The word “Einzelgänger” can be translated as “lone wolf” or “someone who pursues independent thought or action.” But the Youtube channel that goes by the name Einzelgänger is far from loner status. The channel dedicated to ancient philosophy has amassed nearly 300,000 subscribers and some 20,000,000 total views since it’s inception in December 2018! In other words, there’s a good chance more people have watched Einzelgänger videos than have ever read Seneca in all of history. And in just over a year! The creator of the channel doesn’t use his real name or show his face, but we reached out to learn more about the behind the scenes of Einzelgänger, why he thinks ancient philosophy is resonating with so many people, his response to the critics of his “popularizing” Stoicism, and much much more. If you haven’t already, check out some of Einzelgänger’s brilliant videos, and for more Stoic wisdom in video form, please check out the Daily Stoic Youtube channel as well. Now, please enjoy our interview with the lone wolf, Einzelgänger!
Tell us about your introduction to Stoicism. How did you first encounter it? Why do you think it resonated with you?
I encountered Stoicism somewhere in 2013-2014. During this time the search for wisdom became a significant part of life. I can’t remember how exactly I encountered it because these were years of great turmoil. I recall myself binge-listening to the audiobook version of Epictetus’ Enchiridion, and buying a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in the local bookstore shortly afterward. As in English, in Dutch, there’s a difference between ‘stoic’ and ‘Stoic’. The former is used very often to signify a person that’s indifferent and emotionless in a certain situation. Little did I know about how deep and advanced Stoicism is as a philosophical school. I began to read as much as I could from the ancient Stoic texts. When reading them I experienced tranquility, as if the words had become a bandage for my chaotic mind.
That’s a tough one. I have a thing for Epictetus, probably because he was the first Stoic philosopher I’ve read and because his Enchiridion is so concise and easy to digest. But I can relate more to Seneca on a personal level, being someone who enjoys spending time reflecting in solitude. Like myself, Seneca does seem to admire Epicurus in a sense (even though he opposes Epicureanism).
When you’d ask me my favorite quote, the first one that comes to mind is this:
You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites, must quit your acquaintance, be despised by your servant, be laughed at by those you meet; come off worse than others in everything, in magistracies, in honors, in courts of judicature. When you have considered all these things round, approach if you please; if, by parting with them, you have a mind to purchase equanimity, freedom, and tranquillity. (Epictetus, Enchiridion, 29)
I like this quote because, in essence, he says that if we truly want peace of mind, we must be willing to destroy our reputation, sabotage our position in the rat-race, and don’t give a damn about what people think. All this stuff is beyond our control and we must be willing to let go of it.
What is the backstory of your YouTube channel on philosophy? Why did you start it? Why did you decide to do it under the name Einzelgänger rather than your real name?
Back in 2014, I graduated from university, where I got a master’s degree in religious studies. This course also included philosophy (not Stoicism, by the way). During this time I not only developed a great interest in philosophy but also a passion for writing. I managed to publish several articles in newspapers and magazines about religious and philosophical subjects. The problem was, however, that the mainstream media – especially the written press – are in dire straits. An editor woke me up to the fact that the future is grim for freelance writers (in the Netherlands at least) and that it would be an uphill battle to pursue that career. At that point, I decided to change plans. One thing was certain: I wanted to express myself one way or another.
Video has been a hobby of mine for years. So, why not combine writing, video, and philosophy? YouTube seemed to be the perfect platform to do that. I started to learn everything I could about YouTube, experimenting with different things, and in December 2018 my channel Einzelgänger was born. Einzelgänger can be translated as ‘lone wolf’ or ‘someone who pursues independent thought or action.’ It’s a German word but often used in the Dutch language as well. I think that’s quite fitting for me as a person. I’m kind of a loner, you know. I don’t use my real name and don’t show my face because I value my privacy a lot. But who knows…. maybe that’ll change someday.
You’ve built a huge following—over 200,000 subscribers now—in just over a year. Do you have a sense of why ancient philosophy is resonating with so many people?
Good question. As a scholar of religion, having researched religious trends in the Western World, I believe that secularization is one of the main causes that people turn to ancient philosophy. Another reason, I believe, is that more and more people are facing psychological problems and existential crises in a rapidly changing society and, therefore, seek relief in ancient wisdom. For me, I think I fall into both categories. Sometimes it saddens me how many people are lost, looking for something to hold on to. Also, it uplifts me when I read comments of people that the philosophies I share have been life-changing for them. It’s not without reason that, for example, Stoicism stood the test of time. When you try to make sense of the chaos of this postmodern age, is there anything more appealing that timeless and universal wisdom?
