Enchiridion XXXIII

Begin by prescribing to yourself some character and demeanor, such as you may preserve both alone and in company.

Be mostly silent, or speak merely what is needful, and in few words. We may, however, enter sparingly into discourse sometimes, when occasion calls for it; but let it not run on any of the common subjects, as gladiators, or horse races, or athletic champions, or food, or drink—the vulgar topics of conversation—and especially not on men, so as either to blame, or praise, or make comparisons. If you are able, then, by your own conversation, bring over that of your company to proper subjects; but if you happen to find yourself among strangers, be silent.

Let not your laughter be loud, frequent, or abundant.

Avoid taking oaths, if possible, altogether; at any rate, so far as you are able.

Avoid public and vulgar entertainments; but if ever an occasion calls you to them, keep your attention upon the stretch, that you may not imperceptibly slide into vulgarity. For be assured that if a person be ever so pure himself, yet, if his companion be corrupted, he who converses with him will be corrupted likewise.

Provide things relating to the body no further than absolute need requires, as meat, drink, clothing, house, retinue. But cut off everything that looks toward show and luxury.

Before marriage guard yourself with all your ability from unlawful intercourse with women; yet be not uncharitable or severe to those who are led into this, nor boast frequently that you yourself do otherwise.

If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

It is not necessary for you to appear often at public spectacles; but if ever there is a proper occasion for you to be there, do not appear more solicitous for any other than for yourself—that is, wish things to be only just as they are, and only the best man to win; for thus nothing will go against you. But abstain entirely from acclamations and derision and violent emotions. And when you come away, do not discourse a great deal on what has passed and what contributes nothing to your own amendment. For it would appear by such discourse that you were dazzled by the show.

Be not prompt or ready to attend private recitations; but if you do attend, preserve your gravity and dignity, and yet avoid making yourself disagreeable.

When you are going to confer with anyone, and especially with one who seems your superior, represent to yourself how Socrates or Zeno* would behave in such a case, and you will not be at a loss to meet properly whatever may occur.

When you are going before anyone in power, fancy to yourself that you may not find him at home, that you may be shut out, that the doors may not be opened to you, that he may not notice you. If, with all this, it be your duty to go, bear what happens and never say to yourself, “It was not worth so much”; for this is vulgar, and like a man bewildered by externals.

In company, avoid a frequent and excessive mention of your own actions and dangers. For however agreeable it may be to yourself to allude to the risks you have run, it is not equally agreeable to others to hear your adventures. Avoid likewise an endeavor to excite laughter, for this may readily slide you into vulgarity, and, besides, may be apt to lower you in the esteem of your acquaintance. Approaches to indecent discourse are likewise dangerous. Therefore, when anything of this sort happens, use the first fit opportunity to rebuke him who makes advances that way, or, at least, by silence and blushing and a serious look show yourself to be displeased by such talk.
These are interesting maxims, as nearly all pertain to semblances and how to relate to them. In a way this doesn't seem like the proper business of a Stoic; on the other hand, you can imagine Epictetus saying "one must do something from day to day during ordinary activities, so here's some guidelines." 

They remind me of the opening verses of the Havamal, and indeed much of the advice is the same: advice to tend towards silence in company, advice to be moderate at gatherings and feasts, advice to think about how others will receive your boasting and, therefore, to avoid it.
For the unwise man 'tis best to be mute
when he come amid the crowd,
for none is aware of his lack of wit
if he wastes not too many words;
for he who lacks wit shall never learn
though his words flow ne'er so fast.
The advice about how to respond to insult is hard to keep today, for the habit of so many is to go to the worst insults possible right off the bat. It would be a bold man who responded to accusations that one is a racist Nazi white-supremacist sexist misogynist fascist by saying, "Well, but what about my other faults?" Yet something like that might be more effective than either denial -- which is pointless, because it will not be believed and anyway the accusations are obviously false -- or apology, the latter of which is never accepted and instead taken to be proof of your deserving punishment. 

* The note at the original says this is probably Zeno of Cyprus, the founder of the Stoic school, and not the Zeno you know from earlier commentaries. 

