December 22, 2016

"Much of Epictetus’ advice is about not getting angry at slaves. At first, I thought I could skip those parts."

"But I soon realized that I had the same self-recriminatory and illogical thoughts in my interactions with small-business owners and service professionals. When a cabdriver lied about a route, or a shopkeeper shortchanged me, I felt that it was my fault, for speaking Turkish with an accent, or for being part of an Ă©lite. And, if I pretended not to notice these slights, wasn’t I proving that I really was a disengaged, privileged oppressor? Epictetus shook me from these thoughts with this simple exercise: 'Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: "For such a small price, I buy tranquillity."'"

From "How to Be a Stoic/Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons," by Elif Batuman in The New Yorker).

What is she saying? I'm reading that to mean that what she learned from Epictetus is that she doesn't have to berate herself for being aloof when she pretends not to notice when people cheat her. She can think well of herself — a stoic, buying tranquillity* on the cheap. If you're going to let people get away with cheating, you might as well figure out how not to compound the injury by hating on yourself. By the way, Epictetus was a slave.
__________

* Double "L" noted. See previous post on doubling the "L" in "counsellor" and "worshipping."

39 comments:

Mike Sylwester said...

If she has a boyfriend in San Francisco and is a staff writer for The New Yorker, then why is she living in Turkey and studying Epictetus?

Mike Sylwester said...

Her boyfriend in San Francisco needs to find a new girlfriend.

Oso Negro said...

I spend quite a bit of time in other countries. In some of them, including Turkey, it is commonplace to cheat people who appear to be of some means. For example, if you take a taxi from the airport in Odessa, Ukraine to the city center, the price for a foreigner will be 1000 uah. If you can call a local cab for yourself it will be less than 100. So as the intended mark of this you have choices - do I pay the ridiculous rate? do I wave off the cheater? do I tell him to fuck off? It does get tiresome, and I assume that she felt bad for not being more assertive. Whereas I have come to enjoy scamming the scammers (I spoofed a carpet salesman posing as a friendly local at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul by telling him I didn't care about the mosque, I wanted to find a carpet salesman), I think she just felt bad about how she handled it. So, thanks, Epictetus!

tcrosse said...

This is the long form of Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer, for those who don't go to meetings:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

Michael K said...

The same phenomenon occurs in Paris. The taxi fare can vary according to which hotel you request as destination.

The best way is to reserve a car before you arrive.

Barry Jacobs said...

Is there an "l" to double in "worshipping?"

Mrs. X said...

I didn't read the linked article but it reminded me of this scene from Annie Hall:

ALVY'S FATHER
You fired the cleaning woman?

ALVY'S MOTHER
She was stealing.

ALVY'S FATHER
But she's colored.

ALVY'S MOTHER
SO?

ALVY'S FATHER
So the colored have enough trouble.

ALVY'S MOTHER
She was going through my pocketbook!

ALVY'S FATHER
They're persecuted enough!

ALVY'S MOTHER
Who's persecuting? She stole!

ALVY'S FATHER
All right-so we can afford it.

ALVY'S MOTHER
How can we afford it? On your pay?
What if she steals more?

ALVY'S FATHER
She's a colored woman, from Harlem!
She has no money! She's got a right
to steal from us! After all, who is
she gonna steal from if not us?

(Sorry for the un-pc language. Faithfully reproduced from the original via IMDB.)

Sean Gleeson said...

You're not going to comment on the author's incorrect possessive form of the name Epictetus?

"Epictetus' advice"? As if there are two or more guys named Epictetu, and they are collectively counselling us?

It's not even the house style at The New Yorker for names ending in s. (Cf: "Jones’s smile faded.") It's just an error.

Peter said...

It does seem strange that a sort of "Stoicism lite" is becoming trendy, by selectively applying its principles to some of the minor pains and nuisances of life whereas it seems better suited to deal with more heavy-duty issues.

Which proves what? That anything can be trendy (at least for a short time)?

Greg Hlatky said...

An example of Stoicism is the Democrats' response to the election results.

Fernandinande said...

"How to Be a Stoic/...Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons,"

Goofy Tom Wolfe wrote a novel about a guy whose parking ticket turned into a prison sentence and he got solace from an accidentally obtained book by an old "stoic" philosopher. The End.

mikee said...

Stoics are all well and good until a few of them arrive at your office Christmas party and suddenly nobody is having a good time.

Give me hedonists at the Christmas party, every time, especially if the secretaries are allowed to drink for free. Then watch out for broken photocopiers.

rhhardin said...

Greek names get the s' treatment with no added s.

rhhardin said...

Speaking of stoic, no hardly ever hear of "clear and add" anymore.

robother said...

So, those homeless Gguys on the corner could tap into a new cool hipster stoic market by penning a cardboard sign:
"Tranquillity for Sale!"

