Friday, May 4, 2012

Hard times sow opportunities for greatness

I’m becoming more and more fascinated with the characters of the late-19th/early 20th centuries, individuals such as Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Einstein, Andrew and Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and Theodore Roosevelt.  Although it may just come from the perch of hindsight, it seems like there really were more great heroes at that time than there are now, unless you’re inclined to idolize the likes of Beiber, Pitt, or Lebron James that is.  

I believe the reasons for this are twofold: First, industry was exploding.  Unfettered Capitalism unleashed atomic levels of potential energy within industry.  In a matter of fifty some-odd years, the West was transformed from a mostly rural, simple, village-like complex into an electrically-powered metropolis where the sky really was the limit.  For the first time ever, both the economic and epistemological conditions conspired together to create an innovator-friendly climate, as there was great economic incentive to produce as well as a vast but reachable sea of knowledge waiting for grabs.  To illustrate the latter notion, look at the modern physics community; despite the best and brightest minds laboring for decades, no significant physical theory has been developed with any predictive power since the seventies, with part of the reason being that the remaining knowledge is simply too complex for the human intellect to grasp .

Second, times were tough. With two world wars, a Great Depression (along with many lesser recessions), widespread plague, and revolutions churning left and right, the world was an interesting mess.  But with great challenges come great men to meet them.  Primal cues, the environmental pressures that threaten our well-being and sometimes our very survival, provoke extreme reactions, ranging from suicide to the highest levels of triumph. 

This is why I’m relatively optimistic about the future, not because I believe things are going to be just fine, but because of Man’s ability to overcome the adverse.  It is almost axiomatic in this sphere of thought that the world is in for tumultuous times.  The economy isn’t getting better any time soon.  Feminism is still castrating the drive of men.  American industry is evaporating, leaving blue-collared workers unemployed.  Racial tensions are intensifying.  Technology, even with all its miracle-working powers, is stabbing its double-edged sword into the souls of people.   And the current Ruling Class, in what seems to so reliably befit its character, is blindsided by the debacles created by them and their parents before them.   Much of this is out of our control, for not even the most dedicated central planner can align circumstances entirely to his will.

When the Jews were bused into the concentration camps en masse, they were stripped of all their possessions; their clothes, books, furniture, reputation, property, status, and everything they had worked for were expropriated by their Nazi oppressors.  They were reduced to their primitive, naked existence.   
There was one thing, however, that the Nazi’s could never take away from them, and that was their reaction to their plight.  Philosophers from Jesus Christ and Marcus Aurelius to James Allen and Napoleon Hill have harped about the boundless powers of the mind.  Our thought life is everything.  Rudyard Kipling says it best in poetic fashion:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating….
If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you…
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

The Powers that Be may screw us over to no end.  They may corrupt our cities and our tribes .They may take everything we have.  The proles may continue pull us down into their narcotized bliss. But the one thing that will thwart all their efforts to enslave us is the same thing that gives us inherent power as human beings: the power to choose our thoughts and reactions through self-control. This is the most pure and noble form of power there is.  The ruler who reigns above his subjects with an iron fist but possesses no power over his flesh is the juiciest and most ironic exemplar of impotence ever endured.      

There is a story about a preacher working on an idea for a sermon. It was a rainy day, and his wife had gone shopping, so his little boy Johnny, restless toddler that he was, was anxious for something to do.  He begged his father so the preacher finally thumbed through a magazine to find something for his boy when he came across a map of the world.   He then scattered it on the ground after ripping it to pieces. “ There” he said to Johnny, “if you can put the pieces back together, I will give you a quarter,” thinking that handing down this tedious task will give enough time to work on his sermon.  But within a mere ten minutes Johnny knocked on his door with the puzzle finished.  “Son, how’d you put it together so quickly?” the preacher flashed back.  “Oh, it was easy. On the other side was a picture of a man. I just put a piece of paper on the bottom, put the picture of the man together, and flipped it over.  I figured that if I got the man right, the world would be right.” His father smiled and handed him a quarter.  “And you, my son, have given me my sermon idea for tomorrow: If a man is right, his world will be right.

There is much to recommend to this idea.  The future will be marked by great hardship, that much is a given, but we don’t have to see it that way.    Even though poor prospects are customarily met with dread, it would behoove us to take after the triumphant man, who sees the future not as something to be dreaded but as a world teeming with opportunities. Our mental attitude is everything.  That is what dictates the destinies of men.  The individual with a negative mental attitude will rail at the world about the injustices he suffers, pointing the finger at others as the source of all his problems.   He will surrender his power to the world by letting it corrupt his thought life; if he finds himself to be a victim, it is only because he has allowed himself to be victimized.  On the other hand, the individual with a positive mental attitude, when he witnesses injustice and calamity and strife, will acknowledge their existence but nonetheless harbor pure thoughts. He will overlook the negatives because he is too busy working with the positives, however scarce they may be.      

His reaction won’t be marked by depression, indignation, or hollow rage, but by inspirational dissatisfaction.  Hard circumstances will only push him to work harder.  It is circumstances like these that sow the seeds for great men.

It is all of a piece then; self-improvement and pessimistic politics go hand-in-hand.  Whether one endeavors to transform the system for the better or simply wishes to shield himself from the radiation, the first thing a man changes is himself.   The steveo/manophere’s fascination with improving one’s social standing (game) and health (Paleo diet) is but a consequence of their Jeremiahian outlook (although they would do well to put more emphasize on self-control.  I guess the hedonism gets in the way of that.)

The solution to our problems is a profoundly personal one.  And it is something we can all do.  Instead of seeing it as a hellhole for us to fall in, see it as an opportunity to grow, lead, and shine.  It’s the same old choice: the Dr. Pepper or the six-pack.

Let us not give up hope for the future.  Instead let us build fortresses in preparation. And thank God we did because we were ready when the storm came.