Stoicism and Virtue Signaling vs Vice Signaling

In this article, I specifically redefine “virtue signaling” to make a point.  I give “virtue signaling” a positive meaning since most people accused of “virtue signaling” are actually doing the right thing.

Often we hear people complain about others who virtue signal.  But what is virtue signaling?  Virtue signaling is usually a form of argumentation and rhetoric that defends the dignity or importance of classes of people, whether they are black, women, homosexuals, trans, and non-binary.  When you signal your virtues you’re calling people to the fact that you and they should care about these issues.  After all, virtue isn’t just something that should be important to one person, it should be important to everyone.

Vice signaling doesn’t tend to use logic or empirical claims but rather attacks virtue signalers merely on the basis that they’re virtue signalers.  In fact, vice signalers define virtue signaling as an attempt for person who virtue signals to score social points, pat themselves on the back, or do what’s in their self-interest.

Why call it “vice signaling”?  It’s vice signaling because by only attacking virtue signalers but not their arguments, they’re defying principles of logic based on wisdom.  Their entire strategy is illogical thus vicious.  It doesn’t add to the dialogue, it subtracts from the dialogue.  Vice signalers might have a point that some virtue signalers out there are just pretending to care but whether a virtue signaler pretends to care is besides the point.  The vice signaler still needs to address the virtue signalers arguments rather than attack the virtue signaler him/herself.

Vice signaling isn’t just a problem because the person is being illogical and thus vicious but their attitude even has negative consequences.  It derails discussion, it poisons the dialogue, it even harms women and minorities because it tries to silence them.

Musunious Rufus, Epictetus, Cato the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca were among many virtue signalers.  We don’t know their true intentions perfectly.  You know, maybe Epictetus really did virtue signal because he wanted to increase his social approval.  But we’ll never know.  We should be thinking about what we know about him, his arguments and what conclusions they were driving.

One of the saddest parts about vice signalers who are pretending to be Stoics in FB Stoic Groups is they often are angry/hateful and try to conceal this fact.  But they can’t seem to conceal it as hard as they try.  Vice signaler’s hatred/anger can explode in any minute but it usually releases a little pressure in the form of snide remarks, attacks on the person themselves, complaining about others not being Stoic enough, voicing their concerns about group members being Post-Modern Cultural Marxists, express disgust with political discussions relating to Stoicism, and responding to questions with questions rather than attempting to answer the initial questions in good faith.

One of the easiest ways I can spot a vice signaler is when I first post my “liberal and progressive” Stoic views on some topic and first comment is “No” without any explanation.  Often a vice signaler is the first person to react to my post with an angry face emoticon.  It’s not always the case but it tends to be the case.

I would like to say this about vice signalers though even though they may derail discussion with their snide remarks, it is best to try to help them see the light by discussing the issues with them without attacking their character.

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5 Reasons Stoicism is Better than Jordan B Peterson

Jordan Peterson is the psychology professor from the University of Toronto who has become something of a celebrity intellectual. Men’s Rights Activists and Alt Righters everywhere are absolutely happy to flock to this guy. He’s popular because he opposed a Canadian law that will supposedly destroy your career as a professor for not using gendered pronouns that go beyond two. Oddly, even though he’s opposed this law, his career is perfectly safe and he benefits greatly for his opposition to this law. Here are 5 Reasons Stoicism Is Greater than Him.

1. Jordan Peterson famously compared human beings to lobsters. As bizarre as this might sound it’s particularly pernicious. Jordan Peterson is saying that human beings have hierarchies like the lobster and that these hierarchies are not artificially created by global capitalism but just the natural order of things. Jordan Peterson is essentially saying that the terrible ways our system is is because we’re just designed that way and it’s not just that we’re designed that way but it’s good. So you should be happy being at the bottom. Stoicism just observes humans the way they are. There have been hierarchies throughout all time but they’re never exactly the same hierarchies. There used to be master-slave hierarchies, feudal hierarchies, and now we have capitalist hierarchies. Nothing is static. The Stoics knew the universe was change. The Stoics also believed everyone ultimately deserved equal status in the world of things. No one was a Sage, so everyone was in the same boat. No one was really any better than anyone else.

2. Jordan Peterson uses the theory of evolution in a way to justify his Jungian archetypal theory. Unfortunately he engages in evolutionary psychology, which most forms of it are pseudoscientific since we have no idea what were in the heads of our distant ancestors. It’s speculation at best, pseudoscience at worst. And Jordan Peterson should know better than to consider Carl Jung an important psychologist. Stoicism is always updating closely with the current science. Stoicism used techniques back in its ancient days that were a lot like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In fact, CBT owes quite a bit of its development to Stoicism, which is pretty much Stoic psychological techniques being tested in the lab.

3. Jordan Peterson may have won that interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News but he can’t win an argument against a Stoic. Why is that? A true Stoic is adept at logic and rhetoric and knows when someone is using rhetoric as opposed to logic. Jordan Peterson is an excellent rhetorician but if challenged by an actual professional philosopher or psychologist like Massimo Pigliucci or Donald Robertson, he’d have to eat his hat. The problem is Jordan Peterson is used to being interviewed by people who don’t have expertise. But how would he do with an expert in his same field or in his crossover field: philosophy?

