In Britain, there were victory parades in London and other big cities to celebrate both the end of the war and the return of the men. But most simply returned home to their everyday life, as their contract only conditioned them to fight for three years or until the end of the war (whichever came first).
The soldier that came back in 1918 was very different from the man who left for war four years before.
In Britain, there were three distinct types of soldier to be found in the infantry:
- The so-called “Old Contemptibles“, who had been professional soldiers or reservists upon the war’s outbreak. Many such men were in their thirties or forties when the summer of 1914 drew to a close, and some boasted relevant combat experience from the Second Boer War. These men comprised the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France and Flanders in August of 1914; at the time they constituted six infantry divisions split between I (Haig) and II (Smith-Dorrien) Corps.
- The men of “Kitchener’s Army“, the massive infantry apparatus built from the volunteers of the first wave of recruitment. This is an important distinction that I’ll be examining more in a moment: from the first, there was no program of conscription for the British infantry. The battalions that were raised were voluntary, and were very often comprised along local/professional lines for the sake of convenience. The practical consequence of this is that you’d have a regiment like the East Surreys (for example) comprised almost entirely of men from East Surrey, or the Artists Rifles comprised largely of… well, you get the idea. Entire villages and towns worth of men went off to fight in these battalions side by side, and the spirit of familiar camaraderie that prevailed in them saw them referred to as the “Pals’ Battalions.” More on why this matters in a moment, as I said. Anyway, whereas the men of the Old Contemptibles arrived in France more or less immediately upon the war’s outbreak, Kitchener’s Mob took a considerable amount of time to equip and train — often with less than satisfactory results, but there’s no sense in throwing about blame at this stage. The bulk of those trained up in this group began to arrive on the Western Front in the spring of 1915 — in time for Second Ypres, and eventually Loos.
- Finally, the men of the post-conscription recruitment drive. Conscription was formally enacted as of 1 January 1916, and the men inducted into the infantry through this drive first started to arrive on the Front in the late summer of that year. A further crucial difference prevailed: the “Pals’ Battalions” structure was largely abandoned, and conscripts were instead usually assigned to battalions as the need for them arose.
So, I stress these differences (to finally come to the point) because they would produce remarkably different sorts of veteran. Let’s examine some implications.
|Army||Rough Age in 1914||Rough Age in 1918||Active Service Duration||Character|
|Contemptibles||30-40||34-44||~52 Months||Professional, Voluntary|
|Kitchener’s||17-18||21-22||~43 Months||Civilian, Voluntary|
|Conscripts||15-16||19-20||~29 Months||Civilian, Duress|
Let us consider some implications, even if only sketchy ones.
Those in the first wave had survived a grinder of unparalleled proportions, and their first taste of the war’s true flavor would have come with the disastrous Retreat from Mons. No longer young men to begin with, 4.25 years of grueling conditions would have taken an enormous physical and mental toll upon them. Having been professional soldiers at the war’s outset, some would choose to continue serving in this capacity now that it was over — but this was a difficult prospect in the great national rush to demobilization. Positions in the rapidly shrinking peacetime army were hard to secure and even harder to hold, and many of these veterans found themselves demobbed (though honorably) whether they wished it or not. They then found themselves forced to seek new employment after (in some cases) two decades of army life, and the difficulties this posed would have been considerable. There were literal millions of demobbed soldiers searching for the same jobs, and most firms would balk at the notion of hiring an exhausted 40-year-old when there were so many millions of men at half the age begging to be taken on. These are stories that did not always end happily. In any case, the appalling casualties suffered by this particular wave of the infantry ensured that they did not constitute a very large portion of surviving veterans after the war. As Robin Neillands notes in The Old Contemptibles (2004), “the British Official History gives the casualties from the start of the campaign in August 1914 to the end of First Ypres in November as 89,864 men killed, wounded or missing. It notes also that ‘the greatest part of this loss had fallen on the infantry of the first seven divisions [the six infantry divisions I mentioned plus one cavalry division], which originally numbered only 84,000 men'” (328-29).
