Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Stoic Impulse

I imagine the impulse that stoicism (a la Marcus Aurelius, anyway) proceeds from is aroused when a man has a desire for one thing for which he is prepared to say that he would devote his entire life. He speaks and says that there is one thing by which he will judge his every virtue and determine his every action and his entire life will be one of servitude to this one thing.

And then he wakes up and prepares to work, but can not focus because of hunger, so he spends an hour cooking and eating breakfast. Then he heads off to resume his work when he starts talking to his wife about their home and what they need to do to maintain it. Then just as he is ready to begin his day of service once again, he realizes that his head is not in the right spot yet, so he resolves to read/watch TV/play videogames/jerk off until he has the peace of mind needed to pursue his goal resolutely.

He speaks and says that there is one thing by which he will live, and then he lives to the contrary.

None of the things he does throughout the day satisfy him in a deep way – that is for the one thing. But when it comes time to pursue the one thing and he finds that his heart has shifted, that there is something else he wants first. His heart is tossed about and does not stay the course, which leads to self-loathing because he is himself what stands in the way of what he loves. So he becomes a stoic, imposing his love on reason and nature by declaring its value to be based in fact rather than based in his will, because he can not trust his will to remain steady.

If he does not pursue the one thing he will remain unsatisfied; but the one thing has only truly captured a fragment of who he is, the real power and drive focuses elsewhere.

So he beats his body and accuses all the parts of himself that have real drive and focus of being carnal or base and elevate the part of himself that loves the one thing and makes it into a reason, a mind, or a soul. He allows the flesh to be stronger in force so long as whatever loves the one thing is qualitatively better. Then he turns on his own flesh, demanding that it live according to reason and cut the world into ribbons to ensure that it is not charmed or enchanted by anything that is contrary to nature (contrary, that is, to the one thing).

This I say is the impulse that stoicism proceeds from: desire to ascend to a height tempered by the self-doubt that arises when one regularly disappoints oneself.

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