“I have conquered the need to conquer the world.”
— a yogi of India, to Alexander
I’ve said in previous episodes that my recurring character, the mercenary warrior Telamon of Arcadia, has appeared in previous books of mine. One is The Virtues of War, about Alexander the Great.
Let’s return to that book … and to Alexander, whom we’ve talked about at length in the series … for this episode.
True historical fact:
After Afghanistan, Alexander’s army moved on across the Hindu Kush into India. (Actually it’s today’s Pakistan but to Alexander and to men of that time it was India.) Here, on the banks of the great rivers, the Macedonians encountered a type of individual they had never seen before.
They called them “gymnosophists.” Gymnos in Greek means “naked.” “Sophist” means “wise man.”
The Naked Wise Men.
These renunciants, then and now, spent their lives in poverty, in deep contemplation and stillness, seeking union with the God within. They often owned nothing but a loincloth and a begging bowl. They congregated in the sun along the banks of the great rivers.
One day, Alexander with his officers was seeking to pass along a lane beside a river. The way was blocked by a number of yogis sitting cross-legged in meditation. One of Alexander’s young lieutenants hustled forward, to kick these “naked wise men” out of the way. One specific yogi refused to budge, explaining politely but firmly that he had as much right to this space as any other man.
At this point, Alexander himself came up. The lieutenant confronted the yogi. He pointed to Alexander and said, “This man has conquered the world! What have you done?”
The yogi looked up calmly and replied, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.”
At this, Alexander laughed with approval. He saluted the yogi and made his way forward by another route.
Alexander declared for his officers to hear: “If I could be any man in the world other than myself, I would be this man.”
Remember our earlier episode when we talked about Alexander and King Porus? We said that this was a clash between archetypes – the Warrior archetype and the King archetype.
Here we have a similar confrontation … between the Warrior and the Sage.
Again, as when Alexander clashed with King Porus, it is clear that the Wise Man is the superior being, that he is farther along upon the evolutionary scale. Alexander recognized this when he laughed and deferred to the gentleman.
Which brings us to a final moment from The Virtues of War and returns us to the character who embodies, after the Spartans and Alexander, the “third act” … and the most modern … of this phenomenon we call the Warrior Archetype.
I’m speaking of our solitary mercenary warrior, Telamon of Arcadia.
We’ll get into his story in our next episode.
Is this not the perfect example of Alexander as a Warrior Archetype? It seems to me that his recognition of his failings/need for improvement is what separates him from the ranks of hired muscle/brutes.
These days we have examples like Gen Mattis’s ‘No Better Friend / No Worse Enemy’ description of the Marine Corps, or the COIN-related rebuilding efforts by our Soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afg. The Marine concept is ‘Clear-Hold-Build-Transition”, am looking forward to BSN or others to provide the Army version.
What a fantastic podcast! “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.” So true that the sage archetype is more evolved in consciousness. I loved your explanation and example.
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This scene is one of my favorites from that book. I’d pay retail to see it on the big screen.
Agree with Andrew, Lyn (welcome, haven’t noticed your contributions previously…could be an over site of mine), and Joe.
1. This passage in Virtues of War made my eyes suffer from CS gas…my best self recognized the truth in an instant.
2. To echo Andrew, the Army (when I was overseas) was doing ‘Clear-Hold-Build’, transition seems to be an addition in my experience. I felt, at the time, and still do, that our nation does not have the patience for this type of warfare. Since we invaded Iraq, I always assumed we’d do a similar’Marshal Plan with an infrastructure build and stationing of troops for 40-60 years. Seemed to work in Japan, Korea, and Europe.
3. I wonder if another way to say, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world” is simply to conquer the ugliness of the ego. The ability to see oneself in everything and everyone. It is so hard to maintain this mindset. I can hold onto it for 60-90 min post HIIT workout, or a very moving expression of love I see in others (my wife feeding raccoons on the porch for example…yes, we do that…feed wild animals on our porch…comes with the territory of fallling in love with Kelly…) or a great book/movie. For me these moments are temporary not lasting consistently for days weeks on end. Maybe it is the discipline of the renunciation of the body’s demands/desires that helps this insight. Oh, ironically (I have always felt, but maybe not upon deeper reflection), I feel a similar compassion for others when I am fasting or limiting my caloric intake enough to feel hungry all day. Maybe it is the feeling of discomfort/pain (at least in me) that opens my heart empathatically (sp?) to others.
