Lessons From: Alexander the Great

How Alexander led by example

Whenever you ask someone to list his favorite generals, it's usually either Napoleon Bonaparte or Alexander the Great at the top. Otherwise they're usually top 5 easy. Alexander was prince of Macedonia, and a student of Aristotle, who conquered most of the known world in his early 20's. In eleven years of conquest he rode through 100,000 miles, and fought 70 battles without losing a single one, from Egypt to India. 

Having been a student of one of the most intelligent men in history, he was prone to using logic in the battlefield more often than not, and always planned meticulously, contemplating every alternative he could bring himself to think of, and was thus not only a great warrior but a brilliant strategist. In fact, he was so good at it that he conquered so much with an army of merely 40,000 men, often using mobility and good weaponry, as well as considering the terrain, culture, politics and economics of those places he invaded. In fact, he would often adapt himself to the customs of wherever he found himself and employ indigenous professionals, which would often extend his soft power in many territories.

He believed that he had been awarded immortality, and for this reason, tended to fight on the front lines. In the Mallian Campaign, in which Alexander fought King Porus, the Macedonian army marched to Atari, shortly after having conquered Agalassa. The city was well-protected by walls, but there was a breach through which the Macedonians ran. These were quickly killed by the Indians. When a tower next to it collapsed, Alexander ordered the march, and seeing his men hesitating, climbed the rubble himself to fight the Indians. For a few minutes, Alexander fought the Mallians alone, until his men came to join him in battle. 

The next day, the Mallians had retreated to another wall, but as the city seemed empty Peucestas, the shield-bearer who carried the sacred shield of Troy, did not bring many ladders as he thought the city had been conquered. This meant that there were only two ready to be used, and the other side of the wall was guarded with many archers whose arrows were already flying over the wall to their shields. Thus, Alexander did what was only logical to him seeing his men hesitate anew, and climbed up the ladder, holding his shield before him, and with his sword he cleared the paraphet of any defenders. Once he did, he noticed that nobody had followed him and he alone was receiving a barrage of arrows. His shield-bearer and bodyguard hurried up the ladder, while Abreas, a well-paid guardsman, was the only one who actually decided to use the second ladder, and the guards yelled at their king to land safely on their arms. He decided that staying in the middle would be dangerous, and jumping back would accomplish nothing, so the only logical conclusion would be jumping forward, for the ground was higher, and attacking. After all, he would either intimidate the Mallians or die a legendary death. His guard rushed to the ladders to the point that so many of them tried to use them that they broke under the weight.

Thus, Alexander landed on his two feet and immediately put his back to the wall and assumed his stance. A group of Indians went forth to attack and all, including the commander, died. He then proceeded to kill a second commander by shattering his skull from afar with a stone, and whichever Mallian got close to him perished, and they were intimidated as if they were seeing a hero from the mythical Vedas. His three guards who made it first had made it too late, for Abreas was hit with an arrow to the face, and Alexander himself with an arrow to the leg before Peucestas and Leonnatus could make it, and then the king received an arrow to the chest.. Finally, after his men managed to improvise human ladders or otherwise climb the wall, they dropped in front of their leader and blocked him with their bodies. Of course, he would then recover and live for two more years of war. That being said, his men never hesitated again. 

What can we learn from this?

Some of the best leaders have to be so by the example they give. Had he not done so, his army wouldn't have learned that their king would've jumped into battle against the world by himself were they behind him or not, so they might as well go with him. His delusion of immortality might have helped fuel the initiative he carried with his advances, but it worked.

Whenever you're in a position to lead, go first when necessary, even if it's a risky move, because that's how you earn not only the respect and loyalty but the end of your followers' hesitation. Besides, if you can't do it yourself, you're probably not in a position to lead in the first place. 

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Lessons From: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World

How Huxley showed that excess can cripple society

Aldous Huxley is one of the most intelligent authors the world has ever seen, and his ability to predict the way society and government would function in the future was pretty impressive. In Brave New World, society is completely post-scarcity and is controlled not by authoritarian repression, but by their own hedonistic desires which can be so easily manipulated.

