What’s New

Election Final Thoughts

It’s just two days until the election and, on this day, I am troubled that a crowd of fascists in vehicles, some of them armed, closed in on a Biden bus, forcing the Biden campaign to cancel their stop. That’s bad. But, worse: Trump, at an event yesterday, appeared to encourage this behavior.

Yesterday on social media, I shared a quote from a book I read: On Tyranny. I studied ethics and political philosophy, after all, and I was especially interested in evil. Here’s the quote:

Currently, we are up against a fascist regime. It hasn’t totally solidified power, but it’s a fascist regime nonetheless.

The good news is that, if you read FiveThirtyEight, the polls show Biden winning this election. And closing polls–polls this close to an election–are fairly accurate.

Last night was Halloween. It was a quiet night at my house. I wrote my first political poem in quite some time, feeling it necessary to articulate the need to vote Trump out.

On Happiness

I live in America. It’s common here to think of happiness as an exuberant state when you are beaming smiles.

I’m going to argue that’s not the case. I am a woman who has been told by men to smile more because I look unhappy. In fact, I have never been happier in my life. My happiness is deep and steady. I don’t have to be giggling and showing my teeth in order to be happy. These past few years have been joyous.

Happiness is the state of being unperturbed. That is mostly within your control. It’s up to you to decide what perturbs you.

I face challenges. Just the other day, I was thinking about how to deal with a potential problem. That doesn’t make me unhappy. It’s a chance to work out rationally what I should do and see how it works.

Stoics often engage in such things. Marcus Aurelius often went over what he may do in an expected situation and wrote his thoughts in his journal. Dealing with expected challenges does not need to make you unhappy. It doesn’t need to perturb you.

In America, we have a false and shallow view of happiness. It is fleeting and dependent on external circumstances. It is smiling with your teeth showing. It is exuberant laughter. The type of happiness I experience is not so fleeting. It is steady. And I feel it even when the circumstances around me are bad. It’s my goal to stay that way and, with practice and meditation, maybe I will.

I am unperturbed. And that, I think, is the true state of happiness.

A Stoic Take on Voting

If you are like me, you want Trump out of office. Maybe you’ve voted already and made sure your vote was counted. Maybe you encouraged friends and family to vote. Maybe you posted voting updates on social media.

I have done all that, too.

It’s three days until Election Day and people are amping up.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to watch CNN 24 hours a day for the next three days. You don’t have to look at every poll. If you have put in the effort to get friends and family to vote and have posted such reminders on social media, you don’t need to remind everyone anymore.

In short, you don’t have to stress out about the election results. Stressing out will not change the outcome of this election.

As a Stoic and an activist, I am confident I have done what’s within my power this election. I fully realize what’s at stake–and what’s at stake is our very democracy. I know lives are on the line with COVID-19 in the air.

But if you stress out and are full of anxiety as Election Day comes upon us, it does no one any good. It won’t make you happy and it might not encourage the happiness of others around you.

You can matter-of-factly engage in activism and politics without stressing yourself out. You owe it to yourself and those around you.

The key is knowing what you can control and what you can’t. If you have reminded people to vote, made your case for voting Trump out, and have voted yourself, there’s not a whole lot more that needs to be done right now. Your stress and anxiety will not change the election results.

If Trump wins, there will be more to be done. Save your energy and keep your sanity for when and if that time comes.

Keeping up with politics can be stressful. Know what to pay attention to and what to disregard. You may like to keep up with every single poll–and that’s fine as long as you aren’t stressing about the outcome, which you cannot control at this point.

There are healthy and sane ways to deal with the likes of Trump that don’t cause distress, worry, fear and anxiety. In fact, if you let him have that power over you, he arguably already won.

Let’s keep our cool and be patient. We may not know the results until after Election Day. You can see the seriousness of the issues at hand without losing your cool.

Stoicism: The Key to Happiness (And Justice!)

Back when I was in graduate school, I read the book Radical Hope by Jonathan Lear. It’s a very short work of philosophical anthropology. In the book, Lear argues that the path Crow Chief Plenty Coups took–as opposed to Sitting Bull–was the best route. At the time, I offered many objections to this, seeing Sitting Bull as a role model for justice. Sitting Bull resisted colonization with everything he had in him while Plenty Coups encouraged his people to adapt to reservation life and get to work. Back in grad school, I argued that both tribes ended up basically the same, so wasn’t it better to fight injustice with everything inside you?