Some people might complain that you’re “popularizing” the philosophy. Obviously we think that’s a good thing, but what do you think of critics who don’t like see this philosophy in videos?
I think that they’re right when they say that I’m popularizing philosophy. I can understand the critics; especially the scholastic ones that approach philosophy with an academic eye. But hey, for each its own. I don’t think that anyone owns philosophy. Moreover, I think many of it was created for the people, so why not make it accessible to them and not only to an intellectual elite? Recently, I even got an email from a philosophy teacher telling me that she recommends her students to subscribe to my channel. This isn’t the first time a professional endorses my content and uses it for educational purposes. Not bad, huh? Many people are introduced to philosophy by YouTube videos. Channels like The School Of Life and Academy of Ideas are immensely popular. YouTube is where my journey into Stoicism began as well – not in university. The academics possibly underestimate the power of this medium when it comes to education. On the other hand, I think these critics can motivate content creators like us to always improve and keep studying so that we don’t become the McDonalds of philosophy. At the end of the day, I think there has always been a tension between academia versus commercialism, and rightfully so: they keep each other in check.
Haha! I have never thought of it that way. Honestly, I don’t exactly know what it is. But it could be because I try to give every video a ‘soul’. I carefully select a piece of music that fits the story and I also use footage that I shot myself which is mainly shot in nature. I try to create from a certain ‘flow’, so the subjects I talk about often resonate with my own life. Perhaps people pick up on that? I don’t know. Also, I look at how people react in the comment section and try to follow their interests without sacrificing my authenticity too much. Or maybe it’s the weird Dutch accent? You tell me.
I don’t have a Stoic routine, to be honest. My routine is very simple. I get up early, I do physical exercise daily, I eat at the same time, I meditate regularly, and before I go to sleep I write down a list of goals for the next day. I have (at least) one day per week without obligations, mostly on Sunday or Monday. I do Stoic exercises when the moment asks for it. For example: when I’m about to leave the house, depending on where I’m going, I do the negative visualization. When I notice that I’m too entangled in my daily worries I practice the view from above. When I think I’ve been eating too much (and my digestive system needs a break), I do a period of fasting. For me, the best way to apply Stoic wisdom is by living mindfully. The dichotomy of control, for example, is something I remind myself of constantly when I notice desires to change something that is not up to me. The same goes for amor fati. It takes the mindful approach of staying aware of fantasies and anxieties about future events, to tackle them with the embrace of uncertainty.
The concept of stillness and quieting the mind is a constant for the Stoics. Marcus Aurelius said, “There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . .So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.” You have a great video on Why The Mind Hates Meditation and how taking that retreat into the mind can be incredibly hard. What would you recommend to people who struggle with this?
Just sit with it. Accept the activity in the mind, watch it, but don’t cling to it. I should add that there are so many different forms of meditation. I have noticed that different methods work for different people. Some benefit from Tai Chi, others prefer breathing meditation in a seated position. My sister is really into Vipassana meditation for example, which is a Buddhist practice. Marcus Aurelius often talks about being in the moment, letting go of the past and future and, indeed, finding retreat in our minds instead of seeking retreat in, let’s say, a quiet place in the mountains. This corresponds with mindfulness meditation and I think this would be a great complementary practice for Stoics.
You’ve also studied Buddhism and Taoism for about six years. Aside from the Stoic canon, what books—or even movies, videos, or documentaries—would you recommend to our readers who want to live a meaningful life? What would be some great compliments to the typical Stoic reading list?
I’m about six years on the road when it comes to Buddhism and Taoism, so I wouldn’t consider that very long. That said, I recommend the Tao Te Ching. This short poetic Taoist work by Lao Tzu lets one see the world in another light. If you want to explore Taoist thinking, I would also recommend reading the Zhuangzi and Lieh-tzu. Taoism and Stoicism, although very different, have similarities like the embrace of impermanence and the aim for tranquility. The Dhammapada – the sayings of the Buddha – is worth looking at as well. The Buddha by Richard Gere in an amazing documentary and gives a good understanding of Buddhist principles. Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power Of Now is a great addition to Stoicism because it teaches practical ways to live in the present moment. Another fantastic source of information is the YouTube channel of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. This channel contains a vast collection of videos about many different subjects that often overlap concepts we find in the ancient Stoic texts, like desire, aversion, and attachment. Another interesting one is Ajahn Sona if you’re looking for an in-depth explanation of Buddhist concepts.