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Mosby Building Tribe: The Way of the Hero

Discussion in '3 Percent' started by melbo, Aug 25, 2015.

  1. melbo

    melbo Hunter Gatherer Administrator Founding Member

    ...Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker…

    –C.S. Lewis

    …the sagas celebrate the deeds of heroic individuals who often break the rules. But, such individuals are celebrated because they are exceptional. It is such men who lead, and command the loyalty of others (which is the virtue most conspicuously celebrated in the sagas). All people need leaders; they seldom if ever liberate or enlighten themselves. If great changes are to be made, a vanguard is needed, and in the beginning, that vanguard will be feared and despised.” –Colin Cleary

    For much of human history, the art of the hero wasn’t left up to chance…the hero’s skills were studied, practiced, and perfected, then passed along from parent to child and teacher to student. The art of the hero wasn’t about being brave; it was about being so competent that bravery wasn’t an issue. You weren’t supposed to go down for a good cause; the goal was to figure out a way not to go down at all. Achilles and Odysseus and the rest of the classical heroes hated the thought of dying and scratched for every second of life. A hero’s one crack at immortality was to be remembered as a champion, and champions don’t die dumb. It all hinged on the ability to unleash the tremendous resources of strength, endurance, and agility that many people don’t realize they already have.

    –Christopher McDougall

    As I’ve been working steadily along, trying to create book number three in an image that at least somewhat resembles the goals I have for it, the three quotes above have been pinned to the wall above my office desk, because so much of the essence of the goal of the book is encompassed in those three quotes.

    You see, one of the characteristics that defines a tribe, both anthropologically and practically, is a shared history, whether real or mythic. This history may be ancestral. Generally, all members of a kin-group tribe will be able to trace their ancestry back to a common individual, but often—thanks to the phenomena of intermarriage and adoption in tribal societies, those ancestral bonds are as likely to be mythic as they are to be connected by DNA. In sodalities, like guilds and war-band type tribes of course, it’s almost a given that the shared ancestry of the tribe—the nucleus that makes them a tribe, their “mutual exclusivity,” is going to to be more mythic than real.

    That’s okay. Why is that okay? I mean, isn’t that a lie?

    Let’s back up, for just a moment, and look again at what defines a tribe. A tribe is a social unit that possesses something that defines the group’s boundaries, but also that separates it from the rest of humanity. It’s the “us vs. them” that Jack Donovan discusses in his writing. I refer to it as “mutual exclusivity.” It’s that je ne sais quoi that defines the boundaries of “our”group from others.
    It doesn’t need to be real, as long as it’s real to the group.

    That mutual exclusivity, typically, can be defined as the shared history, ancestry, values, traditions, and customs, of the people of the tribe. Some may be shared with other tribes, but the specifics of how OUR tribe recognizes or exercises them is different enough that it separates us from them. In pre-Christianization Europe, for one example, pretty much all tribes that are now recognized as having belonged to the Germanic linguistic group—the Cherusci, the Allemani, the Marcomanni, the Franks, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes; the Vandals and Gepids, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Burgundians, and Lombards, were “Germanic.” Their languages were all connected. Their cultures shared similarities, but their cultures were not identical. They were separate tribes, even as they shared common cultural characteristics.

    Today however, we’re going to discuss one particular characteristic of tribalism and neo-tribalism, the immense value of the shared mythic ancestry of a tribe.

    In what can be defined as an “intentional tribe,” such as a guild or war-band type association historically, or in our post-modern context, the intentional grouping of like-minded families for mutual assistance, where shared ancestry is not—and almost cannot—be certain, the mythic ancestry, and the lessons that can be gained from claiming a shared mythic ancestry cannot be overemphasized.

    An example of this can be seen in the military, with the adoption of unit lineages. The United States Army says the following about the lineage of the Ranger Regiment: “The U.S. Army Ranger history predates the Revolutionary War.” Now, BY DEFINITION, nothing of the United States can predate the Revolution. So, by citing Majors Church and Rogers, fighting for the British, in the French and Indian War—especially considering Major Rogers’ later loyalties—as ancestral figures for the U.S. Army’s Rangers, is the very definition of a mythic ancestry for the unit. That doesn’t, however, change the fact that the exploits of Rogers’ Rangers, for one, have long served as a catalyst for awesome achievements by members of the unit.

