Last week we wrote about the nearly unbelievable, decade-long conspiracy the billionaire Peter Thiel aimed at Gawker, a website he believed was a scourge of culture. With Stoic-like patience, and a conspicuous lack of anger, he waited patiently for an opportunity to solve a problem others had despaired of solving, and motivated by his own internal code of ethics, came up with a strategy to take advantage of it. Eventually, he won a landmark judgement in a Florida court, and then when Gawker was unable to pay, he met face to face with his antagonists to negotiate a firm but merciful end of hostilities.
That’s one side of the story. But there is another, lesser known part. What of the victims, the founder and owner of Gawker, its editors, how did they respond to this surprise reversal of fortune? They went from powerful media outlet to…nothing. Criticism was heaped upon Nick Denton and A.J. Daulerio, some of it deserved, some of it not—and their lives were turned upside down. A $300 million dollar company was forced to declare bankruptcy. There wasn’t even enough money for a proper farewell party. It was a crucible of surprise, pain and frustration.
So how would they respond? Well, in part they turned to Stoicism. On the bookshelves of Peter’s home, one finds books by Machiavelli. In Nick’s, there is a copy of Seneca, The Daily Stoic and others. A.J, as he would struggle to maintain newfound sobriety after the trial, would also begin to read the Stoics; Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus. Remember: Marcus was nearly dethroned. Seneca was exiled. So was Epictetus. All these men felt the hard hand of fate—all of them knew what it was to face hard consequences for choices and decisions.
In Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, Nick was asked why he wasn’t bitter. Surely, that’s an understandable, even expected reaction when a secret enemy destroys nearly everything you worked for. His answer? “I have been reminding myself how bad it could have been. Backer still in the shadows, never revealed. Not enough in proceeds to fund a family and my ideas . . . The prospect of another four years of litigation . . .” He would come to see it all with a kind of detachment and an understanding that anger and bitterness rarely makes things better. So he moved on. To the next thing. To the rest of his life. And A.J.? “I work hard every single day to rid myself of revenge fantasies. It’s pointless.” He too would rebuild his life, start a family, try to make new and better habits and learn from what happened—without being consumed by the events of the past, whether they had been fair or not, unlucky or not.
In this way, the story comes full circle. Stoicism is designed to be a philosophy for extreme adversity and extreme success. Its practitioners are rarely perfect. They are flawed, they make mistakes, they have professions that range from Nero’s tutor to fallen gossip writers. And others are explicitly not Stoic, but their examples in certain situations—whether it’s Alexander the Great on campaign or Peter Thiel in conspiracy—teach powerful lessons of what to do and what not to do.
P.S. Ryan Holiday’s newest book Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, which the New York Times called a “profound masterwork,” is available everywhere. Please support DailyStoic.com by picking up a copy.