The shallow pond

As thought experiments go I like the original trolley problem the best. If one were made to choose ones preference under duress I mean. This is likely due to my proclivity and penchant for rolling stock. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate burning buildings, lifeboats and shallow ponds, its just that inclines, runaway boxcars and switch tracks resonate more deeply with me. If you’re going to spend time ruminating the nuances of your ethical chalk-line boundary, might as well add an element of trains.

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Enter Peter Singer. Philosopher, savant and Australian. (I like to pair two positives with a negative, that way I don’t appear too sycophantic). Once upon a time Mr Singer proposed a thought experiment called the Shallow Pond, which has given me, over the years, a lot to think about. (And has possibly driven me a little mad)

You are wandering through a wood when you come across a child drowning in a shallow pond. It would require very little effort for you to reach the child and rescue him, perhaps at the expense of getting muddy and ruining your shoes. What would you do?

Most of us would rescue the child. We deem this the ‘good’ and ‘moral’ choice. (I agonize briefly about the use of single quotation marks, but then decide to leave it) As opposed to walking off and letting the child drown.

This thought experiment is then made analogous to real life, every day children around the world are dying, instead of drowning in a pond they are dying of malaria and bilharzia, yet we don’t do anything to stop those children from dying. (even though we could)

I can attest I would likely attempt to rescue the child in the pond…. but I don’t really care for the broader inclusion of children dying of malaria nor do I really care about the relatively small effort it would take on my part to donate a mosquito net through the effective altruism movement.

While I initially balked at my seemingly callous dismissal of this theory it would have been disingenuous of me to mount my hobbyhorse and defend something I didn’t believe in. I also suddenly realized I was deeply suspicious of Utilitarianism.

This was quite an interesting revelation to me. I suppose I could lie and say I don’t really have the means to support effective altruism. But I do. Unpacking my thoughts over time I’ve decided that the first brick in my bulwark against collectivism is out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Being put on the spot on the gently lapping edge of some indeterminate body of water feels somehow different to saving some nameless, faceless homo sapiens obscured from my field of vision by intervening terrain and the curvature of the earth.

But really most of my sea-wall comes from a belief that we are not responsible for other peoples happiness and well being and that ‘goodness’ in the pursuit of collective happiness is an academic pursuit at best.

That’s not to say I don’t have ‘altruistic’ tendencies, but they are limited to my immediate group, most likely doled out in anticipation of reciprocity or some genetic disposition that governs progeny.

 

Besides I get caught up worrying about rabbit holes. After all when faced with a frivolous consumer purchase or the opportunity cost of effective altruism, isn’t the ‘good’ decision always the effective altruism? Stare long enough into the abyss and almost everything becomes a frivolous purchase.

Sure. My inaction causes death. Guaranteed. Every hour I don’t donate a mosquito net, the statistical likelihood increases that someone in the world dies because of me. Over the course of my life I could have potentially saved… hundreds of people. But instead my apathy just causes death and misery.

That’s quite a responsibility. Its also why philosophy is bad for you.

TL;TR

I was playing PlayStation. Until my controller ran out of juice. Which depending on your school of thought may have been a fortuitous occurrence because now I’m forced to do something else (possibly something productive even). I’ve recently been feeling guilty (not guilty enough to actually do anything about it, maybe more of a mild malaise) about my more mindless hobbies, PlayStation in particular.

There always seems to be an opportunity cost to playing games. Whether it is reading, or working or even exercising. PlayStation is probably broadly considered the least efficient use of the time available to us. Has killing an end of level boss ever improved your life? Not really. Possibly a small hit of dopamine. But it’s fleeting. On my deathbed it seems unlikely I will look back fondly on all the hours I sunk into… Damn… I was going to say The Witcher… but that is an experience hovering just below my wedding day in terms of general awesomeness. I have no regrets!!!

