Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Friday, July 19, 2013


So, as I have gotten older, I have mellowed out quite a bit. In my salad days, I may have been a bit, how shall we say... mercurial? Volatile? Prone to expressive responses? I did more than my share of waving my arms around and shouting and the slightest provocation. While I never held grudges, the very act of getting agitated was often counter-productive.

These days, things are a little quieter with me. I'd like to say that it came from compassion and a sense of understanding of the needs of others, but I'm not sure it was quite as altruistic as all that. Much of it came from self-preservation: from realizing that all the sturm und drang was not only not helping whatever situation I was in, but also not helping me much. Some of that wisdom = fatigue idea started sinking in, and slowly, with a lot of influence from Coco, I have been changing into the calm one. The attainment of ataraxia - that "state of consciousness characterized by freedom from mental agitation" so valued by Epicurus and the Stoics - has been a personal goal for some time.

It has been a conscious effort, and sometimes it still takes effort - my loud,  Brooklyn, Italian-American upbringing, while not long on equanimity, instilled a lot of solid values as well as useful ways and means for dealing with the world, and I never want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And this also isn't just a recent pursuit. As a freshman in college, I wrote a paper extolling the benefits of living in the modern world according to the precepts of Epicurus. My philosopher professor gave this insightful feedback:

Like many freshman initiatives, it mostly went nowhere.

A few years back, I was flirting with Buddhism. It never really took, not because of the discipline - I was ready for that - but because in the end, it's a religion, and that's a deal-breaker. (This Slate piece explains a lot of the conflict I had.) While I was still striving toward ataraxia, I was doing so without any formal structure. So, for one of my projects this summer, I decided to go back and re-read Epicurus more mindfully. Most of what we have of his is fragmentary, but there's enough to make a study of, and I bookmarked The Principal Doctrines - a collection of quotations that comprise a generally accepted sort-of summary of Epicurean philosophy.

I hadn't gotten around to doing much about it, but the past few weeks have been quite the impetus. From the Snowden affair to the debacle in Florida, the national news remains depressing. In my personal orbit, breast cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma have all decided to visit the lives of various people I care about. Ataraxia was slipping away.

I pulled out the Doctrines and took a look. 
1. A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness. 
5. It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life. 
27. Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.

Yeah, I'll start with those.

Now, as promised:

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