Fast forward to now. I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had to leave school. Donald Trump is the current president. I have learned a lot–and have suffered a lot. In my quest for mental health care, I went to counseling and engaged in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a derivative of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

When Trump was first elected, my stomach was in knots. I lost a lot of weight. I was worried, scared and terrified. I knew services that I needed may be cut.

I see this a lot on the Left–anxiety, fear, worry.

Because I saw a great counselor, I was able to work through those emotions and come to better terms with things. I am no longer a wreck–and I haven’t been for quite some time.

This new perspective gives me a better understanding of Plenty Coups, who I previously regarded as a sell-out.

If we see Plenty Coups as being more of a Stoic than Sitting Bull, it makes sense that, when all was said and done, Plenty Coups ended up happier than Sitting Bull.

Stoicism is a philosophical position that you practice. You live it. For Stoics, the end result is virtue and a state of inner calm known as “Stoic calm.”

Stoicism brings you happiness.

That’s why it’s foundational to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. But he may have had better adaptation skills than Sitting Bull. He may have had better flexibility. And he may have been happier.

A lot of people think that Stoicism entails quietism, but it doesn’t. In fact, one of the key virtues of Stoicism is the virtue of justice–a virtue that is sorely lacking, including among the Left.

Ancient Stoics famously opposed slavery, even though they thought a slave could be virtuous and, thus, happy. Maybe they were against slavery because they thought slaves could be virtuous.

At any rate, Stoicism does not entail quietism. I am fairly Stoic in my lifestyle and I care for people, help people and voted against Trump. A Stoic sees brotherly and sisterly love among humans. That’s an essential part of being Stoic. Therefore, justice is required.

For a Stoic, happiness doesn’t depend on external things. You can be poor yet happy, dying yet happy. No matter what your state, you can be virtuous.

When I was studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for self-betterment, I learned that, often, unhappiness stems from cognitive distortions. Therapy, then, is the task of minimizing those distortions. Once you are in a state of fewer distortions, you can make better decisions–about life, about politics, about everything.

Being a slave to the political concept of justice–the way I thought of Sitting Bull–and dying and suffering for your just cause will make you less virtuous and also less happy. You may suffer mental disturbances. And this is true even if, like Plenty Coups and Sitting Bull, your fate is virtually the same and sealed from the beginning. Isn’t is better to have lived a happy life while also considering others than to suffer mental disturbances and do basically the same?

I think so. Too boot, I think the state of inner calm I experience puts me in a position to make better choices–about justice and all else.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. And Stoicism does not entail quietism.

Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Philosophy as a Kind of Therapy

In Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, he ends with the following:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

   He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

I am not an expert on Wittgenstein, although I read him–and quite a bit about him–in graduate school. The Tractatus is Early Wittgenstein; whereas Philosophical Investigations is Later Wittgenstein. Between these two works, Wittgenstein took a break from philosophy, having climbed the ladder and thrown it away.

Philosophy has long been hearlded by many philosophers as a way to solve things that trouble us. In a way, a philosopher, on this way of thinking, is a soul healer. This view goes back to Ancient Greece, when some philosophers thought they could help the souls of people.

Was Wittgenstein doing a sort of self-therapy? Is the Tractatus a work of personal growth and adjustment?

It may well be.

On the view of philosophy we are thinking about, philosophers, too, can be perplexed. They may turn to philosophers before them–those lovers of wisdom–in order to “see the world aright.”

These days, we have psychiatrists and therapists. However, there are places in philosophy we can also turn for help. That’s not to say to give up medications and counseling. It’s to say that there have been extremely wise people before us in philosophy whose work may assist us in addition to the modern treatments we have these days.

Wittgenstein didn’t give up philosophy forever, although, when he wrote the Tractatus, he may have thought he was completely done.

I want to suggest that, if the Tractus is a work of self-help, it was extraordinarily brave. Making the movement toward growth, healing and personal development takes courage. To put one’s thoughts out there when one is vulnerable this way is also brave.

Sometimes, philosophy is exactly the place to turn for our problems. We might, after we have reached our conclusion, leave philosophy forever. Or we might, like Wittgenstein, come back to it at a later date, perhaps with fresh new ideas.

If Wittgenstein’s task was self-healing, that, I suggest, is perhaps one of the most important tasks we can ever do. On my view, mental illness can be a complex working of environment, biology, socio-economic class, and personal psychology. This is generally known as the Bio-Psycho-Social Model. (I was trained on this model when I worked briefly as a mental health case manager.) On this view, one of the things that has gone awry in a person with mental illness is cognition. These are mistakes or errors in thinking. In order to, as Wittgenstein says, “see the world aright,” we may go to counseling–or even, sometimes, turn to philosophy.

