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Monday, May 30, 2005


Recently on the International Stoic Forum, a member asked for advice on overcoming impatience, from a Stoic perspective. While I'm still learning about Stoicism, I wrote what seemed to make sense to me...

I too grapple with impatience often, although I think I've improved over the past few years.

When I think of the universe and all of the bodies interacting with one another according the nature of each and the manner of the Logos, it seems to me that being patient is part of being at one with the Logos/Nature.

When we take the concept of the complexity that is the universe and the unfolding of events, and this concept becomes deeply imagined, we start to really "see" it spontaneously with our mind's eye. At this point a concept become more intuitive. Thinking becomes "seeing".

I think that when we see that events will be as they will be, the natural result will be not to get worked up over the inability to bring events sooner than we can bring them. We will see that each thing must happen in the right place, at the right time, for the right reason, and this will not always be consistent with our preferences and concerns.

Of course, sometimes we actually do have some influence over when something happens, such as when we can encourage someone to hurry up or we can alter the functioning of some system, or hurry up ourselves. In these times it is tempting to push that influence to extremes to attempt to bring the event as soon as possible. But we must consider the trade off. What have I lost, what risks have I incurred, and who have I angered or hurt by doing this, and is it really worth the difference in the timing of the event? Often, we may find that our actions have cost us and we didn't really affect the timing of the event at all, and this is truly a waste.

With each act of patience we see the reward. We see our relationships unharmed as they might have been had we acted impatiently, we see that the event really did come to pass without our "assistance", and we experience the joy of knowing that we acted patiently when we might otherwise have not.

All of these experiences create an input-response in our minds, and each time we have such experiences, the notion that patience is beneficial to us moves from concept to realization on an instinctive level. It is at this point that our natural responses begin to alter.

Therefore, acquiring a patient disposition takes patience.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

John Kenneth Galbraith

Several years ago I had a debate about the need for a minimum wage with my father. I was arguing for it and he against. As he rightly pointed out, capitalism has self correcting mechanisms of supply and demand, which keep things going smoothly. If wages get too low, then it will be harder to find workers for that job and they'll have to raise again. If they get too high then the supply of workers in that field will become excessive and the wages will fall.

I told him that this is all well and good, and mathematically, all of these numbers may work just fine in the larger mechanism of the economy. However, the ups and downs may occasionally carry us into realms which are not fitting to human decency, and it is necessary for us as a people to say that we cannot ethically allow someone to be paid less than x amount for a job, regardless of where the mechanisms of capitalism (which I am generally for) would take us. I told him it was necessary for the government to step in when this natural wave exceeds certain ethical limits. I was just a college kid and hadn't read anything on economics, but it seemed to make sense to me.

Then, yesterday, I hear a report on the economist John Kenneth Galbraith on National Public Radio. During the 1930s hands-off government was seen as the way to keep capitalism at its best, yet, we were in a depression - and a great one at that. From what little I know, he apparently came out with a new economic model suggesting that the excesses of capitalism be clipped at its highs and lows by government spending at the bottom, and taxation at the top, in order to keep the economy from getting too wildly out of control. While my take was more from an ethical social-moral point of view while his speaks to the functionality of the economy, this seemed surprisingly similar to what I had thought.

There were many other interesting things in the report, such as how this theory lead to an economic boom until Reaganomics took over, reverting back to the "hands-off" approach again. I've decided I need to learn more about this economist and his ideas, as I should have by now. I love this quote by him...

"Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Why the Filibuster Deal Will Fail

As anyone who has been following politics lately will know, the so-called "gang of 14", a grouping of 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats, has just made a deal in the Senate to end a standoff over the issue of filibustering the President's judicial appointments. The "deal" they worked out is unfortunately doomed to failure for four reasons.

1) It is too vague:
The Democrats are expected to only filibuster under extraordinary circumstances. What this means is left undefined. What's more, they go even further to blur it up saying that 'each member will be his or her own judge as to what constitutes extraordinary circumstances'. So, basically, the Republicans view "extreme circumstances" as Bush nominating a horse or some other non-human, and the Democrats view "extreme circumstances" as Bush nominating a judge that Bush would like.

