Print Story But I just think I'm free
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 04:19:41 AM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Enemy of Chaos", "The Stoic Life". Watching: "The September Issue". Web.

What I'm Reading
Enemy of Chaos by Leila Johnston is a spoof fighting fantasy gamebook where "you, aging nerd, are the hero".

Nice concept, but only mildly amusing in practice: the humour is a bit familiar and repetitive. Seems pretty well-structured, there are half a dozen or so different plot-strands which you can get through. Might work better if you haven't encountered much metafiction.


What I'm Reading 2
The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties, and Fate by Tad Brennan. Another book on stoic philosophy, but this one concentrates more on the theoretical side than the practice of stoicism. It concentrates on explaining ancient stoicism, rather than attempting to modernize it as with Becker's A New Stoicism. Brennan manages the difficult job of getting deep into the technicalities while still not requiring much background knowledge.

However, there's a fundamental difficulty here: very little of ancient stoic theory has survived. The extended works that remain: Seneca's letters, Epictetus' discourses, Marcus Aurelius' Meditations; are practical guides to applying stoic philosophy to make your life better. There are no complete books from Zeno of Citium who founded stoicism, or Chrysippus who formalized it. All that remain are a few paraphrases and quoted extracts, mostly from sources who were trying to argue against stoicism in favour of their own schools.

It seems that medieval monks found the practical stuff useful enough to copy, but found the ancient pagan theory either irrelevant or heretical.

Even so, Brennan does a good job of reconstructing stoic theory, with extensive notes on his sources. He divides the book into three sections: psychology, ethics and fate. He refers briefly to stoic logic, and generally ignores stoic physics.

There's quite a bit of disagreement about the basics of what stoics actually believed though. Even if you look at a fundamental question like what are the Passions: some think they meant pretty much all emotions, some like William Irvine say negative emotions. Brennan regards a passion as an assent to an impulse. If so, it helps to explain how come Seneca wrote plays full of violent emotion: since watching or hearing an emotional play doesn't involve assenting to any personal impulses, it doesn't invoke any Passions in this sense.

Brennan deals honestly and carefully with the criticisms of stoicism, eventually concluding that the system as a whole isn't really sustainable in the light. This is particularly worthwhile since some of the writers are stoic enthusiasts who tend to gloss over the problems rather hastily.

He's particularly strong on two particular objections to stoicism. One is the Lazy Argument: if everything is fated, why should one put any effort into doing anything. However, I don't think this argument is confined to stoicism. It seems to me that no philosopher has yet found a good way to reconcile free will and determinism; so any philosophy that includes physical causes and morality is going to hit a stumbling block there. If genes and environment determine everything you do, then at some level you're not responsible for your actions.

But until some bright spark comes up with an answer, I think you've just got to deal with these things in different domains: a scientific domain and a moral domain. After all, in physics no-one's yet come up with a quantum theory of gravity; but that doesn't mean you abandon modern physics, you just deal with each theory in its own domain and hope somebody sticks them together sometime.

The other objection is that ancient stoics insisted Virtue/Excellence (arete) is the only true Good, and things like good health are just "promoted indifferents" or "preferred indifferents" with subordinate status; but sometimes Virtue/Excellence seems to consist of maximizing these subordinates. For instance, a doctor working round the clock to fight a plague is exhibiting Virtue/Excellence; but his end is merely maximizing the Promoted Indifferent of good health.

But I think this too is get-aroundable. It could be that the doctor is praiseworthy because of the Excellence he exhibits, not just his moral virtue.

Overall, an interesting and worthwhile book if you're interested in the theory of ancient stoicism. Won't be of that much interest to a general reader though.

What I'm Watching
Saw the documentary about American Vogue magazine, The September Issue. Fairly interesting to get a glimpse into the area. It's generally worth paying attention to how someone at the very top of a particular game plays that game.

However, would have liked more detail on exactly how things work. André Leon Talley hogs the camera, but I haven't a clue what he does. The Colour Blocking Shoot is apparently a big deal, but I'm still not sure what it is: I think in the end just a shoot of some clothes which have clearly divided colours. A voiceover explaining things might have been helpful. But it could just be that I'm much more ignorant of how fashion works than the typical viewer.

Not sure if the documentary-maker was hoping for shocking revelations, but unsurprisingly just shoving a camera into rooms of people professionally dedicated to image manipulation doesn't reveal anything they don't intend to be revealed.

Overall, somewhat interesting but not unmissable. Review, review, review, review, RT.

Video. Unfinished London. C-3PO anti-smoking ad. Trailer for "Attack of the Clones" review by that guy.

Pics. Best protest signs of 2009. Tennis ad (NSFWFUP). Adipositivity fat-positive images (NSFW).

Economics. Paul Volcker interview (former Fed chairman who helped beat stagflation). House prices: Halifax claims increase, land registry shows fall, Daily Mash. Kaletsky It's not the economy and voters aren't stupid. Eurozone faces problems. No need for shock therapy. RBS was brought down by 0.2% of its staff. Pay consultants need more scrutiny.

Articles. Politics. Rod Liddle to edit Independent? Trafigura tries to seal court records. Sociology of Europe. Harlem no longer has black majority. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome not caused by single virus.

Random. Lego harpsichord (via). Ghost ship comic.

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But I just think I'm free | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)
I really like that Volcker interview by lm (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 07:33:25 AM EST
I wish most famous people would answer as directly and as succinctly when asked questions.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
(Comment Deleted) by xth (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 08:10:27 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth

Well, it's still in doubt from what they're saying by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 09:07:04 AM EST
Hopefully they'll pick someone else.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
It used to be a good paper by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat Jan 09, 2010 at 09:45:39 AM EST
But now it is just agency stories and fluff due to extreme cost cutting.

[ Parent ]
Heh by duxup (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 10:47:39 AM EST
Bushy Heath, Car Boot Sales . . . so cute.

But I just think I'm free | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)