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I received some positive reinforcement in the book store earlier. I was dilly dallying in Philosophy, wedged unceremoniously around a bend between Judica and Science where I was trying to find a book on Proust (which I couldn’t find, because the philosophy section is a sad, sad* place) but I did see this…

*literally and figuratively.

Which made me feel a bit better. It has a click bait look about it… but interestingly they went for a PS4 controller on the cover, which means they might actually know something about gaming. If they’d gone for a Xbox controller I could have written them off as academic noobs who clearly don’t know anything about anything. However…. (being a hardcore gamer) I’m not sure you can legitimately claim ten things that video gaming can improve. But that such a book exists is comforting.

Wait. Maybe I should start my day at the beginning. I was up at 4am after a bad night. The girl child decided she need to hone her sleep deprivation skillset on us. Some parents try push their children towards neuroscience or biochemistry. We’re coming to terms that our kid is going to be a CIA contractor. (we’ll start CQC training when she turns two) I tried to confess that I was the one that had thrown out her play-doh in the hope that she would relent in her onslaught. But she wasn’t having any of it. (serious work ethic there)

Bleary and not all together copious-mentos I had to take the basset hound to the veterinarian. He has a haematoma* in his eye. It’s not serious, likely from the sun the vet said, but if it’s not healed up in two weeks he’ll have to cauterize it.

*hematoma if you’re from the lilypad on the other side pond and have ‘newspeaked’ the English language (and also continue to resist the metric system, seriously wtf?)

After that I built shelves in the garage out of old roof trusses and shutter-board. We need space to store our ever burgeoning supply of crap*.  It’s not the finest work I’ve ever done, slightly crooked, but those trusses were old and almost fossilized in their hardness. After I’d realized my mistake I didn’t really feel like working the screws out again. (they’d stripped going in) I decided I could live with the whole thing being a little wonky.

*possibly because all the cupboard space in the house is taken up with lego and boardgames. #justsaying.

After that we went to the bookstore.

Essentially to go buy Room on a Broom. (I’ve developed a serious liking for Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler). I gravitated towards Psychology as I’ve been prone to do, which together with Business occupies four solid shelves. Psychology is a bit of a misnomer. You won’t find any Freud or Jung or Maslow there.

Why isn’t it just labeled advice? (or spurious bullshit and lump it together with the esoteria)

Advice. (noun)  guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent action.

I’ve (recently) decided it’s all the epitome of ego.

Advice is paired with expertise. There is the assumption that there that the advice giver has a decent grasp on the material that the advice is dispensed about. For example my doctor having studied about infection and disease can give me advice about my malady. I have less knowledge about the subject and so defer to his knowledge.

But things become a little murkier when it comes to life and the plethora of good advice that people feel they need to market to you. Who is qualified to give you life advice anyway? The short answer is no one and fuck you.

Diogenes lived in a barrel and told the most powerful man in the world at the time that he was blocking his sun. How many of us would take life advice these days from a smelly Greek who lived in a barrel? But if Alexander the Great had a twitter account we’d be following every 280* character burst of inanity that came from his hallowed brow. We’ve come to equate wealth and power with success.

*since I think twitter is basically step one to an Orwellian dystopia I had to google this.

As an aside, why is Alexander the Great still great? He was certainly NOT a paragon of humanity and should likely be dumped into the same category as that German fellow, that Russian fellow and that Chinese fellow. (weirdly there no genocidal females… yet) His body count is in the same sort of league (relative to the population of the world). Why we’ve tacked on great to the end of an otherwise blood thirsty psychopath is one of those great mysteries.

Further we then equate success in a certain field with the ability to generate advice on a whole range of topics. For me it’s troubling when someone feels they can dispense advice about something as subjective as happiness. It’s not even something you can address in broad strokes. Not really. For me, success and happiness means something completely different and yet I feel qualified to advise you? Ha ha. Have we really all becomes so unbelievably vain and narcissistic.

The answer is yes we have. Because we genuinely believe we are going to be helping people. If I can just reach out to that poor guy who is wasting his life and inspire him greatness. Hey poor guy wasting your life… I think you’re a loser, and you need my help to turn things around. Buy my book. I will teach you to take control of your wayward existence and make something of yourself.

