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You Can Always Possess This

You Can Always Possess This

Update: 2024-02-281


This tradition of warrior Stoics continued up through and past Admiral Stockdale, who would test Epictetus’s doctrines in the prison camps of Vietnam (his book Courage Under Fire is a must read for any modern Stoic).

Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, all but predicted this would be the fate of the Stoics. “If you lay violent hands on me,” he said in 3rd century Greece, “you’ll have my body, but my mind will remain with Stilpo.” Stilpo was a Greek philosopher, meaning that you could torture Zeno, you could possess his body, but you could never control his mind. He was saying a version of what we said recently—that the idea of Stoicism is to surrender but not give yourself away.

Isn’t that what Stockdale was doing? He submitted to his imprisonment because it was a physical fact of his existence. He accepted, perhaps a bit more realistically than the Stoics, that under torture, no man was fully unbreakable, that you would ultimately have to give some information up under duress. (We talked to one of his fellow POWs, Dave Carey, on the podcast about just this idea.) But Stockdale still asserted that he had ultimate control of his thoughts, of his character, his sense of self. No one could take that from him and more important, he would never give it up.

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You Can Always Possess This

You Can Always Possess This