2) Neither side agrees on what it means:
Even now, both sides are unable to agree on whether or not the agreement closes the door to the Republicans using the "nuclear option" - i.e. moving to eradicate the ability to filibuster nominees altogether. The Democrats claim that the agreement forever puts aside this option, and the Republicans claim that if the Democrats don't hold up their end of the bargain that they can proceed with it (and remember, if the democrats filibuster anything except for a horse, or perhaps a chicken nominee, then they will have filibustered in a non-extraordinary circumstance and not held up their end according to the Republicans' understanding of the deal).

3) It is an agreement about what an uninvolved third party will do:
Part of the agreement was that Bush would begin to seek the advisement of the Senate in deciding his nominations. I don't believe Bush was part of the 14 in this deal. How do you make a deal about what someone else will do? Bush will say he isn't beholden to deals other people make, and the Democrats will view this as a breaking of the agreement, thereby justifying (in their minds) the filibuster of every nominee that isn't Jane Fonda.

4) The entire thing is a farce to begin with:
We all know the Republicans have the power here. They have the majority and they can do whatever they like. The only reason they hesitate to eradicate filibusters of nominees is that they know this may come back to bite them if they should ever be in the minority and facing a Democrat President's nominee. So, really there's nothing the Democrats can do. This was basically a choice between "stop filibustering these nominees" or "stop filibustering all nominees forever". It was kind of like someone holding a gun to your head and telling you to do something, and then you saying, "I'll make a deal with you. I'll do what you ask and you won't pull the trigger." The gunman says, "ok".

I admire the efforts of anyone who would seek to negotiate and reach agreements on things. I think the Congress needs more of this all around. But it has to be done in a sensible way. What they've done here is merely some schmoozy language to make everybody feel good in the short term. In the long term when this whole thing comes crashing down because of illogical thinking, both sides will say the other broke the agreement, and will debate the issue for years to come.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Nature of the "Force"

As I've mentioned before, I have been reading about the Taoist concept of Li (the organic pattern), the Stoic concept of Logos (the Divine Fire), and the relatively new field of chaos and complex systems theory. I have compiled several excerpts from a few different online sources discussing these topics, and arranged them by categories which are considered aspects of a complex system.

I have color coded each portion. Green text comes from a source on complex systems theory. Red text comes from a sources on the Stoic Logos. Blue text comes from a source on the Taoist Li.

It seems to me that all three of these sources are discussing the same thing. I may elaborate and add to this collection over time...

A Complex System is any system which involves a number of elements, arranged in structure(s) which can exist on many scales.[1]

That will apply to the world at large (macrocosm) and also to the soul of humans (microcosm).[2]

These go through processes of change that are not describable by a single rule nor are reducible to only one level of explanation, these levels often include features whose emergence cannot be predicted from their current specifications. Complex Systems Theory also includes the study of the interactions of the many parts of the system.[1]

Li, to describe nature as organic pattern, translated as the markings in jade, the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle.[6]

The Tao is a certain kind of order, and this kind of order is not quite what we call order when we arrange everything geometrically in boxes, or in rows. That is a very crude kind of order, but when you look at a plant it is perfectly obvious that the plant has order. We recognize at once that is not a mess, but it is not symmetrical and it is not geometrical looking.[8]

[Heraclitus] urges us to pay attention to the logos, which "governs all things" and yet is also something we "encounter every day."[4]

...the proponents of Stoicism... used [Logos] for the immanent ordering principle of the universe... Nature and logos are often treated as one and the same; but logos is nature's overall rational structure...[2]

change occurs naturally and automatically in systems in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness, as long as the systems are complex enough...