Enchiridion XXXII


When you have recourse to divination, remember that you know not what the event will be, and you come to learn it of the diviner; but of what nature it is you knew before coming; at least, if you are of philosophic mind. For if it is among the things not within our own power, it can by no means be either good or evil. Do not, therefore, bring with you to the diviner either desire or aversion—else you will approach him trembling—but first clearly understand that every event is indifferent and nothing to you, of whatever sort it may be; for it will be in your power to make a right use of it, and this no one can hinder. Then come with confidence to the gods as your counselors; and afterwards, when any counsel is given you, remember what counselors you have assumed, and whose advice you will neglect if you disobey. Come to divination as Socrates prescribed, in cases of which the whole consideration relates to the event, and in which no opportunities are afforded by reason or any other art to discover the matter in view. When, therefore, it is our duty to share the danger of a friend or of our country, we ought not to consult the oracle as to whether we shall share it with them or not. For though the diviner should forewarn you that the auspices are unfavorable, this means no more than that either death or mutilation or exile is portended. But we have reason within us; and it directs us, even with these hazards, to stand by our friend and our country. Attend, therefore, to the greater diviner, the Pythian God, who once cast out of the temple him who neglected to save his friend.

Divination has fallen out of favor in the West since Epictetus' day, although of late there is an interest in things like Tarot cards and whatnot. What the Romans and Greeks thought they were doing was seeking counsel from the divine. It was at this time considered a perfectly decent thing to do, to try to consult the divine beings through their appointed oracles.

Socrates got himself killed doing this, as Epictetus invites us to remember by invoking him. The Oracle of Delphi told him that he was the wisest among Athenians; and he (claimed, at least that he) did not believe it. So he went about questioning those who called themselves wise, and showing that they were not wise in fact. He, at least, knew that he knew nothing: and therefore he was wiser than they, who thought they knew something they did not in fact know. 

Once again I have highlighted what I take to be the most important part for our purposes. Whatever happens, you can make the right use of it -- the best use, by doing the right thing in the face of whatever it is. No one can stop you from doing that. As long as you always do the right thing in the face of whatever comes before you, in a sense it hardly matters what does come before you. That is the sense in which "every event is indifferent and nothing to you." Events arise, and perish: duty is done in the face of each and if done, that is enough.

Prayers for Truckers

Tonight the claim is that 'all measures are on the table,' as convoys appear in France, Australia, and New Zealand as well. 
Yesterday, [Ontario Premier] Ford’s government froze nearly $11 million of their money.

Today, Ford declared a state of emergency and said anyone blockading border crossings or Ottawa streets could be hit with a $100,000 fine or a year in jail.

People have been living with governments enacting a steady stream of unconstitutional edicts with no parliamentary oversight and little political opposition, so I’m not sure “state of emergency” feels like much of a departure from what’s become the new normal.

It’s this descent into the permanent emergency that has galvanized the trucker convoy in the first place.
That's why they can't afford to lose -- and neither can we. Support your local outlaws.

A Thoroughly Pleasant Interlude

 A glass of wine and Tatiana Eva-Marie singing

And another, in French


A retired Marine officer has wise words that will, sadly, not be heeded. 

Enchiridion XXXI


Be assured that the essence of piety toward the gods lies in this—to form right opinions concerning them, as existing and as governing the universe justly and well. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them amidst all events, as being ruled by the most perfect wisdom. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be affected in any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things which are not within our own power, and by making good or evil to consist only in those which are. For if you suppose any other things to be either good or evil, it is inevitable that, when you are disappointed of what you wish or incur what you would avoid, you should reproach and blame their authors. For every creature is naturally formed to flee and abhor things that appear hurtful and that which causes them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial and that which causes them. It is impracticable, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should rejoice in the person who, as he thinks, hurts him, just as it is impossible to rejoice in the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by his son when he does not impart the things which seem to be good; and this made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies—that empire seemed good to both. On this account the husbandman reviles the gods; [and so do] the sailor, the merchant, or those who have lost wife or child. For where our interest is, there, too, is piety directed. So that whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought is thus made careful of piety likewise. But it also becomes incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, according to the customs of his country, purely, and not heedlessly nor negligently; not avariciously, nor yet extravagantly.

