What if You Lost Everything?


I recently finished “A Man in Full” by Tom Wolfe.  It is a great, long novel for a Heroic Stoic to read.  One of the great questions that are posed to the reader of this book is, “What if you lost everything?”   What if you lost all of your possessions, your family, your health, your reputation, or any combination of these?  I think it is healthy to mentally prepare for the possibility.

Try imagining your life without any of these things: 1) everything you own 2) your spouse or children 3) or your ability to walk, see, hear, etc.

Try actually depriving yourself, maybe even for a day, of something you take for granted:  1) shoes 2) air conditioning 3) electricity 4) solid food.

These practices will help you in a time when maybe you might need to deal with similar situations, a situation that is not so severe, AND it will help you appreciate those things that you have.

What if you were a pan-handler on the street, would it be as bad as you think?

“Never in any case say I have lost such a thing, but I have returned it.  Is your child dead?  It is a return. Is your wife dead? It is a return. Are you deprived of your estate?  Is not this also a return?”  – Epictetus

Tactical Optimism and Strategic Pessimism


I was listening to the Morning in America radio show several years ago, and Bill Bennett, the host said something like this:  “I am a tactical optimist, and a strategic pessimist.  We are all ashes in the end, but we wake up each morning and figure out how to move the ball each day.”

This is a profound and rich quote, full of allusions to sport, religion, and military maneuver, not to mention a little Stoic wisdom (most likely by accident…not sure Dr. Bennett is a Stoic).

In essence, this phrase captures how a Heroic Stoic would live.  Yes, in the end tragedy will befall us, including our own and everyone else’s death, but that does not mean we shouldn’t serve, build, and create anyway.

Tactical Optimism for the Long Trip Ahead – I’m confident I can make it to that next tree. After that, more trees!

The Stoic knows that nothing lasts forever, and that much is out of her control.  However, she continues on and works on those things that she can control.  Moreover, to be a hero she would indeed contribute for the sake of her own excellence, for the very sake of accomplishing the task.  For those who wish to take advantage of her productive endeavors, she will willingly engage in trade with them.

Right now, millions of people are currently grasping for more, or wallowing in self-pity, or even thinking that they deserve something from “the man,” from life, or from those who have the ability to help them.  Many others are happy with the illusion that tragedy will somehow miss them.  Many have never heard of the Stoics, and others might not agree with the individual-centered philosophy of Ayn Rand.  It is my view that this will probably remain the case; neither Stoic philosophy nor individualism seem to be anywhere close to be being described as “en vogue.”  It is the default position of human nature to ignore the suffering around us rather than face it head-on.  Moreover, it is a very common trait of humans to attribute one’s station in life as the fault of another, or of society in general.  In the end, the great majority will never embrace a Heroic Stoic lifestyle, no matter what I do, write, or say.

Strategic Pessimism – Those trees will be ashes soon enough.

Despite all of this, I write about these topics.  I believe in the power of Heroic Stoicism, and hopefully I can move the ball forward just a little today, tomorrow, and every day.  Even though most of YOU out there will not truly embrace what I say, I write about what I believe, because I think it will HELP YOU.

That’s because I am a tactical optimist, despite the fact that I am a strategic pessimist.

Stoic Gratitude (…or, how lucky are you, really?)


Seneca, one of the great Stoics, said,  “Many times has wailing for the dead been heard in my neighborhood; many times have the torch and the taper led untimely funerals past my threshold; often has the crash of a falling building resounded at my side; many of those whom the forum, the senate-house and conversation had bound to me a night has carried off, and the hands that were joined in friendship have been sundered by the grave. Should I be surprised if the dangers that always have wandered about me should at some time reach me? The number of men that will plan a voyage without thinking of storms is very great. I shall never be ashamed to quote a bad author if what he says is good. Publilius, who, whenever he abandoned the absurdities of farce and language directed to the gallery, had more vigor than the writers of comedy and tragedy, among many other utterances more striking than any that came from the buskined — to say nothing of the comic curtain’s — stage, has also this:  Whatever can one man befall can happen just as well to all.”


And this passage makes me realize I have much to be grateful for.

For this I am grateful this morning.  When I rose from my bed, my feet did not ache with pain.  For that matter my Achilles heel was intact and my feet and all of my lower extremity muscles carried me with ease to my sink and shower.