    We can do the same thing with our own intentional tribes, and kin-group tribes as well, today.

    So, what is the value of the hero? In the Age of the Anti-Hero, why bother? Nobody takes that heroism shit seriously anyway, right? Two days ago, as I write this, three young American men, along with an older British pensioner, followed the Way of the Hero, on a train in France, when a would-be jihadist gunmen decided to shoot up their train car with a Kalashnikov. Rather than sitting back and hoping for “someone” to do “something,” they took action. There was, apparently, no hesitation on their part. They “went to the sound of the guns” literally.

    It is popular in contemporary American society—and make no mistake, it carries over into the shooting world, as well as the preparedness and liberty communities—to belittle those who choose to try and set themselves up for success when their time comes to follow the Way of the Hero. Long-time readers of this blog have seen it regularly in the comments.

    “Oh, you can do all that PT you want. You can do all that training, but you could still get unlucky, and catch a bullet. You could still die from dysentery or smallpox or anthrax.”

    Those people are absolutely right. You COULD die from one of those. That doesn’t matter though, because, as they point out, it doesn’t matter how fit or prepared you are…when smallpox catches you, smallpox catches you, and fitness—while it MIGHT increase your survivability—is going to have less impact on your future than good nursing and medical care.

    The Fate of Empires, Sir John Baget Glubb argued that the rise of intellectualism was one of the causes of the decline of empire. In Athens, the spirit of continual conversation, mentioned Biblically in The Acts of the Apostles, “…all of the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas…” led to interminable debate and discussion, and constant argument, back-and-forth, among factions with different views of the end-state goals of Athenian democracy.

    Just like in our own time, when people are too busy arguing over the details of their pet peeve or concern of the week, instead of getting out and doing something that matters, the spirit of Athenian debate seems to be, much like it was in other historical imperial cultures, the destruction of the spirit of action that is necessary for success.

    Make no mistake, the rise of intellectualism seems to be a good thing, at first glance. Surprising advances have been made in the sciences, and the understanding of our physical world. The cultivation of the human intellect seems to be—and I would argue, for the most part, is—a magnificent ideal. This is only true however, if the pursuit if intellectualism does not rob a culture of its willingness—even its longing for the pursuit of—to pursue action for the furtherance of its ideals and the protection of its values.

    The most damnable result of the rise of intellectualism however, is the growth within the collective psyche of a people, that the human brain can solve all the perceived problems of the world. The reality of the human experience over the last 40,000 years rather clearly illustrates that, in order for any human cultural activity to succeed, some form of community must be engaged in an actual effort towards the completion of that goal. The idealistic naivete of the idea that “reason always wins,” and mental cleverness alone can resolve all problems, without physical effort, falls flat as soon as a foe is met who is willing to stop talking, and start chopping the heads off the intellectuals.

    We see this in our contemporary world, as the intelligentsia of the West looks for ways to reason with the Islamo-Fascism of extremist Mohammedism. We look for ways to appease the soldiers of the resurgent Caliphate, even as they are taking heads. We pontificate on some “moral high ground,” without being willing to accept that it was not the moral high ground that led to the ascendance of western cultural values in the world. It was the willingness to raze cities, and put heads on spikes, that allowed western culture to overtake the world. It was the willingness to firebomb and drop atomic bombs on cities that allowed American culture to overtake the world. We can sit in our comfortable, climate-controlled homes and offices, and worry about the “moral high ground” because our forebears were willing to take action. We can look back at history and believe we’re above all that, because we live in the Age of Intellect.

    Before we can begin to recognize the impact of intellectualism on the Way of the Hero, we do need to concede that intelligence is not bad. Having the intelligence to understand the meanings of words, and to apply those words correctly, is important. Words have meanings. In order to avoid being pawns of The Narrative, we have to 1) understand those meanings, and 2) insist that those words are used, within the context of those meanings. Anyone who insists on misusing those words, or relying on “the generally accepted definition” is not worthy of wasting our own energy on debate.

