What drag queens can teach Stoics about how to live an ethical life
Ryan Holiday, the author who is probably responsible for bringing more converts to Stoicism than any other living author through his many books on Stoicism — such as The Obstacle is the Way, The Daily Stoic, and Lives of the Stoics — has done something interesting to bring attention to the Stoic conception of virtue.
In addition to being an author, Holiday owns and operates a bookstore in Bastrop, Texas. Its name is The Painted Porch — in tribute to the ancient Stoics whose first meetings were at a painted porch. The bookstore prominently displays books on Stoicism and related topics.
The bookstore also sponsors public events. One of these events turned out to be controversial: “Drag Story Hour,” where drag performers dressed as pirates and princesses read stories to kids.
The controversy surrounding this event — which Ryan Holiday was adamant about holding despite customer complaints — provides an illuminating view into the issues facing Modern Stoicism.
For those unfamiliar with Stoicism, the Stoics claim that virtue is the only good. Everything else — pleasure, health, wealth, status, etc. — is only of worth to the degree that it supports or facilitates virtue. Every decision for a practicing Stoic has ethical implications that must be considered.
Drag queen story hour has turned into an ethical conundrum in our current culture war in which proponents and opponents declare each other to be unethical. Ryan Holiday defended the ethics of his store’s drag story hour, saying, “There is nothing inappropriate or strange or weird about it,” he said. “It was people reading books and having a good time together. It was a community.”
This article isn’t about whether drag queen story hour events are ethical or unethical. It’s about the ethical teachings of Stoicism and their relationship to Ryan Holiday’s decision to sponsor the drag story hour.
One of the key purposes of a philosophy of life, such as Stoicism, is to give ethical guidance. While Holiday has many supporters who think he did the right thing according to Stoic ethics, many Stoics think he did the wrong thing. Those who think Holiday was in the wrong can point to several…