KY: In terms of the Stoics, how might their approach to “dying well” offer us some resources for thinking amidst our current scene of ecological reorganisation that is named the Anthropocene?
EG: The Stoic concept of ‘dying well’ is immensely important not only when we consider the effects of imminent social collapse on each of us and our possible responses, but also when we consider that we are placed in an immensely vast universe where the call to ‘live well, according to one’s principles’ provides us with a connection to the universe, a fully material universe, as the Stoics understand it, which is nevertheless ordered and framed by an order they call ‘incorporeal’. To live well is to live, not according to the opinions and values of others – what we cannot control – but according to one’s own rational sense of one’s place in the world, according to actions we can control. To live well is to live according to what one can control, one’s own inner states, one’s own bodily behaviour, one’s own principles. This position is fundamentally anti-egoistic: it is directed to a knowledge of the world and one’s place in it. However, as a psychical attitude – perseverance, acceptance, self-reliance – I suspect that Stoicism is perhaps not the best psychology for struggle, as the devastation of many of the earth’s resources draws closer. Nietzsche understood that in times of violence, the Stoics were immensely life-affirming in their fortitude, but that in times of peace and plenty, he prefers the Epicureans (The Gay Science #306). The Stoics affirm that we are the subjects of destiny, which is indifferent to our needs and interests. The task of a reasoned or reflective life, a life lived in according with what is beneficial to one’s nature (according to one’s own understanding) is a life able to fully affirm its destiny, a life that seeks to be worthy of what befalls it, even as it has little or no control of such a destiny.
This is a very similar line of thinking that led me to pick up and start practicing Stoicism in the first place- and what has also led me to look into radical variations of ecopsychology that lead us towards first an acceptance of the situation as it is, devoid of ideological blinkers, and thereby to being able to adapt to it and act within it. At some point soon I hope to have some drafts or outlines up of reflections on these concerns in relation to the questions of suicide, eco-catastrophe, and extinction.
Elsewhere in the interview the above excerpt is taken from Grosz links the Stoics to Spinoza and nietzsche in a philosophical counter-tradition. I would say that this is the tradition of ontological corporealism that I identify with and unsurprisingly with an ethics centred on compassion and care. To this tradition we could add Schopenhauer, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Ernest Becker, Judith Butler and geo/eco-feminists such as Stacey Alaimo and Grosz herself.
Albert Camus wrote that suicide was the only serious philosophical question. Today this must be said of the meanings and the projects of extinction.