A Man for All Stoics

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Personal / Writing / Letters /

Mission: to discuss stoicism and epistemology

from an email: to my son

1999 03 13 Got back to sleep and woke up at early light, shivering in bed as thoughts came to me about how I might talk to you (one-way discuss) about Wolfe’s Man in Full. I said it was a great religious book. One thing I love about it is the clear absurdity of the religious teleology and the simultaneously clear quality of the behavioral guide.

I already told you, not feeling I was giving anything away, that the guy who’s been laid off is in jail and gets The Stoics sent to him by mistake. I think I also emphasized that he wasn’t the protagonist, but might be the “hero.” Now I’ll say that it remains uncertain to the end whether the novel has a hero, then, at the end, it’s unclear whether there was only one hero. Anyway, the fucked-over guy has clear hero candidacy throughout.

I didn’t see how it could spoil your reading to know that the character exists, that he worked for a company owned by the apparent protagonist, that he read Epictetus, or that he goes to jail early on: now I don’t see how it can spoil anything to know that he continues to occupy space in the narrative from early to late, and in the story, throughout.

Conrad: in his unassuming, non-arrogant way, he becomes a teacher.

I didn’t have the word “stoic” in mind when I saw Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion as a child, nor when I watched the Christians being thrown to the lions in all the blockbusters. No breeze of Epictetus stirred as I wrote Integrity: I don’t know the Stoics, never read Epictetus. But now I see his influence on early Christianity, Shaw, and me.

I trust Wolfe’s brief summary of his influence on Christianity and the essence of his creed. Unlike the Jews/Christians, he wasn’t looking for justice. Unlike USians, he didn’t blab about fairness. He wanted to be a “man” despite the Man. (I’m sorry: I guess I will say something about the novel: By the end, there’s only one clear “man in full”: and it’s none of the characters. The title bothers throughout, up to the last page.) Epictetus is the hero! In passage after passage, his text is read, always the same simple message: You have the power to kill me; I have the power to die like a man.

You have the power to kill me;
I have the power to die like a man.

Anyway, lying in bed, listening to the coffee gurgle, I had a couple of relevant inspirations which I hope to now capture (if I haven’t already): the theology is bullshit: Zeus made me, Zeus gave me this and that, a man is he who can die with honor … There’s no sound epistemological …

A new inspiration interrupts: it now occurs to me why epistemology is so little understood, honored, or talked about, even by scientists. (My lawyer warned me: “If you say “epistemology” in front of the jury, they’ll see that you get nothing.” Why, because you used a word that they don’t recognize? No! Because you used a word that they do recognize: and despise. and fear. The way a ‘roach flees the light.) Epistemology doesn’t offer any sound basis for being right; just myriad methods to detect error. Epistemology doesn’t hold forth the Truth. It doesn’t guarantee that reason leads to it. (It doesn’t guarantee that it leads to reason.) It’s a flaw-fathomer (like science); not a truth-finder. It doesn’t promise that backing away from flaws puts you smack in Truth’s bulls-eye!
Even most philosophers keep mum on epistemology: it doesn’t enthrone their “reason,” merely uses it!*

Can epistemology establish that anything is better than anything else? That integrity is better than its absence? That life is better than death? That a rich diverse biosphere is better than a scorched, poisoned wasteland? No: that’s where religion comes in. That’s where religion will always come in. That’s why believers hate atheists so. It’s not How dare you not believe in Mars, or Yahweh, or Baal nearly so much as Gasp: you must have no values!

PS. Another thought came as I breakfasted with Catherine: right or wrong have meaning only with reference to some tautology. Homogeneous cultures believe they have a homogeneous tautology: Jews, yes; Christians, no: Christians, yes; Jews, no … What should a “melting pot” believe? (That Kissinger is Shaman!)

In any case, the macro universe … the universe of life … neither is a tautology. (It’s territory, Baby.)

*If you had to “prove” that you had a right to use a hammer, could a single nail ever get driven?


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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