Such responsiveness occurs even when the elements and system are non-organic, unintelligent, and unconscious as long as the system is complex as described above.[1]

The dead neither see nor hear; they are closed. No light (fire) shines in them; no speech sounds in them. And yet, even they participate in the cosmos.[5]

The Tao is not something different from nature, the birds, the bees, the trees, or ourselves. The Tao is the way all that behaves... Therefore though they look very different, they are in fact inseparable. They arise mutually.[6]

Now the world is 'an everliving fire', and therefore there will be an unceasing process of eternal flux.[2]

Within the cosmic order determined by the Logos are individual centers of potentiality, vitality, and growth. These are "seeds" of the Logos.[4]

Linear change is where there is a sequence of events that affect each other in order as they appear one after the other. In contrast, in non-linear change, one sees elements being changed by previous elements, but then in turn these changed elements affect the elements that are before it in the sequence.[1]

You cannot find the controlling center of it, because there isn't any. Everything is a system of interrelated components, all interdependent on the other... This complete system of interdependence is Tao.[6]

Thus even though there is logical development from stage to stage, there is an increasing inability to predict what will actually be the next development. This uncertainty of predictability is called "chaos".

Thus, one can then see how a tiny change in a condition can eventually lead to a huge number of different possible results.

The classic illustration for this is the idea of how the flapping of butterfly wings in one part of the world can contribute to the evolution of a hurricane in another part of the world.[1]

Nature is constantly dividing and uniting herself, so that the multiplicity of opposites does not destroy the unity of the whole... And these two ways are forever being traversed in opposite directions at once, so that everything really consists of two parts, one part traveling up and the other traveling down.[2]

Heraclitus... viewed Nature as a harmony of opposing tensions, "Men do not know how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre."[3]

Light and dark, high and low, sound and silence - all are only experienced in terms of their polar opposites.[6]

The unpredictability that is thus inherent in the natural evolution of complex systems then can yield results that are totally unpredictable based on knowledge of the original conditions. Such unpredictable results are called emergent properties. Emergent properties thus show how complex systems are inherently creative ones.

So what is this emergence exactly? Generally it is defined by saying 'the whole is greater than the sum of the parts'.[1]

Tao indicates a reality which is vibrant, spontaneous, orderly, and more than the sum of its individual components.[9]

In other words we cannot predict the outcome from studying only the fine details. Examples include cellular metabolism, ant colonies, organism development, snowflakes.[1]

"Both knowledge and experience are real,
but reality has many forms,
which seem to cause complexity."[7]


Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Moral Pitt

What depths has my philosophy blog now sunk to, that I would write about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's marriage breaking up? There are plenty of articles out there bashing celebrities for their inability to stay committed to a long term relationship, so I'll not concern myself with that. How can we really know what happened between them, and with 50% of marriages in the United States ending in divorce, the American public is hardly in a position to lecture celebrities.

But there is something Brad Pitt said about marriage not long ago in a GQ interview. He wondered why the marriage was considered "a failure" because it didn't last forever. He said "The idea that marriage has to be for all time - that I don't understand".

Now, certainly, if two adults wish to be together for some undefined time that is their right. If they want to hold a ceremony that's their right too. If they want to call it marriage that is also their right. But I'm guessing that in that ceremony Brad Pitt made a vow of "until death do we part" or something to that effect. And even if not, I would also guess that Jennifer Anniston didn't realize that the marriage was "until we get tired of each other or encounter some tough issues do we part". But, if I'm wrong and these were the vows, and Jennifer Aniston did realize that the marriage was 'for a while' and not 'until death', then Brad Pitt has done nothing wrong, and the "marriage" was not a failure after all.

I know a woman who is getting a divorce. I said, "sorry to hear that" and she said, "I'm not. It was the marriage that was a problem, not the divorce - I'm happy!" Now, I'm pretty sure that her vows weren't of the Pitt variety. I can certainly understand that people should not stay in marriages that are completely unworkable. They should be free to divorce when serious issues cannot be worked out. But, at the same time, barring special sorts of "celebrity-style" temporary marriage agreements, the marriage should be looked at as a failure when this happens.

When most people get married, it isn't "until we get tired of one another", "until someone more beautiful comes along", or "until someone more my type comes along" and so on. The marriage commitment is made "until death do we part" and it is made in this way for a reason.

