Stoic Week: Day 1 Happiness

This week I’m participating in Stoic Week a week long course hosted by the group Modern Stoicism whose mission/goal was to make Stoic Philosophy accessible and accurate to the general public. I’ve mentioned Stoicism in previous posts and these posts will just summarize my thoughts and impressions about week-long course.

1)  Morning meditation:

The wise person does nothing that he could regret, nothing against his will, but does everything honourably, consistently, seriously, and rightly; he anticipates nothing as if it is bound to happen, but is shocked by nothing when it does happen …. and refers everything to his own judgement, and stands by his own decisions. I can conceive of nothing which is happier that this. – Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.81

Actually my “morning meditation” was at 1pm (but in my defense I work evenings so my day usually starts later anyway). The really nice thing about this quote (aside for it being properly cited unlike every Instagram quote ever) is that the last part “I can conceive of nothing which is happier than this.” means that Cicero is sharing with us an ideal. In real life are we going to do things we regret? Definitely. I regret getting the “bold” flavored coffee from the cafeteria today because it gave me the jitters like it was nobody’s business. Are we going to do things against our will? The possibility exists. Are we going to do everything honorably, consistently, seriously and rightly? Yeah, no. Is shit going to happen? Definitely. But we can still do our best besides all that. And if we did our honest best to be and do all those good things, should we really have any regrets?

2) Afternoon Reflection:

So, to get some verbage out of the way, the English word “Happy” comes from a Germanic root word meaning “lucky” or “blessed”. The opposite of Happiness is “Hapless” meaning “unfortunate” (which is the Latin/French fancy word that we prefer to use because of the Norman conquest of England). The Greek Philosophical idea of Happiness is called eudaimonia which (like a lot of Greek) is really hard to translate into English. It’s very similar to the Buddhist concept of Enlightenment. It involves ideas like mental clarity, true wisdom, freedom from folly. It’s not about being happy or joyful.

A HUGE part of the Greek Philosophic idea of happiness is agency. Apparently if you have all the luck in the world (fame, money, health, power), but are without agency you’re not really “happy” (and my brain automatically goes to dystopian fiction there). In contrast a person with no luck at all, but has true agency and wisdom is the one who has true happiness.

3) Donald Robertson’s Webinar

I was in class so I had to watch the recording afterwards, but the guy hosting the class gave an hour long intro for the class explaining the concepts, overview, who was working behind the scenes and what to expect. I actually really do like his videos because he’ll usually throw in a story and for some reason they always stick in my mind. My personal favorite was he was doing a book review and somehow squeezed in the story about Zeno and Crates of Thebes where Zeno became a student of Crates and they were walking in a busy market each with a beggar’s bowl of soup in their hands. Well, apparently Zeno sneezed or something because he drops the bowl of soup and I have this mental image of a bewildered Zeno in modest cynic garb in the the middle of this busy street with soup all over him now and he’s so embarrassed he makes a break for it, but Crates calls after him “Where are you going? No harm’s be done to you.” Which is a nice little story about how nobody ever really died of embarrassment and I always think of that story whenever I feel embarrassed.

Anywho, in the webinar Dr. Robertson was talking about friendship and how friendship comes really, really close to being a Stoic idea of good, but since you can’t control it (we’re stressing agency again) it doesn’t really count as a virtue, but even if it’s not reciprocated you can still be act like a good friend to other people. For this topic the story was about Socrates. The young son of Socrates’s best friend came to him and asked Socrates if he would be willing to help him make friends since Socrates knew a lot of people. Socrates agreed and asked the young man what traits he was looking for in a friend and, of course, the young man lists of several noble and ideal traits. Socrates nods and agrees that those all all good traits, but being Socrates he flips the conversation around and asks the young man, “And how many of those traits do you hold yourself?”

As someone who has trouble making friends I really appreciated this part actually. I’ve fallen out with all of my friends from high school. I never really had a “best friend” which I’m totally okay with now because considering my friend group in high school… well, I do believe environmental pressures played a major role in who I hung out with. I basically need to go out, like waaaaaaay out and make some friends that didn’t go to my high school and don’t live in the same ten mile radius as I do.