4. At last, I think Andrew touches on something important. We still need the ability to fight when needed. No worse enemy…because bullies still exist, and their language is force.
Joe is again correct…these books need to be a 10-20 series show on a streaming service!
In 2008 I was embedded outside Fallujah, with a Nat Guard unit, the Minnesota Red Bulls. Most were late 40’s, some 50’s, and they were as spun-up and motivated as the Marine unit with whom they were partnered. Their CPT was a HS history teacher, and I met postmen, electricians, lawyers…the usual array of small town Americans. Once they understood the difference between Clear-Hold-Build-Transition versus just combat, they took to it with enthusiasm and elan’ that led me to call them the ‘quintissential citizen-soldiers that made this country great.’ At the TOA; the Marine Col said he was proud to have led them, and would fight with them any place / any time. Sounds like Alexander’s Macedonians, does it not? Motivated Citizen-Soldiers with a variety of backgrounds who can rise to any occasion.
Like the Mac’s, the Red Bulls had no issues fighting, but had other talents they were happy to utilize. Far different than soldiers who think of themselves as ‘infantry,’ ‘armor.’ or ‘comm,’ and don’t want to make the lat move into COIN. But that’s an issue of leadership I would think? Did you find doing COIN difficult in Afg? We did not.
This country can do COIN, but then the Pres needs to explain to those stateside what’s the mission and why COIN works. Like a Marine general friend of mine once said; “COIN is easy; it’s making the locals ‘choose us,’
Your experience mirrors mine to a ‘T’. My unit was a hideous, Frankenstein-ish organization: National Guard Battalion HQ, and HQ Company from WA, an Active Army company from Ft Hood, TX, an Army National Guard company from WI, and an Army NG Company also from WA–but plussed up with Navy and Air Force. We literally got young men off a submarine, and 3 weeks later ‘expected’ (5th Army thinking) them to be dismounted signals intelligence soldiers supporting dismounted Infantry.
I was the company commander of that NG Company when we got the order, then was ‘fired’ to become the S3/Operations Officer as a CPT. (Major’s billet, but we didn’t have another MI MAJ to deploy) As Rumsfeld accurately said, “…you go to war with the Army you have…” When I initially saw the MTOE (line and block chart dictating the make up of the organization), I literally laughed out loud. “Are they HIGH?!?!?!” I asked my Battalion Commander. The idea of training this group of thrown together Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen – oh, and I forgot about the civilians tossed into the salad into a cohesive fighting (collecting intelligence–both outside the wire, and in the Bahgram Internment Facility – Afghanistans’ Abu Ghraib) prepared for combat seemed like a bridge too far.
We supported 10th Mountain Division (HQ & 1 BCT). Initially, the G2 hated us. His only interaction was with my BC and me at a warfighter we attended 30 days prior to mobilization. My BC was relieved the day we left post-mob training to fly into country–so I couldn’t really disagree with the 10th MTN G2. I had been working full-time as the officer recruiter, and an intelligence commander on the weekends. We didn’t ‘fit the mold’ according to big Army career officers. My boss was a decent man, in fact I grew to really care for him, but few men are battalion commander cloth. He wasn’t. I was constantly trailing him trying to re-glue Humpty Dumpty back together again (mostly in relationships with other organizations..) that he destroyed.
We get into theater missing a commander, and our Navy/Air Force folks had only joined us in the last two weeks of post mob training. I, along with this brilliant CW3 female SIGINT officer made a deal with the special forces command on Baghram. You train our guys to shoot, move, communicate — and we’ll hand over an additional team for the first quarter. The value of ground-based SIGINT for force protection cannot be over-estimated. How does one measure a well-timed “DUCK” before an ambush?
Anyway, our guys took to COIN like fish to water. The G2, by the end of the rotation, said we were the best MI unit he’d ever worked with.
I write that big intro for a few reasons, but mostly to echo what you said. The beauty of ‘taking America’ to the fight, instead of relying 100% on full-time Soldiers, is the degree of innovation and adaptability the RC has. We are under-resourced, have less time, but are expected to be as deployable as the active component. Necessity is the mother of invention…and innovation, and adaptability, and creative thinking.