When we grow to adults and leave our biological families, we naturally seek out a partner to form a new family. Even in cases where we are not having children, it is important to many that they have that family of two. Not only someone to share life with, but also someone to help in times of need. But the security of family is not possible without a lifetime unconditional commitment. I guaranty that eventually, someone will come along that is more beautiful than your spouse. I guaranty that someone will come along who has more in common. I guaranty that there will be times where the excitement of someone new will seem greater than the familiar. All of these things are inevitable - you can count on them happening after you get married. There are simply too many people in the world of too many varieties. So, if your standard is that you will be committed only as long as "the flame is burning hot" and only as long as no one more exciting comes along, then you have made a decision that your marriage will be temporary, and probably not longer than five years or so.

This is not the sort of relationship that one can depend on as family. This is not the sort of partner that one can count on in times of need or in old age. And, if a couple does plan to have children, this is not the sort of relationship that provides a mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandfathers, and grandmothers - the sort of family bonds and support that is most beneficial to children. This is why such a commitment is especially essential when children are involved - because they certainly didn't make any provisional Pitt-style agreements. It is therefore ethically necessary to have such a structure around children in place, which holds the commitment of family. If that means two married people, then that means their marriage must be more than simply an agreement to stay together until it gets tough.

If some adults want to have temporary-marriages and both partners know this ahead of time, and no children are involved, then there's no problem. But calling this marriage, and taking vows to the contrary, and then trying to promote the idea that "that's how marriage is" and the separation isn't a failure, is unacceptable behavior. It spreads the wrong message about marriage. It would have been better if Brad Pitt said that he was "going steady" instead of getting married. Then it would have been more clear to everyone that they were just boyfriend and girlfriend pretending to be married.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Photographing Saddam

When I first heard about the pictures of Saddam Hussein that had been published, my reaction was one of disapproval - it just felt slimy.

Then I thought, 'This guy was a brutal dictator that tortured people and committed genocide. Why should I care if he's embarrassed? This is the least of what should happen to him.'

Aside from the fact that we have international agreements that prisoners of war are not to be photographed and put on display as such, there are more character-based reasons why this is a bad idea.

I imagined for a moment that I were another type of person. I pictured myself as the type of person that would take such photos. Then I pictured myself as the type of person that would publish them. Then I pictured myself as the type of person that would chuckle with glee at seeing them. In each case, I couldn't help but think that this version of myself was somehow worse off. Given that, I'm drawn to the inescapable conclusion that this sort of behavior harms us. I'm happy that my initial reaction seemed to be the right one after all.

Those who did this, as well as those who buy it and enjoy it, are engaging in self destructive and irresponsible behavior. Our principles have nothing to do with the type of person Saddam Hussein was - they have to do with the type of person that we choose to be.

Friday, May 20, 2005

There's Selfish, and then there's Selfish

Recently in a discussion with someone about ethics, he mentioned that there didn't seem to be a reason to live virtuously without some exterior superior with a will that we do so. This was not the standard case for God, but rather some less conventional concept of a cosmic consciousness. In either case, the answer is the same. Here is what I said...

"The reason we should seek to live the good life is because we are happier and healthier when we do so. We live ethically because living ethically is synonymous with living wisely. We do so for the same reason we brush our teeth and wash our hand, and eat health food, and exercise. When we are unethical we harm ourselves and we have less fulfilling lives. This is because ethical behavior not only affects the continuum of human interactions we live within, but because it provides us a sense of self esteem and a comfort and a contentment not possible when we mistreat others. It has a mechanical effect on our personalities and our psychological well being. We are social animals and acting ethically is acting within our true Nature. This includes not only codes of behavior, but an internalized concern for the well being of our fellow human being.

"No external consciousness or will is necessary for any of this to be true. You dismiss [my argument] as some mere form of lower "selfishness", but this hits to the very notion of whether or not anything can be said to be truly altruistic.

"And what if there is some consciousness with such a will? Are you saying we should obey it because it will punish us? I don't think you're saying that, as it would be far too authoritarian and I doubt you would claim that extortion was the only means humanity would or should be ethical.

"More likely, I suspect you mean to imply that the will of this consciousness is something we can love and obey out of contributing to something "larger than ourselves" as you mentioned. But why would I care to contribute to that which is larger than myself? No matter how you slice it, it's going to come back to what's best for us as individuals. And, if we can acknowledge that doing what an external consciousness wants leads to happier lives then we can just as easily acknowledge that living ethically leads to happier lives directly. If it is a matter of love and compassion for this entity, then we can just as easily invest that love and compassion in humanity and our neighbor.