Once one sees the world aright, one has the ability to flourish, which, on my view, is the telos of human life. One can make sound and good judgements, make appropriate choices, and exercise virtues. So, Wittgenstein’s task, on the view I am putting forward, was basically the most important task a person can accomplish.

Philosophy–in conjunction with modern treatments–may help with mental health issues. Wittgenstein may indeed show us that. Once we have climbed up the ladder and see the world aright, we may be done with philosophy or we may eventually come back to it.

Socrates and the Virtue of Humility

Socrates was famously considered the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing. In this blog post, I will suggest that Socrates had the virtue of humility.

These days, most philosophers work in academia and also mostly consult with one another about topics. Socrates was different. He went to ordinary people and asked them questions. Granted, he ended up annoying a lot of people and thus faced the death penalty for “corrupting the youth.” But it seems to me that Socrates had indeed reached a place of virtue and possessed the virtue of humility.

The virtue of humility is often confused with thinking you are nothing and having low self esteem. If humility were in fact that, it wouldn’t be a virtue. Socrates knew that in order to gain knowledge, he had to ask the people who knew. And that’s exactly what he did.

A philosopher, in Socrates’ sense, does not necessarily have any knowledge to impart. It’s other people—the ones out there working and doing the job—that have knowledge. Socrates was, then, humbling himself to other people by seeking them out and asking them questions.

As the wisest man, Socrates accepted his death. He refused to stop doing philosophy. We might ask, these days, if we want to go down the same path as Socrates. In general, people are still the same, and asking questions to ordinary people in order to gain understanding about things may still end up with us being the target of various abuse and mistreatment.

One thing we can learn from Socrates, though, is the virtue of humility. We can defer to ordinary people who have expertise in matters we don’t.

My Hysterectomy: A Renewed Sense of Power

It has been three days since I had a hysterectomy and benign tumor removal. The surgeon took out my fallopian tubes, my uterus, my cervix and one ovary. I am currently resting as much as possible and healing up, but I figured three days have given me a sense of my emotional reaction to the surgery.

It’s not uncommon for women to experience sadness and a sense of loss after a surgery such as mine. I can no longer have kids. There’s a possibility that I will now hit menopause earlier than I would have. I am missing parts of my body now. A feeling of incompleteness often accompanies such a radical surgery.

In my case, however, I knew the surgery needed to be done. The tumor I had was a kind that grows very large. It affected one entire ovary. That ovary, the doctor said after surgery, was “big and gnarly.”

Because I had diseased parts of my body inside me, I knew they needed to be taken out. Removing them, then, does not feel like a loss to me. It feels rather like getting rid of dead weight. And the loss of my fertility feels necessary for my overall health.

Many women feel a sense that they have lost a part of their feminity after a surgery like mine. On the contrary, I feel my feminity has been distilled into the one healthy ovary I have left. That ovary feels as though it burns bright inside my body, emenating a large does of feminity.

What is it to have diseased parts, after all, that cannot function and affect the rest of your health? What good is a “big, gnarly” ovary?

I place my hopes into the one healthy ovary I have left. It functions well enough to regulate the female hormones in my body for now.

I cannot say enough about the quality care I received at the hospital. I know my doctor cares and saved the healthy parts of my body so I may flourish. I know, from the feeling I’ve had since I got home from the hospital, that the diseased portions of my body were wearing me down.

I am hoping for a smooth and uneventful recovery. But, for now, I am not grieving for the parts of my body that were removed. Instead, I am joyous for the remaining parts that are healthy.

When I Was 8

Back when I was about 8 years old, I lived in Paris, Texas. I had a teacher. I don’t recall her name. But I do recall a lesson she taught the class. She looked around the room and told us how we should be nice to one another. She told us we shouldn’t be mean. She told us we should treat everyone the same and that they should be treated well.

I had a pretty foggy childhood. I don’t remember much that I was taught. I don’t remember specific lessons. I don’t remember various teachers. But I do remember this: I eagerly looked around the classroom as if to say, “Did you hear that?!” I wanted everyone–everyone–to pay attention to that lesson. My teacher varified what I had thought all along. I thought it was the most important lesson I learned in school.

I have had many teachers and professors since then. There was never another time when my eyes lit up for a lesson like they did that day.

Teachers are important. It may be true that not everyone in my class took this lesson to heart, but it does go to show that, even in little Paris, Texas, a teacher has the potential to make a difference.

