Monday, November 2, 2015

Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015: Monday

For the last few years I've participated in an international event known as Stoic Week. This year's Stoic Week begins today, Monday, November 2, and runs through the end of the week. The idea is to give people a sense of what it's like to live as a Stoic, which falls in line with the ancient Greek and Roman ideal of philosophy as a way of life, an ideal eloquently explained by French philosopher, Pierre Hadot (1922-2010).

To take part in Stoic Week, you need to start with the following:

1. Fill out an online questionnaire,
2. Register at the Modern Stoicism website, and
3. Download the Stoic Week 2015 Handbook.

You can do all three through this blog post on the Modern Stoicism Blog.

One of the ideas mentioned in the Handbook is to blog about your experiences during Stoic Week.  Each day involves a Morning Meditation, Lunch Time Exercise, and Evening Meditation, so there's plenty to write about.  Since this is the first time I've had a blog during Stoic Week, I thought this sounded like a fine idea.  But I was also struck by a seemingly crazy idea: what if I stayed true to the inclusive sense of this blog's subject of "philosophy and science fiction" and tried to form connections between Stoicism and science fiction?  Maybe this idea isn't so crazy, since I've argued in the past that the study of ancient philosophy is a lot like science fiction.  In any case, that's what I'm going to try to do this week.

Monday: Life as a Project and Role Models

This year Stoic Week is focused on the work of the Roman Emperor and Stoic, Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE).  The Morning Meditation begins with a quote from Book One of Marcus's Meditations.

From Maximus [I have learnt the importance of these things]: to be master of oneself and not carried this way and that; to be cheerful under all circumstances, including illness; a character with a harmonious blend of gentleness and dignity; readiness to tackle the task in hand without complaint; the confidence everyone had that whatever he said he meant and whatever he did was not done with bad intent; never to be astonished or panic-stricken, and never to be hurried or to hang back or be at a loss or downcast or cringing or on the other hand angry or suspicious; to be ready to help or forgive, and to be truthful; to give the impression of someone whose character is naturally upright rather than having undergone correction; the fact that no-one could have thought that Maximus looked down on him, or could have presumed to suppose that he was better than Maximus; and to have great personal charm. 
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.14

What Marcus is getting at in this section more generally is who he has learned from the most, who his role models have been, and who has contributed most to making him who he is.

In my own life, I'd have to start with my mom, who I've written about here and here.  Among other things, she taught me the importance of perseverance, hard work, and humor as well as the value of learning, without which I wouldn't be who I am today.  From my dad, I learned the value of staying calm in adversity and getting in a good walk now and then.  My older sister taught me the value of friendship and rewatching Spaceballs dozens of times (we may be nearing 100 by this point).  My younger sister reminds me of the value of curiosity, especially about biology.  My wife has taught me the value of patience and acceptance in building relationships with both humans and felines.  My grandma taught me to try to see the good in all humans and animals.  The rest of my family, friends, and teachers from preschool to grad school have also shaped who I am today.  Without them I would quite literally be a different person.

One of the many things about science fiction fans that may seem odd to outsiders is our tendency to treat fictional characters like our friends.  Like many nerdy Americans in recent decades, one of my friends and role models has been Mr. Spock from Star Trek.  See my post, "Spock, Stoics, and Buddhists: A Philosophical Tribute to Leonard Nimoy" for more.  As I said in that post,

Spock exemplifying cross-species friendship
Spock shows us that you can love your friends without over-the-top emotional displays, that you can co-exist in two different worlds, and that you can be curious and care deeply about logic, reason, and the pursuit of knowledge without being a jerk about it. As a bookish, awkward nerd, the Vulcans are my favorite Star Trek species, and Spock is my favorite Vulcan (okay, technically, half Vulcan and half human). The character of Spock is, as Spock would say, "fascinating."
I have a feeling I'll be writing about Mr. Spock again this week, given his obvious Stoic leanings.  I'm not the first person to notice this (see for instance, "Stoicism and Star Trek" by Jen Farren in Stoicism Today: Selected Writings).

Who are your fictional role models?  Does this show us anything interesting about the role of fiction in our lives?

Stay tuned for further reflections as I participate in Stoic Week 2015...

Let me end with a video in which the Australian comedian Michael Connell imagines Marcus Aurelius doing comedy in a somewhat Seinfeldian mode.  Happy Stoic Week!


  1. See my second post in this series for Tuesday and Wednesday:

  2. Here's part three on virtue and relationships with others:

  3. The end: part four: