How to become a one man (or a one woman) army … or something even better

Our quote for the day: 

In short, this is what you need to become a one person company and be routinely successful. … this recipe is also a route to become a one man/woman army.

— From “I’m Young and Need Advice“, by John Robb, posted at his website Global Guerrillas, 26 October 2009

Robb’s a brilliant writer, and I am insufficiently familiar with his work to evaluate this in context.  But it’s a fascinating thought, and so prevalent today, to deserve consideration on its own.

  • An Army of One was the US Army’s recruiting slogan from 2001 to 2006.
  • It’s the theme of a thousand movies, from Batman to Death Wish to Buffy.
  • We’ve heard it a thousand times from movie heroines.  A horde of bad guys approaches, and she says “I can take care of myself.”   We seldom see an epilogue at the abortion clinic, as she decides whether to carry or abort the fetus.

This is a pernicious concept, an attractive poison to our society, IMO.  A one man or one woman army is a contradiction in terms, a misunderstanding of the essential element of an army:  collective action.  As is society.  As one of the West’s greatest philosophers wrote:

This makes it obvious that for as long as men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in the condition known as ‘war’; and it is a war of every man against every man. For WAR doesn’t consist just in battle or the act of fighting, but in a period of time during which it is well enough known that people are willing to join in battle.

… Therefore, whatever results from a time of war, when every man is enemy to every man, also results from a time when men live with no other security but what their own strength and ingenuity provides them with. In such conditions there is no place for hard work, because there is no assurance that it will yield results; and consequently no cultivation of the earth, no navigation or use of materials that can be imported by sea, no construction of large buildings, no machines for moving things that require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no practical skills, no literature or scholarship, no society; and — worst of all — continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

— Thomas Hobbes, Part I chapter 13 of Leviathan (1651)

A fine description of the world’s failed states — and (to a lesser extent) the worst of America’s inner cities.  Few pretty young girls living in the inner cities consider becoming an army of one an option.  Collective action gives security, and allows such luxuries as democracy and capitalism.

In peaceful times people can indulge in dreams of autonomy.  But always the foundations rest on collective action against the chaotic forces of nature and man’s nature.  Our Republic stands as a magnificent example of collection action, where the “common power” Hobbes described lies within ourselves.  Unfortunately the structure consists of ideas, which each generation must pass to the next for the Republic to survive.

The enticing dream of autonomy — whether a self-sufficient ranch in Montana or a well-stocked garage in Los Angeles (guns, ammo, generator, and bags of rice), or the voluptuous surrender into despair — divert us from the hard and messy work of politics which makes the gears of the Republic rotate.

Most of this takes place in each community.  Neighborhood watch groups, school boards, email chains and blogs about local politics, voter registration and vaccination drives, and countless other voluntary activities — these are the ways America has built an Army of Many.

It can still work, if we have the will to make it so.

A last work about the one man army

An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse shit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about fucking!

Speech to the Third Army on 5 June 1944; published in The Unknown Patton by Charles M. Province, p. 32 (1982)

For more information from the FM site

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

About John Robb’s writings:

  1. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw – solutions to 4GW, 18 November 2008
  2. A solution to 4GW – the introduction, 12 March 2008
  3. How can America adapt to a new world? A conference about national security lights the way., 18 October 2008
  4. Are Americans easily panicked cowards? I think not, but many experts disagree., 24 April 2009
  5. “Combating the Growing Threat of International Organized Crime”, 30 April 2009

About super-empowered individuals:

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

29 thoughts on “How to become a one man (or a one woman) army … or something even better

  1. “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans, love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers
    … Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in Hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The Bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post, don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating.”

    — George C. Scott in the film Patton

  2. Consider Zhou Yun, a hero of Three Kingdoms era China ( about 210 AD, following the collapse of the Han Dynasty. ). Zhou Yun single handedly defended the infant heir of Shu against an entire army from rival kingdom, Wei. This tale is one of the favorites of Chinese history.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: And we have Superman, and score of other superheroes. Wonderful stories, good role models if not taken to an extreme.

  3. “Wars are not won by doing Powerpoint presentations, wars are won by making the other poor bastard do Powerpoint presentations”

    (if Patton were alive today)

  4. A quick note – One of the more famous statements form Robb’s book is this:

    Over time, perhaps in as little as twenty years, and as the leverage provided by technology increases, this threshold will finally reach its culmination – with the ability of one man to declare war on the world and win. (Pp. 8)

    As Robb believes that technology has destroyed the framework of the state, and that technology has super-powered the individuals in the new world order, it is only natural for him to believe that his advice can create an army out of a man.

    I think that Robb is operating on a different wave length than the other examples you cite. Americans have worshiped the individual since the time of Tocqueville. The indestructible loner is something every American – at some time or another – wishes he or she could be. It is part of the American mythos — and shall be so for quite some time. But Robb is not buying into such tales of romance; his point, I think, is much simpler. Now that the state is out, super-skilled individuals will wield power not seen since the Feudal age.

    Or something close to this. I may be misreading Robb a bit, but this strikes me as his general tone and demeanor. Even if I am a bit off, I advise you to hit Robb on his own terms, not ones you force him into.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I explicitly said in the opening…

    Robb’s a brilliant writer, and I am insufficiently familiar with his work to evaluate this in context. But it’s a fascinating thought, and so prevalent today, to deserve consideration on its own.

    Do you find this statement unclear?

  5. I believe Robb may be getting at something a bit different, a point like that illustrated by this bit from Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, set in 2025:

    “Every year, the civilized world grew and the reach of lawlessness and poverty shrank. Many people thought that the world was becoming a safer place . . . Nowadays Grand Terror technology was so cheap that cults and criminal gangs could acquire it. . . . In all innocence, the marvelous creativity of humankind continued to generate unintended consequences. There were a dozen research trends that could ultimately put world-killer weapons in the hands of anyone having a bad hair day.”

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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t understand. Today a single person can with a modicum of effort poison a reservoir, destroy a building, poison hundreds in a cafeteria, blackout small towns — feats unimaginable a century of so ago. How has that created “one-man armies” today? If not, at what point in the future will this become a meaningful term, and why?

  6. Sooner or later, you will need someone to watch while you sleep. Or help you wash all those hard to reach places. He he! A lifeboat is for someone who expects to be rescued, or to find someplace to hide. “Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation“, by Charles Hugh Smith, posted at Of Two Minds.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Western civilization has withstood plagues, a multi-century little ice age, generations-long religious wars, and many other cataclysms. I believe you fears are exaggerated. Have some faith in Americans, and in America.

  7. @FM: Forgive me, I missed that sentence on my original skim. Please consider my comment background info on Robb’s words.
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    FM reply: Robb’s theories are interesting and complex.

  8. “The enticing dream of autonomy — whether a self-sufficient ranch in Montana or a well-stocked garage in Los Angeles (guns, ammo, generator, and bags of rice), or the voluptuous surrender into despair — divert us from the hard and messy work of politics which makes the gears of the Republic rotate.”

    What a well-written sentence and a valuable thought reminding us of the fallacy of the loner. Cooperation is so much messier than going ones own way, but virtually nothing worth doing gets done without it.

    FM, how is your health these days? Hope you are on the mend, if not well already.

  9. “An Army of One” has got to be the stupidest ad campaign ever run by the U.S. military, IMHO. Join the army and learn to express your innermost desires, find yourself, express yourself!

    I cannot help but think that if an afterlife exists, my dad and guys like him who served in the “old” military of the WWII era, are either rolling in their graves at stuff like this, or… laughing their butts off. I hope the latter.

  10. I think, Robb advances only the point, that the *presentday* division of labour(DoL) seems to break down sometimes. He is tempted to conclude, DoL, the state in particular, will eventually break down completely. He goes too far. Study how Baghdad, Afghanistan, Kosovo survive today. Not the trace of army of one.

  11. Robb is describing technologies that will allow clever people to carve out their own areas of control more easily. The mob will follow one who projects power and can parcel out rewards to loyal subjects.

    Not an army of one. A nation of warlords and warring fiefdoms. As a preview, take a look into maximum security prisons, and how power asserts itself.

    Multiculturalism is the darling of the left. Neo tribalism. Fragmentation. Technology allows unscrupulous individuals to divide and conquer along already drawn lines.

    The substrate of society has already been crumbled by intellectuals of multiculturalism. Make way for the warlords.

  12. People here seem to think that “Multiculuralism” is some kind of memetically transmitted virus. To me, multiculturalism is just a kind of realist outlook, which seeks to balance the reality that society naturally cleaves into “tribes”, with the need for society to act with some degree of unity. In multiculturalism, society is assumed to already be a patchwork of competing tribes (especially in a city, this is usually the case). The purpose of the philosophy is then to encourage people to view the edges of their “tribe” in a less-harsh manner, mixing the tribes but not necessarily having to give up their “tribal identity”, as this is seen as being too much to ask most people. In this way, the tribes can find a balance between each other that seems to work. I realize that as a social philosophy, multiculturalism has some pretty deep problems… such as the one Fabius highlights with Muslim “honor killings”. I’m not convinced, though, that these problems are actually insurmountable.

  13. A wise man sneered that Hobbes wasn’t really describing people without the state but the lives of the average English factory hand- nasty brutish and short indeed!! Grateful beneficaries of luxuries like- democracy and capitalism.

    Individualists may also question how the American inner city exists within an extremely organized state- a capalist democracy at that- or that “failed states” are made so unliveable by the arms industries of collectivized organized societies- no need to name names. Or got that way be the machinations of organized societies.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: That critique was made by (among others) Marx. It proved short-sighted, as those horrible conditions were transitory, and the eventually life of UK factory workers was far better than their prior conditions as farm laborers.

    I do not understand your second paragraph.

  14. So here am I, a jaded “real world” guy, dripping with experience (yawn) in welding, fabricating, and constructing who is fascinated by the seemingly unlimited promise and potential power of this virtual world of the internet, and there’s Robb, an internet maven telling youngsters at the above link to learn how to weld, fabricate, and construct. We are both right. The great opportunity for our young no doubt lies in the integration of these two worlds, the hands on physical (including face time social networking) and the virtual (providing infinitely more social cooperation). One who masters both won’t want or need to be an army of one, he’ll simply be extremely effective at achieving any goal he defines with the benefit of a lot of help from a lot of friends all around the globe. More exciting than “being an army” of any kind, in my book.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I’ve never understood this fascination with spending so much scarce and valuable lifetime acquiring a wide range of skills. As if they we’re marbles and use them to keep score.

    In real life that seldom seems to be a successful strategy. Success most often comes from social skills like salesmanship or politics. As seen in school principals (often gym teachers) and CEOs (i.e., salespeople and attorneys). Or specialization.

  15. Huh. Copied the wrong speech. Here’s Patton’s speech to the Third Army. Same content though.

    Men, this stuff that some sources sling around about America wanting out of this war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit. Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle.

    You are here today for three reasons. First, because you are here to defend your homes and your loved ones. Second, you are here for your own self respect, because you would not want to be anywhere else. Third, you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight.

    When you, here, everyone of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.

    You are not all going to die. Only 2% of you right here today would die in a major battle. Death must not be feared. Death, in time, comes to all men. Yes, every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he’s not, he’s a liar. Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching men fight who are just as scared as they are.

    The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared. Some men get over their fright in a minute under fire. For some, it takes an hour. For some, it takes days. But a real man will never let his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood. Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base. Americans pride themselves on being He Men and they ARE He Men.

    Remember that the enemy is just as frightened as you are, and probably more so. They are not supermen.