Fuck that.

I’m so done with this genre. I’ve let people guilt me into this feeling of unfulfilled potential since the moment I was born. I think 39 is a good age to give it all up.

In the end I bought Room on a broom. And a book with pop-up dinosaurs in it. (it was easier just to buy the book than break my daughters fingers) She was pulling a Charlton Heston, ‘Out of my cold, dead hands’ move.

I bought this for myself.

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Which might seem like a weird choice. I think I’ve been going at this all wrong. My infatuation with self improvement books was born out of a desire to learn stuff and therefore be better. But I wasn’t actually improving. All I was doing was reading about what had improved other people and what had made them happy. I was taking a square peg and trying to ram it into a round hole, and then wondering why it wasn’t working.

Anyways. I still want to learn stuff and improve. But not waste my time on stuff as nebulously vague as happiness and self improvement, as listed in a manifesto by some ego maniacal wank who thinks he’s got it all figured out. Thanks, but no thanks.

Now I’m going to learn stuff about spiders. And when my controller is fully charged I’m going to get me a new suit of magical armor. And a shiny new axe. And then I’m going pretend smite some pretend evil.

Looking forward to it.

Way of the warrior kid by Jocko Willink

Let me say right near the beginning that I really liked this book. I imagine that once I get about half way into my tirade it might not seem like it.

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You know that saying, ‘You should never meet your heroes’. In keeping with modernity perhaps it should be updated. ‘Never follow your heroes on twitter’. Or on YouTube for that matter.

I tend to build up the authors that I like as infallible seers or ubermenschen. Impressed with what they’ve committed to text I seek them out on other media platforms hoping glean new knowledge. Inevitably I am disappointed. We are after all just humans, with our blemishes and flaws, niche expertise and subjective opinions.

 

Except me obviously. (I’m perfect)

Ha ha.

I mention this because I need to balance my crush on Jocko Willink with some moderation.

If I reduced and distill my gripe its probably with the word ‘warrior’. I worry about people that use that word. And I worry about people that want to be ‘this’ word. Don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate that human existence on this planet is less than idyllic and that one group of humans needs from time to time to assert dominance over another group to achieve some sort of goal through violence of action. And that this is usually done through the warrior caste. I get that.

My concern is that people consider this particular noun first when they describe themselves. Interestingly I have no issue with someone describing themselves as a philosopher who also happens to be a warrior. But a warrior who is also a philosopher makes me hesitate. Maybe I’m just arguing potato semantics, but I find the distinction important. I think a world full of warriors would be a poorer place. Sun Tzu famous mused that war needs to be a highly considered enterprise and that warriors have a very specific task of tearing civilization down. Not so easy to build it back up again. I think as a society we have become far too flippant about war and the warriors that perpetrate this course of action.

On the reverse side, kids don’t get that. And this is a kids book. All I wanted to be growing up was a warrior. (Although I wanted to go to Ranger school) We are primal, savage mammals who want to (pretend) rend and maim our enemies. Its only later in life that we get some perspective.

Then there’s the author, whose jingoism and ethical ambiguity on Fox and friends recently made me feel super uncomfortable. This is why I hate social media. All of a sudden you’re exposed to everyone’s thoughts be they inane and banal or just contrary to your own. The amusing impressionist reality you’ve crafted yourself lies in tatters at your feet.

Fortunately The way of the Warrior kid is not about moral philosophy. Its about a kid called Marc and his quest for self improvement (something I can definitely get behind)

 

 

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Marc sucks at pull-ups, can’t do maths, eats a lot of crap, can’t swim and gets bullied at school. (don’t worry Marc I suck at pull-ups and maths too). Marc’s mom’s brother Jake comes to stay with them for a bit. Jake is a Navy Seal. Jake turns Marc’s life around.

