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Remember That You Are, Were and Will Always Be Human: Infinite in Possibility and Finite in Action

This entry is part 12 of 17 in the series The Art of War of Learning
This entry is part 24 of 26 in the series Timeboxing Trilogy

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” so said Prometheus, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Masque of Pandora” (1875).

For AJATT purposes, I would change that to read: “whom the gods would destroy, they first prevent from timeboxing“, or, more generally, “whom the gods would destroy, they first prevent from obeying the principle of proportionality“. The principle of proportionality is more or less the central dogma of John Lewis Gaddis‘ thesis in his more-than-awesome book “On Grand Strategy“, an audio review (by me!) of which you can find here at this link.

Let’s not beat around the bush like a 1970s blue movie: I get overwhelmed easily. Very easily. Painfully easily. I used to think it was just me, but lately I’m beginning to think it’s quite widespread, if not common. It’s definitely not just me. The personal is universal, and all that.

Think of the people — often women, because I love me some casual misogyny lol — whom we describe as drama queens. These people are real. These people exist. These people treat the soiling of a decorative towel with the same gravity as finding out that someone has molested their child — indeed, sometimes, they seem treat them in inverse proportion. These people violate the principle of proportionality on the daily: that is why they’re mad; that is why we mock and dislike them.

So, back to me, I feel overwhelm really easily: I am the drama queen that I mock 1. Like a tyrant, a mad caesar, I try to command myself to be instantly awesome, to have it all done and perfect right now in fact yesterday or else I’m going to cry and throw a tantrum, motherlover. But when I get that way, I say to myself “remember you are human; even caesar must budget”. There’s a rich history behind that phrase, but I really super duper can’t be bothered to explain it to you myself so I’m going to have someone else explain it to you for me:

“After every major military victory in ancient Rome, a “triumph,” as it was called, was celebrated in Rome. It was a ceremonial procession granted to victorious generals…The victorious general who drove throughout the streets of Rome in the chariot, decorated with gold and ivory, was followed by his troops and preceded by his most glamorous prisoners and spoils, taken in war. The triumph for the victorious general offered extraordinary opportunities for self-publicity and therefore popularity with the people of Rome. The victorious general was seen as, in some way, divine, representing the god Jupiter…One of the most interesting parts of the triumph was that behind the victorious general in the chariot stood a slave, holding a golden crown over his head, and whispering to him throughout the procession, ‘[Memento te hominem esse (remember you are human)]’…reminding him that he is a man even when he is triumphing.”

[In Ancient Rome, a slave would continuously whisper ‘Remember you are mortal’ in the ears of victorious generals as they were paraded through the streets after coming home, triumphant, from battle] [Emphasis Added]

Dr. Mary Beard, of SPQR fame, even has a whole-a$$ book about it:[ The Roman Triumph (9780674032187): Mary Beard: Books]

Even caesar must budget. Even Rome must budget her time, her energies, her resources, her gold, her men. Everybody is a balling on a budget — even if they don’t realize it yet — the only difference is where the decimal point goes. Some budgets are bigger than others, but they are all finite.

Our modern analogue to Roman military power is the United States and its armed forces — easily the most powerful in known human history. But even these are not immune to the laws of physics, of war, of logistics, of proportionality, of time and resource management. Even the American military can lose, would lose, will lose, has lost when it(s civilian leadership) has failed to apportion its goals according to its resources. Even America(‘s military) has to focus, has to narrow down its working target list. Even America must budget.

What is true of the world’s mightiest fighting force, a million men strong, pricier than the ten nearest combined, is darn well true of us as individuals as well. In many essential ways, the folly and wisdom of organizations is just the folly and wisdom of individuals writ large.

The genocidal bigots of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party may have been right 2 the Teutons may well have been the master race — but even master races have to obey higher laws — again, the laws of physics, of war, of logistics, of proportionality, of time and resource management. You can’t just stand around wearing Hugo Boss outfits and flossing about how masterful you are while committing all the textbook errors of Eurasian warcraft.

Even so-called “geniuses” (assuming they exist at all), are subject to these higher laws, are created and destroyed by them. In a very real, direct and brutal (if still highly metaphorical) sense, these laws are our “gods” — everybody, of all religions and none, submits to them and more or less knows that they must submit to them. And if they don’t know, they are “punished”, not for their “sins”, but by them.

Even master races must budget. Budget time, budget money, budget resources, and (most importantly) budget mental and physical energy. Hubris comes for us all, like a cougar in tasteful lingerie, offering drama-free, no-strings-attached…interaction. Be not tempted. You will never be too good for the fundamentals. You will never be too good for the basics. You will never be too good to need to practice Japanese. Nobody is.

I say “even” a lot, don’t I?

We’ve brought up the concept of “sin”. We don’t want to get too moral, though. For best results, strategic calculations should be conducted amorally. The less we moralize, the clearer we think and the better we do. Generally, we want to be amoral in our ratiocination but not in our implementation. 3

So focus. Narrow down. Be here now. Do one and only one thing (even when you multiplex). Wash one dish. One. One thing. One target. Don’t get caught up in wars so long that some of the people now fighting them were not even born when they started. Don’t invade France and Russia at the same time, in fact, don’t invade Russia, period (lol), there is clearly nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by doing so. Don’t be that dog, dawg: you know how some dogs will try to fit gigantic sticks into tiny doorways? Well, that’s us when we don’t focus: we try to fit multiple things into singular moments.

You don’t need to be a “genius” — just marginally smarter than your average dog.

You are, were and will always be human. When you were a child, you were just human. When you did that awesome thing ten years ago, you were human. You are human now. Should you live be ten thousand years old and own your own planet, you will still be human. Still bound, still finite, still fallible. So you need not be nostalgic for a past when you were great, or yearning for a future when you will be great. You need not feel regret for some counterfactual whereby you could have been great. You need not blame yourself for your failings and failures. You are here, now. Live here, now. Work here, now. Play here, now.

You can be, do, have and learn it all. But you can only be, do have and learn one thing right now.

You are real and you are powerful. Your ideas are infinite. Your mind is infinite. But your hands are finite. Ya only got two (hopefully). And only one even writes (typically). So…act like it. Narrow it down. You can do it all, but you can’t do it all now. You can only do one thing now 4. Eliminate. Focus. Repeat.

Series Navigation<< You’ve Got 99 Million Small Problems — Not a Big, Single OneHow Learning a Language is Like Conquering a Country (But Not in the Way You’re Thinking) >>
Series Navigation<< How to Make Miracles Happen and Get Called a Genetically Gifted GeniusWhy America Doesn’t Win Wars Any More and What (Ironically) That Can Teach You About Learning Languages >>


  1. My buddy Seth once quite accurately described me as responding to relatively minor emotional setbacks with “nuclear implosions” — no outbursts, because I’m too polite and refined to burst out, just extended periods of withdrawal.
  2. This is just begging to be taken out of context (lol)!
  3. “Definition of ratiocination 1 : the process of exact thinking : REASONING 2 : a reasoned train of thought” [Ratiocination | Definition of Ratiocination by Merriam-Webster]
  4. This is the sequencing principle.

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