The Importance of Stoicism at a Time of Media Overload

Our current demagoguing neoliberal ochlocracy seems to function something like this: knock us off balance, keep us there, and then drip-feed salvation back to us. Salvation, at the moment, comes in the form of 1) easy answers for complex problems (Trumpism) and 2) consumer goods marketed to solve problems we’ve been convinced we have. Bummer… yet strangely easily avoidable. The mechanics of this dystopian tailspin only work when we are completely destabilized.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things out there to destabilize us. We’ve been fed the fallacy that we must be aware of everything at all times, even things that we have no capacity to change. We’ve been fed the idea that in order to be a contributing member of society, we have to be a part of its discourse, which means forming opinions about every single thing in the world and then sharing them with as many people who disagree with us as possible. And we’ve been fed the idea that the best way to remain connected to the world beneath our feet and the people we love is to constantly subject ourselves to an endless stream of content specifically curated to raise our heckles.

This all sounds terrible. But it’s actually kind of exciting also. It is very much my belief that this complete overload that we’re being subjected to, caused by hyper connectivity and hyper accessibility, will necessarily force us to evolve our usage of our mental capacities to meet what is a very new set of challenges to our species. Remember, our not-so-distant ancestors were only capable of survival if they were 1) highly suspicious of outsiders, 2) highly reactive to stimulus, especially novel stimulus, and 3) accustomed to regarding own’s one safety as something that is constantly under attack. This is the primitive wiring which still informs our knee-jerk decision making. This is also the wiring which is knowingly utilized and manipulated by demagogues (see: Trumpism). This wiring initially allowed for our survival. Yet, as of very recently, much of this wiring is completely obsolete simply because our environment has changed faster than we have had the chance to adapt, in the same way that a survival-based attraction to sugar and fat used to save lives and now causes disease. So we either have to learn how to work with our obsolete wiring in order to still yield sanity and health, or fall completely subject to vice. May I suggest the former?

So let’s talk about Stoicism. The Stoics were a group of philosophers in around 300BC in Athens. Their main teaching was essentially to bear life with a healthy, zen-like remove. That is, accepting the things that life throws at us without letting them get to us. This means seeing life exactly as it is — without idealism and without emotion — and then exercising control over the one thing we have in our power — our own thoughts and behavior. At first glance, this may sound like giving in. But it’s not. It’s just not allowing the world to destabilize us and continuing to cultivate a mind-space in which we are capable of acting out of virtue regardless of whatever rabble-rousing is happening around us. Stoicism is essentially just not letting our rabbles be roused. (What an ironic origin story for stoicism, considering the biggest distraction I can imagine happening in Greece in 300BC is a goat walking into your study. Although this was also in the midst of Athens adjusting to plutocratic rule so maybe the necessity for deep breathing was similar to that of today.)

We live in a time of a lot of reactionary behavior and polarization. We also live in a time of a lot of fear and uncertainty. Irrational decision-making is neurologically understood to be more prevalent at times of fear, anger and uncertainty. When we’re being swayed predominantly by emotion, our pre-frontal cortex clamps down (this is a technical description) and we revert to our primitive survival brain.

Raise your hand if you’re destabilized. You’re a captive audience and you’re being exploited to the detriment of yourself and society. So let’s address that, shall we? Take time. Read a book. Take a midday nap. Remind yourself why you’re alive. Hint: it doesn’t have anything to do with money or power. Stop searching. Stop running away. It’ll be hard at first. You can do it. We’re in a pandemic, for Christ’s sake. It’s a good time to chill out and get comfortable with stillness. Keep doing the things that bring you stillness. The stakes are high.

…or at least hire people who still have their heads screwed on the right way… Is making this a plug for our services the biggest irony in history? Perhaps. Oops. Even the stoics had a sense of humor.

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The Dreamers

The Dreamers

We’re a research and development group focused on emerging tech and machine learning. We have a lot of thoughts. Here are a few of them.

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