This original number would only grow to a total of 160,000 by the end of 1914 — still better than 50% casualties. By means of useful comparison, the French mustered an army of 1,071,000 within the first days of the war, while the initial German army of 850,000 swelled to 4,300,000 within a few weeks. Even “brave little Belgium” could boast an initial army of 350,000 (37). The BEF started small, and suffered an appalling proportion of casualties by any metric. Many of the men left over were moved into training positions as the second wave began to train up — but more on that below.
Those in the second wave served a similar stretch to their earlier professional counterparts, but with some considerable practical and psychological differences. Their first taste of combat would likely have been the appalling terror of Second Ypres (with its corresponding first deployment of poison gas) or the catastrophic failure that was the Battle of Loos. This is not a cheerful tone to set, and it was only made worse by the situation of the Pals’ Battalions. Because of the way in which these battalions were constructed, a particularly bad day for one of them could result in the functional destruction of an entire town’s worth of men. This, in part, is responsible for the idea of the “lost generation” — in many villages and towns throughout the isles, this was very literally the case. These veterans, then, would carry with them the scars of having (in many cases) lost every friend or even nodding acquaintance they had ever had, often over the course of a single day. Though still relatively young, they returned to uncertain prospects and with a host of physical and mental ailments. The prevalence of PTSD among veterans of this sort, but it is also worth noting the high rate of respiratory ailments and chronic pain that afflicted them as well — not very helpful when looking for jobs in industry.
Less happily still, many of those who had been most eager to enlist in the first place had done so due to a lack of employment prospects elsewhere, and because the life that the army provided would be a step-up from what they might otherwise expect. It’s amazing to consider that army life (in spite of its dangers) actually constituted a real improvement recreationally, vocationally and even nutritionally for many of those who enlisted, but this was very often the case. With the war over, however, and the great demobilization in progress, these men, too, had to find new jobs — and they were not often available. A final note about this group: a combination of patriotic fervor, the opportunities offered by the soldier’s life, and a very lax system of official scrutiny led to many under-aged boys enlisting as adults. Such boys were scarcely ever to be found among the Old Contemptibles (for reasons I hope are obvious), and the census records kept by the government formed a more reliable means of age verification when it came to distributing conscription cards in the third wave, but all that was required of those volunteering from 1914 onward was the declaration by oath that the man was over the age of 18 — that’s it. Though it’s impossible to get a hard number, it’s estimated that as many as 250,000 such under-aged volunteers served in the British infantry throughout the war. Most joined up at 17, unwilling to wait; some were as young as 15 or 16. The youngest of which we have record, a Pvt. S. Lewis, was a mere 12 years old when he arrived on the Somme. He survived, as best we can tell, and went on to open a pub, live through the second war, and die in the fullness of his years in the 1960s — but many did not. (See Richard van Emden’s Boy Soldiers of the Great War for more on this subject.)
Finally, those in the third wave may have been in the hardest place of all. In addition to all of the challenges I’ve already noted above, these poor souls had the misfortune to have had their first tastes of combat on the Somme. Not necessarily at its supremely troubled opening, of which today is the 97th anniversary, but throughout that long, frustrating slog all the same — through the wet summer, into the frozen winter, and finally into its quiet and (apparently) consequence-less conclusion. This, too, is a hard place to start one’s career as a fighting man — and to have it followed up by Passchendaele and the German Spring Offensive of 1918 does no favors either. Another crucial difference between this group of veterans and those above is that many of them had very much wished to have nothing to do with the war at all. While many of those conscripted in 1916 would have gone willingly enough in 1914 if only they had been older, there were many more still for whom their lack of a uniform after 2.5 years of war was a very conscious choice. They were conscripted against their will, sent off in resentment or fear, trained in arts they did not wish to learn, deployed among strangers, and then subjected to all of the difficulties and boredom and thrills of the war that the first two waves experienced without any of the small mitigation of having chosen to. If we wish to find at least one of the roots of the spirit of “disillusion” that blossomed so aggressively from 1927 through 1933, we may look with interest to this generation.
