The Stoics and Skeptics are glass-half-empty people, a lack-centered disposition and temperament not to my taste. But they’re also be calm and carry on people of perseverance and grit. That deserves a lot of credit.
“Begin each day,” advises Aurelius, “by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.” I don’t endorse that – we’ve all had many better days, better meetings – but I do admire the proactivity, the advance work, and the charity of the assumption that even the most obnoxious people are doing the best they know how to do.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” True, and on the quality of the thoughts of others whose deeds flow from those thoughts. Stoics don’t like to talk about that, and the vulnerable mutual dependency it implies, but it’s true too. That’s why we can’t be content to work only on ourselves, and why I can’t accept the Stoic proposition that only our respective interiors can be landscaped. We must ameliorate external conditions too, or die trying.
For Schopenhauer, external conditions and inner life alike are wholly controlled by the impersonal, implacable, voracious Will. We can’t starve it to death but we can learn to feed it on our schedule, and feed it less.
“It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.” Yes, but the best skeptics know it’s imperative to seek it together and in public, and to share our finds. That’s why they write books, live with dogs (Schopenhauer’s were all called “Atman”), and stay on Earth as long as they can. We must imagine them (the best of them) happy. Glass half empty? I’ll have another.
6 am/5:43, 59/63/43, 7:43
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