Chicago - Aug. 10, 2020
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Suffering With Stoics & Cynics

To mock or to remain indifferent? Convince the world they're wrong or change what's wrong about yourself? Cynicism and Stoicism are two ancient Greek philosophies that have a long history together, with the former influencing the latter. The colloquial terms "cynic" and "stoic" are both different from the classical meanings. Colloquial cynic refers to a distrusting and snarky individual, while colloquial stoic refers to a cold and emotionless individual. In this column, I'll be focusing on the classical definitions.

The Stoics believed in self-mastery through wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. Unlike the modern interpretation, classical Stoicism is not meant to eradicate all feelings; however, it aims to control the irrational, toxic emotions that lead to suffering.

Cynicism is marked by its disdain and ridicule of society, particularly the socially accepted conventions of fame, money and power. According to Cynics, indulgence, desire and ignorance are the three main causes of human suffering.

Stoicism hums a similar tune, as The Basics of Philosophy explains, unhappiness and evil are the results of ignorance. Both philosophies believe in living in accordance with nature, where neither "rank [nor] wealth" are important. Cynics practice this through self-sufficiency as a result of self-imposed poverty (regarded as Cynic Poverty), while the Stoics interpret this to mean living in accordance to " . . . the laws of the universe and of man's own essential nature, reason." The teachings of Stoicism might seem very similar to those of Buddhism, as The Basics of Philosophy notes, as both say that noble truth follows four principles, and fortitude and happiness may result:

1. All life is suffering.

2. Suffering is rooted in passion and desire.

3. Happiness is freedom from passion.

4. Moral restraint and self-discipline are the means by which one becomes free from suffering.

The Basics of Philosophy also notes how through the writings of Stoicism's most famous philosopher, Seneca the Younger, on universal emotion and anger, the core of Stoicism is revealed. Seneca was convinced that anger, or any emotion, can be overcome through logic, or "philosophical argument." Certain that anger arose from "overly optimistic ideas about the world," Seneca encouraged individuals to adopt a more pessimistic outlook on the world to better prepare us for the inevitable disappointments that await us.

Moreover, Stoics believed in indifference to external events, focusing instead on what was in their control. Their choice to not only disengage from the uncontrollable world but to remain unmoved by whatever happened can be summarized by the common, modern saying, "It is what it is." They controlled not only their emotions, but what they engaged in, giving them the power to overcome irrational feelings, and therefore mastering the concept of Apatheia, or self-conquest.

Cynical Cynics

Cynics were known ridiculing passers-by and preaching their philosophy in town centers. They were provocateurs; disturbers of peace. There is no point in going out of your way to disturb society just to feed into your ego, which is what I believe the Cynics did. They had to have an innate sense of superiority to motivate their juvenile indecency that aimed to change people's ways. Their flamboyant rejections of social norms was their way of claiming to take back control, to liberate themselves of social constraints. But why must their rejection of society invade my life?

Cynics were not modest in the slightest; they actively placed themselves before the public gaze and took advantage of that by acting in the most ostentatious and outrageous way possible. But what exactly is the point of all of that? It does not facilitate dialogue; it only fuels the disdain both parties have of each other.

As I mentioned in my last column, no one likes unsolicited advice. If the Cynics were looking to give advice to a society that did not ask for it, surely there was a better way of going about it without masturbating or defecating in public.

Enter the Stoics. "The Stoics believe humans are meant to live in societies and meant to treat each other with respect," according to the Daily Stoic. The Stoics understood two very important lessons the Cynics were oblivious to: First, that you cannot expect people to want to listen to you if you scream and shout. Second, that you cannot expect people to want to listen to you, period. There is no point in fretting over what is out of your control. The best thing you can do is respect that person's withdrawal from your advice and apply the advice to yourself, so that you might present the best version of yourself to society in your own attempt to change the world you live in.

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Previously by E.K. Mam:
*
How Studying History Made Me A Stoic.

* Dear High School Students And Recent Graduates . . .

* Tunes To Remedy Any Existential Crisis.

* Flex You.

* Simply Cynicism.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on August 1, 2020


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