Can you be a Stoic and support Donald Trump at this point? No.

When Donald Trump launched his campaign, he made it clear that he was the Republican who would build the wall that would keep the Mexicans out of the US for good.  The rhetoric he used should’ve been a sign that he wasn’t a serious candidate worth considering.  He essentially called the Mexicans coming to the US “rapists” and added to that by saying, “some I’m sure are good people.”

Donald Trump’s rhetoric since he announced his run and to this day is pure pathos that appeals to his base’s prejudices about anyone who is different than them.  I’ve stressed many times in the past the importance of Stoicism’s notion of cosmopolitanism, and it appears that Donald Trump is the anti-cosmopolitan President.  The President of fear and hatred of the other, the xenophobic President, the anti-Stoic President.

For Republicans who only care about tax cuts and the 2nd Amendment.  Well, you’ve gotten what you wanted.  You got a Supreme Court Justice that will defend the 2nd Amendment, and you’ve got one of the largest tax cuts you’ve ever wanted from President Trump.  I guess, I just have to ask, is there any reason to continue to support this man?  Maybe there was a good reason to support him up to the tax cut and up to the Supreme Court pick but what are you left with now?

Not only has Trump appealed to racists and xenophobes, which is as anti-cosmopolitan as you can get, he’s made enemies with Europe and Canada by creating trade wars with them.  Europe and Canada have liberal democracies built on the notion of tolerance of others.   Liberal democracies that believe in the notions of justice and wisdom.   While alienating our allies, he’s been making friends with enemies of justice and wisdom like Russia.

The United States was founded on the liberal concepts of justice, tolerance, cosmopolitanism, and freedom of thought.  Trump is not trying to free people’s thinking.  He’s just trying to shut down people’s thinking and appeal to our hate and fear.

Consider that as a Stoic.  Would Zeno of Citium or even Diogenes of Sinope have ever said anything about other cultures as something to fear, hate, or condemn?  Would Zeno of Citium have even believed in building a wall to keep certain people out?  Logically, it makes no sense.  Consider for example that Mexicans are very similar people to people in the United States.  Mexicans are Christians, care about family values, believe in democracy, and love working just like most people in the United States.  The only difference between a Mexican and the average American is that Mexicans are darker complected and speak Spanish.  That’s about it.  And Trump wants to drive a wedge over a small difference like language and melanin in people’s skin.  It’s pretty ridiculous, and Zeno of Citium could see how much that bullshit stinks.

Stoics who consider themselves Republicans, you’re just as Stoic as anyone else.  You believe in free markets and a right to bear arms and maybe you’re pro-life.  But please stop supporting this man.  He’s rhetoric is divisive, vicious, and most of all, anti-Stoic.

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Stoicism, Brexit, Cosmopolitanism, and Possibly Dissolving the United States for the Public Good

Why did Brexit happen?  God only knows all the reasons but a lot of it had to do with fear of open immigration and fear of the EU as an anti-democratic nightmare issuing bureaucratic decrees on its member nations.  I honestly don’t know a whole lot about the European Union and its politics but I definitely know the UK politician Nigel Farage liked to yell about the EU being an anti-democratic nightmare.  Also, I know German Chancellor Angela Merkel is very controversial for letting so many refugees into Germany.

Brexit is a nightmare for liberal cosmopolitans everywhere because it means dream of cosmopolitanism, unity, and social justice is being dismantled forcefully by reactionary forces built on distrust, xenophobia, and tribalism.  Despite this, I believe everything has a grain of truth to it so what if the reactionaries have some important thoughts?

What if the dream of cosmopolitanism that is the European Union is an artificial, naive, and unrealistic form of cosmopolitanism that modern Stoics might not agree to?  What if dividing states rather than unifying them is actually paradoxically the best way to get to cosmopolitanism?

Before I go into detail about why this might be let’s focus on the United States for a bit.  In the United States political cynicism has grown exponentially since Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook!” speech.  If you look into the growing trend, partisan divides keep growing and growing and they’re expected to keep growing.  This is problematic because if Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything, then the US Congress won’t be able to accomplish anything useful for anyone.  This will lead to gridlock and it has led to gridlock.  As a result, anti-democratic agents like the President (put into office by electors in a college) and anti-democratic institutions like the US Federal Courts will become agents of fiat.  Issuing their executive decrees on all of us.  The Courts will make new laws and the President will either enforce or not enforce laws arbitrarily.

Honestly, the whole system looks hopeless.  The system is nothing more than two gears grinding against each other with absolutely excruciating pressure but neither gear will move.  It’s a stopped clock of doom.  Doom doom doom.

