Nothing good is easy.
“Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood; it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures… what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
“Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”~Alexis de Tocqueville
If the home we never write to, and the oaths we never keep, And all we know most distant and most dear,Across the snoring barrack-room return to break our sleep, Can you blame us if we soak ourselves in beer? ~Gentleman Ranker, Rudyard Kipling
For the first time in my Army career, and really for the first time in my professional career, I wish I were making more money. The time I’ve been away from home for the last 4 years has taken a toll. Things that I’ve needed to do at home have fallen by the wayside during deployments, Permanent Change of Station moves, and long schools. I just returned from 8 weeks of Army education, only to be reminded that one of my cars is in massive need of maintenance. This car sat for 3 years while I was in Germany, then endured the ridiculous winters of Fort Drum, assaulted by ice and copious amounts of road salt. Then there was the pernicious effects of amoral auto-parts dealers who take advantage of the wives of deployed Army husbands by intentionally damaging parts of the car during routine oil changes in order to garner more business. Yes, that last part happened.
My weeks at work are too long, and too inflexible. I cannot simply take a day off as most can at jobs in which they’ve earned days off. I have to go through the military leave process, a process in which a supervisor of commander has ultimate authority. There is no right to a day off in the Army. because of the extreme operational tempo and lack of manpower, things like doctor appointments, car maintenance, and simply enjoying life often go by the wayside. Sometimes I find myself so busy multitasking, that I wake up at 0300 a.m. thinking about these things, unable to fall back asleep. There are a million things to be done at work and at home.
This morning I jumped in my wife’s car and found the battery dead. Either that or the starter’s gone. I tried charging the battery from my other car, but this failed. It did however drain my other car’s battery. Yesterday I tried to bring my car in for a brake job and an oil change and was told I’d have to bring it to the dealership on Friday. On the way back the engine began overheating. Pretty sure the coolant evaporated from the car sitting in the Hawaii sun for 8 weeks while I was gone. Guess I should have checked. A black comedy of failure.
And for the first time, I wanted more money than what a full-time job was providing me. I wake up at 0430 every workday. I’m doing physical training at 0600. I get home at 1730. I get home earlier than many others do. I do this 5 days a week, and if I go to the field, I may work 30 or more consecutive 12 hour shifts, all without the luxury of returning to my own bed after shift or even sipping a simple beer. I’ve spent months and years away from home and things deteriorated while I was gone. Frankly, I’m tired of it. One young Lieutenant in my office is worked to the bone. I actually feel the scope of my responsibilities and performance outstrip what I am paid. But that’s not really why I want more money. I want to make more money so I don’t have to worry everyday. I want to make more money so I can concentrate on my job. Plus I’d like to have some energy to enjoy my off-time. Right now my time off is spent just as a starving man spends his time when he finds a pile of food: He gorges himself on what he’s lacked for so long. For me, I’ve lacked significant decompression time. So I do none of the things I used to do. When I first arrived at my unit, I experienced severe burnout, the likes of which I have never felt in my life. I lost all interest in reading the news, in politics, in anything to do with the Army. I’d just returned from Afghanistan a few months prior, and moving to Hawaii added a huge amount of stress. A person is expected to perform flawlessly when they show up to a new unit. I’ve never seen it work that way, though. And I work at one of the busiest units I have ever seen. So many of the people around me are burned out. Many officers want to leave the Army, an unusual phenomena as from my experience officers are usually happy-go-lucky, All Army types. Lifers, so to speak.
I get my first look at E7 in June of next year. But the centralized board promotion system for senior NCOs often seems like a crap shoot. E7 would be a significant pay increase. I hope I make it, though maybe that rank is too much for me based on my time in the Army. In any case, some say that the minute money is the reason for being a Soldier, it’s time to leave. Not sure I agree, but I understand the point.
At this point, the military is taking more from me than I feel I’m getting. I need for freedom and flexibility, not only more money. At the 8 week school from where I just returned, I need to do “risk assessment” paperwork and send it up through the chain of command, just so I could go hiking on the mountain trails a few miles away from my barracks. Supervisors everywhere in the Army need to inspect Soldiers’ cars before every long weekend, filling out paperwork to document the inspection. I need to do online training and fill out paperwork just to drive beyond a certain distance from my post. That’s not freedom to me.
Military discipline is enforced first and foremost by the employment of fear. This, too, takes a toll. One grows weary of worrying about walking on the grass, having his hair touching his ears, or being one minute late to a formation. And in the Army, these things take precedence over many important skills that a Soldier may have.
I graduate next week from the Army’s Advanced Leadership Course. I’ll have been here 56 days at that point. I’ve learned a lot, and was successful; I graduated on the Commandant’s List, which is the top 20% academically of the over 200 NCOs in my class. The cadre evaluated our oral and written communication skills, as well as critical thinking and leadership ability.
