinds of anger work against the idyllic aims of a Percopton, but I disagree that one is more forgivable or damnable than the other. Each is simply a failure to be a STOIC sage, and and failure to be a sage, as we've already talked about, is written into the expectations of Stoicism at large. No STOIC ever expects to become a sage. No STOIC teacher ever expects their students to become a sage, because those teachers, in most cases are not sages. The only expectation is that we are ever working to become sages. We understand it's very unlikely, but we keep trying, and I think that epictetus gives us the best way to think about anger in any form, be it in reaction to pain or external stimuli or in reaction to...

...road blocks to our own desires or addictions. An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his or her own misfortune, to blame oneself is proof of progress, but the wise man or woman never has to blame another or himself. We will get to epictetus on this podcast in the future, eventually, and when we do, that sentence will make a lot more sense to you, but for now I think it's best to wrap up this week's longer than expected episode by saying anger is something we want to strive not to express, and when we do express it we should seek to recover from its grip as quickly as possible, but also that all failures to be perfect are not only normative along the STOIC path, but expected, and you should be no more or less kind to yourself based on whatever kind of failure you experienced. Instead, just pick yourself up, remind yourself that this failure has already happened, it is now in the past and you have the rest of your life to...

...not fail again. Then you take your next step and continue along the path. That's what Marcus did, it's what I do and it's the best anyone else can do, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Thanks for listening to this episode of practical stoicism. If you've not reviewed it yet, please take a moment to do so on either apple podcast, spotify podcast or podchasercom. If you have a question you'd like to pose or a discussion topic you'd like to submit, please send it to tanner at Tanner Helpscom. I would love to be helpful to you if I can be. Once again, thank you for listening and until next time, take care,.

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