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3. Musonius Rufus and the Art of Fieldwork

Jules Evans New World Library ePub

MICHAEL IS A FORTY-SEVEN-YEAR-OLD major in the US Army Special Forces, or the Green Berets as they are known by outsiders. He joined the Rangers when he was thirty-one, and five years later joined Special Forces. Michael first came across Stoicism while training at the Navy SEALs’ SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school in Fort Bragg in 2001. He says:

We were taught how to survive being tortured, and one of the things we were taught was James Stockdale’s experience in Vietnam, and how he’d used ancient philosophy to cope with his seven years in a POW camp [we’ll meet Stockdale in chapter seven]. Afterwards, I found out more about him online, and gradually became more and more interested in Stoicism. Eventually, I thought we should change our Special Forces training to simply a course in Hellenic philosophy, because so much of Stoicism is about understanding humans and why they make the decisions they do, which is a crucial part of Special Forces operations.

One of Special Forces’ primary missions is training and advising foreign military and political forces. Michael says: “We usually work through other people. That’s one of our mottos — ‘by, with, and through.’ We’re force multipliers. We go into a foreign country, and build, train, and lead a force from scratch. Because of that, one of our most critical skills is understanding human beings. That way, hopefully we can stop fighting before it happens. Stoicism has really helped me understand why people make the decisions they make.” Michael says:

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2. Epictetus and the Art of Maintaining Control

Jules Evans New World Library ePub

RHONDA CORNUM WAS WORKING as a flight surgeon in the 101st Airborne Division during the First Gulf War in February 1991, when she was sent on a mission to rescue a fighter pilot who had been shot down. Her own helicopter was shot down, and crashed into the Arabian Desert at 140 miles an hour, instantly killing five of the eight crew. Cornum survived, although both her arms were broken, a ligament was torn in her knee, and she had a bullet lodged in her shoulder. Iraqi soldiers surrounded the crashed helicopter, and dragged Cornum out by her broken arms. They put her and another member of the crew, Sergeant Troy Dunlap, into the back of a truck. As the truck bumped along the desert road, one of the Iraqi soldiers unzipped Cornum’s flight suit and sexually assaulted her. She couldn’t fight him off, and tried not to scream, but every time he knocked her broken arms she couldn’t help crying out. Eventually he left her alone. Sergeant Dunlap was chained up next to her, unable to help. “Ma’am,” he said quietly, “you’re really tough.” “What’d you think, I’d cry or something?” she said. “Yeah, I thought you would.” “That’s okay, Sergeant,” Rhonda said after a while. “I thought you’d cry too.” They were kept prisoner in an Iraqi military compound for eight days. Cornum has said of the experience: “Being a POW is the rape of your entire life. But what I learned in those Iraqi bunkers and prison cells is that the experience doesn’t have to be devastating, that it depends on you.”1

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Appendix 1: Is Socrates Overoptimistic about Human Reason?

Jules Evans New World Library ePub

IN THIS FIRST APPENDIX, I want to go back to chapter 1, and deal further with the challenge that Socrates and his descendants were overoptimistic in their assessment of human rationality. The ancient Greek philosophers suggested we can know ourselves, we can change ourselves, and can become wiser and happier through the daily practice of philosophy. This is the hope at the heart of philosophy, the humanities, and also of cognitive therapy. But is it true?

The idea has certainly come in for something of a battering in the last twenty years. Psychologists like Daniel Kahneman, John Bargh, and Dan Ariely have argued that, while humans do possess the capacity for consciousness, self-reflection, and rational choice, it’s very limited and weak. These psychologists suggest that humans possess two thinking systems: a conscious, reflective, “slow” system, and an intuitive, emotional, “fast” system. We use the “conscious-reflective system” for some higher-level tasks, like maths, planning for the future, negotiations, and emotional self-control. But we use the automatic-emotive system a lot more, because it’s faster, and it uses less energy. Kahneman, Bargh, Ariely, and others have shown how much of our thinking is automatic, and how often, when we think we’re making conscious and rational decisions, we’re actually following automatic cues or biases. We don’t know what we’re doing, or why we’re doing it. Our conscious system thinks it’s in charge, but it’s not. It’s less the “steersman” of our soul, and more a helpless passenger.

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11. Plutarch and the Art of Heroism

Jules Evans New World Library ePub

LOUIS FERRANTE GREW UP IN QUEENS, in a neighborhood that had street gangs covering “every area and section.” He remembers: “It was normal to be in a street gang, whether it be an Irish gang, an Italian gang, black, Spanish, or Asian.” He was a small, stocky kid, who didn’t like studying, but he was good at fighting: “Everyone at that age is lost and confused, looking for a group to fit into. I identified with the street gangs, because it was an outlet for testosterone. We all thought we were pretty tough guys.” At thirteen, he joined a gang called the Hill Boys, which hung out on Queensboro Hill. He says: “We graduated from fists to baseball bats to knives to guns.” He quickly began his career in organized crime. “Initially we were just hanging out, trying to make a dime with things like breaking open mailboxes to get credit cards. But a few of us graduated into harder crime, like hijacking and armed robbery.” He started to move in mobster circles, and to get their attention: “My first big heist was a hijacking of a truck with about 100,000 dollars of tools and toolboxes inside of it. That got the wise guys’ attention.”

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Jules Evans New World Library ePub

Aburis the Sky-Walker, 118

achievement, 213

Achilles, 193

Action for Happiness, 13, 91–94

Actium, Battle of, 194

Adbusters (anarchist collective), 150–53

Adbusters (magazine), 151

addictions, 83

Adler, Alfred, 252n12


coping with, 2, 33–38, 115–16

moral strength from, 56–57

as opportunity, 33

philosophy as protection from, 122–23

Stoicism and preparation for, 66–68

as training exercise, 66

Afghanistan War, 31, 71

afterlife, 66

Epicurean view of, 85–87, 226–27

existence of, 216

Platonist view of, 179–80, 263n14

possibility of, 232–34

Socrates on, 225–26

agoge (Spartan training process), 43–44, 54

Alcibiades, 195

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), 32

Alexander (Platonist), 169–72

Alexander the Great, 132, 158, 192, 193, 194, 195, 197, 199, 203, 243

altruism, 33, 93

“American Dream,” 158

American Psychological Association, 211

American Psychologist, 26


limits of, 163–65, 167

modern instances of, 149–53, 162–67

See also Cynicism/Cynics

anarcho-primitivism, 159, 162–63

Anaxagoras, 195

Anaximander, 102

Anaximenes, 102

Andre, Peter, 200

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