Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

There is, he said, only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance” – Socrates

Amathia

People do stupid things. We can all admit to behaviour that in retrospection and on reflection seems illogical, irrational, self-destructive and just plain stupid. Being alcoholic I am qualified to attest to this. Looking at my past I could easily write the book “On Stupidity”. I still remind myself that people are not purposely stupid any more than I was. People just do stupid things. To quote Forrest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and Anti-Nazi dissident, wrote that while the reasoned may protest against “Evil” and be inoculated against it there is no such defense against the person who does stupid. Even the person who does “evil” feels a unease with their acts (unless of course the person is a psychopath). “Evil” is however a result of stupidity and ignorance.

The Greeks called such “Stupidity” Amathia, a sort of preventable intelligent “Stupidity”. Amathia is different to the “dull witted” who lacks the mental capacity to know virtue from vice. Socrates considered Amathia the root of evil acts in people. Epictetus described Amathia as anti-wisdom. A spiritual malady that afflicts those that could know and should know better.  Worse than ignorance, Amathia is choosing not to know, the worst type of stupidity.

 

A Stain

Stupidity never receives a clinical description or medical diagnosis. As an affliction it resides outside the realm of psychology. In the Army, “Stupid” or variations of was the worst label one could suffer. Being labelled “Stupid” was like a stain. It marked the unfortunate as “incompetent, unreliable, a liability and a bullet magnet”. “Stupid” was someone who could not be taught because he was incapable. Unable to learn not because of a lack of ability but because of a lack of willingness. Such was a lost cause, a “Cluster”, a “Gomer Pyle”.

Reading Bonhoeffer’s description of stupidity I am stunned by the familiarity to my own behaviour around alcohol. I never considered myself “Stupid” however I did stupid things and refused to learn from them. I was a “Cluster” in the true sense of the word. This flaw was a stain and it touched everyone who came close to me.

 

Defenseless

Bonhoeffer wrote a letter while awaiting his fate in a Nazi prison. I will quote extensively from it as it serves as a wake up call. Bonhoeffer writes “against stupidity we are defenceless” and goes on; “Neither protest nor the use of Force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on death ears

Most alcoholics are defenseless against the power of alcohol. They are hopeless when it comes to being convinced by others of their condition. Loved one’s and friends try to intervene without success. Employers, work mates and medical professionals try to reason with them. All efforts avail nothing.

Not only addicts are affected. People in general tend to grasp on to their system of beliefs and tightly held opinions that an alternate view cannot and will not be entertained. Extremists come in many shades but all share a common refusal to budge on their beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Some are even prepared to die for them.

 

“facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.”

 

Ignoring Evidence

Even in the face of declining health, lost employment, repossessed house, broken family and destitution an alcoholic will continue to insist that the source of his problems is the fault of others. She will refuse to admit fault or accept being alcoholic. Despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance suffered the person will reject all evidence. This denial and reinforcement of enabling behaviour counteracts any impetus for change.

We call this person sick. Indeed they have a mental, physical and spiritual illness rooted in Amathia.

How often in other areas of life do we put our blinkers on and cherry pick the truth believing only what we want to hear and rejecting opposing views and contradictory evidence as “false”, “fake” or “baseless”? We would rather ignore and reject out of hand ideas or evidence that challenges our perceptions than give them a moment’s thought.

 

The Belligerent

“In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”

 

When we are pushed to consider a view point that challenges our sense of self and potentially destroys everything we believe we can become extremely defensive. Pushed hard enough we may defend our beliefs to the point of violence. It happens with addicts who are forced in to a corner.

Violence is also used by  people who have inflexible and dogmatic views on religion, politics and other contentious issues. Are our valued ideas and concepts worth defending or advancing to the point we need to attack others who challenge us? Do we have the right to smother dissenting views and criticism?

 

A Contagion

Somehow people “become stupid” over time. Progressively they adopt attitudes and beliefs that eventually translate in to habits and character. The element of “Stupidity” is demonstrated in the traits described above. The outcome for an alcoholic is gradual loss of control of their lives and eventual descent to a personal hell. I know this because I lived it.

Stupidity is contagious. Bonhoeffer believed that those that felt a strong need to belong  to a group whether social, political or religious tended to be more willing to accept ideas than those who are happier to find their own path. Ideas and attitudes are fueled by people who share similar mind-sets and views.  As a drinker I sought out Drinkers to socialize and associate with and avoided people who did not drink. People tend to seek out the company of those that validate their character and values and avoid those who don’t.

