Reflections on STOICON 2016
by Greg Sadler
We’re now well into Stoic Week 2016 – starting the second-to-last day for many of us when this post comes out – and just seven days has passed since what turned out not only to be an excellent conference but also a historical occasion. Apparently STOICON 2016 was the largest gathering of Stoics in the world, not just today, but ever!
When it comes to an event of that magnitude, nobody really gets to see or participate in everything of course. But, perhaps in some respects the viewpoint and experience I had is representative enough for my reflections to be of some interest or use – at the very least in provoking some conversation. I got to attend a range of excellent talks by quite a few speakers (If you’re curious, Massimo Pigluicci provides overviews of the main talks here). I also got to engage in some great (though all too short) discussions with a fellow participants intensely interested in modern Stoicism, meet a number people I’d only interacted with previously through correspondence, and absorb some of the energy and excitement (which admittedly helped a bit, since I was a bit sleep-deprived by the day of the conference!)
I also had the chance to see STOICON from another set of angles as well. Fortunately the organizing and running of the conference – months of painstaking work having been done behind the scenes by that point – were already expertly handled by the New York hosts, particularly Massimo Piglucci, Greg Lopez, and Amy Valladares (with many other people supporting). When it comes to conferences, or any similar events with almost innumerable “moving parts” (especially when many of those parts are complicated human beings), there’s nearly always some opportunity for the planners to have the dichotomy of control drilled home to them experientially. From my perspective – and doubtless the New York team might view this very differently – things went quite smoothly through the day.
So for myself, as a speaker, it was a very enjoyable, fairly stress-free conference (meaning that from a Stoic perspective, what stresses I did experience stemmed from my own judgements, assumptions, and reactions – I’m still someone who needs to make considerably more progress!). I got to meet and interact with – at least a bit in some cases – the other speakers, and many of the other people who were there for the talks and workshops. Everything I needed for my own workshop fell into place, so all I needed to do was engage with the participants who had selected that workshop, talk about Stoic views and practices bearing on anger, and carry out some very enjoyable conversation in the session. The only downside was not being able to attend any of the other workshops, but that was a situation every other person attending the conference was in.
All told then, from the multiple overlapping perspectives of a participant in the conference, a member of the modern Stoic community, and a workshop provider, STOICON 2016 was an excellent conference. I had actually prepared myself mentally for a number of manners in which matters out of my control might go contrary to my desires and expectations – I’m definitely not at a point of having extricated my desires and aversion from all manners of things strictly speaking indifferent, I have to admit – for instance, how to respond if the handouts useful for my workshop weren’t available, or what to do if all the available places for lunch were simply mobbed, or any number of other sorts of events along those lines. That negative visualization didn’t turn out to be needed, but it’s a good practice as we all likely know, and as with any practice, engaging in it more often is integral to doing it better when it turns out to be needed.
There are a number of interesting developments and prospects that were either in the works by, or got discussed in the course of, or ended up emerging in one way or another from bringing all these people interested in Stoic philosophy and its modern applications together. I’ll mention several of them here.
First, STOICON – particularly in conjunction with the associated Stoic Week, this Stoicism Today blog, and the Stoicism Facebook group – provides an index of how large and diverse the modern Stoic movement (or if you like, community) really is. I’d add several other qualifiers as well: healthy. . . thriving . . . productive. . . even exciting. There were over 330 attendees at this STOICON itself – the meeting space was packed, and buzzing with conversations! There’s thousands of people participating in Stoic Week itself, with quite a few organizations and institutions offering places for people to work through the handbook and exercises together. The Stoicism Facebook group has over 15,000 members. Stoicism Today regularly gets an average of over 1,000 reads per day, and considerably more this time of the year.
These are important parts of what we might call the “big contemporary Stoic picture”, but just parts. There are so many other sites, organizations, and groups that it would require a lengthy post just to try to comprehensively list them. I counted 13 different groups devoted specifically to Stoicism on Meetup.com, and many other philosophy-related meetups also feature discussions or events centered on Stoicism. Also on Facebook, you’ll find the smaller, but also quite excellent group devoted to Applying Stoicism. There’s a very active Stoicism sub-Reddit, and you can find interesting groups on Google+ and LinkedIn as well. There’s also an app that’s been discussed here previously in Stoicism Today, PocketStoic, a host of blogs and podcasts devoted to Stoicism (perhaps we’ll do a round-up of those in the coming weeks or months) and a promising new organization, the Stoic Fellowship.
That last part brings me to the second interesting development. Stoic Fellowship in particular focuses on providing support and resources that can be used in developing local Stoic organizations. It’s wonderful that we have a yearly event like STOICON, and the blog, and the group, and that there are meetups around the world, but creating yet more local, regular opportunities for face-to-face interaction with other people interested in Stoicism seems like an excellent idea to me. Imagine a vast network of groups and organizations connected together in a number of different ways, affording still more people a chance to learn about, to discuss, to practice Stoicism – that is hopefully where we are currently headed! Who knows – we might even start to see additional regional versions of STOICON, like the one happening today in London, getting planned in various parts of the world for next year.
The third development that I’ll mention here is that, in the coming months, I’m hoping to get most ( or even better, all) of the speakers at this year’s STOICON to contribute posts that provide some of the content discussed during their talks and workshops. I have to admit that, as editor of Stoicism Today, following up on this excellent suggestion made by one of the conference-goers is not without some self-interest on my part – I would have liked to attend every one of the workshops, and I’m hoping to get some insight into what they did and discussed as I read those posts. So, keep an eye out for some excellent guest posts here by the conference presenters!
To bring this to a close, as I said at the start, nobody really gets a completely encompassing view on an event like STOICON. So, it would be particularly interesting to read about the reflections and experiences of others who attended the conference – comment away! And of course, that’s not to say that anyone else who finds these developments interesting – whether they could be at STOICON this year or not – shouldn’t equally chime in, or carry out the conversation, in the comments.