Some final notes before concluding.
A serious consideration in the post-war employment market was that of women. During the war, women had risen to the nation’s call in a tremendous way and had provided crucial labor in industry of all sorts — and not just those focused on the manufacture of weapons. While many such women found themselves being let go at the war’s conclusion as the production of artillery and whatnot inevitably wound down, those in industries that would remain prolific (such as textiles, metal-working, food distribution, and so on) were not so willing to simply see themselves sent back to their former situations. Many of their employers agreed, having come to recognize their talents and being unwilling to sacrifice experienced labor to give the jobs to men who had spent the last four years doing nothing of the sort. A step forward for sexual equality it certainly was, but it also carried the unfortunate consequence that many of the men who went off to war returned to a country in which jobs that might once have been guaranteed for them would never be theirs again.
A variety of groups tried to ameliorate these problems in different ways. The Red Cross and the YMCA continued to serve as vital support networks for veterans, offering shelter, employment (when it could be found), entertainment and a means of keeping in touch with erstwhile colleagues and finding out about new opportunities. New organizations came into being in the midst of this as well; the main reason for the founding of the Royal British Legion, for example, was to help alleviate the hardships being faced by veterans who returned to a country that seemed no longer to hold a place for them.
It may surprise a modern reader to learn of it, but Sir Douglas Haig was instrumental in the founding of this charitable group, among several others, and devoted most of his public energies until the end of his life to its service. He flatly refused to allow separate Legions to be created for officers and for other ranks, believing that the wartime spirit of mutual respect and utility must be maintained, and refused the reward of a viscountcy after the war until then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George agreed to create a more substantial network of support for veterans. The Legion is still widely known and popular, and chapters of it operate both in the United Kingdom and in many those countries that were imperial dominions during the war. Somewhat less known are the Haig Homes for ex-servicemen, which Haig’s estate helped endow at his request, and the Haig Fund — now known more simply as the Poppy Appeal. Gary Sheffield’s The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (2011) has much more to say on this subject, among countless others.
(A word or two should be said about the programs in place for disabled veterans returning home, but I am much less qualified to speak on it than I am on other matters. Let it suffice to say that there were large-scale governmental training programs set up to teach veterans with a variety of disabilities how to master trades that they could practice even in spite of whatever disability they then bore. Basket-weaving, sewing, painting and so on were popular choices for those who had lost the use of one or both their legs; other possibilities existed for those without arms, or who were blind, but I know little about them myself.)
I don’t think the objectification of women is actually an accurate reflection of women’s sexuality, this is the problem. I feel like this manifestation is a gross exaggeration of men’s sexuality.
I do not think that the objectification of women is an accurate reflection of women’s sexuality, it’s a gross and inaccurate exaggeration of men’s sexuality. I think that it’s male bias that is causing this form of sexuality to be seen as our only option. Women are pretty much only allowed to display sexuality, when they’re behaving passively and submissively, paying more mind to mens’ desires than their own. We expect sexualized images of women to be highlighting women’s youth and naivety. If women are not young or naive, they’re often expected to behave as if they are, and if they can’t “pass”, they’re desexualized completely. Instances where women objectify men or express appreciation for mens’ bodies, for example, are seen as shocking, bold and out of the ordinary. They aren’t expected to ever be lustful, sexually forward or aggressive. Media that displays men in passive, sexually submissive positions is often assumed to be marketed toward gay men, rather than straight women. I think that if women were writing the songs and the music videos more often, we would see them behaving passively, acting as sex objects, fetishizing violence against women much less often. It’s true that women conform to norms and perpetuate these things to a certain degree too, but by nature of capitalism and the pressures of the market, women are forced to conform to male preferences in order to keep their head above water. In a society where women were just as likely to write a song as men were and were just as respected for it, they wouldn’t have to stick to our current “male-approved” topics. We’d see a wider variety of material coming out.