    According to the Oxford English Dictionary—which is, in my estimation—the final arbiter of meaning within the English language, intellectualism is defined as “the exercise of the intellect at the expense of the emotions.” In turn, intellect is defined as “the faculty of reasoning or understanding, objectively, especially with regard to abstract or academic matters.

    Intellect is good. The ability to set emotion aside, and look at things objectively, as they are, rather than as we wish them to be, is critical to survival and life. It is not until we begin to consider the realities of human nature though, and the resulting expression of intellect, sans emotion, in our current socio-political climate, that we begin to see the deleterious effects.

    Noam Chomsky, a prattering “social activist” intellectual of the worst sort, pointed out—in a rare moment of honesty—that “…intellectuals are specialists in defamation. They are basically political commissars, they are the ideological administrators, the most threatened by dissidence…” In Marxist philosophy, the social-class function of the intellectual, referred to by Marx and Engel as the “intelligentsia,” is to be the source of progressive ideals for the transformation of society, and to interpret the country’s politics to the masses, as well as to provide guidance and advice to the political leadership of the Party.

    This is, ultimately, the problem with intellectualism, and its negative impact on our society’s view of the Way of the Hero. Thomas Sowell—who is by any objective measure, the definition of an intellectual—makes the case in his 2009 book, Intellectuals and Society, for a justifiable level of anti-intellectualism in the modern world, due to malfeasance in the educational system:

    By encouraging, or even requiring, students to take stands where they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions, while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal equipment to weigh one view against another in any serious way.

    It is critical to notice that Dr. Sowell is critical of a misplaced emphasis on unreasoned thought, not on the use of intellect. In fact, it is a call for a more disciplined intellectual rigor, requiring both the intellectual tools of critical thinking, and the empiricism of life experience, for decision-making on where an individual stands in regard to complex issues. This distinguishes intelligence (good) from intellectualism (bad). As Thucydides famously reminded us in History of the Pelopennesian Wars, “…the society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting by fools.

    The academic who has never tasted the copper-mouthed sensation of life-and-death fear, as he watches muzzle flashes downrange, or watches someone charging him, with fists clenched around the haft of a cold steel blade, or has never watched the blood flowing out of someone that he knows and loves, lacks the real life experience to genuinely understand, at a visceral, human level, the warrior past of our human heritage. On the opposite side of the same coin however, the warrior—no matter how blooded in battle—without an intellectual understanding of the human past, can never really begin to understand the strategic social implications of the combat in which he took part. He is forced to accept the explanations of his leaders. For our tribes to thrive, there must be a balance sought between the intellect and the instinct.

    The balance must be sought between the intellect and the instinct.

    The folklore and legends of the past—the tales of our heroes—are the epic oral traditions that form the beginning of the foundations of the study of history. They are—first and foremost—bellicose. If Achilles had been content to sit in a classroom and debate the merits of Lacedaemonian militaristic social structures, versus Athenian democracy, would anyone really remember him? Has Brad Pitt ever starred in the movie portrayal of Socrates? (For the record, for those readers whose entire view of it is based on a shitty comic book-turned-movie, Lacedeamonia was the actual name of the city-state we refer to as Sparta.)

    Until the rise of Marxist intellectualism in the 20
    th Century, historiography was largely nothing more than the study of conflict and wars, and—occasionally—the social and political catalysts for both. History is the study only of the written accounts of the past, and writing is a social communications device limited—by definition—to civilized societies. For this reason, the history of the world has been limited by the prejudices and cultural cognitive biases of civilized historians. While particularly prevalent in the Marxist-dominated intelligentsia of the 20th Century, even previously, this has led to a discrediting of the value of myth and legend in the telling of the human experience.

    Even Herodotus, “The Father of History,” recorded legends and fanciful tales, explaining himself with the fact that he only recorded what he’d been told, in order “to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of the important remarkable achievements produced by both Greeks and non-Greeks.” Herodotus understood the importance of history and knowledge, but he also understood that myth is history, told better.

