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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Road to Rumination

A big problem with living is that we have to think about, well, living. This often hurts as we consider invariably the slings and arrows of outrageous coworkers, rude drivers, and bill collectors. We respond by becoming tense, and become fearful or angry if we know what we are being tense about, and merely anxious if we don't.

Which brings me to 'da cure'.

It's a simple and age old wisdom. Namely, you could ignore or avoid your problems, reinterpret them, or put yourself in a physiological state where it doesn't matter.

Before the age of psychotherapy, journalese and the printing press, folks had to get to the point. Self help was thus embedded in simple philosophies, and was particularly valuable when times were tough, which in ancient times occurred 24/7. So, as a respite for bad times, you could retire to a garden of simple pleasures (Epicureanism) and ignore the world, or consider all those bad thoughts merely thoughts (Stoicism), and soldier on unemotionally. A third way was to a invoke a contrary emotional state, elicited then as now through drugs or a stiff drink. In the Enlightenment, the philosopher Spinoza took this argument to a non toxic level by postulating that the best way to fight a bad emotion is with a contrary emotion aroused from an intellectual love or nature or 'God'. It was a sort of God intoxication derived from the scripture of nature, rather than mere scripture.

All these approaches were effective but temporary, and required strict discipline to use effectively (or in the case of alcohol or drugs, to not use too effectively). Now flash forward to the present, and through an avalanche of often contradictory, redundant, and over complex information, one still emerges to embrace yet again the common nostrums of the past. Of course, at root we are all epicures, as nothing can better sooth the soul than retiring to one's garden, or better, settling back in front of a 42" plasma screen high definition rendering of a garden. Still, when push comes to shove, or perhaps fisticuffs, its better to use high reason to extract us from our bad feelings. But whereas then we had philosophy and sophistry, today we have psychology and psychotherapists. No practical difference really, except credit cards are now accepted.

An Epicure's Virtual Delight

And so Protagoras is replaced by Dr. Phil, and the Stoic acceptance and commitment of a virtuous life is transformed into Acceptance and Commitment therapy. As the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Actually, I prefer the literary quality of ancient thought full of grand ideas and purpose to the trivial psychologizing of today that aims no higher than a better relationship with your boss or mother in law, but that's just me.

Oh. And as for Spinoza, please see tomorrows post.

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