Fire in Tennessee, Fire in Lyons

My thoughts have been with the people of Eastern Tennessee this week, as they process the aftermath of the terrifying fire that tore through Gatlinburg.  You may have seen this horrifying video of two men who narrowly escaped the hellscape with their lives:

As often happens after disasters of this kind, some Tennessee natives appeared in the online Stoic community asking if the ancients might have had anything specific to say that could be helpful in times like this.  It just so turns out that they did:

Our friend Liberalis is now downcast; for he has just heard of the fire which has wiped out the colony of Lyons. Such a calamity might upset anyone at all, not to speak of a man who dearly loves his country. But this incident has served to make him inquire about the strength of his own character, which he has trained, I suppose, just to meet situations that he thought might cause him fear. I do not wonder, however, that he was free from apprehension touching an evil so unexpected and practically unheard of as this, since it is without precedent. For fire has damaged many a city, but has annihilated none. Even when fire has been hurled against the walls by the hand of a foe, the flame dies out in many places, and although continually renewed, rarely devours so wholly as to leave nothing for the sword. Even an earthquake has scarcely ever been so violent and destructive as to overthrow whole cities. Finally, no conflagration has ever before blazed forth so savagely in any town that nothing was left for a second. So many beautiful buildings, any single one of which would make a single town famous, were wrecked in one night. In time of such deep peace an event has taken place worse than men can possibly fear even in time of war. Who can believe it? When weapons are everywhere at rest and when peace prevails throughout the world, Lyons, the pride of Gaul, is missing!

—Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 91.

You can read the rest of the letter here.


A Quick Map of the Online Stoic Community

Sorry, the picture isn’t of real data.  C’mon—we’re not that advanced here…

Modern Stoicism is really a “Web 2.0” phenomenon.  Stoic online communities started forming almost as soon as the Internet was born (the New Stoa, for instance, dates to 1996)—finally, a rare breed of Stoic enthusiasts separated by vast geographic distances could start connecting with each other.  The potent combination of social media and a few highly publicized books and articles, however, has recently launched Stoicism on an exponential growth curve.

As Stoicon and Stoic MeetUp groups begin to become more popular, and as projects like the Stoic Fellowship start trying to facilitate a more solid structure that helps a confederation of local communities thrive in real life, it may be that modern Stoicism will evolve into a worldwide flesh-and-blood organization of loosely-coupled units.

Until then, however, the fact remains that 21st-century Stoicism is almost entirely an online phenomenon.  What follows is a brief sketch of the key landmarks in the landscape—I invite you to look into these groups, and see if you can’t make a new friend! Continue reading “A Quick Map of the Online Stoic Community”

Could Stoics Print a Bible?

It has often been observed that the way that contemporary Stoics study and quote from our ancient texts is somewhat similar to the way that members of Judeo-Christian faiths relate to their scriptures.

Now, some people are very uncomfortable with this analogy!  We live in an enlightened, free-thinking age, after all.  We moderns pride ourselves on our non-dogmatic, independent investigation, and we expect any philosophical conversation to flow freely under only the sacred auspices of free speech!  The very idea of a “canon” or of “orthodox texts” is itself heterodox to many of us.

However much value we find in the ancient Stoic authors, then, we hasten to qualify our love of philosophical texts: they are not scriptures!  we read them for their rational arguments, not their authority! there are many things I disagree with!  I’m not even sure I can call myself “a Stoic!” I retain the right to pick and choose! Continue reading “Could Stoics Print a Bible?”

Social Justice and Insult Pacifism


Professor Bill Irvine and I have now completed a debate in Stoicism Today over Stoicism, personal resilience, social justice activism, and what it means for modern Stoicism to be welcoming toward women and minorities.

You can read my original piece at “Stoics do Care about Social Justice: A Response to Irvine,” and then the reply he published today at “Insult Pacifism: A Reply to Eric O. Scott.”  For other recent Stoic perspectives on political activism, see also my Stoic Social Justice Roundup and the constantly-expanding reading list in the Stoics for Justice Facebook group.

What follows is my reply to Irvine’s reply.  It originally appeared in the comments section of Stoicism Today.
Continue reading “Social Justice and Insult Pacifism”

Taking Election Results like a Stoic

Whenever any disturbing news is brought to you, you should have this thought ready at hand: that news never relates to anything that lies within the sphere of choice.

—Epictetus, Discourses, 3.18.1.

“The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency,” writes David Remnick in today’s New Yorker cover article, “is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.” Remnick is, of course, far from alone in his frustration and fear. “I think mostly it’s a heart-breaking identity crisis,” a close family member confided to me from overseas this morning: “this vote tells us ‘You don’t belong here.’ The emotion is like someone close to us has died, it’s that strong. It’s the feeling of our whole country rejecting us.”

Continue reading “Taking Election Results like a Stoic”

Spiritual Heroism on Hacksaw Ridge

This is godlike power: to save people, whole flocks at a time, as your public service.

—Seneca, On Clemency, 1.25.5.

My wife and I had the opportunity to see Hacksaw Ridge last night—the story of Desmond Doss, the American soldier who personifies that oddly beautiful contradiction of terms: “pacifist war hero.”

Watching Hacksaw was am amazing experience, but it was especially personal to me for two reasons:

  • First, I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist (which was Doss’s religion), and I have conscientious objectors in my family as a direct result.
  • Second, watching it now as a non-theistic Stoic, the story of Doss takes on special power as a modern mythology of “spiritual heroism.”

Continue reading “Spiritual Heroism on Hacksaw Ridge”

Stoic Social Justice Roundup

This weekend Stoicism Today has been kind enough to run a piece that I wrote titled “Stoics Do Care about Social Justice: A Response to Irvine.” I won’t re-post it here—instead I invite you to head on over and check it out! Here’s the tl;dr:

“We believe that no man or woman can be moral (or Happy) unless they work tirelessly for the benefit of all humanity. Justice and Benevolence must be a guide to all of our actions.”

I’m not the only one who’s been talking about Stoicism and activism, however.  Over the past couple weeks in particular, the Stoic community has seen quite a bit of discussion over what a Stoic relationship to activism and injustice could/should look like.

  • Greg Sadler, who led a rich conversation on anger and Justice during the last 15 minutes of his Stoicon 2016 workshop on “Struggling with Anger?  Useful Stoic Perspectives and Practices,” 15 October, 2016.

Needless to say, the authors of these articles & talks don’t all agree on the specifics of how to put social engagement into practice!  I think the conversation itself is much-needed, however.

Some of us are trying to build a dedicated space for taking this conversation further.  If you’re interested in the topic of Stoicism and Justice/Benevolence, please join us in our new Facebook group, “Stoics for Justice!”