So how might a modern Stoic approach this?  What if the Stoic sees the failed cosmopolitanism of Europe and begins to wonder if the United States is also a kind of failed cosmopolitanism.  What if “one out of many” is the wrong way to go about things at this point in history?  What if “the many out of one” is the right way to go?

What if true cosmopolitanism has nothing to do at all with nation states, how they arrange themselves, and how they unify or divide?  What if true cosmopolitanism is about viewing each other as brothers and sisters and has less to do with trying to create an artificial one world government.  After all, aren’t the liberal cosmopolitans of today just trying to take Plato’s Republic and apply it to the world?  What if we took Zeno’s Republic and applied it to the world?  Plato’s Republic was top-down authoritarian.  Zeno’s Republic was bottom-up anarchy.

Perhaps, as Stoic cosmopolitans, we shouldn’t be trying to unify states but continue to dissolve them into atoms.  Keep dissolving them until they’re closer and closer to city states.  And if we possibly can dissolve them into 7 billion individual states, that would be super!  What if that’s the right way to be cosmopolitan?  What if the right way to be a cosmopolitan is to try to approximate Zeno’s form of anarchism as close as we possibly can.  Sure, we’ll probably always need a little bit of top-down control over our lives but the more control we have over ourselves, the better we shall be.

So, as a student of Stoicism, I propose that we should dissolve the United States into red states and blue states.  This will immediately end the gridlock.  Red states will get to create their political agendas and blue states will get to create their political agendas.  If any future problems begin to assert themselves in the form of gridlock, then the states could dissolve even further.

Without unified states, how will people unify?  They’ll unify much more on a voluntary basis like they do on Facebook.  Perhaps the Internet is now the true cosmopolis.  As physical political geographies begin to dissolve down into tribes, the Internet may be where we can find unity or an attempt at real unity.  Let’s face it, large republics made up of 300+ million people don’t look sustainable.  I don’t exactly know why but it’s looking pretty bleak.

Sorry globalists but your cosmopolitanism is all style and no substance!

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Stoicism and U.S. Immigration

One of the basic tenets of Stoicism is cosmopolitanism, the idea that all humans belong to a single community, based on shared morality.  So it only seem natural that Stoics would be the most compassionate towards the issue of immigration.

I’d imagine that if the United States was populated with a significant Stoic citizenry, we’d be a lot more relaxed on our borders.  Does that mean we’d let other nations take us over?  No, I don’t think that follows.  But we’d certainly be more willing to grant citizenship to people that were willing to embrace our culture by working for a living or who joined our military, police, firefighters, or other important civil careers.

We’d also be more willing to grant citizenship to refugees regardless of whether they were Christians, Jews, or Muslims.

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?

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Commentary on “Taking Stoicism Beyond the Self: The Power To Change Society”

Kai Whiting wrote an insightful article entitled Taking Stoicism Beyond the Self:  The Power To Change Society.  It explores the need to look into Stoicism, in particular its emphasis on the social virtue justice.  After reading it these words just flowed from my fingers as I responded to it:

Ayn Rand’s philosophy has really poisoned the intellectual/philosophical well of the United States. And I don’t mean academic philosophy, I mean the philosophy of the common American. Not only, as Isaac Asimov warned, have we attached ourselves to anti-intellectualism in this country, we have managed to individualize our experiences to the point of moral solipsism. We think of ourselves as me vs me vs me. The only time we ever collectivize is when its us vs some other that we poorly understand.

It’s true that Stoicism has no political ideology but it is of course political, as it cares about justice, which means it will care about the downtrodden who are exploited by corporate sociopaths. It will care about women who still endure sexism from their employers through their unequal pay or something sinister like their male colleagues mansplaining to them how to behave or express themselves, constantly silencing their opinion through interruption.

It’s time that we care about social virtue. It’s time that we read Stoicism exactly as it was intended, to create a pluralistic society that unifies everyone in a common cosmopolis of humankind.

We need to break away from intellectual laziness and embrace wisdom in its pure and practical forms. As Socrates said before he drank the hemlock, “the unanalyzed life is not worth living.” Epictetus says that we’re all little spooks carrying around our corpses. Well, sometimes, I see no evidence of a spirit in some of these corpses that lost their soul years ago when they learned to embrace willful ignorance.

It’s time that we enlighten a few of these spiritless corpses and bring back the spirits.

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Is Stoicism individualist or collectivist?

Is Stoicism individualist or collectivist?  Individualism tends to value the individual needs above family needs, work group needs, and needs of the broader society.  Collectivism tends to value the needs of the family, work group, society above the individual’s needs.  It’s actually not an either/or for Stoicism because Stoicism incorporates both the needs of broader groups and the needs of the individual.