Socrates: So, what are you looking for in a friend?
Me: Well, so far they need to be cool with transgender individuals in the military and can go five minutes without mentioning the Second Amendment.
Socrates: ………….
Me: Too much? It’s too much isn’t it?? *sobs* But I just want to meet some nice people who share a few of my values or at the very least don’t cause me anxiety!!
Socrates (Ancient Athenian): ….Noooo, I don’t understand what you mean by “transgender” and “second amendment”. 

4) Nightly Meditation:

Will there come a day, my soul, when you are good and simple and unified […] some day will you have a taste of a loving and affectionate disposition? Some day will you be satisfied and want for nothing […] Or will you be contented instead with your present circumstances and delighted with everything around you and convince yourself that all you have comes from the gods, and that all that is pleasing for them is well for you? Will there come a day when you are so much a member of the community of gods and humans as neither to bring any complaint against them nor to incur their indignation? – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.1

I would like to point out that the Meditations is Marcus Aurelius’s PERSONAL DIARY that he asked to be burned after his death. It was not and a crap ton of people still read translations of it even thousands of years later. It’s not my favorite because it’s run on sentences for days and hard for me to read/understand. That’s usually how I spot fake quotes on Instagram. Did I read and understand it on the first try? Well, then Marcus didn’t write it. Seriously, if any Stoic quote fits in a Instagram box I automatically question its validity and they never. freaking. cite. them.

Phew~ okay. I think I (sorta) get what he’s saying (maybe). The first part sounds like it’s about external happiness “…a taste of a loving and affectionate disposition…” sounds like affection from others which is nice if you got it, but it’s not within your control. I think the meat of the quote is “…Or will you be contented instead with your present circumstances and delighted with everything around you and convince yourself that all you have comes from the gods, and that all that is pleasing for them is well for you?” That sounds very similar to the Zen Buddhist concept of “living the life that is given to you” which makes sense from a practical stand point because you only have your life to live and only creepy literary tropes about body snatching in a crappy filler episode can beg to differ. I got it, Marcus. Don’t be a creepy trope body snatcher.

Yeah, that’s totally not what he meant. *sigh* But to answer your last rhetorical question, Marcus, “No.”

 

 

Whoo! Day one done! Tomorrow’s topic is “Virtue”, which like the Greek Philosophical idea of “happiness”, doesn’t translate well into English. Stay tuned!

 

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Reexamining Disney’s Cinderella

As I tend to do, I was clicking around on YouTube when this video essay titled “Cinderella: Stop Blaming the Victim” caught my eye.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Disney’s animated version of Cinderella, but it was one of my favorites as a kid. Something I failed to recall was right there in the opening narration it says in clear text “Cinderella was abused”.

…Oops.

I’ll admit it’s fun to watch folks poke fun at and criticize Disney films because, let’s be honest, we’re bored; But most people don’t sit down and do a serious texual analysis because we hated English class for a reason.

So, to recap. The Disney version of Cinderella is about a physical and emotional abuse victim trapped in a bad situation she cannot get out and despite ALL that she remains optimistic, hopeful, and kind. Like you see her abuse ON SCREEN. Wtf.

So, if one were to assume that Cinderella is bad for feminism one would be actually quite mistaken. It’s not actually a victim’s responsibility to fight back against her abusers. In fact fighting back is a very masculine trait. Cinderella is a very feminine character and she stays true to herself the whole movie.

The biggest criticism I’ve heard is the “waiting for your prince to come” trope. But that’s an over simplification and missing the point entirely. It’s not the love-at-first-sight gooey stuff that “saves” Cinderella, it’s the fact that the prince is literally the first person to treat Cinderella with kindness in years and he’s giving her a way out of her abusive situation in a setting without women’s shelters and abuse hotlines.