"Every one belongs to every one else" was the society's motto, in which individuals were nothing more than a cog in the machine, genetically engineered to fit a specific function. Bokanovsky's process was used in order to ensure that embryos would eventually grow to be Gammas, Deltas, or Epsilons, by carefully administering alcohol and produce, which gave humans capable of work but not of independent thought, while Alphas and Betas are left to develop and socially interact with each other, but never the Gammas, Deltas or Epsilons for doing so would be social suicide.

Freedom to question the government or society itself is drowned through one of various methods. The first is consumption and commodification. When people love the material, they'll work to maintain it and have more, so they live their lives working without really giving much thought to what they're doing. Otherwise, they can blur the line between love and recreational sex with "Orgy-Porgy", for acknowledging an individual identity as one you cherish can put the stability in uniformity disbalanced. In this society you have the moral imperative to have sex with anyone who asks it of you. If that doesn't work, you can always take soma, a drug that works for practically anything, be it grief, pain, stress, boredom, disappointment, and you can even take a soma-holiday. With this drug, you aren't aware of your degradation, nor are you of individuality itself.

Nowadays, it's clear that his prediction is closer to the truth than what Orwell, his student, believed would happen. Of course, we're not at the stage where people are being genetically engineered for specific roles, nor the whole sexual freedom/responsibility deal, but there are worrying aspects like the extreme consumerism, inversion of public and private lives, for example with Facebook and Instagram, things that were only your business are suddenly known by everybody, and in the book, whatever happens in private might as well not have happened, in real life we seem to get closer to this every day (pic or it didn't happen), and with Facebook being able to read your private messages, as well as Twitter showing your thoughts to the world, which aren't kept private by people most of the time anyways, you have to wonder when it is that a social network's benefits will be outweight by the disadvantages that having your life broadcast will bring. At least in Mexico, people feared that they'd be kidnapped because of would-be criminals targeting through social media, and that's just one of probably many examples.

What frightens me most is the lack of critical thinking in the book, which I'm starting to see in real life, and it goes beyond "X politician is good and Y politician is bad". Tell someone to explain why they believe what they believe, and most of the times they won't be able to tell you why without falling into various fallacies or going on irrelevant tangents that have nothing to do with the idea that they should explain. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is an example of people telling you what you should think instead of you deciding for yourself.  That's pretty creepy, if you ask me, people can't even keep up with the narrative the media's pushing and you can even tell that Colbert's pretty damn nervous about it.

What can we learn from this?

As an individual it's pretty complicated to change a society's course, but people must resist power grabs whenever they can, otherwise, you'll get to the point where it's pretty much impossible to do anything without suffering consequences, or worse, not realize you're suffering them. In the book, when one character asked another to speak in private, she laughed at the idea because she didn't even have a conception of privacy. It's our responsibility to avoid reaching this point.

This also goes to show that hedonism isn't necessary the best course for an individual. If you're always keeping your mind busy with things that don't necessarily require your attention, you eventually reach a point of contentment and then lose any reason to actually improve yourself or your life. Always strive to be better, and always question yourself and everyone around you, otherwise, you might as well take the reigns of your life and hand them over to the government or a corporation.

Read more on Brave New World here:


Lessons From: John F. Kennedy

How absensce can make you beloved

We've already covered how you can sometimes end with all of the credit for an idea with Charles Darwin, but what about making the world's perspective on you better than it should? John F. Kennedy is known as one of the most beloved presidents the United States has ever had, but was he really that good, compared to somebody like Richard Nixon, for example? Hell, they had one of the most interesting electoral campaigns in history, very intellectually charged, and both of these presidents were pretty defining for a new generation post WWII. 

JFK had a couple of rough bumps in the road. The most famous are, of course, the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which an army of Cuban refugees worked with the C.I.A. to attempt a coup in Cuba, which miserably failed, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the world was brought to believe in mutually assured destruction as an imminent threat for the first time. This, fortunately, was a success in the sense that nuclear bombs weren't detonated on either side, but seen as a defeat for the loss of strategic warhead placement in Turkey, right in the Soviet Union's front yard. 