But one thing in particular bothered me after a few weeks here. The competition between members of my platoon after about two weeks degenerated into back-biting and jealousy. One person told me that he felt our instructor showed favoritism toward me because on several occasions the instructor indicated to the class that I was doing well. I tried to quell the subtle and growing animosity by some by remaining humble and being helpful to them whenever I could. This mostly worked except for a few, who became particularly spiteful when they learned they were not chosen for Commandant’s List. I myself did not make it a goal to be on the list, only to do the best I could on each project and to project a personality and skill that would make people want me on their team, should they have to choose. The Commandant’s List was not only a construction of the cadre, but also of peer reports on the most capable in the class.
To be sure, there were many in the class who did not express jealousy or envy, which I find to be one of the most repugnant emotions in existence, particularly when displayed by men. Jealousy is an open admission of weakness and lack of self-confidence. if I find it growing in myself, I smash it down and look in the mirror to see the ways I can improve myself as opposed to wasting energy picking at someone else. Of course there are times that criticism of others is valid and needed. but tact and courtesy should be employed in those cases.
Looking back at my younger days and considering the effects of competition, I realize one of the reasons I did not perform well in junior high school was that I hated competition with strangers. I preferred a feeling of cooperation and camaraderie. Perhaps it was because I was searching for a family, a clan. At some point I had to toughen up. I began lifting weights and became very physically active. Slowly, my aversion to competition faded.
The first really difficult thing I ever did as an adult was attend the US Border Patrol Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. There, I was surrounded by people who’d had much more exposure to competition than I. Many people at the Academy were military veterans; I had a college degree and worked at a corner store at that point. Certainly nothing that challenged me, or made me take pride in myself. In the first half of my time in the Academy, I struggled. I didn’t put in the needed study time that’s required to learn a foreign language, as well as federal law. But at some point, things clicked, and I shot up in my class ranking in language skill. That was a turning point in my life. Never again was I to struggle in any academic setting.
Colonel Jeff Cooper said that pride was a key component in a good soldier. I agree. Pride drives us to despise being last. But I still place a high degree of importance on sportsmanship and humility. When we lose, we should gracefully give credit to our competition. This builds the team, the clan, the family. In the end we make ourselves more successful in doing this. Too much pride breeds envy, the feeling that somehow we deserve more than perhaps we do.
“I remember promising myself that, should I live, I would rise up to meet this new challenge face to face and prove myself worthy of life…”~Terry Fox
It’s fashionable in our droll world so infatuated with egalitarianism to smirk at the aristocratic ideals of duty, honor and self-control. But every few generations a person is born who smashes our odd combination of hubris and cynicism. A person whom, it seems to me, is specially crafted by God to show the world just how much we can bear and still move forward, still remain good, and how much we can still care about other people. When we see these people, we feel ashamed for our own weakness, our own bitterness, our complaints about the trifles we face.
Terry Fox was such a person.
It is also fashionable in our egalitarian world to believe that we deserve everything merely because we breathe air. Being alive proves our value, and yet life, our society cannot be expected to require something from us. No, Terry Fox did not initiate a scientific breakthrough, he did not lead a mass movement that changed society and he was never interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. He was diagnosed with bone cancer at 18 years old. Eventually, doctors had to remove his right leg. Terry Fox, in an effort to raise money for cancer research, decided he would run from eastern Canada to ewestern Canada, a marathon every day for over 140 days, only resting 4 days in that period. He made it 3339 miles on one human leg before stopping, the cancer having crawled into his lungs by that time. Speaking with his mother afterwards, he said to her: “Mom, I gave it everything I had.” The Terry Fox Foundation has now raised over $500 million for cancer research.
I think we should pause and ask ourselves: Are we giving it all we have? Are we honest with ourselves? Am I even worthy of this life? The excuses can only go so far, and they do virtually nothing to better the world or our immediate situation.
In ending let’s look at a poem written by William Ernest Henley, a man confined to a wheelchair. His poem, Invictus, expresses the same spirit as did Terry Fox and St Paul: I have run the good race…..
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Without a vision of God, the people run amok. ~Proverbs 29:18
My friend, Bill, recently posted a comment in which he states:
FWIW, you have changed my mind on more than a few things, and one that I was very resolute about. I still have trouble digesting the emphasis on God in your posts though, not on an individual level but in it’s relation to society. It honestly seems like exactly the opposite of a position you’d hold so I’m missing something. Would love to discuss further some time 😉
This presents a very complicated issue, one that will require more extensive thinking and planning than are needed for most blog posts. I’ve thought about this what a post explaining my stance would entail, and felt that I perhaps would be too lazy to properly express myself, or perhaps merely incapable of doing so. My response could take a book, and there are many books written that would far surpass anything I could put down that would enunciate why I think that without God, society goes mad. Even as those who note society’s growing madness cannot fully grasp why this is happening. They still grasp at materialist reasons.
