One of my dedicated readers remarked that, in my writing, I tend to walk a fine line between stoicism and nihilism. With my previous work being an affirmation of nihilism, allow me to use this as a refutation of stoicism, in hopes of further tipping the balance. Stoicism can be a noble philosophy, this is true. It’s premised around the notion that the universe it outside of our control, but what we CAN control is our reaction to the things outside of our control. In turn, stoicism tends to breed a mentality of quiet reservation and a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. And this reaction is guaranteed to keep you weaker.
If Bruce Banner was a stoic, no one would care about him
Nietzsche critiqued stoicism as “life-denying” philosophy; it worked against our basic nature, and engaging in it would result in the decline of humanity, not the evolution of it. Why is this? Why would the mastery of our emotions result in negative growth rather than positive? Because our emotions provide us the necessary fuel to serve as a catalyst for growth. Our emotions call us to action, and that action is what creates progress.
Discontent is what spurs us to act and seek self-improvement. When we fail in our endeavors, we feel the disappointment, self-loathing and rage that forces us to train harder, longer and better. When we do not meet the expectations we set for ourselves, we grow furious and we correct ourselves. When, after following a perfect training cycle and the stars line up and everything went as well as possible and we STILL only take second place, we grow livid, go to a dark place in the corner of our mind and become something greater than we are.
The stoics of this world are simply good losers, which is to say, bad winners. They are satisfied with a job well done, knowing that they tried their hardest and that is all they can do. And they never take first place. They get beat by the narcissist, whose self-absorption holds no one else’s joy above their own. They get beat by the misanthrope, whose outright hatred of humanity inspires him to grow to something “beyond.” They get beat by the ascetic, who understands that life is pain and pursues hardship to become better, NOT to ignore it. They get beat by ANYONE who has embraced any sort of philosophy that allows for disappointment, fear and rage to exist.
Stoicism becomes the philosophy of cowards; they don’t want to experience these “negative” emotions, so they decide that they’re simply not going to react in the presence of appropriate stimuli. These are the people that refuse to engage in any activity which may result in feeling these emotions. They will not train hard, because that might cause an injury, which would cause pain and regret. They will not compete, because that might result in losing, which would cause disappointment and doubt. They recant the trite mantra of “God, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”, because they have no hope of finding this strength inside of themselves.
You could pick a worse god
This is why I tell you: pray for weakness. Pray for defeat. Pray to be crushed, beaten, destroyed, humiliated and ruined. Pray that whatever deity you pray to will give you an opportunity to feel the emotions necessary to call you to greatness. The people praying for strength are readily admitting their weakness; the people praying for weakness are simply seeking more adversity to overcome. It is through overcoming that we grow, adapt, and get stronger. This was Nietzsche’s Will to Power; the will to continue seeking out greater and greater challenges to assert out power over.
Success makes us soft; failure is what drives us to overcome. When we succeed, we find ourselves lost. Where do we go from here? What’s the next way forward? But when we fail? We know exactly how and where we have failed and what we must do to overcome. I have said before; nothing is more anabolic than second place. Standing on the podium and basking in the glory with a gold medal gives you a sigh of relief, while standing there with silver just provides you a voracious appetite. To be so close and still fail results in harder training and better results, because we allow ourselves to feel the regret of failure and let it drive us to do what it takes to succeed. We don’t embrace stoicism and accept our defeat with quiet dignity; we throw a righteous tantrum, burn every bridge, salt the earth and leave nothing but destruction in our wake.
No joke; if you never got to watch the year that Mariusz went Super Saiyan, you missed out
Pray that you have the opportunity to experience such weakness. Pray that you aren’t so dead on the inside that you can’t even bring yourself to be upset at your failures. Pray that, when you experience defeat, it drives you to achieve an even greater victory. Don’t deny your life providing instincts; embrace them! Embrace the red hot fiery passion to be something GREATER in the face of something less. Don’t let stoicism convince you that being ok with failure is as noble as victory; know that the feelings associated with failure are necessary to achieve the glory of victory.