There is a huge difference between the way sexuality is treated in the music of Ani Difranco, Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, who cater to a largely educated female audience, and the way it’s treated in the music of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, who cater to a mainstream “male-dominated” audience. Difranco, Amos and Apple are not prudes. They often sing love songs, songs about sexual desire, raw, emotional break up songs and raunchy odes with detailed descriptions of their partners’ bodies that would make you blush. Check out Fiona Apple’s Hot Knife, or Slow like Honey, or Limp, orPeriphery.
These songs are not that different content-wise from the Rihanna’s bedroom slow jams or Taylor Swift’s “He done me wrong” tunes. But there’s something distinct about them. In the Rihanna and Taylor Swift examples, I get the impression that their sentiments have been filtered and censored to be more palatable to men. In Cyrus’s “wrecking ball”, she’s saying she came in like a wrecking ball, but her body language in the video is the complete opposite of that. She’s laying completely submissively on top of the wrecking ball. She’s allowing the wrecking ball to completely control her. The video isn’t about Miley Cyrus’s experience with the person she’s singing about, it’s about the audience’s relationship with and sexual attraction to Miley Cyrus. Her actual voice is completely secondary.Taylor Swift always expresses anger within these strict confines, she needs to be a certain amount of “feminine” when she’s expressing anger at men. She can’t betoo loud or too violent or too weird or too crazy and emotional. She still has to be pretty, she still has to be pining for the guy on some level. In Fiona Apple’s songs, she talks about sex and having crushes and going through breakups, but it’s her pure voice that’s telling the story. It’s not sugar-coated to be more main-stream. It’s not feeding into an exaggerated corporate driven male fantasy.
They also don’t shy away from the aspects of sex that women have to deal with, that make men uncomfortable to hear. Ani Difranco’s Out of Range and Out of Habit use very graphic, explicit imagery to convey her experiences with men as a musician, and her experiences with the cyclical nature of domestic violence. Tori Amos famously talks about surviving rape, in me and a gun.
I think by virtue of allowing women to be in top, respected positions in mass media, by giving them more of a direct role in the creation of these structures, rather than allowing them to make choices within structures where men still make all the rules, we would break some of this cycle, by expand the material we display and consider to be acceptable, giving people a lot more options and consequentially reducing the amount of “peer pressure” that people face now in regard to objectification.
Objectification Theory is a psychological “framework for understanding the experiential consequences of being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body” (1, p. 173). “Objectification” means treating a person as an object or merely a body. Objectification runs from leering and catcalling to sexualizing portrayals in media such as TV shows, movies, advertisements, music videos, and pornography. Objectification Theory provides a way of understanding some of the problems that differentially affect women in our society and other Western societies. This effortpost focuses on objectification of the female body and subsequently neglects interactions between, for example, objectification and race, and the effects of objectification on men, though these topics have been investigated (see, e.g., Testing a Culture-Specific Extension of Objectification Theory Regarding African American Women’s Body Image and Reasons for Exercise and Body Esteem: Men’s Responses to Self-Objectification
- Objectification Theory: Toward Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks. This is the paper that started Objectification Theory. Fredrickson and Roberts suggest that objectification may be at least partly responsible for the higher incidence of depression in women, sexual dysfunctions, and eating disorders. The suggested causal pathway is from objectification to self-objectification which results in habitual body-monitoring, which results in shame, anxiety, and distraction. This theory has received extensive empirical support to which I now turn.
- Objectification Theory and Psychology of Women: A Decade of Advances and Future Directions. This article provides a nice overview of research within the Objectification Theory framework, including objectification’s effects on men and interactions with race. The article displays the wide empirical support for Objectification Theory but also identifies limitations and directions for future research such as the need for more cross-cultural research and investigation of interactions with other variables such as age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.
- Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research. This article extends Objectification Theory to understanding substance abuse and presents a definition of “sexually objectifying environments” (SOEs) in which “(a) traditional gender roles exist, (b) a high probability of male contact exists (physically speaking, a male-dominated environment), (c) women typically hold less power than men in that environment, (d) a high degree of attention is drawn to sexual/ physical attributes of women’s bodies, and (e) there is the approval and acknowledgement of male gaze” (20-1). They give Hooters and related restaurants as examples of SOEs and suggest that more research be done into SOEs. Just such research will be discussed next.
