Natalie Haynes

A perversion of the Classics

White supremacists are now appropriating Classical authors to lend authority to their vicious world view. Donna Zuckerberg is determined to fight back

Who could possibly take exception to the Stoics? One of the more passive arms of Hellenistic philosophy, Stoicism required its followers to believe in a world where virtue was all, worldly goods were trivial and everything was predetermined. Perhaps you might take exception to this last pillar of faith, since it leaves us dangerously close to being organic robots, with no real autonomy. ‘I was destined to steal,’ a slave once told his Stoic master, Zeno of Citium. ‘Yes, and to be flogged,’ Zeno replied, carrying out the punishment. Your destiny does not excuse you of responsibility, in the Stoic mindset: it just robs you of choice.

With its emphasis on virtue and self-control, it is curious that Stoicism has proved so appealing to the men who lurk on the internet under the banner of the Red Pill (an umbrella term taken from the film, The Matrix, which now describes multiple varieties of men’s rights activists, pick-up artists and ‘incels’ or involuntary celibates). These are men who go out of their way to bully, deride and harass women on a daily basis (Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in a spree shooting in Isla Vista in 2014, called himself an incel, and wished to punish women for failing to have sex with him).

Donna Zuckerberg is a classicist with a strong internet pedigree: she set up the excellent website Eidolon, which publishes essays on Classics in the contemporary world. She is also — as she explains on the second page of her book— Silicon Valley royalty:

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook (and my older brother) is frequently mocked as ‘Mark Cuckerberg’… epithets based on the term cuck, a particularly significant form of insult within the Red Pill, derived from the term cuckold.

So she is ideally placed to analyse the deeply unpleasant phenomenon of these men appropriating ancient authors — Ovid, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius — to try to bolster their vicious world view.

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