Several years ago, I gravitated toward Existentialism , not in a deliberate manner, not in a seeking for some “ism” to satisfy Man’s inherent need for meaning, though existentialism speaks primarily of Man’s need for meaning. The need for meaning is at Man’s core–without it he falls into madness, despair, self-destructive behavior, and loses almost all ability to examine himself. He becomes a ship without a compass, floating on a sea with no islands and no shores. His ship is quickly running out of food and drink. Even when I read of anti-theist movements like Bolshevism, there is the need for a driving force, a cause, a need to get up in the morning, for energy and drive.
Many who’ve read my writings or who’ve had cursory political conversations with me may believe that I am an ultra righter-winger, with no sympathy for the root of socialist or Communist thought. They would be wrong. My family on both sides was blue collar through and through. Welders, wood cutters, mill workers, union members. I know how tough physical labor is; I’ve done it myself on many occasions throughout my life, and I hated it; it was so boring all I could think of was the end of the day. Marx speaks to me at several levels. He talks about how the proletariat’s work is boring and provides only enough money to scrape by. Though I’d argue that my blue collar family did better than Marx would have predicted. My father, as a mill worker and welder, and my uncle as a boiler-maker, another uncle as a commercial fisherman, did quite well. The Communists and Socialists for the 40 hour work week and 8 hour days. People in Britain during the Industrial Revolution used to have to work 10-16 hours a day, 6 days a week. Believe it or not, being in the US Army made me more sympathetic to Marx, not less. I’ve seen how some managers and leaders will work people to death to make themselves look good, with almost no thought for others as human beings. On the other hand the Army has many traits inherent to a Socialist society, and these too create many problems. But in truth, I consider the US military to be one of the most un-American organizations in America. It removes too much choice, freedom of thought and audacity. It suffers its own consequences.
The people who fought for justice for workers should be commended. There is a tendency toward increasing efficiency in any business, and often this results in people being treated as mere commodities. But not always, and I would argue that business can get more out of people and attract better people by treating them well.
One of the problems with the Manichean universe of Socialist/Capitalist conflict, is the belief that material needs are the basis for happiness. The Communists want us to believe that money is evil, and yet in many cases it is them who want the poor to have more money. It is they who primarily argue that money and the material comforts that it brings is what makes life bearable. Both Capitalists and Socialists argue almost the same thing. Almost. The big difference is that most free-market capitalists argue for freedom, that people should be free to get as rich as they please. It does not necessarily make a person evil to do so. Our nation is founded on basic freedoms, agreed upon in the Bill of Rights.
Even more important to me, is that Communism’s root is atheism. Communism expresses that Man’s only salvation is through materials, the exact thing that Marx explicitly railed against, but then built an ingenious argument for. Communists and their softer cousins, Progressives, expect too much from this life. The more you expect from this life, the more you will come to hate it. The more you come to find joy in small things, the more joy will be imparted to you.
Of all writers, perhaps Dostoevsky understood Man’s conundrum the best.
And so I seek a deeper meaning for myself and Mankind. Shredding all the money in the world, as the Communists want, will not bring nobility or contentment to humans. When I read the writings of the old Communists, Lenin, Mao, Marx, I’m astounded how men of such genius and energy could be so blind. Where did they get their energy? How could 75 years of hard living on this Earth give them enough motivation to fight so hard for something so transient? Where could they find the raw energy to commit such sustained atrocity, and to write with such power?
When humans drift away from the deeper meaning of existence, they almost always fall into self-destructive cycles. The West is abandoning God. The message is that only the uneducated and unthinking believe in God. And yet the further we drift from God, the more uneducated and unthinking we become. Our depravity, fed from an infinite well in a meaningless universe, was its own end. The message fed to us has been that freedom from God was the key to happiness. Much or our “art” is a celebration of our basest instincts, a celebration of historically aberrant behavior, drug use, arrogance, hate, raw sexuality, the pointless accumulation of money and trinkets.
Marx’ opening statement in The Communist Manifesto rings true, but it is not complete:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
In truth, all men have striven for meaning. Take away God and provide Man with only raw materialism, and we find that what Whitaker Chamber’s said presents a much fuller picture of human history:
“Man without mysticism is a monster”
And so, since the powerful motivator of “The Cause” the ideologies like Communism provided men like Lenin has been replaced by vacuous nihilism. Without an external materialistic philosophy to drive him, Man turns from killing one another and turns to killing himself. But what proof do I have? Aren’t Americans more comfortable than ever? Maybe, but are they happier? Look at these statistics and decide for yourself:
- Illegitimacy in the US, since 1960, has risen from 5 percent to 41 percent.
- From 1960 to 1990, teen suicide rates tripled.
- Violent crime from 1960 to 1992-murder-rape-assault, increased by 550 percent.
- America imprisons more people than any country in the history of the world. We have to, to keep the monsters we have created from destroying the monsters of the future. 2.3 million people are in American prisons. Countries like Britain who’ve refused to throw people in jail at such a high rate have suffered the consequences: Britain has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world.
- SAT scores in America have been dropping for decades.
- “One in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant medication; among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four.”
- Suicide in the military has skyrocketed; nothing the military has done to try to stem this has slowed the rates of self-inflicted death. And nothing will because the problem is spiritual not based in materialism.
