How Stoicism Has Turned into a ‘Sit Down and Shut Up’ Philosophy

One basic tenant of Stoicism is that one shouldn’t worry about one cannot control. And most things are beyond our control. I’ve been practicing Stoicism for over six months, and I’m having trouble reconciling some things.

Being a part of Stoic groups, I have often run into people saying, “Well, I’m a Stoic. I’m not going to worry about climate change.” That’s troubling. But not as troubling as when I imagine giving modern Stoic advice to oppressed groups.

It’s true, our Ancient forbearers in Stoicism opposed things like slavery. But that’s not the Stoicism I see practiced by many people today. The virtue of justice seems to be missing altogether and replaced with a simple: Don’t worry about a thing.

When I reflect upon the current state of Stoicism, I feel as though it’s not a philosophy I can recommend to everyone. I cannot recommend it to people who are worried about police brutality. I cannot simply say: Well, I realize your life is a stake, but don’t worry, there’s nothing we can do about it.

There is something we can do about it. Although not completely in our direct control, we can protest police brutality collectively. This fight for justice is better than telling folks to simply sit down and shut up—there’s nothing to be done. So, I’m iffy about the current state of Stoicism. It’s a great philosophy, to be sure. And Ancient Stoics knew a lot about what they were talking about. It’s an insightful philosophy that especially helps with coping with difficulties.

Fortune can be unforgiving. But let’s not confuse what’s within our control with what’s not. There’s plenty of things we can do to change the current state of affairs so that injustices needn’t be tolerated. It will make us worry. It will make us act. And that is probably more what Ancient Stoicism is all about.

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