Uncategorized

Uncategorized

Why bother?


No Comments

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterward. These are games; one must first answer. Albert Camus

Tough guy isn’t he?

I don’t disagree with him tough, but fear not, his answer towards life is positive, very, and yours is and will be as well I’m sure but you have to have your own answers, your own conclusions, because no one can do your thinking for you.

Why bother? Why even bother living at all? This is a very scary question indeed. It is a journey of the mind that we must all take, certainly not for the light-hearted.

The deeper you go into the rabbit hole, the better the insights you will get. In the rabbit hole, you’ll find what you’re looking for, but you have to be brave enough to ask and ask, and ask. Fortunately, a lot of thinking has already been done, specially by the stoics and although you have to do your own thinking, there is no reason why you cannot use ancient wisdom to better understand the issues at hand. So let’s deep into the matter using existing knowledge.

Pragmatism, stoicism and it’s practicality

Pragmatism: an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.


Stoicism is a practical philosophy, and exactly that is the beauty of it. Seneca even discourages you to read a lot of books if they will not aid you immediately in living a good, virtuous life. In this sense, Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy.

There is a great book written by Simone and Malcolm Collins called The Pragmatist Guide to Life.

The Pragmatist Guide to Life begins, just like Camus’s book Myth of Sisyphus, with a sadistic humorist question, personally, I think I found it funny as a defense mechanism against the jokingly darkness of it, but judge for yourselves.

Why is genocide bad?

The obvious answer, the one I thought first, was: absolutely not! It’s just obvious!  Killing people is terribly wrong! And to this they answer:

Our society tells us genocide is wrong, that killing innocent people is wrong, and that racism is wrong. However, if you believe these things only or primarily because the culture in which you grew up told you they were obviously true, then you hold little moral authority over someone who participated in genocide, because the culture in which they grew up in told them genocide was a moral imperative.

If you took an average of cultures across human history—the things that most people in most places were raised to believe were true—you would have a culture that believed women were lesser beings than men, that some people are born better than others, that freedom of thought is not a right, and that when you conquer a city, it is perfectly moral to rape, kill, and enslave as many civilians as you want. Why were most cultures in human history wrong, whereas the time and place that you just happen to be born into correct? If you want to believe, with any intellectual integrity, that the culture you were born into or the counterculture that accepted you is more correct than others, you need to develop your own reasons why. What you believe is a choice you can make—independently, for yourself.
Collins, Malcolm.


And while we’re on it, why even bother answering these questions, and not “just live”? It seems that just going with the flow works doesn’t it?

Again, you are welcome to do as you want, but if you start to wonder and ask just a tiny bit more your reasons little bit more about the whys of your motives and develop an idea of why you do what you do and why you are who you are you will start to develop better informed idea about your behavior.

You will gain power over your identity (because it is a choice, and it is certainly malleable) you will become in every sense a better person.

You will no longer be a blind human just doing what culture, your parents, your peers and so ask you to do, just because “it has always been done this way” or because it is convenient to somebody else.

Understanding gives you power.

You can develop your own morality based on your own assumptions and live a better, more informed and fulfilling  life.

Value

So what happens when you start to ask the “why” question more often?

As human beings, we naturally follow value. Value is like the north in a compass for our minds, we just follow it and we know just know what it is. We act how we act and do what we do because we found whatever it is that we are doing, valuable.

For example. Suppose you’ve just gone to the beach,  Cancun, Ibiza or whatever. Then suppose that you’ve been training in the gym hard the entire winter, so now by summer, you are pretty ripped. When you get to the beach the first day after a perfect evening chilling with some new friends on the beach, you find yourself in the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever been in your life. Obviously, you take your phone out and take a picture. You then upload the coolest sunset photo you’ve ever seen to your Instagram account and within an hour you take your phone out and realize that your photo got thousands and thousands of likes.

We can infer several value assumptions here. Let’s see.

First, we could say that what you find valuable is experience. The simple act of discovering is what moves you.