- Western civilizations do not produce at a rate which will sustain them. While this says nothing of the truth of Christianity, it does hint that societies who at least think children are important enough to birth may be the societies that rule the Earth in 100 years. You may believe this is a good thing. Until you realize that young people are the ones who sustain the elderly in democratic-socialist societies such as our own.
How are we better off? Are we a more or less religious people than we were through the 30s, 40s and 50s? We are in very concrete ways, more violent, depressed, and stupid. What more measurement could we ask for to prove our decline? The first challenge of doomsayers such as myself, is not to convince of the correct medicine for our sickness, but to convince people we are sick at all. If the demise of civilization were apparent to everyone, it would never happen. But as TS Eliot noted, it’s not with a bang, but a whimper that we die.
Beyond the scientific facts is my personal anecdote. And in the true existentialist tradition, anecdote is important to me. It is important to everyone, even the most rational among us. Nobody lives his life day to day on scientific experiment. We know that getting hit by cars is bad for us, not based on Newtonian physics, but because we heard of someone else dying when they were struck by a car. And our parents told us not to play in the road. in my own experience, people now are indeed dumber, coarser, less able to see themselves as the world sees them. Lacking manners of the faintest sort, they are loud, base, uttering curse works in virtually every sentence. Many are unable to write a clear sentence, gravitate toward the most brutal and meaningless of music and cinema. If you want to know where a society is headed, look at its art. This brutal music is not admired despite its barbarity and coarseness, but because of it. Many celebrate the worst traits in humans, while scoffing at nobility.
Why all people in Western Society, even Christians, must face Nietzsche
Nietzsche predicted the downfall of the West. He declared:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
Nietzsche, one of the few truth-tellers of the modern age. He is of the same blood line as Dostoevsky. Nietzsche’s answer to the idea that God is dead and that we killed him with unbelief, is the construction of the Ubermensch , a human beyond the cares imposed on humanity by the inevitability of death. To the Ubermensch, death, troubles, pain, mean nothing. The Ubermensch is able to find meaning in his life despite all of this. To Nietzsche, that is the only way to avoid utter despair and the logical conclusion of self-destruction: To become so strong psychologically, that none of it matters.
And that is why I, a Christian, still admire Nietzsche. He didn’t smooth things over for the atheists. He told them exactly what kind of world they would create. It would be a world, “beyond good and evil”, that is, evil. The classic Christian ethics would be tossed aside, and human psychology would be reduced to physiology.
And who has suffered first and foremost in our post-Nietzschean world? The intellectual elites in our universities, the libertine millionaires in Hollywood? No, it is the underclass. Our destruction is truly a grassroots movement. There was a time in America when being poor was not synonymous with slovenly, greedy, thieving, bitter, uncaring, leading an unexamined life. I grew up poor and it was none of these things. There were of course exceptions, but now in many cases being poor is the direct result of a criminal mind. And where did the criminal mind come from? It is the brood of a godless world. Unable to examine itself, a brute child who knows only the satisfaction and existence of its own passions.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. The slide to the bottom will not be instantaneous, but we have begun the journey. The statistics that I posted above are but a small fraction of the facts displayed in several books that show where we are going. To some people, this decline will not be so apparent. America and Europe are, after all, not monolithic entities. Pockets of noble humans remain. But even in many of these pockets, these noble humans have forgotten their Christian birthright. And each generation’s memory lapses more. And so, our society is not yet Somalia, but it is draining its well. As GK Chesterson stated:
The modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital. It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom.
Make no mistake, the pale horse coming is not at a full battle gallop, but trots slowly at the horizon. Ask yourself, if America were to decline and fall, what would it look like, if not exactly what it looks like now when compared to our past?
We must understand, that in this predominately agnostic society we created, we also created people who must do one of two things:
- Ignore the fact that all humans die, and that our life on this Earth means nothing without the hereafter. 75 years is the mathematical equivalent of zero when juxtaposed with infinity. Any number is zero when compared to infinity.
- People who acknowledge the meaninglessness of a life and thus intentionally subscribe to nihilism and destructive though immediately satisfying behavior. I myself would do heroine if I thought there was nothing beyond this life.
All societies that have tried to create an Ubermensch-by any other name- have brought almost unimaginable horror to mankind. The Nazis were directly influenced by Nietzsche. The Communists attempted a humanist utopia made of men who lived beyond the natural needs and desires of humans. The mountains of corpses generated from these societies are a lesson that the atheists of our day try to sweep away with their postmodern cynicism.
In ending, my thesis is that our society is disintegrating in very concrete ways. And why is this? Because we no longer have a reason to live, to do good…to even try.
In his seminal book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, science journalist Gary Taubes recounts several studies which showed that starvation dieting did not work very well in helping people to lose weight, and that exercise, in his opinion, is unlikely the main factor in people losing pounds. One aspect of weight control that these studies doesn’t delve into is the roll that human will plays in diet. One area that I am at odds with Taubes is that people are relatively helpless victims in the obesity epidemic, swept away by a river of fate and bad science. I am also at odds with him on the role the exercise plays in weight loss.