I think the bolded word is more properly "effected." The Perseus Project translation agrees with me.

I have italicized what I think is the hinge of this chapter. Confer with Aristotle's dictum that 'The Good is what all things desire.' This becomes important, in a different way, for Aquinas. For Aristotle, it is obvious that all things desire to continue to exist, to perfect their existence, and to extend it (as through reproduction). The good of a thing, say a dog, is that which allows that thing to flourish: food, shelter, a relationship with a kind master, a chance to breed. 

The good per se is thus, as Aquinas notes, existence; but not, he warns, the kind of existence that we things have. It is existence in the divine sense, which is everlasting and eternal and incapable of eradication: a kind of good to which our souls aspire, but which we cannot have without yielding up our own natural good. Yet in coming to know the divine, as much as we can, we realize that God is truly good in a way that no earthly thing is. The nature of his existence proves that his goodness is truer than ours: Good itself.

In Epictetus dictum is complicated by the possibility of error: beings desire (and thus pursue and admire) that which causes them to flourish, or appears to; and they "flee and abhor" those things that harm them, or that appear to do. Yet, he says, we can fall into error if we mistake good and evil: if we take it to be human existence, as he notes, the man who loses a wife or a child may come to flee and abhor the gods who are presumably in charge of fateful events such as that. The danger of falling into impiety, of hating the gods instead of loving them, lies in failing to see the philosophical truth about what is truly good and, therefore, evil.

Now re-read Enchiridion XXVII. Aquinas' view is not Epictetus', who is centuries too early. His view of what the true good for humans is, and is not, is laid out there. The gods built the good for us into the world, and we should never doubt it -- nor should we doubt them and their goodness, either, because they built us a world in which the human good is both available and attainable. Mistaking the random acts of fate for evil is an error; just as, for Aquinas, it will prove to be an error to mistake human survival for the true good, the latter being a kind of existence that we do not have naturally but might obtain through divine grace. For Aquinas too the good is available and attainable, and via a divine action that made it so: but it is a different conception of the good.

Hamburger Misogyny

See how long you can listen to this without laughter. I made it to “girls and women.” But don’t worry. If that doesn’t get you, there’s more! 

The whole room breaks out in laughter at one point. 

Boots Not Made for Walking

A top nuclear DOE official the Biden administration has hired has an interesting choice of footwear.
Sam has worn his stilettos to Congress to advise legislators about nuclear policy and to the White House where he advised President Obama and Michelle Obama on LGBT issues. He shows young men and women everywhere he goes that they can be who they are and gives them courage. Once, while he was walking around Disney World in 6 inch stilettos with his boyfriend, a young gay boy saw Sam with his boyfriend and started crying. He told his mother, ‘”t’s true, Mom. WE can be our own princess here.”
I shouldn't talk. I've worn both cowboy boots and combat boots to the White House campus, though in my case it was just the Old Executive Building / Eisenhower Building to meet with the NSC. Sometimes you just need to go with what feels most comfortable on your feet.

He has identified the contradiction

The title of this Intelligencer piece is "Pro-worker conservatives are just union-busters in disguise," though what the article itself is saying is closer to "Conservatives are appealing to workers more and more, even though we believe the workers are mistaken about their own best interests." A conservative worker might put it a different way and say "Pro-union progressives are just union-boss-lovers in disguise, and will drop the actual workers in the ditch without a second thought."

"The Republican Party," the author complains, "has an interest in spotlighting the political divides between culturally conservative workers and progressive union officials."  As usual, the leftist spin is not that union officials are ignoring the preferences of the members whose dues buy their country houses, but that Republicans have pounced on a weakness and engaged in their usual divisive tactics, using a wedge issue to show union members that they have a good reason to resent the use of their dues to support a party whose platform they abhor.