Stoically speaking, individually we need to focus on our virtue.  We need to make sure we are trying to live up to the life of a Sage.  By living a life of virtue we ensure that we’re keeping ourselves mentally healthy and simultaneously flourishing and being worthy of praise.

Some people think Stoicism stops at just making ourselves better.  But there’s a problem with that.  One of the Stoic virtues is justice.  And the Stoic concept of justice entails a sense of compassion, empathy, fair treatment of other individuals as well as oneself.  So our need to get ourselves ethically perfected means we must also care about the needs, interests, and welfare of others.

Because of the virtue justice, we can never think of ourselves as apathetic to the needs of others.  We should care about other’s interests, needs, and feelings.  Everyone is our sister and brother.  We are all rational human beings helping each other achieve a better life.

Marcus Aurelius compares human beings to bees and ants working together, doing our social duties.  Individually, we don’t want to fail to do our social duties.  If we do that we isolate ourselves and harm our ethical development.

As Stoics we have just as much as obligation to get our house in order and the world’s house in order at the same time.  Just because our own satisfaction of our needs is in our power doesn’t mean our attempt at justice for the world isn’t in our power.  Is a better world in our power?  No.  Is trying to make the world better in our power?  Yes.  There’s a big distinction between trying to do good and doing good.  Trying to do good, for the Stoic, is always in our power.  Achieving good results for others is never in our power.  Always in the hands of fate.

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Are Vulcans Stoics? Short Answer: No

To a person unfamiliar with Star Trek and Stoicism, Vulcans might appear to be emulating Stoic attitudes or living a Stoic lifestyle.  The similarities between Stoicism and Vulcan philosophy might make them appear identical on first impression but there’s stark differences between the two philosophies.

Vulcan philosophy originated from the Vulcan Surak.  Surak lived in an ancient time on planet Vulcan when Vulcans were barbaric, violent, and angry.   Surak taught that Vulcans would need to repress their emotion through meditation and discipline to become rational and peaceful beings.

Vulcan philosophy would not work for humans.  It’s quite unhealthy for humans to try to repress their emotions.    While Stoic philosophy is similar to Vulcan philosophy in that Stoic philosophy is concerned significantly with our emotions,  Stoicism differs from Vulcan philosophy in that Stoicism entails mental strategies for deescalating negative emotions.  Surak’s philosophy, on the surface, seems to regard all emotions as insufferable and must be repressed, which would include suppressing not just what Stoics would regard as passions but proto-passions.  Stoicism distinguishes passions from proto-passions, while we have no control over proto-passions, we do exercise some control over our passions if we work at fixing our internal judgments of the world.  Pro-passions would be the immediate feeling you have like when you’re startled or surprised.  From watching Star Trek, one gets the impression that Vulcans shouldn’t be startled or emotionally caught off guard even.

So which one is better?  Surak’s philosophy or Stoicism?  Neither.  Stoicism works great for humans and Vulcan philosophy works great for Vulcans.  Vulcans are naturally more violent than other species so they have to super repress their emotions.   For a Vulcan, letting go of one emotion can let go of all of them. Plus Vulcans have the neurophysiology to handle intense emotional repression and live a healthy life.  Humans just couldn’t live a healthy life repressing every single emotion.  Human beings would probably lash out when they were at their weakest or be in strong denial of having acted irrationally, while supposedly exercising their emotional repression.

It’s not clear entirely what meditative techniques Vulcans use to repress their emotions but Star Trek makes clear that Vulcans meditate quite a lot to exercise complete repression of their emotions.  There are exceptions to Vulcan emotional repression like when they have a pon farr, a strong sexual need to reproduce.  They tend to become super aroused and aggressive during this period of time and it tends to happen every 7 years.

One striking similarity between Vulcans and  Stoics is they care about the concept of diversity and cosmopolitanism.  Vulcans also practice vegetarianism which is similar to some ancient Stoics.  In the cosmopolitan area, Vulcans are like Stoics in that they believe that all beings capable of reason are worthy of respect, however, I think Vulcans are more principled about helping non-rational sentient life than Stoics.  The Stoics didn’t seem all that concerned with non-rational animals.

One strong ethical difference between Stoic philosophy and Vulcan philosophy is that Stoic philosophy is purely virtue ethics.  In contrast, Vulcan philosophy appears as a mix of utilitarianism and virtue ethics.  On one hand, Vulcans are virtue ethicists following the life of Surak.  On another hand, Vulcans are utilitarian, always caring about the needs of the many over the needs of the few, or the one.  There’s also a smidgen of deontology  because supposedly Vulcans cannot tell a lie.  Perhaps the rule is “honesty is the best policy”  when  Vulcans are possibly alternating between rule vs act utilitarianism – as some utilitarians do think we should use either rule/act depending on the situations we’re in (and whether we have to think on our feet or deliberate).