    Recognizing the existence of cultural biases of historians, we are forced to acknowledge, within historiography, valid, unbiased observations of the significant majority of the general human experience of the past, in the form of preliterate cultures, including many of those that our most cherished cultural values and traditions derive from. This leaves us with a limited number of options for studying much of the past, and how humans have survived outside of the civilized nation-state construct.

    In the first, we can turn to the ethnographic observation of the acknowledged biased studies of civilized observers, like the legendary Roman historian Tacitus. In the second, we can turn to the relatively modern study of anthropology. These two allow us to look at what were and are preliterate societies, as they existed alongside civilization, both in the past, and in the present. Through critical thinking and comparison of these two, we can often deduce valuable lessons for our intentional tribes. While some intellectuals argue that the access of modern preliterate cultures, to modern technology and cultural values through even limited contacts like trade and the presence of anthropologists in their midst creates an artificiality to the study, this argument overlooks the fact that even our preliterate barbarian ancestors had contact and trade with their civilized society neighbors. If not, we’d know nothing of them, for lack of written record. Anthropology and ethnography does have limitations—mostly in the educated biases of the recording writers—but it does offer one of the most valuable options for comparison.

    In the third option, we can rely on a study of the myths and legends of the past, handed down through the biased lenses of historians, When coupled with the study of the archaeological evidence available, and the intellectual rigor of solid, objective critical thinking, we gain a great deal of value. The greatest drawback to this route however, is that internalizing the understanding of the myths and legends handed down to us from the past requires overcoming the influences of the biases and belief systems of the civilized scribes—generally non-believers of the myths they recorded—that first put them down in ink.

    Ultimately, the only way for this method to have value to us is for the modern interpreter, retelling the legends, to have a legitimate, experiential frame-of-reference in the subject matter of the myth or legend. An academic who has never been in even a schoolyard fistfight, has no legitimate frame-of-reference for interpreting the legends of a mythic warrior’s actions, when considered objectively. This doesn’t mean he can’t gain value from the legend, or pass on lessons to others, based on that legend. It simply means that often, the most valuable, more nuanced lessons, will go unremarked, because the teller lacks the experience to recognize their import.

    There needs to be, in the distillation of experience that forms the shared traditions and value of our intentional tribes, a balance between pure reason and intellect, and the more gut-level intuition that can only be developed through the experience of living life. We have, in the western cultural tradition, numerous examples illustrating a perfectly valid alternative to the “real” history of academia, all of which illustrate our cultural values far better. They are the mythic histories beloved of all people, except the intellectuals who possess a vested interest in maintaining the myth of the intellect over the instinct of action.

    In the Hellenic tradition, we have the great Homeric epics, including the Illiad and the Odyssey. We have the teachings of Socrates, first expressed in writing by Xenophon, Aristophanes, and—most famously—Plato and Aristotle. None of these stories can be considered strictly historical. Intellectuals would insist on referring to them as “legends,” since they lack any evidence beyond second-hand stories. There is little or no archaeological evidence that the characters in Homer’s epics—or even Socrates as an actual person—ever actually existed, beyond the stories. Rather, these are the mythic histories of the classical Hellenes. They portray the preliterate ancestry of the classical Greeks, in the way the classical Greeks wanted to believe that their ancestors existed (if you haven’t figured it out yet, that last clause in that last sentence is the critical point of this article).

    To the North, we have—at a much, much later date—the same types of mythic histories, in the form of the Norse and Icelandic sagas, and epic poems like Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and the Nibelunglied in the German. These too are the mythic histories of the respective cultures, forming a portrait of the preliterate ancestors as either the Christian scribes that put ink to parchment, or the individuals who passed the tales on to the scribes, wanted their ancestors to have been.