(the above represents an over simplified synopsis)

I must be honest, the whole time it took me to read this book (about an hour) I kept thinking, where is Marc’s dead-beat dad? And why is your mom letting you eat all this crappy food? (I get all judgmental about fictional parenting faux-pas as I see them)

After reading this book, I went and stood at the pull-up bar at gym. Unfortunately in my gym that’s right in the center with everything else arrayed around this focal point of embarrassment. I imagine this is done on purpose so that everyone can see how pathetic you are. I had, up until this point never in my whole life done a pull-up. But how hard can it be right?

I jumped up and hung there for a moment.

‘Oh my god’, I thought as my shoulders and arms protested this strange new form of abuse. (Looking back, I think its because I masturbate less now, so my forearms have gotten weak from lack of use) Maybe I could just hang here for a bit. You know, pretend I’m just… stretching out my spine. Or something. The guy across from me is squatting like a gazzillion pounds. I never venture into this part of the gym (other than to use the heavy bag), mostly because nothing I own comes without sleeves nor do I possess any really short, shorts. (this seems to be a prerequisite)

I grit my teeth and ignore the noise that sounds like tearing fabric coming from the large muscle groups in my back. Okay, one pull up. Just one, I think to myself. I grit my teeth and… do this weird kicking thing with my legs like a dying bug.

I’d like to say I got about half way before failing. But… the reality is probably less kind than that.

Okay, so doing a pull-up is quite hard. (its on my to-do list for this year)

The thing about this book is that I agree with almost everything in it. I think all kids should jump of bridges and swim in rivers. And do martial arts. My personal proclivity is boxing and Jujitsu. but really any style is OK when you’re a kid.

Kids should be outside and active, not domiciled in front of their tablets.

If nothing else this book inspired me to try and do some pull-ups. There are few books out there that will make you get up and take come concrete actions. So for that I need to give Jocko some serious credit. I might not agree with his personal ideology, but I think this book is a good thing.

essentialism; The disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown

I have a semi-rigid rule that I’ve been trying to follow; Be nice. Its been difficult for me because I’m naturally inclined towards pugnaciousness. So in order to combat my inherent nature I decided that I really had to like a book to blog about it. Besides, why would you waste your time running down a book you didn’t like?  I should just be able to move on….

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Only this book is titled essentialism*. Which is one of my core tenets and I feel this sort of writing needs to be vehemently opposed. Since I can’t achieve the desired level of disapproval by kicking it in the knee cap I have to resort to verbose text instead.

*Capital letters, for example, totally not essential.

I often feel that there are MANY books out there that would have worked better as a blog post. (97.5% of all business books for example) Instead of succinctly communicating your idea in 1000 words, you pad and obscure your idea with one hundred fifty five thousand other words, package it with a well considered dust cover and then market it as something profound. More words are clearly better. essentialism breaks its own rule. Which I think is kinda funny.

Then again you can’t sell a 1000 word blog post for $11.76. Well, I suppose you could try. But then we have come to expect a certain word to dollar ratio.

I couldn’t finish essentialism. I don’t remember how far I got, maybe half way, before I started wondering, do I really need to read the rest of this? I was grinding, bored and wanted my $5.88 back.

<summary>

essentialism is about concentrating on the things that matter to you.

</summary>

See what I did there.

This is not something profoundly difficult to grasp. But if you put your mind to it, you can draw a simple concept out into 12 long chapters.

I should likely mention that Kevin Rose loves this book. In fact he recommended it in his news letter, which is why I bought it. Now I have to treat everything that Kevin Rose likes with suspicion. Annoying. As an aside. I do believe that this book deserves to exist. It might even appeal to some people. For all I know it could be EXACTLY what you’re looking for. So take my criticism with a pinch of salt.

I don’t really know anything about anything anyway.

Minimalism.

I used to be an unrepentant adherent of minimalism. Well… in a way that someone who goes to church at Easter and Christmas is a Christian. I really liked the concept, but serious quantifiable action has, up until this point, eluded me. A lot like an uncommitted jihadist. While supporting the cause I am unwilling to pull the trigger, spread myself thin and paint the world in my blood, ball bearings and fecal matter.

