Recently in a newsletter to our customers I mentioned a book that was given to me by my dear underground informant Carlos Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer had retreated from society for a bit after he got hooked onto the principles of Stoic philosophy. Swept up in the book he felt compelled to offload by sending me a copy. I read it and some of the basic principles of Stoic philosophy are in complete contrast to that of an aesthete, or at least that of an aesthete who indulges in consumerism. Both luxurious living and the search for fame are frowned upon by the Stoics. The Roman Stoics didn't mind if you received either in your lifetime, but said the only way one could enjoy them was to be indifferent to their presence in your life.
One of the notable Roman Stoics was Cato. In an excerpt from the book "A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy" the author states "not because he sought vain glory but because he wished to be indifferent to trends, Cato would make a point of wearing things that were contrary to the dictates of fashion at the time. If they wore light purple robes, he wore dark. If his peers wore shoes, he wore none."
Cato was attempting to purposefully trigger their disdain merely so that he could observe their disregard for his clothing so that he might practice the art of ignoring their opinions.
This follows on from a Stoic principle that one should never pursue fame. In order to pursue fame the Stoics believed that we in fact have to expend a great deal of energy trying to make ourselves appealing to others. In that sense we almost have to adopt their values or if not their own values at the very least what their values dictate that we should be. Realising how difficult and time consuming this must be, the Stoics therefore came to the conclusion that the benefits conferred by fame are in fact outweighed by the cost to our own enjoyment of life. Fame, it seems, and fashion, go hand in hand. One only needs to look the amount of energy spent by men who turn up to Pitti to recognise that.
The book, that I have partially but not fully read, caused me stop at some point and question everything around me and potentially put my ship off course. "What is the point of wearing nice clothes then?" I pondered. How can we continue to enjoy nice things? To consume?
The Roman Stoics were not, however, against enjoyment of life and it's pleasures, both the simple and the more complex. They did however suggest that we should not cling to these things to make us happy. We should not seek fame because of the cost to our own personal enjoyment of life. We should not pursue wealth to fund a luxurious lifestyle for this in itself is a vicious cycle of expending more and more energy to consume more and more pleasures.
Instead the Stoics ask us to routinely negatively visualise what we do have. That is, instead of looking always to the next purchase or the next thing we wish to consume, consider instead the things of which you have being taken away from you. The moment you think of your favourite tie or trousers being removed from your life, you at once begin to be grateful and thankful for everything you do have in your wardrobe. I don't mean to be naff by referencing menswear, but it seems a fitting enough place to start for this blog. Perhaps first start with your family, your friends, the food on your table, your home, your car. Then work your way to the less important things such a your clothes.
So, for this week I ask you to give thanks for the things you do have and if you want to pay them some respect, consider the two links below:
Meanwhile, I intend to get back to that book over the weekend so that Oppenheimer and I can don some dark purple robes and walk the streets of Sydney looking for an honest man and eschewing worldly goods... Or maybe I will just prune and press my bow tie collection and polish my shoes.