Stoa Poikile

Stoa Poikile
People in the Western world are increasingly divided by identity politics. That is, by identifying themselves or being forced to identify, to their very core, with the colour of their skin, their gender, sexual orientation and so on.

Much has already been said about the dangers of such a racist and exclusionist worldview, and it's worth looking into, and it is certainly the case that the ruling establishment is the primary benefactor of this divisive ideology, all in a desperate attempt to maintain the crumbling status quo, i.e. their grip on power.

The conception of the self as conceived by the Stoic philosophy tradition, primarily focusing on the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c. AD 55-135) and his Discourses, which might appeal to people that are put off by identity politics nonsense and the inevitable decadence and degradation of self/other relation which such an ideology leads to.

For the Stoics, the basis for proper self-conception, identification and orientation in the world is found in a person's will (Greek prohairesis), sometimes also translated as decision or choice, purpose, volition. So for the Stoics, the core of what a self is, is to be found in our mind/free-will/rationality and the proper use of it, that is, our ability to choose what we find valuable and worth pursuing and what we want and what we are averse to, our self-motivation and judgments.

In daily life, we continually face situations in which we can exercise these faculties, and hardship can be seen as an opportunity for growth instead of feeling oppressed or hard done-by, or seeing ourselves as victims of outside forces. The proper task in life, according to the Stoics, is to "live according to nature", which can be rendered as aligning ourselves with objective reality by studying the world, ourselves, and our proper place and relation to it.

Everything that falls outside of prohairesis is not ours in the proper sense, and should thus not be of primary concern for us, or to be taken as something which is good or bad, or upon which our well-being depends. What is good, in the Stoic sense, is virtuous character and virtuous action, to preserve oneself as a rational being.

Body-centric definitions of the self are not something we should base our identity on, since being born with a certain skin colour or gender obviously does not lead to virtue, which for Stoics stands for excellence and signifies a proper aim in life. Rather the body should be treated with indifference, meaning that while we should take proper care of it, it should certainly not be something that defines what a human being truly is, or that allows you to claim a privileged status over others due to some real or imagined oppression. Epictetus notes:
What am I? A wretched little person; [and] my pathetic little flesh.

Yes, it is wretched, but you have something better than wretched little flesh. Why, then, do you let that go and cling to the flesh? Because of this latter kinship, some of us who incline that way become like wolves, lacking integrity, treacherous and harmful; others become like lions, fierce, bestial and untamed; but most of us become foxes, the utter wretches among animals. For what is a slanderous and ill-natured person but a fox or something still more wretched and abject? See to it, then,and watch out that you don't turn into one of these wretches.
This view is completely at odds with the agenda of today's post-modern ideologues and advocates of identity politics, which includes the rejection of some of the fundamental aspects of real human identity. They have missed the mark as Jordan Peterson would say. And for what? What have they achieved instead? Among other things; group infighting, disregard for Truth and decency, promotion of hedonism, materialism and so on. They have indeed become utter wretches.

So instead of the perpetual bickering and quarreling produced by adherents of identity politics, with Stoicism we have a universalist ethical regard for other people, irrespective of skin colour, gender, sexual orientation etc. The Stoics rightly saw human beings as social creatures by nature and viewed the proper treatment of other people as an important part of our intrinsic nature and task in life.

If there is one thing that Epictetus would say to identity politics adherents today, it would be something along the lines of:
I invite you to come and hear that you are in a bad way; that you are attending to everything except that which you should be concerned about; that you are ignorant of what is good and bad; and that you are thoroughly unhappy and wretched.