I jest with religiosity because to the faithful, minimalism is a lot like a religion. There is only ONE way to salvation/happiness. The problem I find with minimalism is that it’s the exact polar opposite of maximalism. Which is, apparently not a real word. How can something be diametrically opposed to something that doesn’t exist? This is beginning to taste a lot like conspiracy.

You know what I mean, insane excess, which is combated/countered by owning as little as humanly possible, thereby bringing balance to the force, goodness to the word and freedom to Tibet (or bringing back a sadistic theocracy depending on how you feel about the Dalai Lama).

My first problem with minimalism is that it has crappy champions. This shouldn’t ‘actually’ be #1, but I feel the need to start somewhere. After all every movement needs a figurehead. Someone we can look up to and rally behind, someone that will hold the standard high, that embodiment of perfection, the epitome of all that is holy. Movements need to have charismatic leaders. Maybe I’m in a minority of one here but I like my crusaders to have just a schmear of chutzpah. Minimalists tend to be really weird or just plain creepy. The sort of person that would cause concern if they parked their van near a children’s play ground. I find it difficult to take life style advice from these sorts of people.

My second issue is that everyone that gets into minimalism used to be maximalist! Again I realize this is not a word. When you listen to converts it almost always starts off like this, ‘Well I used to earn a six figure salary’. This immediately gets me riled up and mounting up my hobbyhorse. What does that mean exactly? And I quote…

For us, it all started with a lingering discontent. A few years ago, while approaching age 30, we had achieved everything that was supposed to make us happy: great six-figure jobs, luxury cars, oversized houses, and all the stuff to clutter every corner of our consumer-driven lifestyle

Did you earn $100,000 or $999,999 because there’s a slight difference between those numbers. If you’re going to brag don’t be ambiguous, do it properly. Clearly you want my mind to drift to the upper end of that bracket. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been so vague. Which means, even though you were unhappy before you were a minimalist you still feel the need to impress me with the size of your salary and your corporate success. They want you to know that they were better than you before they discovered minimalism. And they’re better than you now that they are a minimalist.

So let me break this down, you used to think owning lots of stuff and having lots of money would equal happiness. But then you had some life-changing event, and you realised your Prada’s and your Beechcraft King didn’t really equal happiness. So you flipped your lid and did the total opposite. You’re  basically a zealot who flip-flops between extremes. Extremists fly into buildings. And that’s not good for you. Or anyone else really.

Thirdly, Minimalists, like Catholics lay the guilt on thick. I own 51 things. Not me. But there are people out there who Instagram their possessions. This is a weirdly competitive thing that happens among devout minimalists, who can live with the least stuff. Sub fifty as understand is the sweet spot and also incidentally when you get awarded your gold star. You also get to judge other minimalists that are less accomplished than yourself, and get REALLY uppity with people who own more than two pairs of shoes. Do shoes get counted as one item or two? (why we need decent and informed leaders who can clarify these sorts of things)

I do think that you should be suspicious of anyone selling you a lifestyle though. Especially a lifestyle that draws you in by making you feel unhappy/or guilty about the way you’re living right now. Always ask the question, ‘how does this guy, or how do these people make their money?’ People with book tours, movies and a podcast… It just makes me weary. It feels like the commodification of a lifestyle and we are here to sell you the handbook. Just like we used to sell you a cell phone.

I’d like to postulate some sort of alternative. Stuff doesn’t equal happiness. I think all of us know this. We don’t necessarily act on this knowledge but we could all acknowledge this basic truth (if for example someone held a gun to our head) Less stuff doesn’t equal happiness either though. Happiness is not a function of stuff at all. Minimalism sometimes gets us there through a form of placebo. A journey towards minimalism by default is always started through introspection. We examine our lives, realize that we are unhappy and then take steps to rectify the situation.

