(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 8 MAY 2020)
One of the minds I follow on twitter is @ThePrimalFire (host of the Primal Fire Podcast) and he recently tossed out a thought provoking question (with an equally thought provoking follow-up a few hours later -but that’s enough parentheses for one sentence.)
This was the tweet:
If you’ve read my book, you know already that I really get into questions like that. While he may have had his eye cast into the past, I was looking into the future after the Convergence of Catastrophes and Peak Oil and all that have pushed this civilization into a more primitive, barbaric state again.
As anyone could have predicted, the majority of us replied that we wanted to be (or thought we would be) the chief, or the shaman, the blacksmith or the brewer. Most of us admitted that we would be happy as hunters or gatherers, if we were allowed the occasional weekend raiding an enemy now and then.
But there were a few voices who wanted to object to the notion that any of the respondents saw their place in this fantasy as anything other tribal hunter or gatherer. A few who protested that even asking the question was proof that testosterone heavy men were toxic and had proclivities that…uh…I didn’t read the rest of that tweet.
I tried to answer one of the voices raised in objection. One resolute philosopher (who had apparently just read GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL) pointed out that “primitive, barbaric societies” lacked the resources to provide for a shaman or a blacksmith or a brewer or ANYTHING but a subsistence level hunter or gatherer. Never mind that such societies were exactly where a shaman might emerge, the entire question is one of those fun little thought experiments that can’t be constrained by reality. One thoughtful reply pointed out many of us would have died in childhood.
But the question, in addition to being a fun foray into the fantasy of such a life, had a deeper aspect just as any “who would you be if…” question does.
Who would you be if you won the lottery?
Who would you be if you lived in Azeroth? Or Rohan? Ancient Rome? Sparta? Mars? Or the Third Reich?
Who would you be if you lost everything?
Who would you be if we all lost everything?
The strange thing about hunter/gather societies is that they only require about four or five hours of work a day. The rest of the day is spent in a certain leisure. And for some of us today, we spend our leisure hunting and gathering so this is a win/win.
In this modern age, we find others defining us according to how we spend a third (or more) of our lives. If you’re an accountant who works sixty hours a week for the firm and only has weekends to indulge in the piano and painting, it seems natural maybe to be thought of as an accountant who paints.
But if there were an accountant who put in his twenty hours a week at the office and then devoted six hours a day to his music, his painting, his novel, his basket weaving, it might be more accurate to refer to that man as an artist.
When the anthropologist from Mars visits the little society that Jayson has proposed, he will ask us what our role is. He will ask us who we are.
We all hunt. We all gather.
And we all spend time around the fire talking about Women, better spearpoints, bigger elk, that thing Gronk is doing with the wolves, and listening to stories about the heroes, the Gods, the spirits. Some of us paint on the walls. Some of us sing. Some of us watch the honey as it sits out until its fermented. Some of us find better ways to cook. Some of us just hunt more. Some of us would sit still and listen to the world and come back from the underworld to tell more stories.
Someone has to hang that mother-fucker who thinks he’s going to re-invent agriculture and start this shit going wrong all again.
Who would you be if you were defined, not by the role you play in keeping your society fed and clothed and provided with video games, but by the role you took on yourself for your own purposes?
I think sometimes about those neckbeards who pose on IG with their katana collection and fedoras. The ones eager to meet an actual princess and call her “m’lady.” You know the ones.
I’ve never actually met one in a kendo class or desert hiking trail.
How strange is that?
But the fact remains that we are defined, not by our ambitions, not by our hopes and dreams and aspirations, but by what we do. And what you do is, in the end, the clearest, most genuine expression of who you are. In other words, judging a man by what he is does is the only real criteria he can be judged by.
I’ve met “warriors” with a thousand reasons for not actually going to war. “War is no longer conducted honorably”, “No blood for oil”. And it is usually one of the aforementioned neckbeards only willing to go to war for that aforementioned princess and only if he gets issued a magical sword (preferably a katana and I kinda get that) or some political fuck you wouldn’t want to go to war with anyway.
I’m willing to wrap my brain around that because I know that my experience and my worldview isn’t universal.
But I’ve also met men who wanted to think of themselves as warriors who made no effort whatsoever to develop their strength and their prowess other than swinging that magic katana around in the backyard.
In the end, you are what you do…not what you wish you wanted to do.
I know we all have to pay our bills and feed our kids. That means there are men who devote themselves to the sword, or to jujitsu, or the guitar, or the paintbrush, or poetry with every spare moment and every other thought…but still have to sit in their accounting cubicle for 40 hours a week.
There were samurai who wore their two swords to the office to do the shogun’s books.
They were warrior/accountants, I guess.
I worry that it sounds like I am trying to have it both ways. Every man is a warrior, but some men are merely accountants or laborers or pizza delivery guys. I think that second group is only living half of their life. The other half is the universal archetype of warrior-poet.
The point I am hoping to drive home to you, O Best of the Acheans, is that we only have so much time and so little of that time is truly ours. Our kids need played with (because we are fathers and we do what fathers do), our women need romanced (because we are husbands and we do what husbands do), and ten thousand other tasks righteously demand our time.
If you are going to be MORE than your job, more than an accountant, a laborer, a wage slave defined by the labor he does from 9 to 5, then you have to do more. You have develop the person the Empire of Nothing thinks you are into the person you want to be, the warrior, poet, shaman, musician, druid, -the Warrior/Poet- the world needs you to be.
What would your role be if all of this were swept away and you suddenly lived in a primitive, barbaric society?