In many ways recovery is a “Solo” mission. We can get advice and direction from people and seek what fits our own individual needs. There is no “one size fits all”. Most spiritual paths and philosophies are similar. There is a community but we are free and encouraged to go out and find our own way. There is nothing wrong with embracing an ideology however never grasp it so tight that it becomes a tether to the mind and soul. Be free to explore and seek new ideas and thoughts.

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.”

 

A Modern Affliction

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for many years by the Nazis. Despite his long incarceration Bonhoeffer believed that “stupidity” more than “evil” attracted many people to the Nazi doctrine. The rise of populism, “identity politics”, the “social justice warrior”, nationalism, religious extremism and “alt-left” and “alt-right” movements are all facets of the same thing when observed impartially from above. “Right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are subjective.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant and “stupid”.  The argument for reasoned discourse has been drowned out by the noise of divisiveness. People are being conditioned not to think, not to question. At the same time supporters of opposing views claim the moral high ground and possession of the truth. In truth the lack self ownership and independence of thought.

 

it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.”

Independence

Alcoholism like any type of dependence is a complete loss of self-autonomy and independence. It is also attachment and ego run riot. We forget how to think critically and with reason. Our actions are guided by something stronger than our own free will. Our inner world no longer belongs to us.

Ask yourself what are you dependent on? People, places, things, ideas and beliefs can all be our sources of attachment and dependence. Despite ourselves we find our own values and ideas are no longer our own, we are simply reciting the ideas and values of others as our own and “preaching to the converted”.

In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being.”

 

Self Wisdom

A person who is self-reliant, independent and emotionally intelligent and capable of critical analysis is unlikely to follow a “false prophet”. Our ego and fears seems to push as that way. Most people want to be part of the crowd. No one wants to be a contrarian. People want to be able to give themselves a label which expresses who they are and what they value. I was no different. Being alcoholic I made many claims and had an inflated sense of self-importance. My disease and the problems it presented defined me.

Recovery has taught me how to be self-reliant and independent. I can differentiate between what is in my control and what it outside of it. My inner world belongs to me. I have command over my proper faculties, my thoughts, perceptions and responses. The tone and attitude I bring in the day is up to me. Opinions and beliefs are mine alone. My spirituality is unique and my own. I choose my values and the principles I live by.

I have little control over people and circumstances. There may be some influence but the world is largely out of my control. Even my body is not entirely under my control. I can choose what to eat and drink from what is before me. My health may fail despite best efforts to be healthy and fit. Cancer or heart disease may still cut my years short. I am my own being and belong to no one but myself.

 

“Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings”

 

Evil is a Symptom

Bonhoeffer witnessed with dismay the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Being an opponent of Hitler he was imprisoned and persecuted. Accused of association in the plot to kill Hitler he was interned in a concentration camp and executed during the closing days of the war. Bonhoeffer would not have justified killing, even Hitler. Violence was not in his philosophy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the nature of the “Stupid” person is not an “intellectual” deficit but a “human” one. People are not born “stupid” any more than they are born “evil”. Some people are less intelligent than others, even “dull”, but are less “Stupid” in their nature than those with high intellect. History has shown some remarkably talented and brilliant minds who were ultimately betrayed by their own “Stupidity”.

People believe “Evil” is an independent and a tangible concept. That it has a life of its own. “Evil” is what most people perceive to as the really bad things that people do.  No one considers themselves to be inherently “evil”. Bonhoeffer  believed that people were not evil but only capable of doing evil because of their ignorance. Evil is a symptom of Socrates’s Amathia. Bonhoeffer also believed people could change for the better.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity

 

Liberation

In many ways Bonhoeffer was a real world Jedi Master. Bonhoeffer challenged the Lutheran church with his ideas of spirituality and religiosity but did not alienate himself from it. His views and philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, anti-communism in East Europe and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. In his letter from prison Bonhoeffer offered his friends some advice; “Liberation can overcome stupidity“.

More than 2200 years before Bonhoeffer, Socrates suggested  the same thing. Salvation from the worst flaw, the real human evil, Amathia is through the spiritual and psychological liberation that self knowledge brings.

Each of us has the key to our own liberation. Our own reasoned choices determine who we are. We can submit to our own vices or we can embrace virtue. Do we choose to abide by the will of others or make up our own minds? Do we walk the path we want for ourselves or do we follow others blindly? At the same time we can be understanding and compassionate with others, even the “Stupid” that we meet everyday.