The author complains further that "Republicans do not need to advance working-class interests in order to gain working-class vote share."  Now, why might that be?  Because workers have an idea what they want out of a political system, and the Democratic party platform ain't it?  Are we really supposed to believe it's unfair that Republicans can get workers to vote for them because they have outperformed Democrats in identifying what the workers want?

Enchiridion XXX


Duties are universally measured by relations. Is a certain man your father? In this are implied taking care of him, submitting to him in all things, patiently receiving his reproaches, his correction. But he is a bad father. Is your natural tie, then, to a good father? No, but to a father. Is a brother unjust? Well, preserve your own just relation toward him. Consider not what he does, but what you are to do to keep your own will in a state conformable to nature, for another cannot hurt you unless you please. You will then be hurt when you consent to be hurt. In this manner, therefore, if you accustom yourself to contemplate the relations of neighbor, citizen, commander, you can deduce from each the corresponding duties.

That very first premise is widely challenged by contemporary philosophy, which wants to consider duties as universal in character. Rawls, famously, argued that we should imagine (because we cannot actually do it) devising the moral rules in a 'veil of ignorance,' behind which we should know nothing about our actual circumstances. Some who consider themselves Kantian thinkers argue that Kant's dictum that you can only act properly under a maxim that could be expressed as a universal moral law requires treating all people exactly equally -- but Kant, of course, would never have accepted that you ought not to pay special attention to your father. Kant's actual moral vision was highly conservative, once he got around to spelling it out in the Metaphysics of Morals. It's only people who stop with the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals -- which is far more popular, being both shorter and more theoretical -- who can imagine he would have endorsed any such thing.

Epictetus says something that would have been morally obvious to everyone in his age, and in every earlier age, and almost every subsequent age. That it has become controversial points to the weakness of our own.

This view of duty expands outwards in accordance with the relations we bear to each other. I owe duties to my family that I do not to others; to my neighbors that I do not to others; to my fellow citizens that I do not to others. (This too is now highly controversial among the Managers, who would have us bear duties to the entire world while washing citizenship of any meaning: disloyalty to the demos from those who describe themselves as democrats.) Doing your duty in each of your relations satisfies your duties to the semblances you encounter of the things outside. 

In fact, though, you have only done your duty to yourself. You have behaved as one ought to do, given what you think you know your relations and duties to be. In that way you have lived with honor, and thus can rest in honor. The injustice the semblances may produce is their own concern: you know you have done right, and are satisfied.

A Legal Dispute

Julie Kelly hits upon an interesting fact: the Justice Department has been lying in its indictments about the whereabouts of two people, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. I don't think she's right about the legal argument she's advancing, but it is interesting that the government apparently refuses to tell the court the truth here as elsewhere. If this conduct was so bad -- Cocaine Mitch himself called it an "insurrection" just this week -- surely just laying out the plain facts would do? 

Confront Your Skin

 NPR worries about your choice of emojis, and wants you to worry too.

Woke Oppressors

REI is having a dispute about whether to unionize. The leadership decided to hold a podcast to talk about it.

Wilma Wallace:

Hi REI. My name is Wilma Wallace and I serve as your Chief Diversity and Social Impact Officer. I use she/her pronouns and am speaking to you today from the traditional lands of the Ohlone people.

So I'm here chatting with Eric Artz who serves the co-op and all of us as CEO....

So just to recap for the audience on Friday January 21st we were notified by the National Labor Relations Board that the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union filed a petition for an election at our SoHo store in New York. And since then I'm sure you've heard from lots of employees across the co-op. Maybe we can start by you sharing some of what you've heard.

Eric Artz:

Well thank you Wilma. Thanks for hosting and hello to everyone that is listening. For those of you who I have not had the chance to meet, I use he/him pronouns and I'm speaking to you today from the traditional lands of the Coast Salish peoples.

Spoiler: they are not in favor of allowing their workers to unionize. 