Taubes recounts studies in which obese people were placed on diet of between 1500 and 1800 calories, and lost a paltry 8 pounds or so in 6 months or more. Yet the soldier I trained in Afghanistan lost 47 lbs. We did not count calories. He trained every other day, for about an hour. How was this possible? One of the faults I see in the studies that Taubes sites is an obvious one, at least to someone familiar with physical fitness. These studies, at least from what Taubes says, only monitored the weight of the subjects, and apparently not the body composition of the client. Muscle could have been increasing and fat decreasing, which is what most people want. He cites several studies which showed some people gaining weight while exercising, and some losing weight. This is actually consistent with what I saw in army basic training. Some people lost weight, one fellow gained over 20 lbs of good muscle. My weight stayed exactly the same throughout. I believe the body has a weight it desires to be at when exercise and diet are mostly correct. Thus the Russian studies involving kettlebell training that show some people lost weight and some people gained weight after training with kettlebells for some time. Some people needed more muscles, while others needed to lose fat. Kettlebell training set them right. Taubes believes that exercise increases appetite, thus causing people to eat more and gain weight. He quotes one scientists observation that a person has to climb 20 flights of stairs to burn off one piece of bread. Here, Taubes is again arguing against his own hypothesis, that obesity is primarily a hormonal problem in which excess insulin forces energy into fat cells for storage. Instead, he is making an excess energy argument in which he believes that exercise is insufficient in burning off consumed calories in most people. The problem is, Taubes’ insulin hypothesis could be right, and exercise could still help people lose weight, because exercise impacts blood glucose, insulin and the impact of insulin very significantly. Moreover, secondary hormones, which Taubes admits impact weight gain and loss (such as Human Growth Hormone and testosterone) though they play subordinate rolls to insulin, are greatly increased during and after exercise, even more so during intense exercise. I am not sure what kinds of exercise the people in the studies were doing, but not all exercises are created equal. Modern exercise science is pointing in a different direction from the decades of long and slow movements.
I see Taubes’ view that exercise is ineffective as fatalistic and also as part of a society that wishes to avoid any hint of personal responsibility or control. Taubes repeatedly points out that in the past, obesity was considered a moral failure, when it may only be an endocrine problem. However, humans, as intelligent moral creatures have the ability to seek better ways. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they they became burdened with their sins. And so it is with obesity. While I do not judge overweight people, I do find it reprehensible when people want to blame everything but themselves for their weight condition. After all, it may be true that they do not know the current science of diet and exercise, and it may be true that what they have been eating is making it nearly impossible to lose weight. But the overriding and glaring truth that should be evident is that what they have been doing is not working. I am particularly unsympathetic to people in the US Army whom are chronically overweight. I see and hear the differences in these people when compared to the fit soldiers. Gary Taubes seems to say that willpower has little or no part in weight control. I beg to differ. Certainly, cutting out refined carbohydrates will drastically reduce appetite and thus reduce the need for will in controlling weight, but it takes willpower to make the first step, and it takes willpower, and force of habit forged through the daily application of willpower, to eat and exercise in a beneficial way. After a while, habit trumps willpower. Doing things the right way, over and over, we find ourselves unsaddled with the pain we felt in the past. As we get more fit, exercise is no longer painful, as we reach our weight goal, defending that weight is much easier than having to send our bodies into deficit in order to lose weight.
I’m not a big fan of most reality shows, but I do appreciate The Biggest Loser. The trainers don’t allow the participants to wallow in self-serving whimper parties and excuses, tactics which have served them well in an enabling society. I see this behavior in the chronically overweight and under-fit people in my office. When we do Army physical training in the morning, one fellow in particular will almost invariably start whimpering about this or that hurting. He gained about 20 pounds of fat while I was deployed (he stayed at Ft. Drum), mostly by drinking liquid sucrose multiple times per day (that health drink known as Gatorade) and because he simply can’t push himself hard in physical training unless someone else is there to make him push himself. My experience with soldiers such as this helped me to notice two common characteristics: 1) They have very low pain thresholds, 2) They are relatively immune to shame.
The longer I am an NCO in the Army, the less patience I have for these types. I’m not talking about the person whom is merely slow or fat, but the person whom makes drama out of his discomfort in hopes of gaining an advantage over the people that are suffering right along with him, the person who expects the world to do all the work for him. Some of these people are irredeemable. They lack introspection and dignity. Some people have it, some don’t elite military units figure out if you have “it” before they hire you. They don’t train you to have it. Last week while leading physical training with two of my troops, the overweight NCO I spoke of above said he had a headache after we got done doing sprints. It was the usual drivel fro this guy, and the more he does it, the more I want to run him until he vomits (which he did, three times, several days prior). I’m 13 years older than he is, and wouldn’t dream of crying in front of my troops after a hard workout. The more he cries, the more I will run him, and make him swing kettlebells until his eyes bleed. When he began complaining, I exercised my right as an NCO is the US Army: I used shame and salty language to motivate. I said:
I have no fucking sympathy. None. Unless you have an arterial bleed I have no sympathy.
