So, is Stoicism a good philosophy for the modern man dressed in a Roman toga and standing in his back yard? Henry Gruber says, “No.” But in Part I of this article, I tried to show that Gruber’s argument is weak. I did not analyze Iskra Fileva’s opinion that Stoicism is problematic for both ancient and modern people.
Why problematic? Two reasons, according to Fileva. First, if you control your emotions to lessen the pain inherent in failure, you may also lessen the joy you feel when successful. Second, a fulfilled life depends on forming bonds with other people; and in Roman Stoicism, you are advised to be independent of others. Moreover, you are counseled to practice this independence. So, if practice makes perfect, you won’t feel inordinate love for humankind—even for your husband or wife.
According to Marcus Aurelius, you can show kindness to others; but I suppose that Marcus would consider a deep, passionate love to be “dangerous” to one’s equanimity and independence. And yet Christianity recommends just this kind of love. God is even identified as Love!
Moreover, if you love somebody, you are bound to feel the pain of grief when that person dies or otherwise disappears from your life. Ancient Stoicism is all about avoiding negative emotions like grief.
So, Fileva ends her article with these strong words:
Gut-wrenching as grief may be, it is the price we pay for love,
and the wisdom of a path that proposes to inoculate us against
grief can be questioned. It may be that a world populated by
Stoic sages would be not unlike that described by Aldous Huxley
in Brave New World: one where people don’t mourn the dead
and, instead, use their bodies to fertilize plants.
Of course, modern Stoicism is more flexible than the ancient variety. Ryan Holiday, the preeminent advocate of today’s “pop-Stoicism,” leaves room for strong emotions and social activism. It would seem that some such adjustment is necessary for today’s Stoic sage.
And how do Quakers figure in all this Stoic stuff? Well, I tentatively propose that more reflective Friends have elements of ancient Stoicism in their character. They may be somewhat “turned in” on themselves. Social activist Quakers, in contrast, are more comfortable with an extroverted, emotive Stoicism. That is, perhaps, an over-generalization; but it may be mostly true.
In any case, we need all kinds of Stoic and all kinds of Quaker in our meetings.
~ Richard Russell
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