In the week the world remembers the Holocaust it is perhaps timely that we reacquaint ourselves with the word Amathia.

 

Living like a Stoic Jedi

Stoic Week

For the last seven days I have been living like a Stoic. For those that are not aware the international group called “Modern Stoicism” hold an annual conference in one major city to discuss Stoicism and how the philosophy can be applied in modern times. After the conference invitees and the global community are invited to try living like a Stoic for a week. This year several thousand people signed on to the free event and put the Stoic practices to work in their own lives. Following a week participants were invited to complete a life satisfaction survey and compare results with the same survey taken the week before. Given that the exercise only went for a week it is unlikely that people new to Stoicism would find much difference in their lives however we can agree that the philosophy does has a lot to offer.

So why is someone who promotes and advocates Jedi philosophy so inclined towards Stoicism? What are the similarities between Stoicism and Jedi philosophy? Why should we care?

 

The use of Philosophy

Well the goal of Jedi Philosophy is to achieve “world betterment through self betterment”. Stoicism is pretty much the same. Many people out there are in to self improvement and there is nothing wrong with that. I have been embarking on self improvement campaigns of one sort of another most of my life. The problem that I and many other people had was the underlying motivation and intent that went in to our efforts to improve. We wanted to be “better” but not necessarily better people. Practical philosophies help us to identify our values, define our goals and keep us motivated in our efforts to be a better person and live a better life.

 

Motivation

We can decide to do something about our weight and fitness. Getting ripped at the gym to look better is great but if we are doing it only to impress other people with our physique then it’s actually a little pretentious and fake. If your motivation and goal is to be fitter and healthier so that you can improve your quality of life and be a better partner, friend, father, mother and so on then you are trying to be a better person. Studying philosophy simply for the purpose of being able to quote dead people in front of your friends might be impressive for a while but unless there is genuine application of the philosophy in your life then it’s shallow and not going to impress anyone for long.

Having a personal philosophy for life helps us to align our values with our goals in life. We find that having a goal to be rich and famous and own lots of stuff no longer has the appeal it once had. Being a better person and living with virtue becomes more important than superficial goals. What’s your motivation?

 

Appearances

I’ll share a secret; I’m an alcoholic but I won’t tell anyone unless it serves to help them in their own pursuit of sobriety. I don’t look like an alcoholic, few people do and how would we imagine an alcoholic to look like anyway? I’m also Jedi, not a light sabre wielding, cloak wearing Jedi Knight who can move objects using the Force but a person who applies the virtues and principles that are common to the Jedi fictional archetypes. That does not mean I go around telling people that I’m a Jedi. There is no such a title in our universe and to go about claiming to be one is not sane behavior. I can treat the noun Jedi as a verb and be Jedi. If you saw me walking down the street you would not be able to pick me for a Jedi. Even if you got to know me you would never think to ask “Are you a Jedi?” anymore than you might guess that I am an alcoholic who has been sober for a long time. I would hope that my actions and words demonstrate the virtues I imagine to be common to Jedi. If they do, then the philosophy has served me.

 

Just People

The Stoics were no different. In ancient times Stoics were very much a part of mainstream society. They had received their training and mentoring through schools of Stoicism and then moved in to jobs and careers pretty much the way people do these days after receiving an education. The Stoics were taught a formula for living that would help them get through life on life’s terms. They were given the psychological tools to master their response to emotions and better handle the challenges they were presented with. The Stoics were not a grim bunch of men who were flaccid about life and completely void of emotions because they felt life was not worth getting worked up about. On the contrary the Stoics were fully engaged in life. They were leaders in commerce and  civil, military and political spheres. The Stoics included artists and musicians, military strategists and politicians, emperors and slaves as well as ordinary people on the streets of Athens and Rome. For the most part they were indistinguishable from other citizens except in their unique and pragmatic approach to life. People who practice Stoicism today are no different, they are military, academic, business leaders in our society and every day people like you and me.

 

Shared and Common

Jedi Philosophy shares a lot of similarities with Stoicism. The Stoic concept of God as being the all matter in existence and a universal reason or primordial fire is similar to the concept of the Force. We are all luminous beings but we are also crude matter as well.

The Stoic ethics and virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and temperance are similar to the core Jedi virtues and states of peace, serenity, harmony, knowledge and the Force as cited in the Jedi Code. The Jedi Code is the basic point of reference for all Jedi. The code being underpinned by principles of objectivity, reason, self discipline and justice. Passion and dark emotions such as anger, fear and hate are seen as a sure path to suffering. The Dark Side is to turn over to these dark emotions, a personal rock bottom. The Stoic branches of Logic, Physics and Ethics find common ground in Jedi philosophy.