    All through your Army careers, you men have bitched about what you call “chicken shit drilling”. That, like everything else in this Army, has a definite purpose. That purpose is alertness. Alertness must be bred into every soldier. I don’t give a fuck for a man who’s not always on his toes. You men are veterans or you wouldn’t be here. You are ready for what’s to come. A man must be alert at all times if he expects to stay alive. If you’re not alert, sometime, a German son-of-an-asshole-bitch is going to sneak up behind you and beat you to death with a sockful of shit!

    There are four hundred neatly marked graves somewhere in Sicily, all because one man went to sleep on the job. But they are German graves, because we caught the bastard asleep before they did.

    An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse shit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about fucking!

    We have the finest food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. Why, by God, I actually pity those poor sons-of-bitches we’re going up against. By God, I do. …

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    FM Note: This is an excerpt from the speech General Patton gave to the Third Army in England on 5 June 1944. The most reliable text is from The Unknown Patton by Charles M. Province. See the background and full text here.

  16. Re 13:
    The guy I started my first business with, when asked, “Should I be an entrepreneur?” invariably responded, “No. Absolutely not.”. He told me he actually believed, for the self aware, it’s a good idea to run your own business, but because these fools were, by asking his advice, demonstrably un-self aware, and lacked the innate drive to take risk, his answer was always “NO.”

    If any one out there is asking, “Should I be like a “Renaissance man” and master many subjects?”. My answer, equivalently, is: Absolutely not. You’ll end up a dilettante.

    For the few who never ask, but become polymaths because they are driven, as by an unseen force, well, thank God, and Godspeed.

  17. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then we may cite Dante, who was a “Party of One“, as a one man army.
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    FM note: if we’re broadening the concept so much, should we include Helen — stronger than any army? Her face launched a thousand ships, resulted in the destruction of two armies and the sacking of Troy — yet (as we learn in the Odyssey), survived to live in comfort as Sparta’s Queen.

  18. FM note: “if we’re broadening the concept so much, should we include Helen — stronger than any army? Her face launched a thousand ships, resulted in the destruction of two armies and the sacking of Troy — yet (as we learn in the Odyssey), survived to live in comfort as Sparta’s Queen.

    Not Helen, Lysistrata.
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    FM reply: Nope, I draw the line at accepting myths into the discussion!

  19. FM- Your program sounds somewhat closer to Marx’s (that old Morganian model history, right??). Hobbes still disputable.

    On the second paragragh- I was saying “failed states” tended to get that way through the meddling of more organized societies, than through excess of individualism on the part of their citizens. Have you heard of a country that collapsed because it’s inhabitants listened to American advertising???
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    FM reply: I don’t understand. What is my program? What is “morganian model history”?

    (2) “‘failed states’ tended to get that way through the meddling of more organized societies”

    Top 5 failed states by the 2009 Fund for Peace-Foreign Policy Magazine list:
    1. Somalia
    2. Zimbabwe
    3. Sudan
    4. Chad
    5. Congo
    Other than their ex-colonial masters, whose meddling created these?

    (3) “through excess of individualism on the part of their citizens”

    I’ve never seen this given as an explanation. More typically analysts speak of deterioration of social institutions, often from climate swings, war, economic downturns, or internal unrest.

  20. I am not happy with multiculturalism. But, what is the alternative? Ethnic cleansing? Re education? The Great Wall of Everywhere? Is there some other plan that i have not been able to find?

  21. From #23: “I am not happy with multiculturalism. But, what is the alternative? Ethnic cleansing? Re education? The Great Wall of Everywhere?”