For some that means giving away all their worldly possessions and paring down to the bare essentials so that they can concentrate on what really matters to them. I don’t think that’s a requirement though.

I’m not extolling the virtues of either extreme. Consumerism and this insane ‘competing with the Jones’ mentality is, in my opinion, incredibly damaging to us all. Way more than minimalism could ever be. I’m most concerned about this apparent lack of middle ground. A mythical center point on the seesaw where we are satisfied with what we have and don’t feel the need to tip toe in any particular direction.

What’s wrong with being a normalist? (If this catches on, TM Mighty-Jo) You know someone who is happy with where they are and with what they’ve got. I’m not saying normalists don’t have any ambition or leave their designation up to fate, it’s just that they are mindful of where they are at and appreciate their place in the universe. Above all they employ reason and logic in their decision-making and interactions with our world and all its denizens.

Look at me, full of hubris, setting a benchmark for the world on how they should behave. If you want to send me money because I changed your life you are very welcome. I will donate it to charity. Or burn it. Depending on how I feel that day.

A case for the commute

Joey likes Mustachianism. I am however a poor adherent of this philosophy. This is likely due to a number of deeply rooted pathological conditions where,

1. I don’t like being told what to do. So I constantly rage against good advice. Often becoming uncooperative and doing the opposite.

and

2. Once a concept reaches a certain critical mass of partisans I tend to get combative and burdensome on those around me and trundle off to go find something new.

One of the core tenants of Mustachianism is ‘Live close to where you work’, which is conceptually logical, good advice and offers a range of benefits. I refuse to accept this.

There are some advantages to a lengthy commute. Okay, maybe only two that I can think of. The first is the time to listen to audio-books and podcasts… for without my commute I doubt I would have the ‘time’ to commit to such an enterprise.

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The other is being able to practice stoicism.

Because of the variable nature of traffic our minds struggle to develop a bulwark against it. While it may feel like a Groundhog day, each day is a different experience. Each day various commuters try to end you in slightly different places and in slightly different ways. Gridlock and weather varies in time, location and ferocity.

This chaotic environment is a fantastic modern day proving ground. It easy to espouse stoicism. Its harder to practice it when someone has just cut you off, slammed on brakes and almost forced you into a collision with the concrete retaining wall.

I don’t always succeed in letting it slide. Occasionally the slight is of such vitriolic intent I immediately default to a much more primal state of being, which is often accompanied with coarse language and referencing their female progenitor in crude and unseemly terms. In my juvenescence serious transgressions may have even been followed up with some aerobatics involving a run-up.

These days such occurrences are exceptionally rare… and I haven’t roundhouse kicked anyone in anger for… quite some time now. I like to say a decade, but my wife likes to remind me of an unfortunate situation where someone tried to mow me down at a pedestrian crosswalk, an experience which may have irked me into barbarism.

But barring some almost imperceptible transgressions I’ve had a good run. So much so that I am almost tempted to rummage around in my stationary and stick a gold star on my ample forehead.

There used to be a sign next to the door at my old Boxing/MMA gym which read ‘Leave your ego at the door’. I always through this was cute but largely meaningless, because NO-ONE left their ego at the door, least of all the coaches and instructors. It was a hyper aggressive and competitive environment where ego reigned supreme.

Eventually when I started teaching at a CQC school, there was also a sign next to the door. ‘Train in chaos, thrive in chaos’.

I like this much more.

How can you practice stoicism in a perfect bubble? You need to expose yourself to hardship. While I’m not advocating the Admiral James Stockdale* approach to stoicism or the Nelson Mandela** approach I do think we need to put ourselves in situations that challenge us and take us out of our comfort zone.

* Shot down over Vietnam, James Stockdale spent seven years as a POW. He largely credits Epictetus with getting him through that ordeal

**Nelson Mandela spent 27 in prison. He credits the stoic poem Invictus for his presence of mind.

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. 

