Sunday, August 17, 2014

Not Zen 123: Army of Generals

“Your article takes an intellectual stance again.” She tossed down the magazine. Her fingers wrapped around her coffee cup.  “All of your stuff is too hard to think about, no mass appeal.”

“That's okay.” He nodded in acknowledgement of her point. “For now, it might seem that way. Soon it won't.”

“People aren't getting smarter.” She glanced around at the customers in the coffee shop. A couple of men argued about sports. Another dozed in his chair. A group of young women pointed at other women leaving the shop.

“No, but we are getting more educated.” His eyes stayed on his editor. “Consider this. Reading and writing were once regarded as technical skills. Some people could figure them out. Some couldn't. Those who could learn were said to be intellectuals, servants to the upper class or better. Now most people can read and write. It's not intellectual.”

“Pfah.” She waved away the example. “We're literate now. That's not a trend.”

“But it is. The trend isn't limited to literacy. Think about what armies were like a hundred and fifty years ago.” He pointed to a pair of flags, reminders of the civil war. “There were no professional soldiers in our country. When war broke out, men volunteered and brought the guns they had. If you wanted to be an officer, you recruited your own troops, supplied them with weapons and maybe with horses. That's what it took to be an officer. There was no training. There was no reading Clausewitz's 'On War' or the 'Book of Five Rings' or anything like that.”

“Those were terrible officers.” She scowled at the flags.

“Some of them.” He had to agree. A moment later, he shrugged. “Death separated the brave and stupid from the bold and clever. Teddy Roosevelt was an officer who got his start that way.”


“He had no formal training, only a good sense of timing. Nowadays, even the lowest soldier has more military skill than our former commander in chief.  They know more battlefield tactics than the greatest generals of history. If any of the old officers were brought into these times, they would say that we have an army of generals.”

“My brother was in the army. I know you're right about their cross training. It seems to work. Everyone knows to stick to their roles but they can take on other duties as needed. Soldiers can act as officers in an emergency. And do it competently.”

“So I'm passionate about things that seem intellectual to you right now. But these things won't seem intellectual in time. They're going to seem as obvious as reading and writing. Already, meditation is trendy like 'The Book of Five Rings' was a while ago.”

She sighed. “One type of meditation gets more popular than the others and drives them out. That's not progress. Plus business folks use their meditation to achieve clarity of mind and put it to immoral uses.”

“See? You're passionate about an intellectual issue. You have opinions about it.”

“Everyone else is adopting a different, easier style than you use.” She put down her cup.  “How can I tell that you're addressing topics of interest to the next, better educated generation?”

“Education will improve us all.”

“I doubt it.” She leaned back. Her arms crossed in her lap.

“In time, the army of generals will sweep all others from the field.” He smiled and gestured to the winning flag. “How can the battle end any other way?”

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