Enchiridion XII


If you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as these: “If I neglect my affairs, I shall not have a maintenance; if I do not punish my servant, he will be good for nothing.” For it were better to die of hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation; and it is better that your servant should be bad than you unhappy.

Begin therefore with little things. Is a little oil spilled or a little wine stolen? Say to yourself, “This is the price paid for peace and tranquility; and nothing is to be had for nothing.” And when you call your servant, consider that it is possible he may not come at your call; or, if he does, that he may not do what you wish. But it is not at all desirable for him, and very undesirable for you, that it should be in his power to cause you any disturbance.

Philosophy is often a pursuit of those with leisure -- Aristotle argues that it is necessarily so -- and thus usually when one runs into philosophers' advice on what to do about servants it is offensive more often than not.  Epictetus, though, was a slave for most of his life: when he speaks of how little the servant wishes to be a cause of disturbance to the master, he speaks as one who knows. 

When I first began making mead, it was a great disturbance to me that so much of it was wasted in the process of racking (that is, removing the yeast and sediment from the product at various stages of finishing). But he is right: once you learn to accept that a certain amount of it is going to be lost, it becomes something that is not bothersome after all. (I am told that distillers run into a similar issue with evaporation of the finished product: they call this 'the Angels' share' of the whiskey.) 

The least plausible of this section's aphorisms is the suggestion that one ought better to neglect one's affairs than be disturbed by them. Duty seems to be crosswise from that: if they are indeed one's own affairs, then by neglecting them one is doing disservice to one's children or heirs; if another is maintaining you in return for service, to them. Sometimes people make movies about those who lay aside arduous careers in order to assume peaceful and fulfilling modes of life, however; and maybe some people really do that, even. Perhaps they are wise.

More Constitutional confusion

A federal judge in Texas has struck down a federal mandate requiring vaccination for all federal employees.  He did not rule that vaccinations are bad, or that the federal government lacks the power to require its employees to be vaccinated, despite the ignorant protestations from the reporters' pet sources.  The judge ruled that an executive order is an improper means of imposing such a requirement, which must instead be enacted by Congress--something Congress clearly has no intention whatever of doing, being too busy with futile attempts to jam through laws for which they've known for months that they lacked the votes.

This case is distinguishable from the Supreme Court's recent upholding a rule allowing a vaccine mandate for workers in Medicare and Medicaid facilities, because you can make a case that the legislature enabling Medicare and Medicaid funding contemplated and authorized the restriction in its provisions for infection control.  The case may not be airtight, but it was enough to get Justices Roberts and Kavanaugh on board.  As usual, however, the caterwauling is not about whether a judge is correct about the established procedures for imposing new rules, but about whether the policy is a good one and therefore should be tolerated even if enacted by clearly illegal means.  Anyone who insists on the rule of law must want to deny science and murder Grandma.

Of course, if a Supreme Court justice is demonstrably unaware of these niceties, what are the odds that there's a mainstream reporter in the entire country with a clue?

Enchiridion XI

Never say of anything, “I have lost it,” but, “I have restored it.” Has your child died? It is restored. Has your wife died? She is restored. Has your estate been taken away? That likewise is restored. “But it was a bad man who took it.” What is it to you by whose hands he who gave it has demanded it again? While he permits you to possess it, hold it as something not your own, as do travelers at an inn.

Often in reading these the Biblical equivalent occurs: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." An ongoing question in the discussion might be phrased as, 'But how do you do this without the Lord?' As we have been discussing, the Romans and Greeks did believe in the logos; they were a bit unsure of how it was grounded. 

That may be one reason that the conversion, when it came in Constantine's day, was as thoroughgoing as it was.

Hubbard & Leather

 From a new album featuring some well-known co-stars. 

Enchiridion X


Upon every accident, remember to turn toward yourself and inquire what faculty you have for its use. If you encounter a handsome person, you will find continence the faculty needed; if pain, then fortitude; if reviling, then patience. And when thus habituated, the phenomena of existence will not overwhelm you.

This is strongly Aristotelian: virtue is a state of character formed by habituated practice. At first it is difficult to do a frightening thing that duty may require; with practice it becomes ordinary to do it. That is the virtue of courage. The virtue of reacting calmly and appropriately when with a beautiful person is the same; so too with these other things. 