    Mikyo, this is why I called multiculturalism a “realist social philosophy”, as it seems to me that the three other choices you listed represent the only other realistic ways of dealing with difference. I would, however, be lying if I did not admit that I also just enjoy multiculturalism, personally. I like the fact that I can, in one neighborhood, get Dim Sum at a Chinese restaurant, watch some North African blues musicians, drum with some white hippies, or go drink at a working-class bar.
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    FM replies: The goal of multiculturalism was to extinguish the cultural conflicts that create war. As America’s near-constant series of wars shows, that has not happened. No surprise, as the project is a fake. From Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” (pp34-36):

    Young Americans have less and less knowledge of and interest in foreign places. In the past there were many students who actually knew something about and loved England, France, Germany, or Italy, for they dreamed of living there or thought their lives would be made more interesting by assimilating their languages and literatures. Such students have almost disappeared, replaced at most by students who are interested in the political problems of Third World countries and in helping them to modernize, with due respect to their old cultures, of course. This is not learning from others but condescension and a disguised form of a new imperialism. It is the Peace Corps mentality, which is not a spur to learning but to a secularized version of doing good works.

    Actually openness results in American conformism—out there in the rest of the world is a drab diversity that teaches only that values are relative, whereas here we can create all the life-styles we want. Our openness means we do not need others. Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing.

    … None of this concerns those who promote the new curriculum. The point is to propagandize acceptance of different ways, and indifference to their real content is as good a means as any.

    … The point is to force students to recognize that there are other ways of thinking and that Western ways are not better. It is again not the content that counts but the lesson to be drawn. Such requirements are part of the effort to establish a world community and train its member—the person devoid of prejudice. But if the students were really to learn something of the minds of any of these non-Western cultures—which they do not—they would find that each and every one of these cultures is ethnocentric. All of them think their way is the best way, and all others are inferior.

    Herodotus tells us that the Persians thought that they were the best, that those nations bordering on them were next best, that those nations bordering on the nations bordering on them were third best, and so on, their worth declining as the concentric circles were farther from the Persian center. This is the very definition of ethnocentrism.

  22. Ah, the supposed goal was not for cultures to live in peace, but to merge them all together in a worldwide mono culture?

  23. From FM reply to #24 {Allan Boom}: “But if the students were really to learn something of the minds of any of these non-Western cultures—which they do not—they would find that each and every one of these cultures is ethnocentric. All of them think their way is the best way, and all others are inferior.”

    Well, sure. Cultures are usually ethnocentric, just as people are usually self-interested. That is only to be expected. Rather than promising an end to wars, I’ve always viewed multiculturalism as really only a way of accepting difference… a survival skill, in my view. I admit that there is a lot more I could learn about the concept.
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    FM reply: The point is that the current doctrine of multiculturalism does not have the desired effect, because it is fake. It does not produce respect for other cultures, as is obvious to anyone who talks with young Americans.

  24. I do not know how to answer that. In my school days (yes, there were injuns, but no dinosaurs LOL), i began with a second language. Not latin or greek, but one that was actually being used by those weird kids on the other side of town. So i learned about some odd people who lived nearby, instead of ancient greeks. Nor did i try to study every other culture in the whole world.

  25. Better late than later-

    – By program I meant that both you and Marx say that industrialization, and technical progress begat greater social progress and individual freedom. I was referring to Lewis Morgan – the influential 19th Century Social Scientist and Anthropologist. Big influence on Marx- there’s a wiki page on him.

    -your list of failed states – all those suffer from war aggravated by an international arms trade, big power patronage of dictatorship, direct meddling by powers big and small (zaire). On a related note- dontcha think that the failed state list is kinda flawed?

    -the point i have been trying to make it that the misery of some “failed” states is not caused by some sort of hobbesian war of all against all provoked by hyper individualism – but more the consequences of actions of more organized communities…
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    FM reply: Thank you for the explanation!

    (1) “you and Marx say that industrialization, and technical progress begat greater social progress and individual freedom”

    Me, Marx, and a zillion other folks say this.

    (2) all those suffer from war aggravated by an international arms trade, big power patronage of dictatorship, direct meddling by powers big and small (zaire)

    Yes, failed states have big problems. I don’t see your point, however.

    (3) “the failed state list is kinda flawed?”

    It’s a loose big picture kind of thing. Useful, but not to be taken too seriously. Not like a medical diagnosis.

    (4) “the misery of some “failed” states is not caused by…”

    “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
    — from part 1, Chapter I of Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

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