my stoic journey

march 2020

I am most clearly a Stoic.

I grew up originally a black nationalist and then as a teen went through several different religious instructions. I was confirmed as an Episcopalian and considered myself Progressive for most of my young life. But as a professional I was necessarily what was once known as a ‘fiscal conservative’ viz Thomas Sowell. My education was in computer science and my father was USMC. That along with Catholic school made me very much of the sort who admires self-discipline, skepticism and respect for tradition. At some point in my early 20s I fell under the spell of feudal Asian culture - at the same time I was into a rather radical cultural production phase, meaning performance art and poetry.

So while it might seem I was all over the place, it didnt’ feel like that to me. I basically went where the answers and expertise were. I never tried to put everything under one banner. It was actually Ayn Rand that clarified that for me.

No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality.

Could I exist as a contradiction? No. That would mean internal conflict and suffering. I did not. It was only in communicating with others that such dissonance arose. I learned different patches of logic from all over. I can remember the term ‘significantly bitty’ to describe certain types of problems, like the classic Four Color problem, which was not solved with a simple proof so much as an exhaustive set of connected proofs. Such then, was life. Rand, for example, had no useful advice for family life and the raising of children. Whereas this was deeply described in Clavell’s descriptions of the Shogunate, and implied in the Tao of Sun Tzu.

Since I was living a kind of monastic life as a programmer in the 80s where only a select few understood the ways and means of our logical lifestyle - before even Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate - I was content to understand myself well, philosophically. I never ventured far from Christian ethics. I never felt any need for revolutionary posturing. I aimed to be integrative, with integrity, but importantly as an organic - not leveraged by attachment to the significance of any social movements or bourgeois labels. l expected a ‘noble arena’, what I later understood as Jefferson’s ‘aristocracy of merit’. This of course was computer science and the digitization of every form of work in which I was on the vanguard establishing a new context for knowledge.

What eventually happened is that I became a professional success, and in this I discovered the contradictions of Left thought particularly that which abandoned humanitarian concern for the comfortable who were to be ‘afflicted’. I also discovered the contradictions of preached equality of Progressives in particular manifested in contempt for the unsophisticated and apolitical. “Everyone is ‘equal’ but only if they listen to NPR every day and follow the issues, otherwise we have to speak for them, for their own good, poor blighters.” I was gobsmacked by the history of the Soviets and the war on the Eastern Front, which somehow I had managed not to understand until after I was 40. All, a consequence of the smug moral certitude of the American Progressive Left.

So I went Right. It took all of 5 years to absorb what I needed to know and then leave that partisan prison with my temper and inner peace intact. I learned quite enough to recognize the intellectual stranglehold of the Red and the Blue in American current affairs.

Along the way I was saved by three intellectuals in particular. The first was Stewart Brand, with whom I had earlier been aware having been a member of The Well. His Long Now Foundation made me look to the long future. The second was Niall Ferguson whose seminar on how he became a historian, by ‘communing with the dead’ the overwhelming majority of humanity made me look to the long past. The third was Nassim Taleb whose mastery of mathematics and Wall Street made me look towards the dismissal of wishful thinking which permeates all human endeavors and encounters with partial knowledge.

My attraction to stoicism came naturally through my study of history viz Taleb’s respect for the ancients and the understanding that whatever can fail will fail. That anything has survived for centuries is demonstrable proof of its value. With this is the consequent understanding that what is broken can’t always be reformed and sometimes must collapse under its own contradiction. This understanding, along with my organic principles, led me fully out of political partisanship. Why bother with that which by democratic nature is eminently corruptible? Man’s law is a tangled wood designed to fetter mankind. (cf. Man of All Seasons) but the laws of the universe are indifferent to motive. Whatever can be, will be.

Thus as a stoic, an organic, a non-contradictory individual, one who might apply any system of knowledge appropriate to a problem set, I am finding myself in perfect harmony with the Serenity Prayer[1]. But additionally, in matters of the spirit, I am aligned with Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, namely ‘Thou Art That’ locating the divine in the self and in the Logos - in reason and essentially in the faith exemplified by the interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil story of Genesis. This is a further crystallization of my epiphany of 2006[2]. To act against reason is to act against the nature of God.

So I live without contradictions or worry about dichotomies between faith and reason, without anxiety (mostly) about what is beyond my control, and generally without fear of death. Yet I live with energy in expanding my experience and my ability to deal with all human experience without wishful thinking. I am engaged with other Stoics and keep plugging away. It’s a very good life.