When compared to real hardship an arduous morning commute seems a little feeble as a comparison. But I feel I need to use whats available to me. I don’t have any other real hardship. My liberty is not curtailed. I do not struggle with disease or disability. Generally speaking I lead a soft and coddled life, my commute is all I’ve got.

My hope is that I can get to a point where traffic no longer affects me and that hopefully that presence of mind is absorbed into other areas of my life where I’m inclined to have a bad emotional response. Check out queues, airport security, flight delays, poor service etc.

I’m definitely not there yet. But hopefully one day, maybe.

 

Love your enemies

I have no enemies. Or rather I have no enemies that I know about. Which is just as bad.

I mean I have the stock standard villains that come with your default life settings. But these are boring and trivial; people that cut me off in traffic or meander slowly through shopping malls with no agenda or sense of urgency. Even the vague political enemies that exist in the broad sphere I occupy don’t count. My life is lacking a quality nemesis on a personal level.

I blame Matthew. Author of the synoptic Gospel to be precise, although I can think of several other Matthews who have displeased me during my lifetime. Matthew while cribbing from Mark added ‘But I tell you, love your enemies’ in chapter five, verse forty four.

I was always led to believe this was meant to underscore a sense of pacifism that’s loaded into the new testament. Turn the other cheek as opposed to the previous an eye for an eye policy.  Kill them with kindness, instead of shanking them with a sharp piece of metal.

I tried a bible study group once. But I was deemed too adversarial and was quietly asked not to come back. Potentially Matthew knew something about the motivating power of a good adversary. Be grateful for your good fortune to have a decent enemy. Love them, for they make you stronger.

George Patton had Erwin Rommel. Ulysses S. Grant had Robert E. Lee. Mao had Chiang Kai-Skek. Batman had the Joker. The 47 Ronin had Kira Yoshinaka. Undoubtedly these enemies motivated them to become stronger and better. There is no better energizer than a good enemy. (I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Greene and Alan Watts lately)

But how does one even get a good enemy? I imagine the quality of an enemy ranges from poor through to excellent. Its a pity you can’t interview or test-drive potential candidates.

I think first you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses. That way you can set your sights on an enemy of slightly superior means and skill. You don’t want anyone beneath you, but nor do you want someone who can crush you like an eggshell. Slightly better than you motivates you to exceed and better them.

Friends are ideally suited to making good enemies. But converting a friend to a decent enemy is easier said than done. This person needs to want to be your enemy, which puts the onus squarely on you to create an environment where this is possible. That seems like A LOT of work for potentially no payoff. You can loose your friend and not gain an enemy.

Joining a tribe is always an option. Preferably one with pre-established enemies. The tribe can direct my feelings, their cause becomes my cause, their enemies can become my enemies. Although I’m not convinced that this is as good a motivator as someone who has wronged me on a deep and personal level. Still you get the social benefits and the  sense of belonging that comes with tribalism.

I am however, not a joiner. Which I think scuppers that possibility.

Then there is my own personal psychology. While initially exceptionally aggrieved by any slight… after a day or two I generally lose interest and wander off to go and make myself a sandwich. I think I will struggle to keep myself on a constant simmer for any length of time, what the Klingon’s conceptualize as, bortaS bIr jablu’DI’ reH QaQqu’ nay. Or loosely translated into the vernacular, revenge is a dish best served cold.

This begs the question what sort of event (and subsequent enemy) could motivate me for long enough that it would propel me to self improvement. All the things I can think of are pretty horrible experiences, none of which I would want to barter for.

To some people enemies seem to come easy. I’m not sure if that is a natural proclivity towards creating enmity or just low standards. Perhaps a potential candidate just needs to tick one or two requirements before being welcomed aboard. Then there’s always the spurious or imagined enemy which unfortunately smacks more of mental illness than a real solution.

Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for. For now I shall continue enemy-less. I don’t think these things can be contrived or manufactured. I think they need to develop naturally… which means, they may possibly never develop. Still, I remain hopeful that my nemesis is out there…