Horror and Mastery In An Uncaring Universe
Of note is that the poem describes situations and actions, but little about feelings.
The modern demons of popular imagination are unconscious and uncaring: AI risk, climate change, hypergamy, demography. They cannot be reasoned with, because they cannot reason. “NOTHING PERSONAL,” they don’t-say, as they send a hurricane over your house.
But the same insensibility that makes it impossible to bargain or reason with them makes them conquerable, forever. If you hurricane-proof your house (is this even possible? I live in the West and know nothing about hurricanes), hurricanes will not adapt to be of greater strength and find different ways to blow your roof off. If you are a high-value dude, hypergamy works for you, not against you. Rollo is right, hypergamy doesn’t care if you gave everything to her…but it also doesn’t care if you gave her nothing. It is a pitiless tormentor of the weak, but a toothless slave of the strong.
This split is noticeable in men’s attitudes about women: Some dudes will report cheating, constant shit tests, divorce rape, etc; others will say things like, “It’s just not that hard, man, you just tell her some jokes.” Both are “right;” both are “wrong.”
But this post isn’t about women. Another example of the split that comes to mind is Dickens on money:
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
There are twenty shillings per pound, and twelve pence per shilling—meaning that a decimal representation of the two expenditures is 19.975, and 20.025.
So in both these cases (women and money, anyway), we see extremely volatile outcomes, depending on small differences at the margin. One is tempted to whine that this is “not fair,” that effort and reward should be more commensurate—but perhaps we should instead rejoice at the great rewards available for relatively little effort, at the margin, and the great amount of freedom we have once above it.
One thing we should remember is that impersonal Cthullhu-like entities and phenomena are very bad judges of character. Thus we should not give them too much power in our own heads:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same;
Does It Have To Be Hard?
In one reading, yes. I won’t lie, reader, a tear came to my eye, returning from work last night, reciting:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
It certainly sounds like it has to be hard. But I don’t think this is the case.
Remember: Cthullhu doesn’t care. Reality is pitiless, but not spiteful. It won’t save you if you’re drowning—but neither will it pull you down if you’re swimming.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spokenTwisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
The way Kipling writes it, we are moved to imagine a situation hard to “bear.” But that’s just our imagination. Kipling did not write “If you can, with a lot of teeth-gritting and mental anguish, bear…” The teeth-gritting and mental anguish are not necessary! In fact, here’s my own poem:
If you can meet the hardest trial
That anyone can find
It’s fine to do so with a smile
Cthullhu doesn’t mind.
There is, in other words, no Frown Enforcer. If the things in Kipling’s poem are painful and stressful for you, and you struggle all night, and do them: yours is the Earth and everything in it. If you come at them mentally prepared, wake up at 10 AM, and do them with a smile: yours is the Earth and everything in it.
We have little control over what’s necessary. But we have much control over how we accomplish it, and the rest of our life that sets the stage.
Upper Bounds and Pitfalls
My younger brother is mathematically gifted, but taciturn and not given to displays of emotion. He used to have a small book of scratch paper he used to explain concepts, by drawing graphs thereon. My mother jokingly referred to it as his “Book of Feelings.”
We will wax similarly mathematical here.
Men have greater volatility than women. In, uh, everything. Feminists like to say that “Every woman is different” — and they are correct. But I will say: “Every man is more different.” This does not mean women are all the same; it is more like: women are different like snowflakes, and men are different like mountains. The complexity is the same; the scale is not.
So for men—and If– is a poem about manhood—it is actually quite plausible that “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,” if they can avoid the gauntlet of horrible things that can happen to them. If you can avoid war, if you’re not a drug addict, if you don’t commit suicide, if you don’t die on the job.
I paint a gloomy picture, but I actually mean to do the opposite. Because the male bargain is: if you can avoid the pitfalls, you have dominion over the earth. It is a long road, fraught with danger and difficulty, but for men, it is the only one that actually leads somewhere—and in this case, “somewhere” means “WILD SUCCESS.”
This concludes my current thoughts on the poem that I could articulate. A sidenote: I memorized it in an hour or two, and highly recommend it. I recommend doing so at either four or eight lines at a time.