The atmosphere did it

It was the atmosphere that prompted the shooting!--I didn't say the people who created the atmosphere "caused" the shooting, so I didn't commit libel. From John Sexton, one of the better contributors at HotAir:
If accusing Palin (or her PAC) of clear incitement to mass murder when in fact there is no such connection at all doesn’t constitute reckless disregard for the truth, what could possibly qualify? In a way, even Bennet’s own argument supports this. Saying he was too rushed to do a proper job of it is just a way of justifying his own reckless behavior, i.e. if he’d only had more time, he’d have looked into the truth of what he was writing. The jury may decide the law protects the Times even in this case but if so then it’s hard to see how why “reckless disregard” was included in the law at all.

Lowdown Freedom

Trucker convoy has "weaponized freedom" to "undermine democracy." The preservation of the freedom of ordinary common folk was the whole point of the latter as I had always understood it. Canada doesn't have our Declaration of Independence, with its philosophical justification for government; but what really is the point of democracy if it isn't to protect the rights of common people? 

Common people will have common faults, and their common sense will just mean embracing the kinds of things that make sense to common folk. It's only those kinds of things any government can do whose legitimacy is broad-based, for the common people are by far the most of them. Democracy was never meant to be for the great and the good; that's aristocracy, which has its own faults. They are worse faults: the Arabs say, "The mistake of the wise man is equal to the mistakes of a thousand fools."

So they'll drink too much, and some of them will cheat on their spouse; they'll have some prejudice, sometimes, against the people who are different. But they won't leave thousands of American citizens stranded in Afghanistan, or sell the place and all its ancient liberties to a totalitarian China. They won't murder millions like Mao did to try to make some titanic change. I'm not one of them, but I'll ride with them. My loyalty is always to them: as decent as they can be, as free as they can be. May God keep them -- He must love them, having made so many -- and may God defend the right. 

Enchiridion XXIX


In every affair consider what precedes and what follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit, indeed, careless of the consequences, and when these are developed, you will shamefully desist. “I would conquer at the Olympic Games.” But consider what precedes and what follows, and then, if it be for your advantage, engage in the affair. You must conform to rules, submit to a diet, refrain from dainties; exercise your body, whether you choose it or not, at a stated hour, in heat and cold; you must drink no cold water, and sometimes no wine—in a word, you must give yourself up to your trainer as to a physician. Then, in the combat, you may be thrown into a ditch, dislocate your arm, turn your ankle, swallow an abundance of dust, receive stripes [for negligence], and, after all, lose the victory. When you have reckoned up all this, if your inclination still holds, set about the combat. Otherwise, take notice, you will behave like children who sometimes play wrestlers, sometimes gladiators, sometimes blow a trumpet, and sometimes act a tragedy, when they happen to have seen and admired these shows. Thus you too will be at one time a wrestler, and another a gladiator; now a philosopher, now an orator; but nothing in earnest. Like an ape you mimic all you see, and one thing after another is sure to please you, but is out of favor as soon as it becomes familiar. For you have never entered upon anything considerately; nor after having surveyed and tested the whole matter, but carelessly, and with a halfway zeal. Thus some, when they have seen a philosopher and heard a man speaking like Euphrates—though, indeed, who can speak like him?—have a mind to be philosophers, too. Consider first, man, what the matter is, and what your own nature is able to bear. If you would be a wrestler, consider your shoulders, your back, your thighs; for different persons are made for different things. Do you think that you can act as you do and be a philosopher, that you can eat, drink, be angry, be discontented, as you are now? You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites, must quit your acquaintances, be despised by your servant, be laughed at by those you meet; come off worse than others in everything—in offices, in honors, before tribunals. When you have fully considered all these things, approach, if you please—that is, if, by parting with them, you have a mind to purchase serenity, freedom, and tranquility. If not, do not come hither; do not, like children, be now a philosopher, then a publican, then an orator, and then one of Caesar’s officers. These things are not consistent. You must be one man, either good or bad. You must cultivate either your own reason or else externals; apply yourself either to things within or without you—that is, be either a philosopher or one of the mob.

I didn't say anything about the last chapter because I think it's self-explanatory. That doesn't mean I don't think it's important.

This chapter, as the note at the original mentions, is almost the same as a parallel part of the Discourses, where  arguments and discussions are laid out in fuller form.  Since it is in its fuller form, I will also leave it be save to answer questions you may have.