My oldest children were all happily sleeping, none of them was taken from me by a horrible auto accident.  All are young drivers, two of them drive late at night for work.  I get to see them one more day.

My youngest son is sharp as a tack despite a tough beginning to his life.  I am proud of him.

My youngest daughter is energetic, inquisitive, alive, and alert.  She has not been in a coma for months or even years.  I am allowed to partake in her child-driven joy.

My wife is in love with me, this I know.  She is vibrant, physically beautiful and witty.  I was able to hear her voice, her breath, to feel her warmth.  When I awoke this morning, she was by my side.  It was her alarm that woke me.  She slammed the snooze button in perfect form.  She intentionally wakes to teach my children at home, because she cares for them with all her heart.  For this I am grateful.

My family, in general, is intact.  All well…one more day to share with them.  One more moment to ask them “how are things?”

I turn the water handle and it runs with potable water…I can drink straight from the faucet any time I want.  I feel the 72 degree low humidity air around my body.  It is easy to breathe.  The electrical grid supplies me with one more day of luxurious comfort.  I earn enough in dollars to pay for it.  Furthermore, my lungs feel healthy and strong.  I have not smoked very much…I am glad to have missed that addiction.

I click on a coffee pot, that will brew the beverage I love so dearly.  So many laborers who grow, pick and deliver those beans to me from so far away.  Such craftsmanship in electrical appliances necessary to partake in this special drink, that livens my senses and comforts me all at once.

I see the light on the pot.  I see…with both eyes.  Four years ago I was struck with a condition which left my left eye partially blind for six months.  I am grateful for retinal specialists, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies for their work and care.  I am also grateful for the little luck it took to get my eye back to full vision.  I can still detect the remnants of the condition, but it is wonderful.  The remnant is a reminder of how temporary being able to see can be.  Today I can see.

I am grateful.

Was Robin Hood a Good Guy? Was He Altruistic?



Here is a short synopsis of my version:  Robin Hood has a band of Merry Men, who steal from a usurping tyrant king (Prince John) who takes property forcefully from the citizens through a “tax.”  Robin and his band then distribute the loot to those who in fact earned it in the first place.  In the end, a new king (King Richard) returns and everyone is happy because he is a “just” ruler (what life is like after King Richard returns is unknown…in any case, he represents a more fair government).  Oh…and there is Robin’s love interest as well (Maid Marion).

Which means I agree with the blue text of this image, which I recently posted on Facebook:

Note: The red text is actually a false statement about the story.  In fact, Robin did steal from the rich and give to the poor.  I’ll provide a better caption below, but read on…

So anyway, I posted that photo above on facebook.  Well, I now know that at least one of my friends read my blog, because sure enough, based on my previous Altruism post one of them asked, “but was he altruistic?”  Well that is a darn good question, but it also leads to another question, “Was he good?”

So, let’s start with the second question first.  Is Robin Hood a good guy?  More precisely, in the context of the story, is stealing from whom he was stealing a good or a bad action?  First, let’s check the premise.  Does Robin Hood steal from the rich and give to the poor?–Yes.  Did these rich obtain their wealth through their own hard work and by providing value to someone else, or did they steal their riches through force?  I say the latter.  So, assuming Robin Hood is taking from the rich ruler who obtained his riches by threatening force upon a populace (i.e. robbery), then I would say that indeed Robin Hood’s actions were noble.

Notice that my judgment is based on looking at the issue at hand deeper than a topical news media headline:  “Robin Hood Works for Common Man, Takes from Fat Cats and Gives to Poor!”  In fact, when you look a degree or two deeper, you find that, “Robin Hood Locates Thieves of Citizens’ Riches, Returns Goods Back to Rightful Owners!”   Language is very powerful, more powerful than even logic.  Most of the time, most of us (including me), don’t take much time to evaluate a situation.  Most of the time, we can be manipulated by slogans and catchy words.

OK, according to my version of the story (not that he simply stole from the rich to give to the poor, but that he returned to the citizens what an oppressive ruler took from them), Robin performed a good act.  So, assuming his actions are good, were they altruistic?

I would argue that he is not altruistic for these reasons.