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

The law of diminishing returns comes to mind.

mockturtle said...

I wonder if Epictetus recognized how fine is the line between stoicism and apathy. While apathy can bring tranquility, it doesn't bring much joy.

traditionalguy said...

The only discipline is perfect discipline. It actually gives respect to the one disciplined. The Stoic guy overlooking bad conduct is a Patrician who affirms their status as his slaves.

Michael said...

James Stockdale was sustained by Epictetus during his captivity by the Cong. He studied the philosopher at Stanford before the war and memorized enough passages from the Enchiridion to give him the strength to survive, even as he parachuted into the hands of the enemy and prolonged imprisonment. Stockdale was the laughing stock of the left both because of his war record, his association as the VP candidate with Ross Perot.

There is no fine line between stoicism and apathy. The stoics embraced life and believed virtue far superior to "joy"

Mac McConnell said...

Mrs. X well done, you beat me to it.

Rocketeer said...

I wonder if Epictetus recognized how fine is the line between stoicism and apathy.

The line is really not fine at all, at least for "big S" Stoicism. If you mean for "small S" dictionary definition 1 stoicism, then I suppose you may arguably be right.

Birkel said...

There are no Ls in worshipping.

buwaya puti said...

Ditto rec for Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full".
Its actually quite a substantial take on Stoicism, from many angles.

Fernandinande said...

buwaya puti said...
Ditto rec for Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full".


Yeah, that was it - I looked up a synopsis and, besides forgetting the title, I'd forgotten the entire book except the parts about Conrad Hensley, the imprisoned stoic.

I'd read it again, but I have to boycott Wolfe because of his recent, surprisingly dishonest and libelous book about language and evolution made it impossible to enjoy his writing.

Quaestor said...

The stoics embraced life and believed virtue far superior to "joy".

One cannot summon joy. One cannot choose to be happy. Joy comes from without, or it may be just be hominid biology. Whatever is the case, joy is not a product of the will. Joy should always be suspect, as the darkest evil is done in ecstasy.

This is why virtue is superior.

Michael said...

Quaestor

Indeed.

traditionalguy said...

FTR: Christmas is a special time for a Stoic Revival. The Stoic Roman writers were literally wiped out by the Christian Sect's preachers of a message of a born again source of Righteousness, Peace and Joy from hearing and believing the Word of God about his Son.

But faith in self control is still admirable as Masochism

mockturtle said...

Faith in self-control or, as the Apostle Paul calls it, 'will worship' only leads to spiritual pride--possibly the gravest of sins other than unbelief.

Roughcoat said...

Stockdale was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. His captors were the North Vietnamese not the [Viet] Cong.

In what sense was Tom Wolfe's book dishonest and libelous? (I haven't read it.)

Christy said...

Back in the 80s Epictetus was a great comfort for me. But somehow I don't think I got the same out of it as she did. These days I guess I'm more naturally sanguine. Age certainly mellows the anger of youth. I enjoyed Man in Full but was slightly ashamed of the fact. Don't remember why.

Michael said...

traditionalguy

The early Christians embraced the writings of Seneca, a stoic.

wildswan said...

A real stoic wouldn't despair but she also wouldn't rejoice. For the good bits of life be an epicurean; for the bad bits a stoic.

wildswan said...

A real stoic wouldn't despair but she also wouldn't rejoice. For the good bits of life be an epicurean; for the bad bits a stoic.

Jonathan Graehl said...

thank you for once again bringing to our attention something that doesn't make much sense
<3 :)

Jonathan Graehl said...

definitely gender appropriation

stoicism is for men.

Michael McNeil said...

The legal and moral principle that “All men are equal” originated not with Christianity, as often supposed, but from Stoicism-steeped ancient Roman jurists.

EMyrt said...

Peter said...

It does seem strange that a sort of "Stoicism lite" is becoming trendy, by selectively applying its principles to some of the minor pains and nuisances of life whereas it seems better suited to deal with more heavy-duty issues.

Which proves what? That anything can be trendy (at least for a short time)?

Hell, I'd be thrilled if it caused the hipsters to replace all those stupid Che t-shirts with Marcus Aurelius (I had a cat named Marcus Aurelius. He was an orange Maine Coon and the smartest cat I've ever met).

William said...

I have trouble with pain, cold, hunger, and the intermediate states leading to those conditions. I binge watch really boring tv shows. Stoicism is something you have to practice to get good at. Once I've mastered boredom, I'll go on to the other conditions. Some days I skip my afternoon nap to practice stoicism in the face of fatigue.

HT said...

It's not even the house style at The New Yorker for names ending in s. (Cf: "Jones’s smile faded.") It's just an error.

I'm not sure if this is correct, but I have heard if a proper noun ends in s and is over two syllables you do it the way she did it in this article.

(Interesting to note: It's for goodness' sake, not for goodness's sake.)