Last Friday I was in Pittsburgh, PA, to deliver a talk on science and pseudoscience for the local annual “Sagan Fest,” named after the astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan, one of my intellectual role models. It was an engaging, constructive moment of critical reflection, and even fun over drinks and dinners with the students and faculty of Carnegie Mellon University that organized the event.
The United States is in the midst of its recurring (indeed, now almost continuously running) political circus known as the Presidential elections. At the moment of this writing, the Republican party is characterized by a field counting a whopping 15 initial candidates, while the Democrats have 4. Who would a Stoic vote for?
I must admit that one of the toughest aspects of practicing Stoicism is that it is pretty difficult to justify spending one’s time on entertainment. Not to add to the already pretty stern stereotype of the Stoic that is widespread in the general culture, but here is what Epictetus says, for instance:
“When you’re called upon to speak, then speak, but never about banalities like gladiators, horses, sports, food and drink – common-place stuff. Above all don’t gossip about people, praising, blaming or comparing them.” (Epictetus, Enchiridion 33.2)
I’m starting a new occasional series, entitled What Would a Stoic Do? The idea is to explore, based on actual (as opposed to hypothetical) situations, what the best Stoic response might be to things that happen in everyday life. Some of the examples will be drawn from my own experience, others from friends’ and relatives’, still more, perhaps, from the news.
The idea is that Stoicism is a living philosophy with practical value, not just a theoretical exercise, or a devout reading of ancient authors. As much as I enjoy the theory, as well as the readings, it seems like the point is to get down and dirty with real life, so here we go. Obviously, I very much welcome readers’ suggestions, as I certainly don’t consider myself an oracle (ah!) on what proper Stoic behavior would be under given circumstances. I’m here to learn.