Another could be your health, you’ve been working the entire winter so clearly, health is valuable to you. You went to the beach to get some relaxation, maybe the spa as well.

And lastly, it may be praise what you are after, and everything you do, you do it for the fame and followers you may be able to get by visiting cool places.

Now, if I ask you, which of the three values just mentioned, do you find the most value in? Health? Fame? or experience?

Now we are getting somewhere.

What you found the most valuable could be defined as a core value of yours. A value from which other values spring. But what happens when you ask why enough times?

Imagine values as a tree, your strongest values are the strongest branches and from those branches, other branches emerge. Now imagine the trunk of the tree. That is your core value, your most important value. Do you know what it is? If not, you’ve got some questioning to do.

Asking “why” enough times will start unveiling some quite uncomfortable truths.

It will feel like peeling an onion. What if you discover your values are pretty shitty? What if you discover that your core value is not even something under your control, like being liked by other people? This is where the situation gets messy, and this is where stoic advice fits just perfectly.

Shitty values, usually, are things that are not under our control. Like popularity (you are a slave to others), pleasures (slave to them) and so on.

The proposal of supreme value in stoic philosophy is virtue. As you very well know the motto: “Virtue is the only good”. But why? Are you just going to accept what I or the Stoics say? Or are you going to put it to the test of your reason?

I know it’s quite a bit to process and I’m sure you’ll need (as I did) some time to process and question your life a bit. So let’s leave it here so you can do some questioning and I’m the following article I’ll continue with some more wisdom.

To be continued…….

Subscribe here

Become our Patreon and enjoy the patron only benefits! You can find more on our Patreon page. Thanks a lot for reading and I hope stoicism makes your life better, I’m sure it will.

Want to further your knowledge? Complement your reading with Opportunity cost.

Advertisements
Conquering Fears, Stoic advice, Uncategorized

Miserably happy


No Comments

“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” 
― William James

William James, the “Father of American psychology”, was indeed a superb man. He is especially great because of his story, early beginnings in life and how he transformed his circumstances in spite of having everything against him.

The early life of James was harsh, born into a wealthy family, great things were expected from him. When he was young he was temporarily blinded and because of it, became tone deaf. He also suffered from a terrible stomach condition that caused uncontrollable vomiting and adding to these, he had crippling back problems that made him had to stay at home for months on end. While crippled, he developed a love for painting, and during his hard childhood and adolescence, painting was the only thing he could and liked to do, unfortunately, nobody appreciated his art enough to buy it.

All the while, his brother Henry James was already a world-renowned novelist, following Henry’s success, William’s sister became a famous diarist. His father, disappointed,  used his connections to send him to Harvard medical school, but the medical school didn’t really appeal to William. He said while visiting a mental hospital: “I feel I have more in common with the patients than with the doctors”. 

After failing in medical school he decided to get away from everything and travel to Brazil in seek of adventure on an anthropological expedition.

Miraculously he managed to get to Brazil without dying in spite of his weak health. However, when he arrived he contracted smallpox and the team members left him there to continue with the expedition. James managed to return home to an ever more disappointing father and was on the verge of suicide for months. Before he made the final jump out of this world while reading Charles Pierce, he made a decision that would change his life forever. He decided he would hold himself responsible for absolutely everything that happened in his life for one whole year and that he would do anything necessary to improve his circumstances, he would hold himself accountable for everything,  only after this he would leave the world for good. Good news, it worked. 

William James little experiment made him the Father of American psychology and his book: Principles of Psychology shook the foundations of psychology and still does to this day. 

Attitude, according to William James, is the single greatest definer of a successful and happy life. 

“We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.” 
― William James

Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to test this by myself, in the mountains. 

The mountains 

Climbing a mountain is hard. 

It requires previous training, proper nutrition and physical as well as mental stamina, lots of it.