Enchiridion XXVIII


If a person had delivered up your body to some passer-by, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in delivering up your own mind to any reviler, to be disconcerted and confounded?

Enchiridion XXVII


As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.

This mysterious line is of immense importance. A single sentence, this lays out the conclusion to an argument whose premises are unstated. The argument is a proof, whose consequence is a view of the problem of evil similar to that adopted by St. Augustine.* 

As noted before, the Enchiridion records only the summary conclusions of the Stoic school that Epictetus founded, and not the underlying arguments. Lacking the unstated premises, the proof's force and its consequences may not be obvious. 

So here is a reconstruction of how the unstated premises might be stated:

1) All things come to be because they order themselves by their own nature, or because they are put into a particular order by someone or something else. (Aristotle Physics 1)
1a) An example of the first is living beings, which grow into what they are because of internal processes like digestion that let them turn other parts of the world into material for their own order. A child grows into an adult because it is realizing its own internal natural principles of order.
1b) Examples of the second include artifacts, which are made by someone else; and accidental features of nature like weathered riverbeds or seashores. They become what they are because of an external activity.

2) Things like human beings that are internally ordered have a nature; the reason a dog grows into a dog and a man into a man is that their natures differ.

3) Determining the good for a things requires looking at its nature, then; dogs can profit from eating different things than men, for example.

4) Human nature differs from dogs, other lower animals, and plants in that it has an additional capacity for reason that allows it to obtain fuller goods than irrational natural drives.

5) Human nature's highest good is eudaimonia, a flourishing that comes from ordering all your activities in accord with the reason that is the highest part of your nature. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1)

6) This ordering produces virtues (arete), which are excellences of capacity that allow you to pursue the highest good even more fully. 

7) Euidaimonia is reached when you exercise your arete in accord with your reason: thus, you can become happy by living the most virtuous life that is possible for yourself, which reason can tell you how to do.

8) Since this is the highest good for your nature (5), and your nature determines the good for the kind of being you are (3), attaining eudaimonia is the proper mark to aim at in your life.

9) Because the reason that is part of human nature (4) gives you the ability to hit this mark (7), nature can be said to contain a mark that is intended for you to hit and not miss.

Therefore, a mark exists in nature that is happiness and the highest good;

Marks do not exist to be missed, but to serve as targets to be hit. The mark does exist. Therefore nature is such that evil is not its intended end. Good is -- the highest good, and happiness, that comes from learning to hit the mark.

This leads to the solution of the problem of evil, which is that it is not the case that the gods have made an evil world, or a world in which evil is a necessary part. The gods have made a world in which good is the intended mark of nature: by pursuing your rational nature and developing your natural virtues, good and not evil is what you will obtain. Evil comes from people ignoring their reason, or their virtues.

What about random accidents, such as a rock falling upon your child? Those are events of type (1b), things that do not arise from one's own nature (what Kant will later call autonomy) but from outside forces that may be random chance (which Kant called heteronomy). They are not evil, no more than the carving of the river or seashore was evil. They are just the random workings of things that have no will of their own.

Therefore, the existence of the mark proves that the nature of evil is not part of the world. It is a failure by some of us to live up to the good -- to hit the mark that nature has provided. 

*(For St. Augustine, this is placed in the Christian context: God did not create a world with evil in it, nor that is evil by nature, nor in which evil is a necessary part. Gods will is perfectly good; but our free will allows us to fail to attain the goods that God made possible for us, or for others to harm us out of a failure of theirs to pursue the good that God would have wished them to pursue instead of what they chose. Evil is also then a human failing, or a collection of them, rather than a charge that can be laid at the feet of God -- as Job did not do, at least not at first.)

Just what it says on the tin

 The Virginia legislature's Black Caucus contains a lie right in its name.  It's the Black Leftist Caucus, and no black Republicans need apply.  Virginia's new black state representative aired the sad state of affairs on the floor of the House, saying:

Maybe I need to start my own caucus, the Virginia Non-Leftist Black Caucus. Right now it’ll be a caucus of one but that’s okay. As Thoreau said "Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already."