Western society, and America in particular, has an issue with security and self-confidence. According to The Guardian, the all-pervasive ‘cult of confidence’, which has encouraged people to attain their goals by simply working hard and discarding critique, has led to a situation in which many are bereft of personal philosophy. One of the best ways to cure a lack of guiding principles is, of course, literature, but it has now been many years since a guiding voice has emerged in the world of popular literature. However, with the guidance of philosophy’s most revered voices, literature is helping the average person to retrace their path to security.
Buddhists beliefs and literature
One of the most endearing forms of philosophy is, undoubtedly, Buddhism. Many modern thinkers gained their education in Buddhist philosophy through reading books by Alan Watts, a British-American philosopher who became renowned for his workmanlike versions of time-honored principles. Buddhist teachings speak a lot of how the individual is unimportant, and how important ego death is; essentially, being anti-individualist. This approach is one that is favored by Tyler Burge, who has written five notable books in addition to countless articles and studies on anti-individualism. According to a recent OpenEdition Journal, these views can be especially helpful in the malaise that many modern Americans find themselves embroiled in. Establishing guiding principles and being able to embrace the world ‘as is’ can be enormously helpful in building resilience against the cosmos.
A similar line of thought to those Buddhist beliefs is shared by the Stoics. As The New York Times highlights, Stoicism has been written about for a long, long time – after all, the word ‘Stoic’ itself comes from an ancient Greek discipline. Seneca was an adherent, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are a seminal piece on the practice. Many writers have sought to draw a direct line between the older philosophers in providing guidance today, but one in particular, the illusionist Derren Brown, provided particularly helpful and digestible help in his 2016 title Happy.
Living in the moment
The coronavirus pandemic was a watershed moment for the wider American psyche, and one particular philosopher, Maria Baghramian, has sought to help contextualize the challenges it posed, according to a Conversation piece. One such issue is in who to believe, and which experts can be trusted, and which cannot. At the root of her views have been the need to take lessons from the now, rather than ‘the then’, and to live in the moment. This is a philosophy espoused by the Epicureans, who faced off with the Stoics in terms of how to live life, and also embraced by Nietsczhe, the father of modern philosophy and psychology.
Finding a set of guiding principles is something that many Americans can benefit from. Finding philosophers who can help to connect the dots, and propose unified theories that work for modern audiences, can be more difficult. However, the inspiration is out there.