I’m a bit worried these days by how little I have, or care, to say. Other people’s words don’t hold much interest either. It feels ridiculous that we should be required to have opinions and perspectives, or that we should need to express them. These days I avoid conversation. I switch off the television and radio and wonder why we can’t be content, like Bertie Wooster in Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, to “just exist beautifully.” How different – how better –things would be if we could only dial down (by fifty percent, say) the chatty sociability of the species.
I recently read Massimo Pigliucci’s book How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. I was pretty sure I wasn’t an unconscious or incipient Stoic, but it’s good to reassess these things every so often. Still, to what would surely be the good professor’s chagrin, all this did was reaffirm that I am indeed still the Epicurean I always thought I was. Good friendships, clear thinking, modest desires, intellectual pleasures, gods in name only, and most crucially — or most damningly from a Stoic perspective — a preference for withdrawal from social and political life. Those who espouse “living unknown” as a maxim will always be offensive in the sight of those who believe in performing duty and signaling virtue. “Wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society.” Pretty much. Still, I reserve the right to hold myself aloof from the fray.