If you want to climb a 19,000 feet mountain, be prepared to wake up 1 AM in the morning from the stinky refuge full of other alpinists that smell just like a man should smell after not showering for a week, get out of the cozy and warm sleeping back and change yourself into your climbing gear which includes: An underarmour shirt, a regular T-shirt (everything has to be dry-fit to avoid hypothermia), a sweatshirt, one big jacket, underarmour pants, hiking pants, snow boots, headlamp, wind-proof jacket, and gloves. Then get your backpack, which you already prepared the day before with crampons, trekking poles, ice ax, glacier glasses, peanuts, granola bars, avocados, lots of water and Gatorade, warmers for your hands and feet so you don’t get frostbite and a couple of beers to have in the summit (if you get there). Then it’s time to have a light breakfast of fruit, oatmeal, frozen Nutella sandwiches, and some cereal, then start the trek at 14 Fahrenheit in the middle of the quite and starry night, the chilly wind blowing into your covered face. 

The trek starts at 13,000 so that means that you have to ascend 6,000 feet to get to the summit. Everything is colder and harder because of the altitude. When you ascend above 13,000 feet your body starts behaving funny, there is not enough concentration of oxygen and so your lungs have to work harder to process the oxygen which means that everything is more tiring.

The more you go up, the harder it gets.

Hydration and food intake is supremely important as well, you are always losing water in altitude because it evaporates from your body faster than in lower altitudes. The physical effort your heart and body are in is four times harder because of the lack of oxygen, cold and altitude, and so you are constantly losing massive quantities of energy. You have to be constantly eating, even though you don’t really want to. 

Most people don’t make it to the summit, they are either underprepared or back down because they get altitude sickness and they start vomiting and having headaches or are simply too tired to continue. Sounds gruesome? I’m not going to lie, it really is a massive grind.  

Despite all of these, the happiest people I know, are mountaineers. No doubt about it.

Why?

Well, I have my theories. In the mountain, there comes a point where there is no “backing down”. When you are high enough, you have to go through it or you can literally die, you are too high and the terrain is too hard for people to carry you without putting their lives as well in danger.

You also have all the reasons to be angry, sad, desperate and complaining but up there, a strong realization comes and enlightens you. Every single complain and every bad attitude you indulge in will only hinder you and make you even more miserable. Opportunity cost.

The way in which you choose to face the mountain is everything. No matter how tired, how fed up you are about it all, you can always choose to smile and this tiny realization makes all the difference. 

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You can see people laughing about the gruesome circumstances and their cramps and altitude sickness. Seeing it happen is so twisted and perverted and cool and so deeply stoic that you cannot help to laugh as well. I’ve seen a 67-year-old woman up there with the blizzard blowing in her face singing frosty the snowman to keep the attitude on good levels. 

Mountaineers are, unknowingly, self-taught stoics. They just have no other choice but to practice it, and hell, they are good at it. They are indeed, miserably happy people. 

The mountains have their own special way of teaching lessons. They are hard and indifferent, they don’t care if you die, in fact, they often kill people, and for this grim reason, they are such great teachers.

In the mountains, there is no room for error, laziness or whining. Either you take responsibility for your life or you die, or worse, kill yourself with others as well. 

Responsibility and attitude, these are the lessons the mountains teach you.

The summit 

Then you get to the summit.

The summit, getting it is truly marvelous, indescribable feeling. It is and will be one of the core experiences of your life, the hard work, the suffering and everything else is worth it once you get there, it is not only a mountain in the physical world but also on the mind.

This is the reason mountaineers get back to the mountains and to the grind and never get tired of them, they come to the mountains to find strength, to discover that the true power is always inside, never outside. They go back to connect with that inner and endless fire, a fire that permeates every other area of their lives and that lightens up everyone around them.  

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.  ― Albert Camus

Subscribe and receive for free the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism. 

Subscribe here

Visit our Patreon page for more stoic, Patreon only content. Thanks.

Support Stoic Answers

Stoic answers is committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious stoic contemporary thinking. No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the great ancient Stoics and contemporary knowledge, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

$5.00