"The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan."--CLAUSEWITZ
These words have been ringing in my head since first reading them in
an unlikely place, Common Sense on Mutual Funds by John Bogle. I
won't go into Bogle's book though I recommend it. I think even you
Marxists may enjoy it considering how Mr. Bogle is castigated by his
enemies as a "Bolshevik."
My interest is how this truth of Clausewitz applies to the pursuit of
happiness or as we define it, the smooth flow of life.
From my readings of the Hellenistic philosophers, I have concluded
that there are three good plans that they came up with. They are the
Aristotelian, the Epicurean, and the Stoic plans. None of them are
perfect, but they are good.
Which plan is best? I think much of this will be determined by
personal values and circumstances. For instance, I don't see a Navy
SEAL embracing Epicureanism except as a weekend pursuit. In addition,
certain professions are incompatible with Epicureanism such as being
President or Prime Minister.
Each of these good plans has its flaws. The Aristotelian system is a
hit-or-miss affair depending to a large extent on good fortune. The
Epicurean system is prone to the same problem except it minimizes it
by a process of simplification through withdrawal.
The Stoic system is superior because it is not dependant upon
externals. As such, it can endure in all circumstances and represents
the most logical way to go. Aristotle and Epicurus will quickly
abandon you in a prisoner of war or concentration camp. But the
Stoics will be there for you.
Clearly, the flaw in Stoicism is the one we grapple with daily. It is
our inconsistency in living up to it. Few if any have been sages, yet
when I read of Stockdale's time in the hands of his captors, I marvel
at what he did. It seems the greatest peril to the Stoic is not times
of harshness but times of ease.
I have been struggling with Stoicism over the past year not because
it is a bad plan. It simply isn't a perfect plan. My life and mental
wellbeing have improved considerably under the Stoic discipline. Yet,
there has been this nagging feeling that perhaps there is something
better. Nevermind that I have yet to find it.
Philosophy abounds in perfect plans. Yet, they simply cannot deliver.
OTOH, philosophy has provided many good plans. For instance,
Aristotle's Politics stands IMO as the finest document on the subject
in the ancient world. I find Plato's Republic to simply be a dream
and nothing more. A constitutional republic is the best form of
government. It is a good plan despite its flaws.
I think all of us at some time have fallen prey to the dream of a
perfect plan. I suspect my libertarianism has been such a plan. In
reading about Edmund Burke, I see his own evolution on this
paralleling my own.
I have read pretty widely concerning the issues that the ancient
philosophers wished to address. I have even explored more
contemporary treatments of these issues by Camus, Nietzsche,
Schopenhauer, and Rand. In the end, I come back to Stoicism.
I find many of the passions I experience lately are tied to the
desire that I have for a perfect plan. Yet, I must admit that I doubt
that such a plan even exists. I have found nothing that is superior
to the life strategy that Stoicism offers. The other strategies
either echo or steal from the Stoic playbook.
Stoicism is a good plan. It's only enemy is the dream of a perfect
plan. If there is a better plan, I have yet to discover it. As such,
I intend to stick with it and see where it leads me.