Theft by Police

I find it hard to argue with Reason's conclusion that this is outright robbery by police officers.
Five times since last May, sheriff's deputies in Kansas and California have stopped armored cars operated by Empyreal Logistics, a Pennsylvania-based company that serves marijuana businesses and financial institutions that work with them. The cops made off with cash after three of those stops, seizing a total of $1.2 million, but did not issue any citations or file any criminal charges, which are not necessary to confiscate property through civil forfeiture.
The ambiguity by which marijuana is legal in some states but illegal Federally creates a strange situation, but the armored car business is perfectly legal -- and nobody is alleging that any crimes were committed anyway. More, as Reason explains, the police are dodging state laws and also Federal laws that should bar this practice. 

A Victory for the Republic

Sanity prevails, for the moment, and on a bipartisan basis. No Fraudulus bill this time; and a stalwart defense of minority rights on the filibuster. 

Enchiridion IX


Sickness is an impediment to the body, but not to the will unless itself pleases. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will; and say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens. For you will find it to be an impediment to something else, but not truly to yourself.

I think I have answered all your earlier comments that needed a response; if not, let me know. I am encouraged by your interest. I was beginning to wonder if you were just humoring me. 

I do think that the decision to start with the Enchiridion may have been a difficulty, since (as I was telling James) it contains only settled principles rather than the arguments for them. We might have more wisely started with the Discourses, but here we are. We can go back and do the Discourses another time if there is interest. You might find this short biography of Epictetus handy; the part it is calling 'the Handbook' is the Enchiridion, which is a word that means something like 'handbook' or 'manual' in Greek.

Murderer Undecided On Whether He'll Follow New Gun Laws


Songs from World War II

It's about 3 hours of 1930s and '40s music focused on WWII. Some of the song titles are great:

  • The Washing On The Siegried Line
  • Where Does Poor Pa Go In The Black-Out?
  • They Can't Black Out The Moon
  • The Deepest Shelter In Town
  • Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun?
  • Der Fuehrer's Face
  • The Thing-Ummy-Bob (That's Going To Win The War)
  • Don't Let's Be Beastly To The Germans
  • I'm Gonna Get Lit Up


As Mr. Kruiser says, "Everything isn't awful"

Glenn Reynolds links to a modern anti-"Lord of the Flies" story, in which a small group of shipwrecked boys survives on a seemingly uninhabitable island for 15 months before being rescued in good health and spirits.  Someone raised these kids up right, enabling them to bring their sane characters together in a sane community structure.  Glenn comments on the depressing view of Golding's famously dystopian novel and notes that Golding was a mess of a man, which could explain his conviction of the inevitable mess men must make of a culture.  And certainly the mess is inevitable if the men embrace vicious failure in themselves; it's hard enough to face disaster when we're all doing the best we can. The culture affects how the kids are raised, and then the kids affect the culture.

We got a lot of culture largely based on the “sad self-knowledge” of people who were psychological and moral outliers — social and moral losers, as I say — but who fancied themselves representative of humanity and who managed to sell that self-justifying delusion to the rest of society. The costs were significant.
Rutger Bregman wrote a book, "Humankind," about the six Tonganese boys who stole a fishing boat in 1966 to take a "three-hour tour" as a break from their strict Catholic boarding school. Mr. Bregman's book, not "Lord of the Flies," is in my Audiobooks queue for background listening while I paint or crochet this week.

Enchiridion VIII


Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

This is another one of those sections that almost sounds like a Bible verse -- "Not my will, but Yours, Lord" -- but is that is coming out of a non-Christian tradition. To will that it be as it has been directed to be by the logos inherent in creation means, perhaps, aligning your free will with that of the divine. Perhaps; other wills may be at work in the world. 

A worthy project for an interested party would be to explore how this period of Hellenistic Roman society informed both traditions. We know that a certain amount of Greek philosophy made its way into John, at least; the spirit of the age may have shaped more than is apparent at first glance. 

El Camino

I always thought these things were ridiculous, but they're enjoying a retrospective moment. Lots of songs have recently been written about them. It struck me as a very strange thing to valorize until I heard the introduction to this piece. "...but it was a Chevelle, and you could get it with an SS package and up to like a 450 horsepower, 454 engine, four speed transmission, Positraction rear end, all kinds of sway bars..."

OK, I can see how that could be cool.

Apparently she was persuaded as well. 

Enchiridion VII


As in a voyage, when the ship is at anchor, if you go on shore to get water, you may amuse yourself with picking up a shellfish or a truffle in your way, but your thoughts ought [20]to be bent toward the ship, and perpetually attentive, lest the captain should call, and then you must leave all these things, that you may not have to be carried on board the vessel, bound like a sheep; thus likewise in life, if, instead of a truffle or shellfish, such a thing as a wife or a child be granted you, there is no objection; but if the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things, and never look behind. But if you are old, never go far from the ship, lest you should be missing when called for.