    It is popular among the intelligentsia to discredit the accuracy of the sagas and epics, precisely because they were written down long after the times they are credited with having occurred, by Christian scribes with an entirely different cultural bias than the subjects of the myths. Some of the legends inherent to the mythic histories, of course, are beyond the belief of rational, critical thinking, to our minds. Is it creditable that Achilles really was impervious to all wounds, except to the back of his ankle? Could Ragnar Lothbrok really have accomplished all the things he is credited with? Is it creditable that Siegfried—or Beowulf, for that matter—actually slayed a dragon? Perhaps not, at least from a rational, scientific point-of-view.

    The most common course-of-action then, has been to attempt to explain these myths in more scientifically plausible ways. Achilles was not really “blessed of the gods.” He was just supremely gifted—or inordinately lucky—or he was an early pioneer of social engineering, and managed to induce a mass hysteria that affected all who confronted him so that none of them actually ever tried to actually kill him, because of the legends he spread about his own birth.

    Ragnar Lothbrok was really a composite of a number of minor warlords, blended together in legend, to create a fictional character worthy of the origin myths of a strong, proud, national and cultural identity. The dragon foes of Siegfried and Beowulf were metaphors like the “snakes” that Saint Patrick drove from Ireland during the conversion era, or they were just made up, whole cloth, by the original poets, long before their tales were written down.

    While this urge makes sense from an academic standpoint, where everything has to have a rational, plausible explanation, it does a great disservice not only to the men who possessed the original foresight to record the legends for the future, but to the rest of mankind as well. The fact is, mythic history is just as important—more important, I would argue—than actual history, to the cultural identity and history of a people. We “know” for example, that—despite the cultural cognitive biases of the Chinese—the Middle Kingdom has seldom been a single cultural and political entity. Instead, while certain dynasties have held the imperial throne, the vast majority of China, even as late as the early 20th Century, was actually a broken, scattered composite of minor fiefdoms, ruled by fiercely independent local warlords who may—or may not—have offered token fealty to the empire, whole practicably retaining total autonomy. Despite this though, the mythic history of the Middle Kingdom has been critical to the ethnic and cultural identity of many people of Chinese descent, around the world.

    The same is true of the value of the Homeric epics, the teachings credited to Socrates, and even the sagas and epics of the North, for western cultural values. Our own national founders, raised with classical educations, knew the mythic histories of North and South, and accepted them—if not as actual history—as an important cultural myth, forming a significant portion of the better foundations of their own—and our own—culture. Myth really is history, told better, and myth is as important to the identity of a culture, as actual history.

    So, what does this mean, in the context of trying to form intentional tribes for survival of the decline of empire? Where can we apply these lessons as praxis?

    Number One, we need to begin creating a shared mythic history of our tribe. This need not be all mythic of course. Within our own cultural traditions and history, there are ample stories of seemingly superhuman feats and achievements. The problem is, if your children are publicly educated, they will no longer hear of the feats of men like Nathan Hale, Francis Marion, and Paul Revere. They won’t hear of a young JEB Stuart, not even 16 yet, when he blew a highwayman out of the saddle with his grandfather’s blunderbuss, loaded with powder and gravel. They won’t hear of the “stooges if the colonialist imperialists” that fought in the China-Burma-India theatre as Merrill’s Marauders. They probably won’t even hear of the actual mythic legends like Ragnar Lothbrok, Egil Skallgrimmsson, Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus. It’s a given that they won’t hear the stories of heroes like David and Joshua and Daniel…

    More than just knowing these tales, we need to TELL these tales. Whether your own children, the children of your family, or the children of your intentional tribe, our young people need to hear and learn the mythic history of their people. If your tribe has monthly or weekly training drills, or even just meetings, someone should be entertainer enough to tell these stories in a way that keeps the young mesmerized, and away from the television and iPads and computers. Even the adults in your groups may be unfamiliar with the lessons of these myths.

    The stories need not be of legends either. Their are ample tales of heroism, of life and health sacrificed for the good of one’s own people, one’s tribe, all around us. From the stories of Medal of Honor winners, to modern soldiers in combat, to firefighters and police officers, to normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill, suburban soccer moms and dads running to the—literal or figurative—sounds of the guns. The goal is not to simply recite stories. The goal is to create a tribal tradition that values heroism and The Way of the Hero, to counter and overcome the rise of the Age of Mediocrity.