"So.. I find the use of an external consciousness to be... ethically [un]necessary. It seems to me that all of this, more likely, springs from a lack of belief in something which I think is an essential realization: that both ethical outward behavior, and ethical inner concern, really do lead to a better world, a better society, and a more contented individual life.

"If one doesn't really believe that, then one tends to seek out other explanations for why we should be good. I really do believe that, so I require no other justification."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Logos in the Cabasa

A few years ago, I was reading a book called "A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination", which was a great book that explained a lot about the mechanisms of the brain, and how that leads to consciousness.

This got me wondering about whether or not similar physical structures could produce consciousness elsewhere. One thing to note is that there are different levels of consciousness, so all examples needn't be a person per se. But, given the presence of various complex systems throughout the universe, and the tendency of self emergent complex systems to form from our natural laws, it seems plausible at least that such structures might exist naturally, which carried some degree of consciousness, besides brains.

Investigation of these ideas lead me to the philosopher David Chalmers, whose work in consciousness intrigued me. I put the question to him and he was open to the concept. As I recall, it was he that made the point about levels of consciousness.

So, time passes and I move on to reading and writing about other concepts. I am eventually drawn to Stoicism and Taoism about the same time I'm learning about complex systems theory. Then this concept of complexity/Logos/Li from each of the three areas seems to be talking about the same thing.

After joining the International Stoics Forum, I enter into a conversation with a fellow poster, Nigel, who tells me that he believes the Stoic "Divine Fire" or Logos, to be a conscious entity with a will, rather than merely the universal laws of complexity and natural harmony I had been imagining. This is what he calls the "more spiritual" interpretation of Stoicism.

Suddenly I'm reminded of my thoughts on consciousness and the work of David Chalmers all that time ago. Perhaps it is possible that higher-order complex systems throughout the universe carry interacting data in sophisticated enough patterns to possess a consciousness to some degree? I asked the list who else thought that Logos was conscious. Robin gave a reasonable answer...

"I think all we can say on this subject is that if there is a Divine Fire, and it has a will and intellect, then its will and intellect would be so beyond our comprehension of such things as to be hardly worth using those terms at all."

I suspect, as well, that we would be so far removed from anything that consciousness recognized as to be nearly non-existent ourselves, but it doesn't make it any less fascinating.

Monday, May 16, 2005

You Can't Handle the Truth!

I read some wonderful words by Seneca today, on The Stoic Place website. In an article by Dr. Keith Seddon on being free of the passions, he quotes the famous Stoic Seneca, who is admonishing himself for the deeds he had done that day (bold mine)...

"You reproved that man more frankly than you ought, and consequently you have not so much mended him as offended him. In the future, consider not only the truth of what you say, but also whether the man to whom you are speaking can endure the truth."

-- Seneca, On Anger, 3.36.1–4

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Stoic Emblem

I've been learning about Stoicism recently. With graphic art and illustration my profession, I decided to make a Stoic Emblem. While it may seem a simple logo at first glance, I have imbedded many symbolic meanings within its form.

The general depiction is of the Primal Fire, or Logos - the Reason which governs the workings of the universe. The shape of the flame is based on three circles (see diagram at bottom of this post). The central circular flame represents the Divine Fire of the universe itself. The two circular clusters that spring off on the left or right side represent our individual minds (or souls), which are a part of the Divine Fire and spring forth from it.

There are four tips to the flame, representing each of the four elements in which Logos forms, according to the physics at the time of Stoicism's founding (fire, air, water, and earth).

The flame tips appear random at first glance but has been given an orderly structure. First, it's tips are at regular height intervals. From left to right, the first tip is the second tallest, the next is the shortest, the next is highest, and the last is third tallest. If you were to draw four horizontal lines at each tip, you would see that their heights are equally spaced. Secondly, each tip ends at the exact middle of the circular frame on which its lower portion was based. The reason for this is to symbolize the fact that, even in seemingly chaotic systems, there is an order and a Reason operating throughout.

