Where Pop Stoicism Misses the Mark

George J. Ziogas

The modern day philosophy involves several flawed viewpoints

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We’ve all heard how the trends and styles of a particular period of time always seem to find their way back to the mainstream. I’m sure you can think of various outfits, hairstyles and songs that have seemingly rose from the dead and found new life in today’s society. It almost seems like genuinely new things are never created, only recycled from a bygone era.

The funny thing we often see with this trend is that when these trends and styles do come full circle and regain popularity, they’re often slightly different than the original version.

It’s like we miss the original idea or meaning behind the trend, embracing it purely for the sake of being nostalgic. It’s easy to imagine the people of past generations that created these styles rolling in their graves for our feeble attempts to pull them off today.

This phenomenon doesn’t end with clothing and vintage rock albums. We also love to adopt throwback trains of thought and ideologies as well. In case you’ve missed it, there’s an official society that has rekindled the flat earth idea and let’s not forget the paleo diet that took off several years ago.

The idea of Stoicism is another prime example of a cultural fossil that has seen quite the resurgence as of late.

In simple terms, Stoicism is the idea that one should accept the world for the way it is, not the way they would like it to be. It involves the controlling of our emotions, not allowing outside events to determine our mood and mindset.

This way of thinking also emphasizes the importance of controlling what you can control and not wasting your emotional energy on the things in which you can’t. Finally, Stoicism stresses the importance of seeking virtue and contributing to the good of the universe as a whole above all else.

While this idea can sometimes sound like glorified pessimism, it’s important to understand these aforementioned components of the ideology to grasp the difference.

This way of thinking goes back all the way to the 3rd century BC which, in case you were wondering, was well after the extinction of the dinosaurs. Most historians accredit the creation of Stoicism to Zeno of Citium, an Athenian philosopher.

However, this idea has garnered arguably the most attention due to its most high-profile follower, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. His personal diary, which was adapted into the book, Meditations, remains one of the most popular books on the idea of Stoicism even to this day.

As we often do with other ideas and movements, today’s trendsetters have resurrected Stoicism and turned it into basically another motivational meme on your Instagram feed.

Everywhere you look, another entrepreneur is shouting at you on a paid advertisement about how Stoicism is the quickest way to get rich and bulletproof your mind to deal with whatever the world throws at you. This new take on an ancient idea has even adopted a different name, Pop Stoicism.

While Pop Stoicism doesn’t miss the mark completely regarding the original, noble aspects of the ancient ideology, the modern day version usually involves several flawed viewpoints.

In this article, we will touch on some of these errors and how they differ from what our old friend Zeno had in mind.

Stoicism Does Not Equate To Selfishness.

Pop Stoicism often makes it sound as if focusing on self-control and your personal reaction to events must also include a general disregard for the feelings of other people. This modern twist on the original idea often acts as if your one and only concern should be how you feel and how outside influences affect you.

Unfortunately, this new spin on Stoicism misses one of the key points of the mindset. As we’ve already discussed, Stoicism stresses that the most important thing an individual can do is contribute to the greater good.

Of course, your state of mind and making sure that you take care of yourself is important. The problem begins when this need overshadows the feelings and well-being of everyone else.

Misinterpretation Of What You Can & Can’t Control.

Another issue with Pop Stoicism is a misunderstanding of another key aspect of the original, which is the notion that you should only focus on that which you can control.

This can be an extremely useful tactic, especially in our current state of pandemic and seemingly constant political drama. Once again though, many people pushing Stoicism today have skewed this strategy.

It seems that a significant number of modern Stoics place far too many aspects of life in the “things you can’t control” category. They’ll try to tell you that everything from problems in your community to the health of your fellow citizens is completely uninfluenced by anything you can do. This is once again very misaligned to the idea of contributing to the greater good. In reality, this notion can easily be used as an excuse for a lack of effort to help people around you. You can see where this could basically be a cop out in the name of Stoicism.

Make no mistake, outside factors such as whether it rains or not or tension with foreign countries is probably not something you’re going to fix on a lazy Saturday. However, many of the problems affecting your immediate community can be improved with a little effort on your part.

A big aspect of Stoicism is the ability to accurately discern the difference between what you can and can’t control. Contributing to the greater good doesn’t have to mean starting a global movement but it can definitely mean helping out in your community.

Emotions Make Us Human.

The last argument against Pop Stoicism that we will discuss involves the topic of emotions. This modern idea often acts as if feeling or displaying any emotion whatsoever is a sign of poor self-control and weakness.

To follow Pop Stoicism to a tee can often involve going through life as a perpetually objective robot that makes every single decision based on logic alone.

In reality, the actual idea that Stoicism stresses is not letting your emotions overcome your ability to make sound decisions, to not allow yourself to become so emotionally attached to things you can’t control that when they inevitably let you down you’re crushed.

Once again, this is a beneficial tactic for any era. Not allowing your inner peace to be affected by the craziness of this world is undoubtedly useful.

One of the biggest traits of being a human is our ability to feel and process complex emotions. Sure, we have a tendency to make rash decisions and go against what we know to be the logical choice from time to time, but how many incredible achievements and world-changing events in our history were based on that tendency?

For a final time, let’s go back to the idea of contributing to the greater good of the world and your fellow man.

Would some of the greatest thinkers and achievers in human history have been doing this if they succumbed to the logic and “rational thinkers” all around them telling them that their idea was crazy and futile?

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