- Experiencing Sexually Objectifying Environments: A Qualitative Study. This article uses the definition of SOE given above to investigate the experiences of 11 heterosexual female Hooters employees. The interviews highlight, among other things, the ambivalence the employees feel toward their job, the negative emotional effects of constant objectification, and competition with other women. I have to say, the concreteness and “realness” of this article can get depressing.
- Everyday Stranger Harassment and Women’s Objectiﬁcation. This article presents an investigation into the negative effects of stranger harassment. They found that stranger harassment was positively related to self-objectiﬁcation for women who reacted to stranger harassment with passivity and self-blame, but not for women who reacted with active coping strategies such as confronting the harasser. Stranger harassment was also positively related to women’s fear of and perceived risk of rape.
- A Test Of Objectification Theory: The Effect Of The Male Gaze On Appearance Concerns In College Women. In this study, female participants were made to believe that they would be interacting with a male or a female. Mere anticipation of male gaze, but not female gaze, resulted in greater body shame and anxiety, but no changes in dietary intent were seen.
- The Role of Body Objectification in Disordered Eating and Depressed Mood. This study provides support for Objectification Theory’s claim that objectification can lead to habitual body-monitoring, which can lead to depression and eating disorders.
- The Role of Self-Objectification in Disordered Eating, Depressed Mood, and Sexual Functioning Among Women: A Comprehensive Test of Objectification Theory. This article provides a more recent replication of the results of the previous study.
- My Body or My Mind: The Impact of State and Trait Objectiﬁcation on Women’s Cognitive Resources. This paper investigates whether objectification can impair women’s cognitive performance. It was found that women prone to self-objectification had longer response latencies when performing in the presence of a male experimenter.
These studies represent a small sample of the psychological research on Objectification Theory. Here’s a link to a zip folder containing all the articles in this post.
One of my favorite battles is the Battle of Pharsalus, it was the last battle between Gaius Julius Caesar and his rival, Pompey Magnus. Appian records their speeches marvelously – however, the accuracy of those speeches is, as with many ancient sources, questionable. To give you some context as to the speeches before I quote them, I’ll give a little background here. It’ll be short and sweet, I promise! Well. Ish.
So, the Battle of Pharsalus. One thing you HAVE to remember about Caesar is that he was a brilliant battle commander, and he’s especially renowned for two things: His INSANE speed in pushing his men (He was always two steps ahead of his opponents, appearing places faster than anyone could ever expect), and the INSANE loyalty they had for him. Seriously, when I say insane…he could quell mutinies amongst them with ONE WORD. The battle that had immediately preceded Pharsalus, Dyrrhachium) was a devastating defeat for Caesar’s forces. After it, his men were so ashamed that they apparently begged for decimation, the most infamous punishment of the ancient world. Another example of Caesar’s men’s INSANE devotion to him and his fame was exactly how far his soldiers would go for him in battle. Here’s Plutarch on that:
Such a man, again, was Cassius Scaeva, who, in the battle at Dyrrhachium, had his eye struck out with an arrow, his shoulder transfixed with one javelin and his thigh with another, and received on his shield the blows of one hundred and thirty missiles. In this plight, he called the enemy to him as though he would surrender. Two of them, accordingly, coming up, he lopped off the shoulder of one with his sword, smote the other in the face and put him to flight, and came off safely himself with the aid of his comrades.
However, that battle also brings up Caesar’s greatest fault – he was a piss poor organizer of logistics. He constantly outran his supply lines and then was all “Well, oops. Let’s win anyways.” Crazily enough, his luck was such that he was generally able to.