The tips of the flame also point either left or right. There are two pointing left and an equal number pointing right. This symbolizes the balanced but opposing directions toward unity and division, order and chaos, which maintains the complex system that is the universe.

Behind the Fire are rays. These point both inward and outward, symbolizing the all pervasive nature of Logos in the universe. Finally, a circular border symbolizes the cyclical nature of the universe and the Greek key pattern represents the culture from which Stoicism was born.

Below are some other versions of the logo, for use on a white background, greyscale, or plain black & white. Please feel free to use the Stoic Emblem in reference to Stoicism. All I ask is that it not be modified (apart from proportionate scaling). It would also be nice if credit and/or a link was provided. Groups and organizations are also free to use this emblem, including in media forms such as web and print, as long as they don't give the impression that it is an emblem only for their particular group and as long as they don't try to copyright it (according to U.S. law, I hold the copyright simply by creating it). If anyone would like larger or higher-resolution versions of any of these files, please contact me and I will be happy to provide it.

(click to enlarge)

Update, July 2009:

This year I discovered that someone else has also been thinking of iconography for Stoicism. Erik Wiegardt, Director of New Stoa, has designed a symbol called the "Phenomenon of Existence" (POE), named after a phrase Epictetus used. It can be seen below. For a full explanation of the meaning of its components, you can visit, see the Stoic Handbook, and toward the end there is a chapter called "Stoicism in 5 Minutes" which explains the elements in this image. There is also this video on YouTube. I created this fancy version of Erik's symbol in Photoshop...

Update, December 15, 2009:
Since posting and sharing my Stoic Emblem design, this page has been one of the most popular from among my websites, and I have received numerous compliments and comments. Several people have requested high-resolution versions of the Emblem for use on their websites, book covers, and even one music band has asked to use it. There have been at least three individuals who have told me of their intention to get the Stoic Emblem as a tattoo. If anyone does this I would appreciate knowing about it and getting a picture. Today, a fellow named Matt sent me a pic of his tattoo, inspired by the design - thanks Matt!...

Another thing I've been meaning to add here, is an image of what this emblem might look like in a simplified, hand-drawn form, as suggested by commenter miniaras. If drawing it by hand, a person could get as close to the detailed version or as simple as desired, but I would think the key thing to include would be a flame with four points, and a circle, as below...

Update, December 19, 2009:
Another person named Tiffany has sent me a picture of her Stoic Emblem tattoo, which she has on her upper right arm. Thanks Tiffany!

Update, August 3, 2010:
I wanted to share another symbol for Stoicism created by Michel Daw. Of the following symbol, Michel says this:

"Regarding my symbol. There are several element to it. It is, first and foremost, a representation of the Phi, the mathematical symbol for the golden ratio, where 'a+b' is to 'a' as 'a' is to 'b'. It is an irrational mathematical constant, approximately 1.61803398874989. Also know as the golden mean, the divine ratio etc. Biologists, artists, musicians, historians, architects, psychologists, and even mystics have pondered and debated the basis of its ubiquity and appeal. It is present in nature at a surprising level, appearing in the spirals of galaxies and of the humble nautilus shell. For me it is a constant reminder to live according to nature, and the rest of Stoic philosophy falls from that. The graph of phi in contained in the circle, which represents the universe and is superimposed by the the letter phi, which coincidentally is the first letter in the Greek word for nature, phusis." --Michel Daw

Update, March 15, 2012:
Matt (see above) has since added a circular area to his original tattoo with the wording from his favorite Marcus Aurelius quote...

Update, April 5, 2012:
Another person named Ben has chosen to get a tattoo of the Stoic Emblem. Ben informs me, "The sunflower is from the phrase "there is nothing new under the sun" from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, also, a translation of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius [by George Long]." Thanks for sending this in Ben!...

Update, June 6, 2012:
Matthew Zaucha sent in a picture of his recent tattoo of the Stoic Emblem. He says, "I have it blending out of my Flames of Passion tattoo on my arm to symbolize the taming of raw passion through stoicism.  I also changed the Greek border to an ouroboros to symbolize the infinity of the human psyche." Very creative!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dealing with Jerks

Recently on the Jedi Realist Forums, a person called Declan Thaddeus posted the following question. Below that is our exchange...