4. Jordan Peterson Lobster Lobster Jordan Peterson. Stoicism doesn’t use lobsters to justify its philosophy. Any questions?

5. Finally, Jordan Peterson doesn’t calm down his rabid followers. Zeno of Citium is known for reprimanding his followers whenever they became too uncontrollable. Jordan Peterson seems to make a killing out off having a fervent crowd of young pissed off white males. Stoicism has no place for any amount of fervent followers, even if a few.

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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, 2nd Amendment, and Right to Bear Arms

In the United States, the 2nd Amendment is here to stay.  I couldn’t imagine anyone taking that amendment away any time soon.  In fact, it’s hard to to imagine the 2nd Amendment being infringed much either.

The 2nd Amendment reads,

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Legal scholars have spent a lot of time interpreting exactly what that amendment says and what the US Founding Father’s meant but it’s basically been interpreted to allow people to own firearms.

So how do modern Stoics deal with the issue?  I think wisdom would tell them that the 2nd Amendment is here to stay, unless unlikely repealed, and we have a Constitution to follow so we might as well as make the best of the right.

One could argue that Stoicism provides a framework for self-defense.  If a home invader tries to take your life (a preferred indifferent), as a matter of justice, you have a right to pull out your AR-15 Rifle and defend your life.  Police are a preferred indifferent but sometimes they take a while to get to your house which would be a total dispreferred indifferent.

One particular preferred indifferent is having a country free from government tyranny.  The US Federal Government will have a significant greater difficulty disarming people and seizing their property through Martial Law with the 2nd Amendment fully protected and not infringed.  Also, the United States would be harder to invade with a well armed citizenry.

The only issue with right to self-defense is it’s not applied fairly throughout the United States.  A modern Stoic might think it’s time that the government issues some kind of gun welfare system, where guns are given to impoverished communities at super low prices or for free.  Also, the black and hispanic community deserve to protect themselves just as much as the white community and many of our social attitudes have to change.  After all, everyone deserves a right to the preferred indifferents, security and life.

A modern Stoic would be free to consider what kind of sensible gun laws might need to be implemented to stop mass shootings.  One of the things they might consider is limitations on magazines and clip sizes.  We already have a ban on fully automatic weapons, so it might be prudent to ban bump stocks on semi-automatic rifles.  Also, criminal and mental background checks should be enforced.  Some consideration might also be given to the “gun show loophole.”  Also the Center for Disease Control needs to be able to study gun related deaths, so that we know how to better prevent unnecessary deaths from gun-related violence.

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Stoicism, Temperance, and the Role of the Paternalistic State

Libertarians often complain about the role of a paternalistic state, whether it’s seatbelt laws, limits on the size of soft drinks, higher taxes on beer and cigarettes, gun control, and many other laws the state will enforce to protect us.  Libertarians do have some reason to fear a protective state because some free choices will have to go.  But are free choices inviolable?

I can’t help wonder what the ancient Stoics might think.  Perhaps they would agree strongly with some protections and regulations on our behavior.  After all, they valued temperance for individuals, so why not temperance on a societal level?  This is all speculation but the ancient Greeks often liked to think of the self as a microcosm that reflected the larger macrocosm.  So maybe our own self-regulated behavior should reflect a self-regulating society.

In the name of the virtue of temperance we shouldn’t out-right ban everything.  We shouldn’t outright ban externals because that would be treating externals as bad.  Instead, maybe we should be lawfully limiting the extreme behavior with regard to externals.  For example,  we can drive cars fast but there has to be a speed limit that keeps vehicles from driving too fast.  We can drink caffeine but our drinks will have an upper limit of caffeine in them.  Heck, maybe all drugs could be legalized since drugs aren’t evil in themselves but they can be regulated and taxed more than other things that are preferred for our health and safety.

In the name of temperance, the amount of greed on Wallstreet would certainly need to be regulated.  Too much greed and concentration of wealth can’t be good for the health of the state.  We saw what Wallstreet speculation did to the economy during the housing and lending crisis of 2008.  Perhaps, this idea of a paternalistic state is beginning to sound more like Plato’s Republic than Zeno’s Republic.  But one must remember, Zeno’s Republic might’ve only been limited to the role of an anarchy for well-seasoned Stoics.  If people in your society are all Stoics, then there wouldn’t need to be courts, currency, and temples.  But in the case of a civilization made up of only an insignificant amount of Stoics, perhaps Stoic principles would need to be more lawfully enforced.  Also, Plato’s Republic was far far more authoritarian than what’s being proposed so far.

What’s more, laws are just a mean to keeping society self-regulated but individuals need to educated to be self-regulated as well.  After all, laws aren’t always there to keep ourselves in check.  So, we’d have a national curriculum applied to all our schools and universities to teach Stoic temperance from kindergarten to secondary school and beyond.  The schools would not only teach self-discipline but practical wisdom, justice, and courage.