This brings us to Pharsalus, where Caesar had retreated to after Dyrrhachium. Pompey had followed, setting up camp just a few miles away. His leadership was crazy cocky right now (He had half the Roman Senate in the camp with him), and they were essentially harpies around him. Pompey had the right idea with what he was doing – he was keeping Caesar trapped at Pharsalus, and since Caesar had no supplies, his men were slowly starving. Whereas in Pompey’s camp, he had supplies coming in from EVERYWHERE. Hell, the senators, who had really lavish tents, set up feasts for themselves for after the battle. They weren’t exactly the most intelligent military tacticians themselves – and all they knew was that Pompey wasn’t engaging Caesar, he was keeping his authority over them, and they weren’t as comfortable as they liked being. So they ALL pressured him to attack Caesar – his troops outnumbered Caesar’s 2 to 1! Why was he not attacking? Was he a coward? Or was he keeping his power over them as long as he could? His soldiers were ALSO restless and eager to attack the enemy, and Pompey could only ride that bucking bull for so long.
In Caesar’s camp, again, the men were hungry. They were tired. They had just been routed from a battle. They were outnumbered and cut off. Not the best conditions for ANY army, really. However, they were zealous and they were desperate.
Make sure you keep those conditions in mind as I quote the speeches (as recorded by Appian) below.
Then each of the commanders assembled his soldiers and made an appeal to them. Pompey spoke as follows:
“You, my fellow soldiers, are the leaders in this task rather than the led, for while I was still desirous of wearing Caesar out by hunger you urged on this engagement. Since, therefore, you are the arbiters of the battle, conduct yourselves like those who are greatly superior in numbers. Despise the enemy as victors do the vanquished, as young men do the old, as fresh troops do those who are wearied with many toils. Fight like those who have the power and the means, and the consciousness of a good cause. We are contending for liberty and country. On our side are the laws and honourable fame, and this great number of senators and knights, against one man who has seized the government by robbery. Go forward then, as you have determined to do, with good hope, keeping in vision the flight of the enemy at Dyrrhachium, and the great number of their standards that we captured in one day when we defeated them there.”
Such was Pompey’s speech.
Okay so! Here are the points that Pompey is making to his men:
- They’re the ones who wanted to fight, not him. If they fuck up, it’s their fault because they’re not letting him be the general. A bit of a passive-aggressive statement there 😛
- Because they’re forcing this fight, don’t fuck it up. They’re twice the size of the enemy, they’re well-rested, they’re well-fed, they’re young, while Caesar’s men are tired, hungry, and old(er).
- Here’s one that sounds like the movies. “FREEDOM. FUCK YEAH.” No, seriously, that’s what he’s saying.
- You beat em once, let’s do it again!
….Okay, enough with that. On to Caesar! 😀
Caesar addressed his men as follows:
“My friends, we have already overcome our most formidable enemies, and are now about to encounter not hunger and want, but men. This day will decide everything. Remember what you promised me at Dyrrhachium. Remember how you swore to each other in my presence that you would never leave the field except as conquerors. These men, fellow soldiers, are the same that we met at the Pillars of Hercules, the same that we drove out of Italy. They are the same who sought to disband us without honors, without a triumph, without rewards, after the toils and struggles of ten years, after we had finished those great wars, after innumerable victories, and after we had added 400 nations in Spain, Gaul, and Britain to our country’s sway. I have not been able to prevail upon them by offering fair terms, nor to win them by benefits. You know that I dismissed them unharmed, hoping that we should obtain justice from them. Recall all these facts to your minds to-day, and if you have had any experience of me recall also my care for you, my good faith, and the generosity of my gifts to you.
