Stoicism is all the rage right now. It has been for the past couple of years.
I have no idea why.
Things largely seem a little ok in the world-
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: when this review was written there was currently no global pandemic. Please bear that in mind as you keep reading)
right now. And that is why Stoicism being all the rage is kind of weird for me. What burden are you carrying that needs all this fucking Stoicism? To pretty much steal the joke out of the mouth of George Carlin, its not like we are running out of iPhone apps any time soon. Everyone seems to need help with the struggle, and for the most part I am wondering what the struggle really is all about.
So, it is safe to say that I am not sure I get the appeal of books like this. And yet, all the rage they remain. I had this in mind when I read this book. Between Hobbes and Rousseu, I tend to fall into the belief that nature is absolutely awful and society buttresses us against all the horrific forces of nature. Right now we have a lot of society keeping us safe and comfortable, and life when the ancient stoic were working and writing, things were certainly significantly shorter, more brutish, and needing for people to maintain their strength during the constant barrage of hardships.
But this is addressed right on the subtitle of the book: “Using Ancient Philosophy To Live A Modern Life”. And there is the possibility that something like Stoic philosophy finds something of a usefulness precisely because of the strange imbalance of pros and cons that we have in modern times. Massimo Pigliucci shows us how stoic philosophy helps us bring our expectations in line with the reality of life as it is given to us via honest reflection of the world around us. It doesn’t matter so much that the world is better now than it was in the times of the Roman stoics, but only that we are fully cognizant of how the world actually is.
As with all other self-help books, I can ask a question of this that I cannot ask any other book; is this book successful? I have no idea. I tend to find all books in this genre unhelpful, but I am willing to concede that it may be a quirk of my own personality. I don’t think our minds / opinions / behaviors / etc are ever that easily changed or modified, and the reading of a book like this and the practice of the behaviors advocated for in a book such as this are two very different things. Much of what is said in this book seems like it would be pretty intuitive, and would even go without saying. And yet despite this books such as this do remain outrageously popular, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review. It does feel a little strange. But then again, I still find myself ruminating over things largely out of my control.