None of this means that Jedi Philosophy is Stoicism. Jedi also share similarities with Buddhism, Taoism, Humanism and other traditions. Jedi Philosophy puts a great deal of importance on meditation and physical fitness while Stoicism does not. To be Jedi is to be prepared to practice both, daily if possible. The philosophy puts a great deal of emphasis on balance between our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

Stoicism and Jedi Philosophy both place a great deal of emphasis on duty and self discipline. Daily spiritual practices are also encouraged by both. Jedi Philosophy urges physical fitness, meditation, etiquette and service to others, Stoicism teaches daily reflective practice such as self dialogue, negative visualization, mindfulness, contemplation and self reflection. Stoicism places a great deal of importance on duty and integrity. Many of the Stoic practices have been borrowed and modified in modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We also believe that Jedi Philosophy can help people achieve a sense of calm, serenity, peace and purpose in their lives. It helped me stay sober.

 

Keep Practicing

So this week we covered seven major themes as we explored Stoicism. I would argue that each can be regularly visited and practiced to get real benefit. Any practical philosophy requires consistent application and practice. Self discipline is required if we are to make an honest go of it.

 

  1. Taking Stock: Sit down and contemplate where you are currently at in life. What are your goals? Are your actions consistent with achieving those goals? What are your values and are you living in accordance with them? Daily self reflections is a great tool we can use to keep us on track. Start the day with a morning meditation and end the day with an evening review.
  2. Commit to Change: If we want something out of life that requires change on our part then we must be prepared to change. Firm commitment is required. We cannot expect things to improve for us on their own. Focussing on the things what we can change we take action. We have to accept that things may not work out the way we want despite our efforts. Doing what we can do is up to us the outcomes are largely out of our hands and we must be prepared to accept them.
  3. Virtue: Clarify your core values, they are all you truly have. When we know what our core values are and commit to them we are more likely to stand by our principles. Our life becomes consistent with our stated values and guide our decisions.
  4. Relationships: Be mindful in your relationships with others. Are your relationships productive and mutually beneficial? Are they co-dependent or interdependent? Be prepared to apply your values and principles in to your relationships. Be a better partner, father, mother, sibling, friend or co-worker but be prepared to never compromise on your own core values.
  5. Community: We are part of a global community, a member of a big family. Be prepared to look past the differences, look for the similarities between you and others.
  6. Perspective: Be willing to take a “step back” to appreciate the “Big Picture” while never losing sight of the finer details. Learning to be able to look at life from different angles, close up and from a distance helps us get a better appreciation of our place in the world and the interrelationships between us and others and our environment. We are strands in the rich tapestry of creation.
  7. Resilience: Being realistic and pragmatic is accepting that life is also suffering. Loss is inevitable. Sometimes it pays to contemplate the impermanent nature of things and realize their loss. Negative visualisation helps us fortify ourselves for that inevitability by contemplating it beforehand. By practicing poverty we can also harden ourselves for leaner times and better appreciate what we have over what we want.

 

MTFBWY

Stoic Week

“At every hour, give your full concentration… to carrying out the task in hand with a scrupulous and unaffected dignity and affectionate concern for others and freedom and justice, and give yourself space from other concerns… You see how few things you need to be able to live a smoothly flowing life.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.5

Self Renewal

For the next seven days we will draw our attention to Stoicism. For over a year I have been a practicing Stoic incorporating the fundamental practices and principles of Stoicism in to my Jedi training as well as my 12 Step journey. The Jedi path itself carries many elements of Stoicism as does the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of the entries on “The Daily Jedi” have attempted to capture the essence of Stoicism in the context of both. I hope that over the next seven days I can summarize how applying the practical philosophy of the Stoics can bring many benefits.

This year the theme of Stoic Week is “Self Renewal”. For me the last five years has been a daily journey of “Self Renewal”. My sobriety is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition; therefore recovery is a “one day a time” process. We get up in the morning and we face the new day.

The sun may rise in all its splendor or behind a blanket of clouds. There has never been a day like this one and there will never be another like it again. We each have the choice how we arise to the day and what we do with it. Yesterday has passed with its mistakes and blunders or achievements and victories, it is gone beyond recall and remains but a memory. Tomorrow is but a promise and one that is neither granted nor guaranteed. The present moment, this day, is all we really have.

So begins Day 1 of living like a Stoic. Click here to learn more.