People tend to forget smaller failures like his meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's successor, which has been called by some the worst day of his life (sans getting his head blown off taken into consideration I assume), in which he was seen as weak by the soviet dictator and in fact probably led to the eventual threat of nuclear war. It was after their meeting in Vienna, in fact, when the Berlin Wall's construction began. 

He did have a few successes, of course. Keeping a cool head and preventing total annihilation is an achievement, but the threat itself was partially caused by him. He also created the Peace Corps and paved the way for the Civil Rights movement, which was finally brought to fruition by his successor Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Compare that to Nixon, then, who is one of the most disliked presidents in history, next to Buchanan, most of all because of the Watergate scandal in which it was found that Nixon's administration had been abusing power and had been recording many conversations which were promptly given to investigators and lead to the impeachment process and his resignation. 

Thus, it's no surprise that people overlook his reforms in welfare, civil rights, energy, and environmental policy, established the EPA, fought against sexual discrimination, lowered the voting age to 18, lowered the amount of troops in Vietnam and used the dividends to finance social welfare, made sure that Southern schools had thorough desegregation, and when it came to foreign policy, he was deemed to be a master of it, having even engaged the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, the latter which opened its markets to the rest of the world as a result. You wouldn't drink a glass of clean water with one drop of shit, after all. 

What can we learn from this?

In a way, this speaks about the effectiveness of martyrism as a way to erase your past mistakes and redeem yourself. It's very clear that his charisma helped people remember him in a better light, as well, after all, the American public could even forgive his affairs and everything because he was a charmer and it was expected. 

Of the 48 Laws of Power he inadvertently used 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor. Had he died early, he probably would've been forgotten or at least not so revered by everyone, and had he died after his presidency, the impact would've been much smaller, after all, there is a whole world of speculation and conspiracy theories you can create when a president dies. Learn when the right time to disappear is, and you can wash your hands clean of your own mistakes as well.

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Lessons From: Gustav Stresemann

How Stresemann single-handedly changed the course of a nation

Whenever you think of good diplomacy, Gustav Stresemann certainly has to come to mind. Winner of the Noble Peace Price in 1926, his achievement comes from Franco-German reconciliation between the World Wars, and granted, this reconciliation didn't last long with the eventual rise of National Socialism, but, had he not entered the scene of international relations when he did, tensions would've been much quicker to blow. 

Back when the Great War had finished and the Treaty of Versailles had been signed, Stresemann was horrified with the details in the treaty. Germany took the blame of the war when it should've been the Austro-Hungarian empire, and they were thus responsible for paying reparations to the rest of Europe, eventually established as 132 billion marks, besides the fact that the size of the German army was severely hindered (100,000 troops, 6 battleships, no submarines, no air force) and they were forbidden from joining the League of nations. The Rhineland was demilitarized, Alsace-Lorraine returned to France, lands in the East were given to Poland, Danzig was made a free city, and the colonies were given as mandates to Britain and France. These terms were even harsher as time went on. 

When Stresemann was prime minister he was hell-bent on making sure that the German resistance in the Rühr stopped in order to prevent chaos, and he made sure that the currency wouldn't fail under the dire circumstances that were surrounding the country. In 1924, as foreign minister, he was able to secure the Dawes Plan, in which the United States and Great Britain would lend money to Germany so they could pay reparations. Dawes himself was given a Nobel Prize for this, but the plan eventually failed in 1929 when the Great Depression came and was replaced with the Young Plan. Payments ceased after Germany's defeat, until West Germany paid off the debt and once the country was unified, the rest of the interest was paid off. The fact that this method of paying for reparations was able to be completed speaks a lot about the foresight Stresemann had. 