Nor is it difficult for hardy and veteran soldiers to overcome new recruits who are without experience in war, and who, moreover, like boys, spurn the rules of discipline and of obedience to their commander. I learned that he was afraid and unwilling to come to an engagement. His star has already passed its zenith; he has become slow and hesitating in all his acts, and no longer commands, but obeys the orders of others. I say these things of his Italian forces only. As for his allies, do not think about them, pay no attention to them, do not fight with them at all. They are Syrian, Phrygian, and Lydian slaves, always ready for flight or servitude. I know very well, and you will presently see, that Pompey himself will not assign them any place in his line of battle. Give your attention to the Italians only, even though these allies are running around you like dogs trying to frighten you. When you have put the enemy to flight let us spare the Italians as being our own kindred, but slaughter the allies in order to strike terror into the others. Before all else, in order that I might know that you are mindful of your promise to choose victory or death, throw down the walls of your camp as you go out to battle and fill up the ditch, so that we may have no place of refuge if we do not conquer, and so that the enemy may see that we have no camp and know that we are compelled to occupy theirs.”
Phew. Caesar was long winded as FUCK. Lemme summarize below.
- First two words. “My friends.” That just shows HOW good he is with his men. He never EVER referred to his soldiers as anything but “comrades” or “friends.” That’s an awesome general right there. Anyways.
- You guys have already beaten the real enemies of being starved. Those guys out there are just cleanup duty.
- You guys promised me after you ran away that you would never do that again. You promised EACH OTHER that.
- We’ve beaten these guys back time and time again.
- The guys in charge of this army are the same ones who’ve tried to say that you guys are worthless, even after you spent ten years fighting for Rome. Kick them in the nuts.
- I let these guys go because I loved Rome. They’re fighting against me now. What assholes.
- I LOVE YOU GUYS <3333 (Yea, he seriously says that.)
- You guys’ve got this. Those kids over there are undisciplined idiots while you’re a buncha badasses.
- Pompey’s a pussy.
- It’s only the Italians you have to worry about. The rest of them are worthless.
- Victory or death! Break down the camp so it really IS victory or death.
Cool, huh? Needless to say, Caesar won the battle.
For the longest time, I always thought of myself as intelligent, but I’ve come to realize that I am, in fact, a stumbling moron. I tried my best to resist the urge to look at myself objectively, to stare at the abyss of my ignorance and feel the cold, tingling sensation of incomprehension creep over my body, but I finally succumbed.
I realized that I wasn’t such a smart kid, after all. Sure, it’s quite easy to think yourself intelligent in an undergraduate philosophy or english course, where the drivelling idiots make irrelevant arguments, are constantly being swept aside in tangents and engaging in debates wholly unrelated to the matter at hand. When you surround yourself with the majority of humanity, anyone with above average intelligence will feel inherently superior and even start to get the scary feeling of smug self-satisfaction (something I try to beat to death with a stick whenever I feel it creeping up on me). Obviously, the majority of the population is of average or below average intelligence (I mean, that’s what AVERAGE means, doofus). So it doesn’t take much to feel like you are God’s gift to intellect in a normal classroom setting, much to the detriment of my learning experience.
However, when I start talking to people who have doctorates in linguistics or physics or biology or philosophy, I suddenly realize what an incompetent loon I am, and I feel ashamed at the smug satisfaction I had begun to feel. When I read a book of philosophy, written by men who could outwit me in all possible ways, by people who could utterly reduce me to foolish backtracking and ad hoc replies, it makes me squirm in uncomfort. I am actually retarded!
Now I know what Socrates meant when he said he was only sure of his ignorance, and now I know that the power of philosophy is not the fact that it makes you more certain, more sure of yourself, and more intelligent…but that it makes you feel like a huge idiot, like someone holding on childishly to all these preconceived, unexamined notions, like some sort of baby monkey clinging to a wire-frame surrogate mother.
Sometimes you just have to stare at the hunk of wires you are clinging to and discard it. So what if it helps you feel better about yourself? So what if thinking yourself intelligent makes you happy? It’s not the truth. I’m an idiot, you’re an idiot, we’re all potential idiots. There is something you are actually ignorant of, to a very large extent. It’s amazing to think about. And it’s really not much of a consolation to look at a drooling child, or someone watching a soap opera with impatient interest, and to say to yourself, “Well, at least I’m smarter than THEM!” It is like consoling yourself by pointing to a clump of dirt and assuring yourself that you are more intelligent than it.
So everyone, say it all together:
I’M AN IDIOT.