Everybody’s got their advice for living a good life. Some wisely keep it to themselves. Some, despite espousing tenets of the philosophy of Stoicism, simply cannot keep their mouths shut. Someone recently posted this from Marcus Aurelius:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today
will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like
this because they cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good,
and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature
related to my own - not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and
possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can
implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were
born to live and work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper
and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn
your back on him: these are obstructions.”
Those words pissed me off. Here’s what you should do when you wake up in the morning, Marcus: empty your bladder and move your bowels, that is how to start your day. Then, and only then, or maybe after a cup of coffee, you can prepare to meet all the benighted folks who don’t know the beauty and ugliness you have seen. Then you can vow you are in no way afraid of them and make your protestations that they are family to you, protestations that are undermined by your obvious sense of superiority.
The Stoic philosophers are an aggravating bunch. Their motto seems to be, “Never complain, never explain,” which I have joked is the passive/aggressive’s creed. Toxic masculinity is the lens through which they evaluate human behavior. To them, strength is the ability to withstand suffering. It is the code of the ox. It is the way of the beast of burden. Nothing wrong with being a perfect ox, if you value the values of an anthropomorphic ox mentality. But why would you assume others should value the same thing? How would a society of oxen be desirable?
“Know thyself” is a familiar motto, yet the Stoics don’t seem to know themselves to be judgmental, passive aggressive, and tacitly smug.
The same someone blind copied an email to all of us, I assume, couldn’t really say, being blind and all, that contained the advice of music critic and overachiever Ted Gioia on how one could be like him, or something. Read like him, or learn like him. He was self-taught, although he holds multiple degrees, certifications indicating he learned what this or that institution reqired. He lists a bunch of rules, none of them in and of themselves bad, but most assuredly subjective and idiosyncratic. Generalizing about how people who read should read is a fool’s errand. Do I want to be like Ted Gioia? Not if all the errands I run are going to be fool’s errands. Find a fool to do those. Fool.
Do I even want to be like someone worthwhile being like, like Zora Neale Hurston or Richard Feynman? But they already were those people. I love that they existed. I love that they were themselves. My admiration for them satisfies me. I don’t need to be someone else, no matter how wonderful.
Here is my advice, if I may be so bold as to lay it on you: don’t grow, don’t learn, don’t improve yourself, don’t succeed. Be as kind as you are able, and be as healthy as you can in order to be kind, but don’t stress it. If you can increase your ability to be kind, you should probably do that, but holding out the goal of being a kind person is not advised. You will grow, change, and improve whether you want to or not, so just let it happen. Success is subjective. Don’t aim for it, for that is the worst thing you can do. The goal-oriented life is a life not worth living, by definition. A purpose renders you instantly inadequate in the present.
Don’t be like water, either. That’s just another thing you aren’t, to try to be like.
We are not a worthy species. We do not deserve the earth no matter how much Emerson and Thoreau appreciated it, or how brilliant Darwin or da Vinci or Georgia O’Keefe or Basho were at observing and loving it. We are the most arrogant, reckless beings in all creation.
Remember the first month or so of the lockdown? That was heaven to me. Didn’t have to go anywhere, the roads were empty, birds and wildlife began to flourish, the air and water began to clear, nature began to heal, and it became obvious what the economy actually needed: not the overpaid worthless CEOs, the entrepreneurs, the finance sorcerers and their phlegmy sycophants, but the workers, teachers, nurses… the people who actually do all the things, not the wallowing swine who leech profit.
It was all so obvious that I thought surely the majority of people couldn’t deny what had to happen. But then the petty “government-should-help-no-one-not-even-me” crowd of rectal thermometers started throwing their hissy conniptions and tantrums. So of course, the discourse went from realizing what was really destroying the environment and hamstringing public wellbeing back to the “we have to get back to” whatever the mentally disfigured business-as-usual sphincters decided was the misery-as-usual they needed to suckle on to relieve their infantile anguish.
So, yes, I am back to demanding that EVERYONE STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW AND NEVER START AGAIN! Humanity must go on a general worldwide strike! Now. Disobey all commands, even this one. Disobey common sense. We should not hold it in common because it makes no sense. Shut yourself down. “Oh, but what about this and what about that?” All right, if it actually needs doing, do it because of that, not because it’s “business as usual.” And most certainly not because someone who lords it over others so as to siphon profit from their work orders us to. Those scum need to be dealt with harshly and permanently.
I am passionately sick of the adulation to “find your passion!” Blow it out your ass! Sick sick sick of advice on how to improve my health and effectiveness. No more health! No more effectiveness! Life on Earth wants us to halt in our tracks. Just sit still and shut up, all of you!
I intended this to be a much more coherent diatribe when I started. But my patience is just about at an end. We need to stop. Everything. I don’t want to hear any excuses. If I find you doing something, you’d better have a damn good explanation.
“When I walk into a room, everyone will focus on me!” Then don’t go into the room, you narcissistic attention vampire! “I’m gonna build this! I’m gonna achieve that!” Why?? Why?? Don’t you know it’s all trying to grasp the wind? Stop. Your pointless. Activity!! It is killing the Earth!
It’s a Writers Strike, y’all. Pencils down! Backs to the mattresses! Your nap is your power. Power naps to the people!
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!