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The Path Of The Prokoptôn Must, For A Time, Be Rife With Vice
Vice before Virtue. This is the way.
Yesterday I wrote an article about Stoicism and addiction and how they are compatible inasmuch that a Stoic Prokoptôn applies Stoicism to work through their addiction in the same way they might apply Stoicism to overcome their temper or gluttony.
This morning, minutes ago in fact, I’m was sitting on the second floor of the Costa Coffee across from the Theatre Royal in downtown Newcastle doing some script writing for the podcast. I like to sit next to the slightly opened window to hear the sounds of the street as I write.
He’s not picture but there was a man down there, a homeless man I’ve encountered a few times since I arrived in Newcastle nearly a month ago, acting a bit erratic and asking people for, presumably, money. Having been around him before, my impression that he is an addict, or suffering from an unaddressed mental health issue, is, I feel, a reasonable one.
Eventually he walked over to two people, a woman on the phone and an elderly man (I would guess, from my vantage point, in his early 70s) and begins conversing with them. The woman walked away, clearly annoyed with him, and he continued to talk with the old man. At this point I looked away and returned to writing.
Not too long after this I looked up again to see this homeless man in the street, waving his hands around like a maniac, attempting to flag down a car.
I looked for the old man and noticed him standing a few yards away looking aloof.
A taxi stopped, and the homeless man rushed over to the old man, put his arm around the small of his back, and guided him gently and patiently to the pulled over taxi van. The old man had a hard time walking, looked confused, but I couldn’t hear the conversation.
The impression I assented to was that this old man was lost, perhaps he had dementia and didn’t know how to get home — this seemed to match what I was watching unfold.
The homeless man assisted the old man getting into the taxi and then, in a move that made me tear up, he reached into his pocket and took out some money (of which I think it’s reasonable to assume he did not have much of) and gave it to the taxi driver.
The driver then drove away with the old man in tow.
The homeless man then seemed very giddy, and he went around to people and, in a voice loud enough for me to hear from my window, told them how he helped this old man find his way home. He told four people before he disappeared out of sight, likely on his way to tell the whole of Newcastle.
He was proud of what he had done, and it was clear it made him feel happy.
So to recount: a homeless man, who is very likely also a drug addict with unaddressed mental health issues, recognized the right thing to do and did it at (likely) great financial cost to himself, and was excited about having done it.
No one willingly pursues evil, or at least what he takes to be evil; human nature forbids that; furthermore, faced with the choice of two evils, no one will choose the greater if he can choose the lesser. — Socrates (Plato, Protagoras p. 358)
I want to reiterate my thoughts from yesterday, and I feel the Universe (and I admit that feels strange to say) has given me exactly the experience today that I needed to do so in, perhaps, a more clear way than yesterday (as, yesterday, I was angered by an indifferent and today I was inspired by a good act):
Stoic practice only exists within non-sages. The Sage doesn’t practice Virtue, per se — the Sage has achieved the knowledge of Virtue; meaning, according to our boy Socrates above, it is not possible for them to act viciously. A Stoic practice (what the rest of us are doing) necessarily includes failures; it is entirely couched in them.
Therefore the Stoic Prokoptôn is not free from the struggle of addiction, or the threat of viciousness, or the committing of a crime… a Stoic Prokoptôn must needs be struggling to overcome, for they are making progress and progress cannot be made without effort, and effort isn’t effort without struggle.
So, for the last time (I think), non-virtuous behavior is part and parcel of Stoic practice and only ceases to be so once practice is no longer needed because sagehood (the knowledge of Virtue) has been achieved.
I ask that we all keep this in mind when we judge who is an isn’t allowed to call themselves a Stoic — and I will do my best to apply that advice to my own words, because I sometimes fall into that same trap.
Thanks for reading.