For those not in the military, this attitude seems brutal. But this is the problem with Taubes’ thesis: He tries to remove willpower from the equation. Just as the creators of counterinsurgency doctrine have tried to remove willpower from warfare and assume that we just need to tweek our “inputs” a little more and the enemy will fall in line, Taubes thinks that people just aren’t eating the exactly correct proportions of macro-nutrients (proportions which no one can agree on). Willpower is one thing that sets us apart from other animals. We can see our wrongs and make adjustments. The idea that things are supposed to be easy every time, all the time is killing our nation. From the Occupy Wall Street proto-Marxists, to the softies recruited by our military, we think we should start at the top, and never suffer a moment of discomfort. To modern Americans, something is wrong when there is discomfort. We could be climbing Mt. Everest and wonder why we’re uncomfortable and what politician we can appeal to for help.
Part of the problem begins with the femininization of America. We are increasingly matriarchal. This partly due to the fact that people simply cannot stay married for long anymore. They can’t tolerate each other. Lower class couple abandon each other at an alarming rate; when you have no job skills and neither does your partner, and no faith in God, you find your husband or wife as intolerable as any other person. Fathers are abandoning the family, and are generally not respected the way they used to be. Studies show that men and women have different parenting styles. Neither is better than the other, but both are required in order to make children into fully functioning adults. Women tend to be more nurturing and protective, while fathers tend to encourage reasonable risk taking. Two days ago I was at the bus stop waiting for my 6 year old’s school bus. One mother scolded her 7 (?) year old boy for jogging on the grass around the bus stop, warning him that the grass was wet from dew and she didn’t want him to fall and hurt himself. I wanted to vomit, and probably would have had I eaten breakfast. This boy will probably grow to be an Army general officer of the current strain, claiming that fighting is dangerous and doesn’t win wars. The obsession with safety in the Army is indicative of the military’s feminization.
We are dying from the inside, growing softer. We, the whining child who wants dessert before supper. And this is how I see most civilizations dying, not a concrete edifice demolished by the enemy’s cannon fire, but a rotting decomposition, the infinitesimal linkages between our cells that the wise of the world could never completely grasp, slowly disintegrating, becoming a liquefied gelatinous mass which no longer resembles a living entity.
Carbohydrates matter–a lot. Will matters even more. Almost every person at FOB Warrior in Afghanistan where I was deployed, lost weight. Why? Not because they were watching their carbs, but because they ate less because there was less food available. Sure, as a result they ate fewer carbohydrates. But we can control our destiny. We can make adjustments. Willpower needs to be exercised like any other human aspect, in order to strengthen it. Sometimes we need to really push ourselves through painful workouts, just to build our will. Allowing ourselves to be hungrier than normal is an ancient way of exercising the will. I’ve always promoted intermittent fasting, not only for its health benefits, but because it changes our essence.
Seize your destiny. You are not a victim of fate, whatever that fate it. Understand that pain is momentary, it is a threshold through which all strong people must pass. The only way to be strong is to pass through the portal of discomfort, which it transitory. On the other side of that door is strength and freedom.
I am again deployed to Afghanistan. The hours are long, and there are no days off. An average work day is about 13 hours, but this doesn’t mean we work like we’re in a sweat shop.
There is a chess board in my office, and there is almost always a game at hand. One person makes a move, 30 minutes later, his opponent strolls by the board, ponders, pushes a piece, and goes on with his work. So far I have 12 wins, 2 losses and 2 draws.
The power of chess to enliven me is amazing. Nothing makes my brain work more efficiently, nothing sharpens my senses more. I could play all day, every day. If I have a chess set, I need never be bored.
It’s easy to see why the Soviets dominated chess for so long: In Communist Russia, intellectual achievement were held in high regard, and there were few distractions to individuals who wished to improve their game. State funding for promising players didn’t hurt, either.
When I was younger, and playing sports of all kinds, I worried about old age, that it would deprive me of something that brought me so much joy. I don’t worry about that anymore.
Today I feel better than usual. Today I realized something about myself, saw what I am more clearly than I have ever before seen myself; I am an introvert.
I’m fairly skilled at hiding the fact that I’m an introvert, and all but my closest friends, and my wife, would likely be surprised by this revelation. In fact, I’m so adept at hiding my own introversion, that the discovery even shocks me.
By introvert, I do not necessarily mean that I cannot be around people, only that being forced to engage with people whom I do not completely trust is a painful, exhausting ordeal. This sort of engagement condemns me to interact when I would prefer to disengage.