In fact, I’ve thought about this for a long time. With $28 trillion owed, something is going to have to give. My solution is rethinking the AC to RC ratios. Right now, the active component is about 1-1. AC 480K Soldiers, NG +USAR 525K Soldiers. For rough math, the Guard/USAR costs about 1/4 per Solider. In pay & allowances, the difference is even starker–say it costs about $10K annually to keep an E7 on the books. No BAH, separate rations, per diem expenses…The reserve component is like term life insurance. If I were pixie dusted into SECDEF tomorrow, I’d propose a 4 maybe 5-1 ratio. Cut the active component dramatically, and double or even triple the USAR and ARNG.
1. Community: The cost is obvious, but not the primary reason in my thinking. My wild-ass hypothesis is if we had 4-5 x the number of Veterans–this summer and last week would have looked differently. There is no longer a common ‘American Experience’ in which we all share. Another unintended consequence of the ‘peace dividend’ & the all volunteer military. Heinlein was onto something in Starship Trooper, many things actually, but I think we love things more after we’ve served them. Parenting, raising pets, athletics, and serving one’s country come to mind. Soldiers are political like any other human (politics is nothing more than temperament at scale IMHO), but there is no hint of polarization like we see in our nation at large.
2. Politicians (who I do think should be Veterans, color me a fascist…) would be much more prudent to send our men and women into harms way if it meant every single block of every single city had someone leave.
3. Education. The GI Bill might have the highest ROI of any government dollar spent when initiated after WWII.
4. Stress/Discomfort inoculation. The idea of safe-spaces, time-outs, risk-aversion that predominates our culture is woeful. I think our response to COVID would be profoundly different with a 50 million more veterans in our population. The ability to operate under duress, uncertainty, and risk are not just for war. It is the human condition, and it appears our culture thinks we can outthink, out-safety-belt, out legislate all uncertainty and risk.
Phew. This was a bit of a rant, but maybe 43+ episodes of the Warrior Archetype thoughts all came bursting out in a single shot. Thanks for your prod Andrew.
There’s an inverse correlation between “the number of Steve’s posts per week” and “Joe’ productivity.” So I’ll try to be brief here, again looking for the topical tie-in between the ideas that Steve is sharing vs what’s going on in the world.
This “need to dominate” or “imperative to conquer” as exemplified in the life of Alexander, vs the man who has moved away from the warrior/king archetype and into sage/mystic territory… The yogi has moved beyond the need to conquer the world (and only uses the phrasing of “conquered the need to conquer” to give the Macedonian passers-by something to relate to). Did the yogi “conquer” anything really? Or did he “let go of” false beliefs or “release his attachment to” the illusory forms of this world? I think it was probably the latter.
The yogi is “at peace with the world” because he’s “at one with the world.” My attention keeps being drawn back to this idea: the illusions of separateness are at the core of many (all?) of our dysfunctions. When I see the forest or river as separate from me, it’s easier to treat it as an object: to view it as a resource to be used and discarded, see it a pretty green ornament, a dumping ground — rather than a vital organ in a being of which I/we are a part. I read in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, that chlorophyll and hemoglobin molecules are virtually identical. I looked it up and it blew my mind (sorry for the cliche): http://bit.ly/hemoglobin-chlorophyll. What does it mean to learn we are this closely related, humans and trees?
If I see myself separate from you, is it easier for me to take from you, use you for my purposes, view you as ornamental — rather than seeing you as simply another reflection of the same thing that I am? Every act of human evil against another human is preceded by casting them as “The Other.” What if we could conquer that illusion that keeps us from seeing we’re the same consciousness, looking back at itself through 7.6 billion pairs of eyes?
It seems there are battle lines being formed out there. And just as we’ve seen from the discussions here in Steve’s house, every villain considers themselves a hero. If we conquer the need to conquer, if we see ourselves as part of the same body, maybe we won’t need to go to war with each other quite so much.
And to counter any suspicions that I am without humor, I offer a link to a late comment from last week’s Warrior Archetype video, addressing the question of whether Telamon had any girlfriends:
Joe, I said it on the last blog–this was your best work yet!! Too funny!
I absolutely love it! This is a much better explanation of ‘losing the ego’. Thank you. Brilliant.
informative post, Really Good Story
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