His next big achievement was getting Germany into the League of Nations in 1926, and it is here where he and Aristide Briand were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for restoring relations merely 8 years after the war had ended, and was pretty much unthinkable due to the hyperinflation that Germany suffered through as a result of the occupation of the Rhineland. It was here where he negotiated with the other European countries that Germany should be returned some of its colonies, its army be allowed to conscript anew, and besides the end of Anglo-French occupation of the Rhineland, it was seen to that France and Britain also disarmed, and with this he guaranteed peace on the West. He did not guarantee peace with Poland and always viewed Germany's claim on those territories as legitimate. The Kellog-Briand act of 1928 cemented the world's trust in his nation, because it renounced the use of violence to resolve international affairs. Until the crash in 1929, this allowed Germany to rebuild, and had he not been foreign minister the Depression surely would have been the end of the country.

What can we learn from this?

If Germany can recover multiple times from crisis that many regimes never return from, then you can see the necessity of perseverance. The important aspect in Stresseman's life was the fact that no matter what position his country was in, he could negotiate for more, and even though he did not live to see German prosperity in his lifetime, it only existed from then on because he was so tactful with the other world leaders. 

Whenever you're stuck in a rut and feel trapped, like Germany was, always bargain for more. You have nothing to lose and much to gain, even if it's just a base to expand on later. 

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Lessons From: J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

How to resolve your inner struggles in life's hardships

Most people have either read the books or seen the movies, or at least heard of them if they haven't had the pleasure. Lord of the Rings is extremely influential and most fantasy either tries to imitate, or differentiate itself, from LOTR. For the sake of the message, we'll also be looking at parts from The Hobbit. I'll avoid spoilers and keep it simple.

A lot of people tend to complain about the simplistic good vs. evil take on morality that the series takes, either with Smaug or Sauron, who only seem to exist as a nuisance or threat to the world. You have humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and a few other creatures coexisting, but they cannot do so with orcs, goblins, and a few other foul creatures which roam Middle-earth.

Friendliness and fellowship is one of the most obvious topics Tolkien touched upon, but the way it plays into the story is very neat. Generally, whenever a character or species accepted another, like Bilbo the dwarves or the elves a dwarf in particular, something good arose. Whenever a character got greedy, it would either lead to a rupture in the group and greater difficulty, or in some cases even death. It's probably no mistake that fellowship is often set in conflict with the ring itself, probably as a way to contrast what truly matters with material value itself. This also leads to the value of being a good host. Tolkien's religious values probably had a lot to do with this, what with Christians generally proclaiming generosity as one of their values, and you can see this a lot of times, what with Bilbo throwing the banquet for the dwarves despite not even knowing them, the elves taking care of their prisoners and guests as if they were one of their own, or even a half-man half-beast who took care of Bilbo and company, and even a damn weird wizard-god who's probably as old as the world itself who gave the hobbits a nice surge of morale for the world ahead.

The value of courage, which has been explored in Plato's Virtues, is a recurring theme in the story. It's not just about a halfling finding the courage to take the ring into the heart of his enemy's empire, all while under the influence of dark magic that weakens him, but about men fighting temptation, rushing to each other's aid when needed despite the danger that they put themselves through, and even making friends with a member of another species which has been loathed by and loathed yours for practically the entirety of their existence. Practically the only woman character is one of the most courageous of them all, and it's pretty nice to be able to see this virtue in the most of the heroes. This leads to what's probably the most important value in LOTR: Hope. No matter how dire the situation the heroes were in, they always had to find a light inside their soul, or in the real world for that matter, which would pull them out. Even if they seemed ot run out of courage to rely on, it was hope that kept them going.

How can we apply this? 

These tend to be a little more abstract when it comes to using them. After all, you can't just tell someone to "be more courageous" and expect them to actually face their fears just like that, and you probably can't tell the greedy man to at least lighten up on his pursuit of wealth in lieu of companionship. You also can't exactly expect the world to be in black and white, especially when it comes to morality. 

The best thing I can say is probably to keep hoping. Generally when you feel that you can't keep going on in whatever it is you're doing, you have to remember that it gets better and you can generally have a network of people supporting you during your endeavor. I know it sounds generic but usually when you remember that, you can deal with the "how".

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Lessons From: Neon Genesis Evangelion

How to deal with the Hedgehog's Dilemma Neon Genesis Evangelion came out back when I was born in '95 and is still one of th...