In the Stoic state, there would be no outright prohibition on goods and services but there would be limits on excess.

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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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Stoicism: How Might It Inform Your Politics?

How might Stoicism inform your politics?  Well, Stoicism in a democracy would want you to vote for who seemed to be the most virtuous person.  But what kind of policy would Stoicism want you to endorse?  Sometimes I think the answer might be in the preferred indifferents: wealth, education, and health just to name a few.  How would these preferred indifferents matter to Stoic public policy?  Well, preferred indifferents are useful means for performing virtue, so a Stoic would want all society to excel in preferred indifferents.

So the Stoic would be for policies that help create wealth and redistribute wealth to people in need.  The Stoic would be for educating the public by supporting public education.  The Stoic would be for people’s health so they would support some kind of system of healthcare available for everyone from the very poor to the rich.

Security might be another preferred indifferent so the Stoic would certainly support a military specifically for the purposes for protecting the nation from external threats.  Also the Stoic would support funding of police to handle internal threats.

How would Stoicism handle monopolies and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few? I’d imagine Stoics would have a problem with it if it meant that the poor were being deprived of basic requirements for health, wealth, education, and security.  The Stoics would vote for policy that would break up monopolies and concentration of wealth if it turned into a zero sum game.

One particular preferred indifferent would be having a job.  Most people desire a job not just for monetary reasons but for psychological reasons since having a job really helps them feel like they’re doing something productive.  The Stoic would be for a policy to help create job growth and give people job security.  The Stoic would also support policy to ensure everyone had a minimum fair wage.

So these are just a few areas where I imagine Stoicism would inform your politics.  I’m curious to know all your thoughts and opinions.

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The Stoics and Their Utopian Vision

The Stoics were realists.  They stressed the importance of living in the here and now and judging our impressions as objectively as we can.  Judging impressions objectively means that anything we perceive, we should perceive neither as bad nor good but indifferent.  Despite their realism, they did dream and hope for things to be a certain way.  The Stoics just knew better than to be attached to their wishes and hopes.  Zeno of Citium had an ideal Stoic Republic in mind.  Diogenes Laertius described Zeno’s Republic:

Some, indeed, among whom is Cassius the Skeptic, attack Zeno on many accounts, saying first of all that he denounced the general system of education in vogue at the time, as useless, which he did in the beginning of his Republic. And in the second place, that he used to call all who were not virtuous, adversaries, and enemies, and slaves, and unfriendly to one another, parents to their children, brethren to brethren. and kinsmen to kinsmen; and again, that in his Republic, he speaks of the virtuous as the only citizens, and friends, and relations, and free men, so that in the doctrine of the Stoic, even parents and their children are enemies; for they are not wise. Also, that he lays down the principle of the community of women in his Republic, and … teaches that neither temples nor courts of law, nor gymnasia, ought to be erected in a city; moreover, that he writes thus about money: that he does not think that people ought to coin money either for purposes of trade, or of travelling. Besides all this, he enjoins men and women to wear the same dress, and to leave no part of their person completely covered.

 

Zeno’s Republic seems to be a place full of virtuous people (which includes women) and there are no courts or currency.  Everyone lives in harmony in complete anarchy.  There are no religious places of worship erected in the Republic.

It’s not clear whether Zeno ever thought this would ever really happen but he did have an ideal in mind about how a society of virtuous people would be organized.  And it seemed that he had in mind some kind of virtuous anarchic commune of everyone who proved themselves good Stoics.

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5 Reasons Stoicism Is Better Than Fox News

  1.  Fox News has a conservative bias.  Stoicism doesn’t have a conservative bias.  Fox News specifically runs news stories and commentaries designed to promote laissez-faire capitalism, anti-immigration policy, the military industrial complex, and a whole host of conservative issues.  Stoicism just tells you to try to observe the world without morally judging it.  As Shakespeare said, “nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
  2. Fox News has only been around since 1996 AD/CE.  Stoicism has been around since 300 BC/BCE.  Stoicism has really proven it can stand the test of time.  Sure, it merged with Christianity during the Dark Ages but it came back on its own during the Renaissance.  It has influenced many great thinkers during the ancient Roman times, Medieval times, Renaissance times, Age of Enlightenment, and current.
  3. Fox News along with many other news networks drummed up a lot of jingoistic passion in the United States to go to war in Iraq in March of 2003.  Stoicism doesn’t drum up negative passion e.g. jingoism.  In fact, it tries to calm down your negative passions and increase your compassion.  If Stoicism was more largely practiced in the US, we’d never rush into war.  In fact, we’d try to be much more diplomatic than we are now.
  4. Fox News has Sean Hannity.  Great Stoic thinkers, ancient and modern, do not include Sean Hannity.
  5. Finally, Fox News commentary is all about pointing out negative attributes of Democrat politicians and pointing out positive attributes of Republican politicians (unless they’re not conservative enough).  Stoicism ignores partisan divide and tries help you realistically assess people’s character.  So a Stoic is only going to judge politicos based on what they know of their virtues, particularly their justice and wisdom.

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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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