I discovered this fact about myself while examining the cause for my discomfort in the Army. I do well at everything the Army asks me to do, but I never feel comfortable. Hardly ever a day of peace. Then it came to me, as if on the Damascus Road. The Army celebrates extroversion almost as much as a Gay Pride parade. Not only are the top NCOs extreme extroverts, but introverts are actually quite severely punished. I’ve seen NCOs relieved of duty for not yelling at soldiers. NCOs are expected to scream and rant and rave. They are supposed to have strong personalities. That’s ‘leadership.” Believe me, it takes an extreme extrovert to eyeball a complete stranger from across the street and yell at him for not wearing his patrol cap correctly.
From the very first day in the Army, I have felt a deep sense of discomfort, bordering on manic unhappiness. It began in Basic training when I was forced to lodge with dozens of other people, in very close quarters. Again, in everything I excelled. I was voted the best soldier in my platoon in Basic, Soldier of the Year at my previous unit. In AIT, a school that teaches soldiers their specific jobs right after Basic, I spent my weekends almost completely alone. I felt euphoria finally being able to experience solitude. Almost all the other soldiers would hang out together, but not me. I literally just wanted to go somewhere and read a book. I would go to restaurants, and read while eating my meal. If I saw someone I knew, I would turn and avoid them, afraid they would ask me to do something with them, which would take away from my time alone.
I hate Army “formations” in which soldiers are told to gather daily. Hate them with a passion.
One of the most euphoric feelings I recall in my entire life is my first day in Germany, after graduating Army AIT. The Army provided me with a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany. Finally, I was a lone.
Looking back, I realize that almost all of my problems as a child in school were the result of being an introvert. The other kids seemed so open and desired to be with the group. I didn’t enjoy feeling like an outsider, but I didn’t particularly enjoy extroverts either. I did not feel comfortable in school until college, when I was finally given the power to run my own life. I could choose when and where to interact with people. The Army took away much of my power to be alone.
When I was a young man, one of my good friends said to me, “You’re the biggest loner I know.”
I’m sure he was being truthful; I’m the biggest loner I know, too. Characteristic of an introvert, boredom is never a problem for me. I am almost never bored. German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, an arch-introvert, said that introverts are rarely bored because they gain pleasure from an intellectual world, whereas extroverts gain pleasure more from the external, and more temporal, world. I am constantly amazed by some of the people I work with. They will complain about their work, and the moment they get a chance to relax, they say they are bored.
“That I could clamber to the frozen moon. And draw the ladder after me.”~Arthur Schopenhauer
I am never bored. And I am almost never lonely. The things that make me feel lonely are being away from the people whom I love dearly. But I do not need to be around people with whom I have only passing relationships. I work with many people who cannot do anything unless they are doing it with someone else.
Schopenhauer pointed out another characteristic that he had and shares with me, and is apparently an almost universal aspect of the introvert: Hatred of noise. He said that all his life noise bothered him significantly, and on one occasion, his weakness got him into trouble when he physically assaulted a woman in his apartment building whom he claimed was a chronic noise-maker. He was forced to pay her money from a lawsuit for the rest of her life. So while the introvert has significant advantages in certain areas, such as an ability to think deeply, lack of boredom, maintaining long-term friendships, and very creative, they are easily distracted by the outside world, do not maintain a “network” of people that can help them, and may come off as cranky. So easily distracted am I by other people, that I must do all of my writing and thinking in complete solitude, or I must have a drink of beer, which seems to dull the effects of external stimulation and allows me to remain in my own mind and continue writing amid possible distractions. . At work, I must sometimes shut myself in a room, telling my Captain that I need him to use his rank to keep people from bothering me, while I read intelligence reports and make sense of things.
At times I will return home from work feeling utterly exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon. I often ask myself what I have done that could have made me so tired that I do not do on my days off from work. The answer is that I interact with large amounts of people. I do not want to come across as someone that is a crank all day, though I find myself being more so than when I was younger. Only that my exhaustion is from trying to act like the extrovert I am not. Oddly, I feel dumber when I am with people I know only at a surface level. My instinct is to speak like them, to think like them, so as not to offend. Yet in my inner-most being, I almost never think like them and feel ashamed to tell most people the things I think about: Philosophies, metaphysics, religion, demographics, grand-strategies. All near useless trivia, really. This facade is draining and debilitating.
I have just today, come to grips with what I am and what has caused me so much pain throughout my life. I am fine with it. I know now that I don’t have to appear gregarious if the mood doesn’t strike me. That being quiet is ok. I know that some may doubt my claim to introversion, being that I say some things on this blog and in other writings that may shock some. But I read that introverts are more likely to be intimate online, and I think it fair to say that many historic writers were notorious introverts, recluses, and hermits. All of these things bring to mind wisdom, and even in the age of the extrovert, they are something to hold dear.
There are people in this world that I look forward to speaking to often and I am lonely without. Nothing can replace the smiles of my children. But other than that, I rather look forward to being the old hermit on the top of the mountain, surviving on his own, beholden to none, just thinking, thinking….
