Thursday, June 25, 2015

Four Hour Stoic

From guru to charlatan, much has been said of Tim Ferriss. And it's little wonder. His Four Hour books are best-sellers. He interviews some of the top minds of any given field (Arnold Schwarzenegger is a master of psychological warfare). And he does things to himself that most would count as crazy. To top it off, he claims we can do it, too, if we want.

Of course, this leads to a few questions. Can we? And, more important, should we?

Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of Tim is that not everyone can have a Four Hour life. In the Four Hour Workweek, Tim suggests outsourcing paperwork to others, meaning someone is doing grunt work. Four Hour Body says a combination of working out and drugs (the legal kind) can produce the best body you've ever had, provided you can afford the drugs. And in The Four Hour Chef, he shows you how to learn anything in record time using the 80/20 method, provided you can somehow figure out the 20% you need to learn.

There's another layer as well that I think presents a problem. Tim is influenced by the Stoics. Seneca, too, was a rich Stoic, and his wealth and actions draw Stoics criticism. Could Tim, with his money and books, be painting a bad picture of Stoicism?

Let's address this second question first. Is Tim giving Stoics a bad rap?

No, not at all. In fact, if it wasn't for Tim, I wouldn't have found my interest in Stoicism myself. I read some parts of The Four Hour Body and found Seneca quotes here and there. This led to me to looking him up, which led me to Stoicism, Keith Seddon, and the rest of it.

And what about the money Tim makes? To be fair, I don't know how much the man makes. He claims in the Four Hour Workweek to make 40000 a month, which is a lot of money. He suffers what I call the Seneca problem: people try to use things outside of his character to judge his way of life. Seneca was a Stoic, one who admitted he struggled on the path. He knew the dangers of money because he not only saw it, there are good odds he gave into it every so often. And so it is with Tim. He writes aboutStoicism on his blog and gives some insight into his own life, which is less than perfect. Does that make him less of a Stoic? Anymore than it would make any of us less of one.

But what about these books he wrote? What about them? Of course they aren't perfect. But in essence, each one tackles something from the Stoic readings. The Four Hour Workweek? Seneca writes many of us waste our lives giving our time to people that will never be thankful for it, so why do we do it? The Four Hour Body is an attempt to make our bodies better, something any philosopher in Greece or Rome would tell us to do. And the Four Hour Chef? Marcus said, "Throw your books away and find a mentor." Well, Tim isn't telling us to throw our books away, but he tells us to find a mentor, because they beat books hands-down.

But what about the other criticisms? To be fair, outsourcing paperwork and taking drugs are only suggestions, not commandments. Tim writes how to do these things, but you don't have to do it that way. And if you want to 80/20 anything these days before jumping into it, the internet is a good place to help with that. And if the topics seem unrelated to Stoicism, think about some of Chrysippus's works: On How to Read Poetry and Against the Touching Up of Paintings, for example. Stoics weren't confined to just Stoicism. They saw everything and anything as a way to practice what they thought.

This, I think, is exactly what Tim is doing and is, in a way, the modern treatise. They have their holes, their naysayers. But that doesn't make him wrong, any more than disagreeing with On Anger would make Seneca wrong.

For full disclosure, no, I wasn't paid for this. I just admire the man, even though I'm jelly of his life.

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