    Even more than living and telling these tales, we need to begin to relive the lessons of these tales. Among the excerpts that I prefaced this article with, was one from Christopher McDougall’s book Natural Born Heroes:

    For much of human history, the art of the hero wasn’t left up to chance…the hero’s skills were studied, practiced, and perfected, then passed along from parent to child and teacher to student. The art of the hero wasn’t about being brave; it was about being so competent that bravery wasn’t an issue. You weren’t supposed to go down for a good cause; the goal was to figure out a way not to go down at all. Achilles and Odysseus and the rest of the classical heroes hated the thought of dying and scratched for every second of life. A hero’s one crack at immortality was to be remembered as a champion, and champions don’t die dumb. It all hinged on the ability to unleash the tremendous resources of strength, endurance, and agility that many people don’t realize they already have.

    It is not just ourselves that we train for. It is not for my own ego that I go out into my backyard gym and throw heavy iron barbells and kettlebells around. It’s not for my own aggrandizement that I run sprint intervals, or take long, fast hikes through the forested mountains, over broken terrain, with heavy packs on. It’s not even for the survival of my children. My children are with us, watching us, as my wife and I do our daily PT. They see us doing it, every day, rain or shine, good health or ill, and they learn, from our example, the Way of the Hero; of being prepared. They learn the message of being “so competent that bravery isn’t an issue.”

    My children have been given rubber training knives in lieu of teething rings. They have had bedtime stories of the ancient myths and legends, and their lullabies have been songs of battle and strife and good overcoming evil through skill and will.

    We need to live the Way of the Hero, not so much for ourselves, as for our children, that they might learn these lessons, to pass on to their children, that the values of the tribe will live on. Ultimately, it’s a given that we’re all going to die. I’m well into middle-age. If I’m not at the halfway point of the modern human lifespan, I’m pushing it closely. I make no claims to physical immortality. I strive to ensure the survival not of myself, but of my kith and kin. They garner the benefit of the struggle to live the Way of the Hero, because it gives them a moral exemplar to strive for.

    Sacrifice is something that is often talked about, but seldom really discussed in detail. This is too bad, because really, the Way of the Hero is Sacrifice. Sacrifice is a gift exchange—a barter if you will—with the divine. When we offer a sacrifice, regardless of our personal belief system, and regardless of the sacrifice offered—prayer, blood, or other—we are offering the gods a gift. In exchange for that gift, we are hoping that, when we need it, they will offer us something in return. Training is sacrifice of the self. When you train, you are offering your time, your sweat, your effort, and occasionally, your blood, to the divine. In return, you are asking that—when you need it—the skill developed by that training, will be given to you by the gods, that you will be able to do what you need to do.

    When approached this way, it makes training a tribal value—again, regardless of belief system or religion of the tribe. Sacred things are those things that have been marked off and set aside from the profane space of the world, separated from the mundane of every day objects and activities, and from profane time by being linked to the eternity of the divine. Our training becomes a sacred tribal tradition and value of we “set it side,” and treat it as “holy,” or “consecrated.” We make it special by making it ritual. Would you let daily life interfere with your prayers? Would you let your job interfere with your family time? Make training a ritual of importance, and dive into the Way of the Hero. If it’s appropriate to your belief system, open and close your training with prayer, to set it aside from the mundane on either side of it. Make it “holy” by incorporating “scriptures” of the stories of the heroes of your traditions into it. One thing I try to do in every class is tell stories that are relevant to the class, at that moment, of men I’ve known, or people known by people I’ve known, who have done amazing things, relevant to that lesson. Stories drive home the lessons we are trying to impart, just like a particular religious parable or legend can drive home the lesson of a sermon.

    That, ultimately, is the value of the Hero. Not to live forever. It is to give us an example of behavior to strive for. I am not Achilles. I am not Hector. I am not Arminius. I am not Ragnar. I am not Joshua or David or Daniel. I am John, but I can strive to be LIKE all of those men, and in the struggle, I am better, and my tribe is better.

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