The truth of the text is Cinderella DID do something about her situation; she got help and she got out. For an abuse victim that is a HUGE accomplishment.

So kudos to Cinderella for not losing hope in a hopeless situation, for staying true to her morals of kindness despite the negative actions of others, and protecting those weaker than herself when she didn’t have to. She totally deserved that happy ending.

And I have no intention of ever watching the live action remake.

My “Weird” Taste in Music

Yesterday work was a little chaotic. We had two call-ins and a coworker was injured and had to be sent home. It was “fun”. For the last hour since we were closed and there weren’t any families with young ears shopping near by I turned on my phone’s play list. My taste in music is a little “unusual” since most of my tastes lean towards the 100-200 year old range because there are oldies and then there are oldies.

A perfect example is “Finnegan’s Wake” which is an Irish ballad that was the inspiration for a novel by James Joyce by the same name. For me that’s a “fun fact” for most other people it’s “what the hell/why should I care?”. It also freaks people out when I say that I’m indifferent about music in general. I don’t have a favorite song. The music I listen to tends to be narrative. For me it’s more of a case of I don’t have time to read a short story or novel on my break, but I can listen to a two-three minute song/ballad and I’m generally not going to find these songs on the radio.

Sometimes an older song sneaks into pop culture. I had a lot of fun telling my coworker that “Whiskey in the Jar” is an old Irish song, not a Metallica original. I have a whole CD of modern artists covering pirate and sea songs in their own style and it’s one of my favorites. I can’t listen to it at work because some of the songs are NOT family friendly and it’s not labeled as such, but I guess they expect people to know that pirate songs will contain some sailor worthy expletives.

My taste in music actually makes a lot sense when you consider that I’m an aromantic-asexual. The Top 100 Billboard songs will generally stick to a classic, yet very profitable theme. There’s nothing wrong with having love as a theme. I just prefer my love songs to have fermented for a couple of decades first. I’ll also lean more towards Celtic traditional songs as a nod to my ancestry. Why listen to a big label driven love song when I can listen to songs about battles, shipwrecks, smuggler stills, and history.

One song I stumbled upon recently is called “Viva La Quinte Brigada” by Christy Moore. It’s about a group of Irish volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) which was something I didn’t know about until I looked up the song’s history. I like learning little bits of history like that. My dream job is a historical fiction screenwriter and those bits of history would be my focus. I crack myself up thinking about how the big trend right now is shared universe movies like what Marvel did and what DC and Star Wars is trying to do. Historical fiction is naturally a shared universe without even trying. 

I took one screen writing class as treat to myself and my classmates were very enthusiastic about my ideas and were like “Why isn’t this a movie yet?”. Well, I still have to make a living and pay rent so that’s why I haven’t written it. Then there’s the whole mess of Hollywood and TV being very tight-knit businesses to the point that unless you know somebody who knows somebody you’re not going to get anywhere. Producers get hundreds of scrips a day and while I might think a historical film about an obscure history reference is the coolest thing ever, the underpaid script monkey that has to read all the crap that comes in might not think so.

Another struggle is research. Personally, I don’t like doing research. It’s one thing to hear a “new” song I like and type the lyrics into Google or look at a wikipedia page, but actual historical research is super boring and difficult because you have to find first and second sources, look up historical documents, read diaries, and if your historical documents aren’t in English then you have to hire a translator and it just gets time consuming and expensive really fast. Once I take all that into consideration I usually just decide the world doesn’t need a movie; Somebody already when to the trouble of recording a song so why mess with perfection?

Just for Fun: TEA!

I’ve been an avid tea drinker since giving up soda pop and my latest obsession is blooming tea. I got a random batch of tea balls from China so it was a surprise what kind I would get. They were mostly a green and jasmine mix, but very good and well made. I had hoped to get a video of the blooming in action but I don’t have a good enough set up for it, but I did get some pictures of the final product.

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I ordered some more tea, but there was a mix up and I was sent a phone charger instead! The vendor said they would resend the tea, but it might take a few weeks.