Curriculum in the Making
Berlin Stoics is introducing and opening up to everyone a curriculum by which we can all study and practice Stoicism; and not just individually, by ourselves as we apply for example the dichotomy of control in our day-to-day lives, but more importantly together. This is because what we usually want out of a group of Stoics-in-training, those seeking to simply adopt effective Stoic strategies, or those interested in experimenting with a lifestyle geared towards training our emotions, character, psychological disposition, and rational mind, isn't simply a handbook of hypothetical tips and examples, but a playing out of this philosophy in the real world. And usually what we need to ensure our progress and continued striving towards its development is peer-to-peer accountability; like virtue, self-sufficiency (autarkeia, a foundational principle inherited from the Cynics) isn't something built cold turkey and sometimes we are sure to regress. The Stoics also kept in mind that eudaimonia isn't achieved alone in a garden (those were the Epicureans), but rather through our participation in society and ultimately the cosmopolis.
On Monday, 05. July, 2021, we began discussing and formulating a curriculum by which we can live Stoically. You can check out the recording to our discussion here. The event was partitioned into first a 1hr 10min discussion on Epictetus and Musonius Rufus, and then a 30min forum where we, together, constructed this curriculum on which we'll aim to come to a consensus.
This curriculum will comprise those elements which we must do by ourselves, and those elements for which we must come together and practice with our peers; those theoretical elements by which we can study the Stoic philosophical framework, debate its modern interpretations, and where we stand on key issues (because like the school of Stoics in its heyday, debating and refining Stoicism itself is the only way in which it moves forward), and those practical elements with which we can apply in our daily and general lives, to ourselves and to how we treat and interact with others. The best curriculum is usually one which is at most only a small part specific and contextual, and at least in large part schematic and acontextual. That is, the best curriculum is largely that which only prescribes general tools, principles, and strategies without context and leaves it up to us to apply them in our own contexts. We may be all studying and practicing Stoicism, but we are each living very different lives.
However, before leaving you on a cliffhanger, waiting for that curriculum-in-the-making, we want to leave you with some possible examples of curricular elements inspired either by the ancient Stoics or by modern Stoic groups and individuals practicing Stoicism in their own way:
No, there's no evidence of Stoics buddying up and having regular meetups to ensure their each doing their part. Even today's secondary and post-secondary schools don't have anything resembling that. However, this example was inspired by a couple of Stoic practictioners here in Berlin. They're reading through Massimo Pigliucci's A Handbook for New Stoics: How to thrive in a world out of your control, which is essentially a rewriting of Epictetus' Handbook or Enchirdion. It contains 52 lessons, one for each week of the year. Each of the two peers study and apply in their own lives the same lesson and jump to the next every successive week. At the end of each week, perhaps on a Friday or whichever of their choosing, the peers call each other and discuss how the last week has been going with respect to the lesson on which they focused. We obviously don't have to necessarily use the same book, call specifically on Fridays, or focus on those same lessons. However, this peer-to-peer system provides a great framework from which we can begin. And we will surely have either monthly or bimonthly group discussions to check up on our progress and how the curriculum is working as a whole.
Always wanted to journal like Marcus Aurelius? Or provide yourself consolations like Seneca? Journaling, specifically using some of the same techniques as the Stoics – e.g. premeditatio malorum (negative visualization), contemplating the sage, consolation – is, while not essential to Stoicism, is a huge contribution Stoicism has made to one's training in philosophical inquiry and psychological resilience. We can take the opportunity to practice this art of Western meditation byspending even a short time together to meditate in our personal journals while also doing so in a safe space conducive for this attitude. This list of techniques above isn't exhaustive and indeed you need not necessarily use all of them. To also be sure there are an indefinite number of ways journaling can unfold and it all depends on your unique individual person. There wouldn't be any need to share what you write – if you want to keep it private, that's entirely up to you and we have no control over that, nor would it be just of us to push you to share. However, providing such a space is just one attempt at reviving the ancient school in a decentralized yet curricular manner. Unfortunately we have no café of our own, but renting a space indoors for an hour once every month or so is an option.
Last as an example but certainly not in our curriculum is the ancient art of periodically foregoing pleasures or comforts or even moreso deliberately putting ourselves in the way of discomfort. The Stoics weren't masochists. Instead, this practice was emphasized by Epictetus' teacher Gaius Musonius Rufus, who highlighted discomforts as a means of psychological inoculation. Take for example the coronavirus: we take a vaccine in order to boost our body's immune response to the virus to lessen the risk it infects or at least significantly harms us. We could call that biological inoculation. Or the new wave of misinformation over social media and the internet at large, about which researchers think one of the tools to fight this is by introducing to us in small doses, and with appropriate commentary and context, that misinformation we sometimes fall for, thereby preparing us to ward it off with proper reasoning and critical thinking. We could call that ideological inoculation. So it makes sense that we can do the same for our negative emotions and body's tolerance level. The more we experience discomforts, albeit in small controlled doses, the more we build an emotional and even corporeal resilience to those discomforts when they come out of nowhere.