  1. In many versions of the story, Robin benefits from the patronage of King Richard, The Lion-Hearted (the “good” King).  He may be looked upon as holding down the fort until Richard returned and brought a just society.
  2. The citizens are immensely grateful for his services.  He can feel good about the service that he performs for them.
  3. This “gratefulness” gives Robin a type of defacto power (power is a big incentive for many).  He is an elder of the people.
  4. Maid Marion – his actions get him the girl (our reproductive drive is a HUGE motivator…somebody should remind me to post on that later)
  5. I’m sure there are more, can you think of any?

I would like to return to the “steal from the rich give to the poor” moral of the story.  If indeed Robin Hood was stealing from a rich person just because they have “too much” and those who are poor “deserve it,” this would not be a righteous action without knowing the premises (for example, the premise that the “rich” were actually “criminals”).

So here’s my suggestion for a more truthful caption to the image above:  Pay Attention!  While Robin Hood did steal from the rich and give to the poor, what made his actions justifiable were that he took people’s stolen stuff BACK from an oppressive CRIMINAL GOVERNMENT and gave it to the people that produced and OWNED the stuff in the first place!!  The fact that his victims were rich and benefactors were poor, did not justify his actions!!

And now you see, why I have no future in writing headlines or political slogans.

What are your thoughts?

The Coming Catastrophe!


“All existing things soon change, and they will either be reduced to vapour, if indeed all substance is one, or they will be dispersed.” Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

One of the key elements of Stoicism is the concept of fate. Tragedy will befall you in some way, it is certain. Nobody really knows what fate has in store for them. It could be any number of good or bad fortunes.

So the other day I read THIS ARTICLE by Holly Drennan Deyo at LewRockwell.com. It’s about preparing for a food crisis, and why I should do so. At first read, the article seems a little alarmist. I mean really, what are the odds we have a famine in this country? Seriously, do you know the odds? Hey, YOU, I am asking you the question…seriously: DO YOU KNOW THE ODDS OF A FAMINE IN THIS COUNTRY? I know the only answer that can be given: You don’t know the odds, I don’t know the odds, even the experts are unlikely to know the likelihood of a widespread famine where you live.

Could this be you? Is it possible?

The point that I want to make is not that this catastrophe is probable, but that indeed it is possible. Maybe it is not likely, or maybe it is extremely likely. This is a calculation for each of us to make. My calculation is that the chance is greater than any of us would like to admit, that food prices may soar through the roof. As a result, it might be extremely difficult for me to purchase what I need to feed myself and my family in the future (I don’t grow my own…yet).

As a Stoic, I feel fairly confident I am ready for this possibility mentally. As a Hero, I am way underprepared in physical terms. As a Stoic, I know the possible catastrophe ahead is completely out of my control. My preparation for it, however, is mostly in my control. I say mostly because, of course, I have limited resources to survive now, I have limited capacity to estimate how much time I might have, or how drastic the “catastrophe” will be, or if my wife thinks this is something to worry about enough to prepare for (we are currently in negotiation about what catastrophe preparation is appropriate . I don’t think we are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but certainly we have not come to an agreed upon strategy. UPDATE: I just read this post to her and she says we are definitely on opposite ends of the spectrum. The negotiation continues…). In essence, I must gamble with time and current resources on the possibility. Additionally, I must cooperate with those in my life on an agreed upon way ahead.

…or are you thinking of this? (a Margan Zajdowicz photo)

…or this? (by LotusHead, www.pixelpusher.co.za)

For now, let’s return to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Read this one slowly, with the possibility of the coming famine in mind. You must read the whole thing but really let the last line sink in:

“None of these things ought to be called a man’s, which do not belong to a man, as man. They are not required of a man, nor does man’s nature promise them, nor are they the means of man’s nature attaining its end. Neither then does the end of man lie in these things, nor yet that which aids to the accomplishment of this end, and that which aids towards this end is that which is good. Besides, if any of these things did belong to man, it would not be right for a man to despise them and to set himself against them; nor would a man be worthy of praise who showed that he did not want these things, nor would he who stinted himself in any of them be good, if indeed these things were good. But now the more of these things a man deprives himself of, or of other things like them, or even when he is deprived of any of them, the more patiently he endures the loss, just in the same degree he is a better man.“

Your thoughts and comments, please!