------- Declan --------
Dealing With A Boss Who Is...

A narcissisistic a*****hole with a Napolean Complex. How do you deal with a guy who doesn't like surprises, but never gives you any information that is usable or is constantly treating you like a child. I am a professional and have been for years. I believe I have always treated people fairly and never with malice in my heart, but lately the dark side is looking better and better for dealing with this guy.(no physical harm, mind you. Just dirty politics)

Opinions on how to deal with an jerk like this?

------- Me ---------
I would say just keep doing what you do as best you can. Don't react to his behavior negatively. I'm reminded of the words of the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurellius who says to recognize that we already know there are unpleasant people in the world. Why then should we be surprised when we encounter them?

Or, to use a Taoist example, follow the path of the Wu-Wei. Watch, observe, remain focused on the larger picture and the flow of events. Move with them and use that flow to your advantage rather than going against the grain.

Consider this man's thoughts, get inside his head and heart. Let go of your ego, sense of pride, and indignation. Then you can see a number of responses to his actions which you may not have considered before because you were clouded by emotional reactionism. Once you do this, you can disarm him without him even realizing that you have done so. Do not seek to defeat him, but move with him into a symbiotic relationship of change.

Consider what his mother and loved ones think of him. Consider why he does what he does. Then you can manipulate him - but do so not for domination or for attack, but in order to help him develope into a better person. Then you will be happier.

-------- Declan --------
Some of the best advice I have heard this week. I feel this way in my heart, but sometimes when I am under stress myself I take the easy path. You would think that I would learn by now at age that the easy path isn't always the wisest path.

Thanks for reminding me of who I really am and should strive to be DT.

-------- Me ----------
I'm pleased you found it useful Declan. All my hopes in your efforts. :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Mmm... fruit good!

Having recently joined the International Stoic Forum email group, I recently read a post from "Robin" and it had a great sig which read...

"I think perhaps the most important problem is that we are trying to understand the fundamental workings of the universe via a language devised for telling one another where the best fruit is." -- Terry Pratchett

Great stuff Robin!

Monday, May 9, 2005

Virtue-Based Psychology

An interesting concept. I was over at Stoic News and recently saw his link to The Virtue Web Site, which seeks to investigate what it calls "Virtue-Based Psychology". I'll have to read more on this one. Also looks like there's an interesting "Virtue Scale".

Sunday, May 8, 2005

The Evolution of Ethics, or Why We're Good

When I say that "virtue and wisdom are synonymous" I mean that there is no distinction between the "smart thing to do" and the "virtuous thing to do". We are better off doing what's right and much evil behavior comes out of the misunderstanding of that simple fact.

Complex systems theory has lead to a number of experiments and computer models which seek to understand the evolution of our behaviors and cooperation. Ethics, being a system for cooperating with one another, is therefore explained much by these studies. A fellow going by the username "pragmatist" on the forums at "I love Philosophy" recently alerted me to a link on one such study.

See their numbers 1-4 in the conclusion. In it, researchers show the evolutionary benefits to compassion (1), justice (2), mercy (3), and principles (4) (albeit on a very simple scale and referred to by different terms).

Link to Axelrod's Tournament

Friday, May 6, 2005

What I learned about philosophy today

1) "Li" means "organic pattern" in Taoism, but I just discovered that there is a completely different concept in Confucianism meaning "civility" or "rules of etiquette" which is also called "Li". When I make reference to the Li/Logos/Complexity material, I need to point out that I'm not talking about the Confucian "Li". (Li as organic pattern) (Li as ettiquette).

2) In a Marvelous example of east/west overlap of philosophy, I have recently learned about the compatibility and overlap between Aristotle's "Golden Mean" and the Confucian concept of the "Chung Yung". (see link)

3) In Confucianism, a person is encouraged to actively cultivate character according to principles. This is an emphasis on the active (Yang) portion of the balance. However, in Taoism, a person is encouraged to unconsciously (effortlessly) allow character to grow and flow naturally. This is an emphasis on the passive (Yin).