This sounds strongly Biblical, but it is not; it may well, however, be religious

Epictetus is typically considered the most religious of the Roman Stoics.... Here we see why the Stoic conception of Nature, derived from the study of physics and theology, is essential to understanding this holistic philosophical system. Both oikeiosis and theology fall under the topic of physics in Stoicism. Thus, whether the Stoics began with oikeiosis or theology, they grounded their ethical theory in physics—the study of nature.

...the Stoic divinity is immanent. As such, a fragment of the same logos that providentially orders the cosmos resides in us as our guiding principle (hegemonikon).

There is thus perhaps something similar in the imagery of the Captain calling you back to the ship as in Matthew's warning to always be ready for the call to judgment; there may even be something similar in the concept of being ready to leave your wife and child at call and Jesus' suggestion that you should be ready to abandon your father and family to follow him. The logos that orders the world is the touchstone of similarity here; the difference is in the conception of how that logos is expressed in the cosmos.

I think I would say that Epictetus' conception of the Captain is one of moral duty, which must be obeyed by the Stoic because it is his business. It is, indeed, his whole proper business to do the right thing, the virtuous thing, according to his rational understanding of what the right thing is. In this, too, he prefigures Kant's arguments. Perhaps, indeed, his version is better. 

On Aerosols

I wouldn’t link this if it was just another COVID piece, but it’s got a lot more going for it. There are lessons from scholars of the 1930s and 40s that were lost, from the beginning of germ warfare and the efforts to protect the lungs of miners. Much that we once knew might have helped, but some ideas become unpopular and are thus dismissed— even in hard scientific fields. 

Enchiridion VI


Be not elated at any excellence not your own. If a horse should be elated, and say, “I am handsome,” it might be endurable. But when you are elated and say, “I have a handsome horse,” know that you are elated only on the merit of the horse. What then is your own? The use of the phenomena of existence. So that when you are in harmony with nature in this respect, you will be elated with some reason; for you will be elated at some good of your own.

Eventually the first principle invoked there is going to encompass things like 'being hansdome' as well. It might be endurable for your horse to glory in being handsome because he is an irrational beast, but you ought not to do so:  you didn't earn it. 

Here the argument is that you should only be elated about internal accomplishments. For example, perhaps you successfully did a hard and virtuous thing instead of the pleasant thing you'd have rather done. That is something to feel good about, an honest accomplishment. Feeling good because you happen to have a pretty face -- which is only a semblance, after all -- is a mistake. That doesn't belong to you properly because it is not an accomplishment of your own.

Later we will find that this extends to not feeling bad about losing the things you didn't earn. Age robs many of beauty, and this is a source of great consternation to many. Epictetus is going to argue that they should not think it so; fate gave them beauty, not their own actions. Just as they have no cause to glory in what they did not earn neither should they mourn for having a thing they never earned taken away. 

Whereas no one can take away your proper pride in a just and virtuous action. This is a point that Aristotle also makes in his writings on the capstone virtue of magnanimity (called 'pride' in that translation, but it is properly the quality of having a 'great soul'). The magnanimous man does what is right because it is worthy of honor, but he does not care if people of little honor praise him or condemn him. Should they condemn him, he knows internally that he has done the honorable thing; their attempt to pile dishonor on him does not attach to his own sense of honor, as he knows it is unjust. "The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on." 

The narrative drifts

It's the End Times: Even in the New Yorker, Americans are now permitted to express the former heresy that pandemic measures have both costs and benefits that must be weighed together, that panicked over-reaction itself has costs, and that data do not always yield simple answers.


HRT 1, mysterious figure 0.  We may never know what motivated this young man with a "British" accent that some might characterize as Middle Eastern to take four hostages during a Shabbat service and demand the release of a notorious Al Quaeda operative, but he has achieved stable ambient temperature.  No hostages or law enforcement officers were injured.

I was just listening to a thriller on tape last night about jihadists taking hostages in the White House.  It's nice to root for the rescuers in real life.

Enchiridion V


Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is nothing terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible. When, therefore, we are hindered or disturbed, or grieved, let us never impute it to others, but to ourselves—that is, to our own views. It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortunes; of one entering upon instruction, to reproach himself; and one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others nor himself.

This is an excellent section, challenging and complex in just a few words. There is a great deal to wrestle with here.  


We're getting a bit of snow up here in the mountains overnight. I may or may not be around for a bit depending on how that goes. We've got chainsaws and chains on the truck, chains on the firetrucks, plenty of firewood and water. We're as ready as I know how to make us for it, so hopefully it will merely be a beautiful and pleasant interlude.