The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.~ Thucydides
Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish, often prevents them.~Thomas Jefferson
I have complained often and loudly about the caustic culture inside the US Army. It is a witch’s brew of arrogance, ridiculous regulation, and inept leadership. There are good leaders to be sure–but there is a disturbing number of bad ones, marred by a lack of basic common sense in fighting wars, and an arrogance that would shock Commodus.
My favourite essayist, Ralph Peters wrote a scathing article in the New York Post about the ethical collapse in the Army’s officer corps. There are more frightening stories than Peters talks about in his piece.
And here’s the biggest problem with all of this: These generals could not even advocate for the proper execution of our wars for the last 10 years. If a Soldier gets shot while on guard duty and was found to have not worn his helmet–he’ll get in more trouble than the insurgent who did the shooting, because it’s likely no effort will be made to pursue the attacker. In every other era of American war, the command’s initial response to a Soldier being shot at the front gate would be :” The enemy is able to maneuver very closely to our base–we need to find him and kill him.” Now, the command goes for the easy target–the American trooper. I assure everyone, that insurgents move and gather quite closely to American bases in Afghanistan and never have a shot fired at them in anger. Never have terrorist had it so good. A full-bird colonel may smile and shake the hand of a villager that is helping kill his troops, but ruthlessly belittle the American privates on his base for being out of uniform.
It’s easy to fight a foe that can’t fight back.
The US Army has loads of support troops who don’t know how to use radios properly, how to use weapons optics like the ACOG, and the US is getting its ass handed to it by a growing Afghan insurgency which actually knows how to shoot, move and communicate. But the new Army’s mantra is “Right time, right place, right uniform.” What is this, a Wal-Mart corporate meeting? Left out of any messaging is the fact that the Army has one overriding mission: To kill dead the enemies of the United States. Period.
Meanwhile, our West Point educated generals and colonels, whom the illiterate Taliban are running circles around, are committing acts of sexual assault, bigamy, and outright theft of government finances. Generals reduced to cutpurses.
Then there is the absolute tide of political correctness to which our generals are beholden. Every time I hear an interview with a general, I walk away not feeling inspired, but depressed. Wooden, and reading from a memorized slate approved for press release, these folks would make Patton vomit. Make no mistake about it. Today, Patton would be arrested. He admitted Americans like a good fight. Why? Because to win a fight, you have to like it, at least a little. But our current military is so risk averse, that only a fool would look for the enemy on a regular basis.
It’s really too bad that these generals are being investigated for sexual indiscretion and petty thievery but not for their performance in our wars. Where is the vaunted moral courage and intellectual honesty in the officer’s corp? I should like to see many more canned for not doing their job: Stacking enemy bodies. Sound harsh? It is. That’s war. The current counterinsurgency model is so “counter-intuitive” ( term often used to mask the insanity of a bad idea), that only an intellectual could believe it.
It’s time we take a long hard look at ourselves. Frankly, I’m embarrassed. Back in the homeland, we now accept losing. We shouldn’t. A good loser is a loser. The personalities that used to be our generals are now our college and professional football coaches. They went where the money is and where they can tell the truth.
Les Miles would have won wars:
As Lombardi said, winning is a habit. I reached a turning point in my life when I no longer accepted defeat. When mediocre academic performance was not acceptable, when age was not an excuse for physical decline, when a bad childhood was not justification for failure in every endeavor. I don’t want a participation trophy–I want the trophy that labels me the winner. It is a sad thing to me, where we have come as a people. Looking back at my youth, I wish there were something that could have made me care, something that could have made me try. I didn’t see difficulty as a challenge, but something to be avoided, so I ran away from life.
This is where relativism, as it must, has led us. If all things are equal, winning is neither good nor bad. If all behavior is the same, then we can accept the same from a 4-star general as from a 15 year old. The engine of our nation–its people–are in decline. I have no recipe to fix the problem. Perhaps it as Oswald Spengler believed, inevitable like the seasons.
Our flaccid response to the humiliation in Benghazi is illustrative of the current American acceptance of defeat. I’m with Ralph Peters on this one (as usual). Our response should have been devastating. Instead, our government wrung its hands, and tweaked “talking points”. We haven’t made the world a safer place with our rhetoric. No one this side of Mother Theresa respects weakness, least of all Islamic extremists. Our collegiate theorems have not trumped the reality of war: You must kill the enemy until he stops fighting. Rest assured he’s trying to do the same thing.
I recently wrote about Parkinson’s Law, which essentially states that the time it takes to accomplish any job expands to fill the time allotted to do so. In other words, short deadlines increase the density of the work/time relationship. Yesterday and today I’ve experience Parkinson’s Law in full. My family and I are soon moving to my new Army assignment post in New York State. We received a call yesterday that the moving company would be here today, even though I had requested they show up on the 17th. We essentially had nothing packed. Though the transport company does most of the work, there are still standards that need to be met before they’ll move stuff out.
And yet in about one day we managed to weed out everything we wanted to throw away and neatly stacked everything we owed for the movers.
Pressure makes diamonds. Low expectations give us the Occupy Wall Street protesters.