Jacob Needleman talks about God, Time, Money, Love and the need for Philosophy. In conversations with D. Patrick Miller.
Now available from Fearless Books.
In your book about love you introduce an understanding of the philosophical stance known as Stoicism that differs from the popular notion that someone who is stoic is simply unfeeling or not admitting their suffering. How is real Stoicism related to time and love?
NEEDLEMAN: The basic idea of Stoicism is that we are essentially one with the great self, or Logos of the universe. That’s our true nature. We exercise that true nature by the capacity of the mind to relate consciously to its experiences — to accept, understand, or receive them without the preferences of liking or disliking those experiences, or responding with fear or craving. Nor does a true stoic try to reinterpret experiences, make them more or less dramatic, or good or bad. The stoic receives all experiences with an inner quiet.
This brings about a great inner freedom — the freedom of the person who is not devoured by emotional reactions. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have these reactions; it means they don’t toss him around. It’s very wrong to think of a stoic as not caring. In fact the true stoic can act in a truly caring way because he’s less at the service of his own egoistic emotions.
We tend to think that if we are in love we should be devoured by emotion, or at the very least agitated to a high degree. Doesn’t passion mean that you can’t live without the other person? We want that total captivity. We may feel insecure if we don’t love that way, or don’t feel loved that way. But a stoic doesn’t love that way.
Perhaps the best popular icon we have for the stoic is the character Spock from the original Star Trek series. Why is Spock the most lovable figure from that show, the one who still touches fans the most? The idea about him was that he had no emotion, but in fact he had very strong feelings of loyalty, love, and justice. Captain Kirk was heroic too, but full of bombast and agitated emotions. And the other characters showed all kinds of neurosis. But Spock seemed to operate at a higher level, truly living by what he felt and believed without making a big show of his feelings. That’s what made him a lasting and beloved icon.