If It’s Not Simple, It’s Bullshit

There’s not much in Stoicism that’s particularly groundbreaking: Focus on what you can control. Be a good person. Manage your emotions.

A lot of the famous Stoic quotes are pretty basic too:

Epictetus: “It’s not things that upset us, it’s our judgement about things.”

Marcus Aurelius: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Seneca: “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”

The elementary school-level simplicity isn’t a bug. It’s a feature:

There’s a great line in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle:

“Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.”

A lot of complicated stuff isn’t actually complicated…it’s made to seem that way so no one will notice that it’s actually bullshit. A lot of philosophy is badly written…because if it wasn’t, people would actually understand what the “philosopher” was saying and laugh them out of a job.

What the Stoic writings are about is not impressing anyone, nor making the reader feel like a genius for getting all the way through. No, they are designed to be short and to the point. No puffery. No throat-clearing. Using the absolute minimum number of words to make the most straightforward point.

We might call this counter-signaling, or better, a show of confidence. When you’ve got the goods, you don’t need to dress it up or make a hard sell. Just lay it out and let people take it or leave it.

So it should go for us, in all aspects of our lives. No obfuscation. No dog and pony show. No sound and fury. Just do the work, be the best version of yourself you can be, and people can take it or leave it.

P.S. This was originally sent on January 9th, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.