Being an RA for Reading Bernard Williams

Over 10 years ago, I was a Research Assistant at the University of North Florida. The task I was assigned was to help with the book Reading Bernard Williams. At the time, I was slowly developing a mental illness. Reading Bernard Williams was the last project I was able to complete in academic philosophy. Not long after its completion, I suffered my first psychotic episode. That was the beginning of a decade of struggles with schizophrenia.

I come from a working class background. I grew up in a small town in Texas. None of my teachers, growing up, really expected much of me. I was shy and awkward. I had so much anxiety I barely ate.

At the University of North Florida, I was exposed to many things and was given tons of opprotunities. I was stunned that I got to work on a book about a brilliant philosopher and help edit a few essays by other brilliant philosophers. It was beyond my comprehension.

While working on the book, my anxiety got to me. I read and re-read the select essays I was assigned to go over. Each stroke of my keyboard was filled with so much perfectionism that I felt tense in my hands, fingers and entire body. I wanted to do a good job.

I was overwhelmed with perfectionism. Eventually, it would over take me. Soon, I would be paralyzed with it. I would end up in a psychiatric hospital.

But not before I finished working on that book.

Dr. Daniel Callcut is the editor of Reading Bernard Williams. I had taken several of his classes. He trusted me to work on some of the essays for the book. I had read the likes of Martha Nussbaum for several years. I admired her. I never thought I would get to edit one of her essays.

But that’s exactly what I did. I copy edited the essay “The Women of Trachis” by Nussbaum, carefully going over each and every footnote. I handled my work with care. Possibly too much care. I was, after all, slowly going insane.

After the book was published, Dr. Callcut sent me a copy with an inscription on the title page. I removed that page and framed it. For the next decade, I kept that framed page in my bedroom on top of my dresser. On days that I felt like a loser, which came to be quite often, I would look at it and remember that I had a history of accomplishments.

If you happen to purchase Reading Bernard Williams, now you will know some of the toil that went into it. You will know what it meant for me to work on it. You will know what it meant to me as a young person who grew up in rural Texas. Working on the book didn’t drive me insane. Nothing I did in philosophy drove me insane. I have come to recognize that I have a brain disorder and am sensitive to stress. I try to manage my care properly. There have been times–in the psych unit or walking the streets barefoot during an episode of psychosis–when I may have seemed like all was lost for me all my life. I may no longer acutally be in academic philosophy anymore, but there was a time when I truly rocked. There was a time when I did excellent work on all accounts. When you read Reading Bernard Williams, you are taking in a piece of that time; the time when I did something great.

You never know that editorial history of a book until you look deeper. And you never know the wonderful things that can come from the disheveled people walking the streets.

All Apologies

Over the past 10 years, I have had 11 or 12 episodes of psychosis. When I have a psychotic episode, I lose touch with reality and lack self knowledge. I am completely unaware that I am ill.

I have never been dangerous during an episode of psychosis (thankfully), but I have done odd and unusual things. Embarrassing things. Dangerous things, like walking barefoot in risky neighborhoods.

There are several people who have tossed me aside due to things I have said and done while suffering from psychosis. This blog post is for them. It’s an apology–even though an apology may be unwarranted.

For quite some time, I have thought that people who cast me out of their lives due to something I said during psychosis were discriminating against me. After all, the stigma of schizophrenia is often worse than the illness itself.

That may be true. Those people may lack awareness and understanding. They don’t get to see me when I’m with my doctors. They don’t know my mental health status. They don’t know what I will do next.

All these things have made people cast me aside.

Sitting here now, with over one year of recovery under my belt, made me wonder how I should respond to people who have shunned me due to my psychosis.

I’m not too needy right now. It’s not that I have a deep-seated need to have these people in my life. But, despite my having been truly and legally insane and thus not responsible for my actions, I am offering an apology.

I went to counseling for approximately two years. My counselor told me to tell people who have witnessed me psychotic that it’s not me, it’s my illness.

In a very real way, that’s true. Anyone close to me knows that I really am not myself when I am sick. I have tried several different treatments over the years and I think I finally found a medication that works. Right now, I am the healthiest I have been in 10 years.

Still, even if it really wasn’t me who said and did those things and I truly cannot be held responsible for them, they nevertheless happened. I don’t recall everything I have done, but I am sure my unwell self has made people embarrassed, uncomfortable and offended.

It wasn’t me who did it. Yet, it happened. And, since there is no one else to offer an apology for these things, I am writing this blog post to apologize to anyone disturbed by my unwell behavior.

I have tried for 10 years to bring my symptoms under control. I may have finally succeeded. If you accept my hand in friendship, just know I am doing the best I can.