Father and king of all
“To suffer is to learn”, that’s why war is the great teacher—everything develops much faster then, people gain in technology and wisdom. If it doesn’t reduce you to screaming agony, it isn’t real suffering and real growth—in other words, if it isn’t like a video from the Ukraine where you see a woman howling over her son who has just been eviscerated by Russian shells, it isn’t real learning and it isn’t real growth. How do you think old wise women get to be so wise? (It starts when they’re torn apart in child labour; and in war that child will teach them twice, if he dies prematurely).
No schools or universities today let you grow or learn—and there is little real economic growth. It’s why it’s a cliche and trite to say, “Are you stretching yourself?”—look, if you’re not on the floor howling it’s not stretching yourself; and if someone is like that then the statement is superfluous.
What people call “suffering” is going to an office every day, but what they suffer from is not suffering—it’s actually because nothing painful happens there that they feel low-level deadness all the time; and they call that “to suffer”. That’s when you suffer from comfort, you suffer from the machine that doesn’t hurt you and so doesn’t make you grow; it exists to preserve the equilibrium—or it has an idea about “goals that stretch you a bit”; but that’s not the same as when you go to “where the healing power, where the danger lies”. This isn’t a “stretch goal”, it’s reality—what you have concealed with lies (including stretch goals—a “stretch goal” is a lie).
War stretches you because it has no mercy; it isn’t just a “stretch goal” to make your lab cage more interesting (like a mirror in the corner and running wheel—the rat gym). The challenge doesn’t come in a neat linear way, it’s real—so it’s not like a storybook, it doesn’t make sense (“She was just here, standing next to me, and now she’s just lumps of flesh”—that’s uncanny, reality is uncanny and unbelievable). It’s why it’s ridiculous when people say the Bible and other holy texts contain contradictions and seem “crude” (Nietzsche’s criticism, the style is poor)—it’s liars who have slick stories where everything is accounted for, it’s real things that are uncanny and don’t seem to “make sense” and have quirky contradictions (“It shouldn’t happen that way.” “That’s what you’d think, but the real thing isn’t what you expect.”).
Only liars tell a straight story—and in battle it’s all coming in too thick and fast for goals and objectives to tick off on your phone’s organiser app (learning on the job, you might say—I did what was necessary to survive, it wasn’t in the textbook and it wasn’t “good” but you had to be there to understand; and you moralising hippies weren’t in the Nam—so shut the fuck up).
It’s that pain that will make you wise—not good or bad, not Sesame Street and the kindergarten teacher, but wise. Not Kermit the Frog and Big Bird. When you look at any war in detail, it gets hard to say who the “good guys” are and who the “bad guys” are—that’s for Hollywood, for La La Land.
Patton was right—constant attack, constant new experience, remains key. The temptation is to dig in and to fool yourself that you will make it safe. That is the same as to die—it means to give up on growth, give up on pain, give up on experience; it’s safe at first, then you go into recession, then you die. You have to put your hand in a new place all the time—even if it gets slapped right back. Then put it back again in another way, probe their defences—look for the opening (you know it’s there).
Each new attack is stupid and naïve, yet each assault gets better and better—the only “mistake” is to stop moving, you need to be taking more territory, you need to be annexing more physical and psychic territory. The irony in Patton’s life is that his philosophy was more like the men he fought against—the Hitlerite Germans—than the people he fought for. Then again, that is also real—life doesn’t neatly filter people into political regimes appropriate for their outlooks, it has an absurd element.
It’s easy to fool yourself that you are “suffering” when you’re not. I met a man who walked Antarctica, all the way to the South Pole—he then went back to his old school and did a presentation about it; and that was because he had a complex about the school, how he was “stupid” there—well, he showed them with his honorary degrees and OBE.
Except not really: it was a dream—the pupils were gone, the teachers gone, the building changed. He was in a struggle to prove himself to people who didn’t exist. This is why it’s not just about “stretch goals”: there may be some people who need to walk Antarctica, but there are others who would rather walk Antarctica than face the emotional turmoil inside—the place where the real danger and the real growth lies. He did his presentation, but he hadn’t faced the danger yet—to try and prove himself to the invisible court showed that he was still dominated by it.
That said, some people—especially Americans—need to walk across Antarctica; or just walk 15 miles in a day—yet most haven’t done a single dangerous thing yet, physical or psychic.
It’s easy to go back into “story-telling” mode, back into reputation mode. Jordan Peterson was ripped apart; he could have come back and written a book about his all-consuming anticipatory grief at his wife’s prospective death, his misprescription of and addiction to anti-anxiety medication, and his shamanic coma in Russia. That was where the wisdom lay—the time he was ripped apart by reality.
Instead, he just went back to “story-telling” mode—books based on his academic career—as if nothing had happened (anything to protect a reputation—the prophet of order fell into total chaos but, never mind learning, let’s push the same ideas as before even though I clearly am a chronically disordered person who has no idea what he’s talking about).
You get the point: the wisdom was in the crazy “unacceptable” and “unprofessional” breakdown, but instead that has been swept under the rug—the dull academic discourse comes back instead (fuck the 12 more rules—what about your actual life?). He talks about suffering but that’s just the false suffering from keeping up appearances: the real suffering—the “I went berserk”—just gets shuffled away under narrative control; so nobody learns anything—people mock him for going nuts, but that’s where all the value in him is (the thing everyone thinks is “embarrassing” and needs to be “explained away”).
What are the best stories? War stories—war stories are fucked up because reality is fucked up. The Iliad is a war story—it is fucked up because shit is fucked up. This is what the West is. After war stories, the best stories are about mountaineers who fell off cliffs and crawled backed to civilisation with every bone in their body broken and South American students who survived an air crash in the Andes only because they ate their deceased friends and relatives. After that, perhaps stories about how people are driven mad through grief over a love affair and kill themselves and their lover (often through a ridiculous muddle, aka Romeo and Juliet)—and then, perhaps, stories about straight-out madness, such as Lear. Stories that have no interest—“how I was a grade-A student and never upset anyone ever and achieved a respectable life in the suburbs”, Friends.
There’s no wisdom in the latter stories—just a good cover story to keep us fooled. “The worst things to go through are the best to remember,” said Ted Hughes—in other words, war stories and stories where you came out with scars. “I didn’t ever imagine I’d make a tourniquet from the remains of an aircraft seat strap in the Andean snowdrifts and then eat the leg from my best friend’s mom…” “How did you do it?” “It was necessary to survive.” If you’re not “traumatised”, you haven’t done anything and you don’t have any wisdom—the scars, literally the trauma, constitute the wisdom. Don’t you want to sit round the campfire and listen to a good war story—so good it’s “unbelievable”, because it’s real?