March 8, 2021

Stoics have feelings too

The common stereotype of "stoic" meaning "unemotional" is derived from a surface-effect observation of stoic philosophy in action, but it is only the external behavior. Stoics do feel, and nothing in Stoic philosophy says emotions are bad--only yielding control to emotion and abandoning logic and reason is bad.

  • Health: we are stuck in meat sacks inherited from survivors of a very harsh world that wanted to eat them. Hominids were never the Big Bads of the prehistoric savannah. We got better because we got smarter, but the original wiring remains. Run or fight. Survivors had it, and the panicked or lazy didn't tend to pass down those tendencies. So we have a lot of endocrine scram buttons that don't actually need to be pushed in modern times (lack of saber-toothed tigers, can't get the wood you know...) but they are still there and armed, ready for action. Stress without an outlet (running like hell to survive) can make people sick. Don't let the emotional stress build up, learn to re-route it out of your head. Let it go. Don't pretend it isn't there and bottle it up, that's dangerous too. See the emotion, acknowledge it, and don't let it take control of you.
  • Power: Emotion is a very effective way for other people to manipulate you. If you are alert, in touch with your own emotions without giving them control, it will make it much harder for other people to create emotions that control you. When someone tries "...but don't you care about the children/spotted owl/ozone layer?" ignore the "care" part, and instead ask questions about the facts.
  • Judgement: A volcano explodes, spewing over hundreds of miles. Good or bad? The citizens of Pompeii, back in the day, would assert (if they survived) "definitely bad, would not order again." But what if the volcano was on Io? And the volcano was ejecting liquid methane, and nothing living was threatened? Then it becomes a pretty picture in the NASA archives. Good or bad is an emotional judgement of an event.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

-Frank Herbert, Dune