But it seems to me that these two approaches need not be at odds, but rather are two different stages of moral development. What should happen, it seems to me, is that Confucian "active/virtues/principles" eventually can flourish into the Taoist "passive/character based/effortless" behavior. But both are essential in their proper times and stages of development.

In a Christian context, this evolution is the "law" moving from "stone tablet" (old testament) to the "human heart" (new testament), and is what Paul describes as the "holy spirit" entering one and transforming character so that obedience to rules is supplanted by character transformation. Although Paul meant a literal holy spirit, I believe he was witnessing a transformation of the character which practitioners of ethical teaching may undergo, in which they no longer have to base their actions on "commandments" because their character has developed such that ethical action is effortless and unconscious.

The overlap of these eastern and western concepts are so striking that I'm beginning to see the entire world as one scripture, with each philosophy, culture, and period but a chapter.

This isn't to say that they are all accurate or completely compatible, but the universals strewn throughout are fascinating. There should be a compilation of these concepts into one coherent system.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Life according to Nature

Just a quick thought I had...

The Stoics believed that living ethically was living in accordance with Nature. Sometimes they used the word Logos, which means "reason". More specifically, they meant the reason by which the natural universe operates. They viewed this as a divine rationality that pervaded the way the entire universe worked, how its parts interacted, and so on.

In the east, the Taoists use the concept of "Li" which means "organic pattern". Here they refer to those complex structures in nature which one can't easily describe, but you know it when you see it. A seashell, a cloud formation, a galaxy, an organism. Understanding Li was part of enlightenment.

In modern times we have a new field of science called complexity. It studies "complex systems", which are systems that lie on the edge of order and chaos. These include stock markets, economies, ecologies, living organisms, flocks of birds, galaxies. In essence, Complex Systems theory studies Li and Logos.

Lastly, I have been reading, thinking, and writing, on the various secular reasons for living ethically for some time. Many of these reasons deal with how and why the various factors of our lives in the society we live in lead us to a fruitful and happy life when we live ethically. It occurred to me just today that, actually, each of our lives themselves are a "complex system" of interacting events. Our behavior plays a roll in the overall flow of those events, and that means that the Stoics and the Taoists were exactly right.

Living ethically is living in accordance with "Nature/Logos/Li/Complexity".

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

My Axioms

I make an active, admittedly imperfect, effort to avoid dogma. I believe that all beliefs should be tentative and malleable to new information and assessment. However, that doesn't mean that one shouldn't take a tentative stand on certain issues. It also doesn't mean that we can't hold some tentative matters to be more or less solidly supported.

So, I decided to take a look at what positions I held that I assess as "most supported". This would be the closest thing to dogma that I personally hold. In other words, the matters I am most reluctant to change, and which would require the most significant of information to convince me otherwise. And they are...

1) There is one Truth.

2) No one knows Truth with perfection.

3) There are superior and inferior ways to approximate Truth.

4) Empirical evidence is a superior way to approximate Truth, mysticism inferior.

5) We are all interconnected - our happiness one.

6) To seek happiness is wise.

7) To confuse happiness with pleasure is unwise.

8) Pleasure and pain result from our focus, not our circumstance.

9) Virtue results in happiness.

10) Virtue and wisdom are synonymous.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Burned by Goodness

Something I realized recently, and was thinking about it this morning. It seems that a large number of younger people(1) on various philosophy forums out there are reporting experiences with being good, where they got burned or "finished last" as the saying goes. They are questioning why they shouldn't just say "screw it" and be bad.

I've written much on the reasons(2) for being ethical, but I need to think more about what it is these people are experiencing and why, when it comes to "losing out" for being good. I suspect there is a fine difference of elements here, where they are mixing together what is good with other things that don't need to coexist with good behavior (for instance, being good is not the same as being naive, not being familiar with evil, and trusting others to be good). I think if I thought more on this, I might be able to provide some helpful input on this issue. We'll see.

(1) It's easy to tell the posters in their late teens-early 20s by the content of their message and form of their posts, as anyone over 30 will confirm. Not that this is a bad thing, just that it's recognizable.

(2) See "The Noble Conspectus - Virtue", and "Principles of Socio-Personal Humanism, Section 2.4".