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June 26, 2017

idler: modern stoicism misses the point

Without a transcendent perspective on life's harshness, without trust in an unfolding higher than human vision, all we have is our desire, our frightened calls for control, our empty cries for freedom echoing about in the indifferent void. If you can feel the force of that thought, you can feel the depth of what Epictetus was driving at.

Stoicism now focuses on Epictetus' best known remark. It's commonly glossed thus: "it's not what happens to you that matters but how you respond that matters." It's the basis of a thousand self-help books. Try to control what you can, not what you can't, which in practice means, monitor mindfully how you react to events. As for the rest, go with the flow. It's the advice behind today's virtue à la mode, resilience: grin and bear it.

Little wonder big corporates pay good money for seminars teaching such passivity. It's compliance dressed up as a philosophy.