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This Is a Field Manual, Not a Retreat

The Jedi, John Mulaney & a BIG personal announcement
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Life is comfortable in the ivory tower. You can look down on the rest of the world from the observatory window, seated next to your collection of books chock full of ancient wisdom and quips. The Jedi Order was trapped in this state during the years leading up to the Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I, II, III). The Jedi Council literally sat around at the top of an ivory-looking tower on Coruscant, projecting outward their enlightenment and supernatural power as they looked out on Coruscant from the council chamber. How nice.

Yes, there were Jedi of action. If you weren’t on the Council, you were doing missions more regularly and seeing the real state of the galaxy. But if you moved up the Council, your world would be books, meditation, politics, and endless discussion. This is famously why Qui-Gon Jinn rejected an offer to join the Jedi Council when a seat opened up. During the Clone Wars period, Jedi Council members experienced more regular deployment into the field, leading many to die in battle. But again, it was not the historical norm.

The Jedi Temple on Coruscant, a literal Ivory Tower

Why am I going on about this?

Philosophy is for living and leading

I too like my books. I like my office. I like sitting in it, with my books, reading, highlighting, and writing about what I absorb. It’s nice and very cozy.

Over the last week though, I’ve been faced with a call to leave the coziness of my office and enter a different space, one I’d say is a bit more uncomfortable and perilous. I didn’t want to answer that call, which I’d received from a number of people in my community, asking me to consider running for City Council in Manassas, Virginia. A lane was open and no one was stepping in to fill it. That means the city gets more of the same in terms of leadership.

I thought of Geeky Stoics, my writing, and my time to be alone and think about philosophy, and I didn’t like the idea at all.

Then I remembered something.

The Stoics were (mostly) doers. Many of the Roman Stoics at their peak were ivory tower types in that they were privileged and powerful, but they were “in the arena” as it were, and engaged in public life. Seneca, advisor to the emperor, a masterful politician, and a former senator. Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome, not by blood but by merit. He didn’t want the purple robe of the emperorship, and he feared it greatly. Thomas Jefferson famously passed away with a copy of Seneca by his bedside. John Adams wrote with great knowledge and appreciation of Epictetus and Aurelius, and George Washington also kept the words of Seneca close as he rose into leadership roles in the Continental Army. To say nothing of President Teddy Roosevelt adventuring through the Amazon with Meditations in his backpack…..

Rolling back the clock a bit to Greece, the Stoic known as Cleanthes was known to haul water buckets around on a pole to water the gardens of wealthy homeowners in Athens. He was mocked relentlessly for working to make a living for himself.

Cleanthes was also a boxer for most of his life, before becoming the head of the Stoic school in ancient Greece. He succeeded its founder, a man known as Zeno, and was known for doing things with his hands as a means to strengthen his mind.

“Be a boxer, not a gladiator, in the way you act on your principles. The gladiator takes up his sword only to put it down again, but the boxer is never without his fist and has only to clench it.”

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

That’s why Marcus Aurelius wrote fondly of Cleanthes in Meditations, saying one should be a boxer, not a gladiator….because a boxer never lays down his weapon. He carries it with him wherever he goes.

Stoic philosophy was for people “in the field” of life. Not their home office.

Skywalker and the ancient Jedi texts, hidden away

Isolated on an island with a library

I’m reminded of Luke Skywalker as seen in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, where he’s mostly given up on life and the fight against darkness. He is holed up on the island of Ahch-To, hoarding ancient Jedi texts in a library within a tree. It’s not a perfect analogy, but at this time in his life, Luke valued the books more than he did the application of what was inside of them. He had resolved to die alone on the island, and let the way of the Jedi die with him. Yet, he was somehow still really attached to the books. When Master Yoda appears to him to give a much-needed pep talk, Yoda calls on lightning from the sky and sets the tree library ablaze. Luke is horrified. Yoda laughs. He reminds Luke that they are just old books, not page-turners.

The truth (which Luke does not know) is that Rey snuck the books out of the library before leaving the island. As the tree burns, the books are safe, and Yoda knows that. But he wants Luke to feel something real: the pain of letting them go.

We are called to be leaders in the world. Books and studies are for Hobbits in the Shire. The goal for each of us, “Geeky Stoics”, should be to take those books on the road and on great adventures. We’ll miss the simplicity of our old life, Bilbo Baggins certainly did. But these aren’t works of fiction for leisure.

The books on my desk right now: The Bible, Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, and Meditations, these are field manuals. You take them out into the world.

“Page turners, they were not” - Yoda

Y’all, I am terrified of what life looks like from now until November when America goes to vote in the 2024 election. I’ll be on the ballot in Manassas for City Council, and until then I will be spending more time out in the city talking to my neighbors and asking people to support me in my candidacy. I have some ideas for the city I’m excited about, and I really just want to be an open ear for everyday people in my community who feel like the council doesn’t listen to them.

Check out the campaign website

In the months ahead I anticipate being verbally attacked, maligned in mailers, gossiped about on weird Facebook Group pages run by the opposition. I know myself and I know that I like to be liked. It’s gonna hurt when the slings and arrows start flying from people whom I’ve never met and the entrenched local politicians who take offense that anyone would dare challenge their leadership.

I love this bit from comedian John Mulaney in his Netflix special where he talks about how his wife is awesome because she doesn’t care one bit what people think of her. I say this often about my wife, Mel, who ran fearlessly for the city school board in 2022. She took cruel attacks from both sides of the aisle with such stoic grace.

Mulaney goes “When I walk down the street I need everybody…all day long…to like me so much, it’s exhausting! My wife said that walking around with me is like walking with someone running for mayor of nothing.” He goes on to describe how he got a Best Buy Rewards Card once because he didn’t want the employee to be mad at him. Classic.

I’m more like John. I am energized by bringing people together and finding common ground in a divisive world. That lights me up inside. But I have learned good and well that in politics (the arena) there are people who are fueled by the opposite. They love division, foolishness, and slander, and they wake up every day with a sense of paranoia and suspicion. I think power does this to people, even in more small, local elected offices.

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil (right or wrong)……..”

- Marcus Aurelius, part 1 of 2.

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We are designed for cooperation

I’ll wrap this up. Now you know, I’m going to be running for Manassas City Council this year. Nothing changes for Geeky Stoics. I just need to work with my friend and collaborator,

Riley Blanton

, to stay organized so that we’re writing for you on the same regular basis about the philosophy within pop culture. If you want to support me in the campaign, it goes without saying I appreciate it. It’s much needed.

To close, meditate on this passage from Marcus Aurelius, where he speaks about what to expect from each day. He is not being cynical or crude when he says there will be fools and ill-will found in each day. That’s reality. But what he says after the passage above is so important, and often left out when Aurelius’ is quoted.

He reminds himself (and us, the reader he never anticipated having ) that even amidst stupidity and malice, our human duty is to work with others in a gracious spirit. We forgive the slights and attacks because as students of philosophy, we know that we are meant for cooperation with others, just as our hands, feet, and eyelids strive to work in sync.

That is what nature demands of us.

“….But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”

- Marcus Aurelius, part 2 of 2

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Geeky Stoics
Geeky Stoics
Your favorite stories are part of your real life. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. Marvel. Batman. Are you listening to what they’re trying to tell you? Geeky Stoics is all about Stoicism, Philosophy, and Wisdom found in Pop Culture.
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