Charlottesville used to be a place. Now, it’s a thing.
On Friday, Charlottesville was a city in Virginia.
Today, Charlottesville is an event. A thing.
In our hyper-emotional world of 2017, we are told to explore our emotions. Then act upon those emotions. Like poorly trained animals. Like half-wits. Like narcissists and spoiled brats. Like lower primates.
Like the KKK and BLM and Antifa thugs who turned that place into a thing yesterday.
That’s one way to behave. A way to behave that will lead to more places become worse things.
That’s not the only way to behave. There’s another way.
A Stoic’s View of Charlottesville
Let’s see what Marcus Aurelius tells us about events like Charlottesville:
When you think you’ve been injured, apply this rule: If the community isn’t injured by it, neither am I. And if it is, anger is not the answer. Show the offender where he went wrong.
Aurelius gives us three things:
- Has the community been injured?
- If no, then you have not been injured. So get over yourself.
- If yes, then put aside anger and show the offender where they went wrong.
It looks like this:
If you’re a Christian, you might recognize this formula. It sounds like something Jesus said. And Paul. And Peter. And, if you’re old enough, your mother. And teachers.
This Stoic formula is tough medicine for 21st century Americans. We’ve been fed narcissism for decades. We are told to express our emotions wantonly. Especially negative emotions. Like anger. Like hatred. Like vengeance.
That “do what you feel” advice was wrong. Dead wrong.
The advice we’ve gotten since the 1970s was wrong. Like the diet advice we’ve gotten was wrong.
The Ku Klux Klan, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa are all victims of the “do what you feel” nonsense we’ve been taught since the 1970s. They’re all guilty of following bad advice, but they got a truckload of bad advice.
And, like all bad advice, bad behavioral advice ends in death.
Yesterday, three people died. Died because other people did what they felt. Died because other people followed bad advice. Bad advice that told them “do what you feel.”
For the record, the community was injured yesterday. So we should be angry, right?
Marcus Aurelius isn’t like modern therapists and politicians. Marcus doesn’t give us the easy out. He doesn’t tell us to act on our anger.
In fact, Marcus Aurelius tells us “anger is not the answer.”
(Actually, Marcus never told “us” anything. He was writing to himself in a journal. When Marcus wrote “you,” he meant “me.”)
When the community is injured, we have a duty. A duty to lead. To lead, not just by example, but also by instruction.
We have a duty to “inform the offender where he went wrong.” Which is the purpose of this post. To inform the offenders where they went wrong. All of the them.
Who Are the Offenders?
I see four classes of offenders in Charlottesville. Two direct offenders and two instigators.
- The white supremacists who went looking for trouble
- The counter-protesters who went looking for trouble
- The politicians who took sides with one group of miscreants or the other
- The many therapists, writers, politicians, teachers, and parents who taught generations of children to treat their animal urges like commands from God
To the direct offenders, you went wrong by losing sight of your goal. You lost sight of, as John Braddock calls it, your End Game. Every organization represented on the battlefield of Charlottesville is worse off than it was before. You fought a negative-sum game, a war of attrition. The longer the fight goes on, the more both sides lose. From A Spy’s Guide to Thinking by John Braddock:
Negative-sum games are rare. They’re wars of attrition. Verdun. Or a labor strike. Both sides are losing. Each side hopes it’s losing less than the other. As soon as one side figures it’s losing too much, the negative-sum game is over. Negative-sum games are like heavy elements that live for a short time before decaying into something else.
When you recognize that you’re in a negative-sum game, John Braddock’s advice is simple: get out.
Where They Went Wrong
If you identify with the KKK, Skinheads, or some other faction of white-power primates, you are in a war of attrition and you are losing. So is everyone around you. You’ll never reach your end-game fighting wars of attrition. You get farther away from that end game with every battle.
If you identify with Black Lives Matter, you’re fighting a losing war of attrition. A war both sides lose. A war that takes you farther away from that end game. You probably feel worse every day instead of better. That’s a sign. Pay attention to it.
If you identify with Antifa, you’re fighting a losing war of attrition. A war you will lose, little by little, until you and your imagined enemies are destroyed. You probably want something more than mutual assured destruction. But that’s the war you’re fighting. Mutual assured destruction.
If you identify with none of those groups (as I hope), don’t get all high an mighty just yet. You are not free and clear.
Where the Rest of Us Fail: Shirking Duty
If you’re a peace-loving center-right person, you might feel angry at President Trump for not choosing sides. (Actually, Trump did choose sides; he sided with law and order, peace and love. Maybe your anger blinded you?) Or you might feel angry at the press. Or at the BLM and Antifa thugs. Or at Republican Senators who want President Trump to side with BLM and Antifa. (I’m looking at you, Marco Rubio.)
If you’re a peace-loving, center-left person, you might feel angry at President Trump for not choosing sides. Or you might feel angry at the white supremacists for fighting a war of attrition. Or you might feel angry at the police for not taking sides by shooting all those KKK people. (I’m looking at you, Jake Tapper.)
Marcus Aurelius tells us “get over yourself.” Do your duty.
For those instigators of yesterday’s war of attrition in Charlottesville: stop giving advice. Your advice is very bad. The worst advice. Instead, accept the possibility that you might be wrong. Read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***. Then re-read this blog post. Then follow the obvious course of action, even it’s difficult. Especially if it’s difficult.
Every moment you’re feeling angry, you’re shirking your duty. You’re damaging your community. You are taking sides with the belligerents of Charlottesville. You’re moving farther away from that end game of yours.
How to Reach Your End Game
Here’s the three-step process you can use to get right with nature, right with God, and right with your community:
- Get a clear picture of your end game. What will the world be like when you arrive there? Who will be there with you? What things will you have with you?
- Pick the allies you will need to achieve your end game. Who can you work with? Who must you work with? Who do you want to be like?
- Examine that flow chart and apply it. There is no “surrender to your anger” box. There are only two possible end states: “you have not been injured” and “show the offender where he went wrong.” Those are your only courses of action if you want to move closer to your end game. If you want to do your duty.
If you can’t stand the idea of being alone with your own thoughts, read John Braddock’s outstanding books. They will help you think strategically instead of acting out your emotions.
Have a blessed, peaceful day.
P.S. Oh, almost forgot. What was good about Charlottesville? It gave us this chance to improve ourselves. At least, that’s what I got out of it. It was painful, and pain is a signal for action. Wise action. Action that helps.