Zeno is asked about activism this month. Read his answer and participate in the discussion!
As a Stoic, I'm caught between knowing that in the end life is good no matter what happens, and the fact that there are certain movements (antislavery, nuclear disarmament, etc.) that I feel are beneficial to everyone and should be supported due to our duty to humanity. How can a Stoic weigh acceptance against civil duty? To what extent should a Stoic be an activist?
I have heard that the early Stoics participated in politics in order to fulfill this duty but eventually decided that teaching others through lectures and writing would suffice, saving them the disturbances that come from the passionate argumentation of politics. Are there preferable methods of working for humanity (methods that are more efficient, peaceful, or morally sound than others)?
These are only a few of the questions that I can think to ask about "Stoic activism," I hope the word grouping, like "Stoic joy," isn't as contradictory as it seems!
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Regarding your first paragraph, you must not think that because we should accept the outcome of our actions, we are entitled to act in any way. Surely, you do not think so, since you fully recognize that some actions are beneficial to mankind.
There is no magical recipe to find what is virtuous or not, and there is no Sage to guide us. So we have to weigh our actions ourselves, take as much as we can into consideration, and decide in which world we want to live, which kind of society we want to be a part of, and how much effort we can contrivute to these questions.
Does the idea of slavery seem unacceptable to you? Then you will have to find out how much effort you can afford to join the struggle against slavery. Do the nuclear weapons seem an immediate danger for mankind to you? Then again, how much effort can you allow in the situation you are in to fight against it?
Bear in mind that from the Stoic point of view, there is nothing good outside of virtue, and you actions can only favour highly preferred indifferents for others (the real good, though, they can only do it to themselves). But as a Stoic, you have the moral obligation to care for these preferred indifferents, because they are the best ground where virtue can flourish.
Every human being is a whole person, though, tied in a network of relationships, and thus having many different kinds of duties. Some have very important parental duty, for example if they have a "disabled" child (some might with good reason prefer to think of the disabled as simply differently enabled), and they might decide after careful examination that their parental duty is more immediate than the urge to fight actively against nuclear armament, even though they are fully aware of the potential danger.
But if the Stoic has a duty to act for the common good, he must also accept the consequences of his actions. What is the benefit of such or such particular action? What is your expectation in doing it? Is it to correct all wrongs? If yes, you are a fool, since you will never succeed. You are likely to never do as much good as you intend, and you are even likely to do some wrong. You must face all these eventualities, ponder when the risk is too high of doing wrong, and when it is acceptable. You may probably also be mislead, be cheated, be arrested, beaten, jailed, or whatever, depending on the kind of action that you choose. You must be prepared to all the possible outcomes, and never fall into resentment or disappointment.
I hope that this answer gave you something to think about.
Don't forget, if you want to reach Zeno, to ask a question or whatever other reason, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org !