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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #42, 12/9/2006

The New Spartan Warrior

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

Brad Pitt in 'Troy' In ancient Greece, economy was represented by the citizen-soldiers of Sparta, who lived only to fight. Each of them, it is said, owned nothing but his sword. Let us hope for the sake of decency that he also owned a loincloth, or at least rented one for important battles, but the point is, those Spartan dudes were very disciplined and efficient and didn't bother themselves with unnecessary vanities.

In the modern world, one can also be Spartan, but you need more than just a sword. You probably also need a medical plan and an internet connection. What you don't need is 99% of the stuff that modern capitalist propaganda says you need. Living up to the Spartan ideals means cutting the fat and reducing life to its essentials.

What are the essentials? They are the things that we need not only to survive but to remain productive in modern society. Pain doesn't have to be part of the equation. You can be Spartan and still be reasonably comfortable and connected with the world. Self-deprivation is not the primary goal. The essential elements of the Spartan way are economy, efficiency and freedom from distraction.

Thoreau built his cabin in the woods and thought he had things worked out. He said you need food, shelter, clothing, heat and, of course, books. Today, we would have to expand that list. For example, it is hard to get by in the modern world without some form of transportation, by which you can venture forth to the supermarket and capture your evening meal. You also need money to pay for the meal and some sort of economic activity to generate the money.

Even if you live on the fringes of society and cut your needs to the bone, your society still lays some requirements on you. You can't drop out completely without alarming your family, and you have to pay your taxes and renew your driver's license. Being Spartan doesn't mean you have to lose all contact with your fellow man, just manage it better, so it isn't always pummeling you with demands.

The Essentials

Below are the Spartan essentials as I understand them, moving from the concrete to the more abstract. I have left out only air to breath, a planet to live on and a place to pee, because these things are assumed.

Obviously, you need food and water. The food can be simple: a varied diet that meets your nutritional needs but that doesn't make you fat. Taste need not be ignored, but it is important to remember the true purpose of food: to give you the energy to keep going and the building blocks for a healthy body. Once it passes your tongue, all food turns into tasteless mush anyway, so you might as well fuel up with things that are both cheap and nutritious. The New Spartan eats only when he is hungry and his body is telling him to. Otherwise, there are better things to do than munch on donuts.

"Water" means just that—water. You can also drink juice, milk and soda, but when it gets to your stomach, it's all the same mush. What matters is the total nutritional, caloric and hydrating value, not how it got there.

Every warrior needs clothing. Nakedness can be uncomfortably cold much of the year, and in modern society it is forbidden anyway. If you wish, you can throw yourself against this cultural hypocrisy, but I'm telling you that it is far more practical to just put something on and not cause a ruckus. Whatever you wear should be simple, practical and low-maintenance. You don't have to be a fashion plate. The first goal of clothing is protection from the elements and the second is to be unobtrusive, not presenting any image that conflicts with your chosen social role. If someone you met in the morning is unable to recall in the afternoon what you were wearing, then you have dressed appropriately.

You need a safe place to sleep. Sleep, it appears, is a physiological requirement of the body. You can wander around the city all day long, but when night falls you have to "be somewhere," knowing that this mysterious unconsciousness is bound to overtake you. During sleep, you need more warmth and greater protection from the elements than when you are awake. You also need protection from thieves and predators who would take advantage of you while you are unconscious.

In prior ages, a place to sleep would be called "shelter," which usually meant a fixed piece of enclosed real estate for one family's exclusive use. There is no reason that the Spartan should feel restricted by this label. You need a "safe place to sleep"—that's all. Thoreau points out that a coffin-size railroad box would do the trick. I observe that a slightly larger space is necessary, as you need to be able to turn over at night. You need padding and warmth, but you don't have to check into the Hilton.

During the day, you need a workspace to do whatever it is a warrior does. The nature of this workspace depends on what your mission is. To the ancient Spartan, his place of business was the battlefield, but he also needed a place to train and at least sharpen his sword between wars. Your own workspace could be the same place you sleep, but this isn't necessary. If your field is knowledge and you work on a computer, than your workspace can be almost anywhere protected from the elements.

In the modern world, you need a secure storage space, because it is not yet possible to be entirely free of "stuff." Everyone has possessions—at least clothing they are not currently wearing, food they haven't eaten yet and printed records that can't be thrown away. Again, your storage space can be the same as your sleeping space, but it doesn't have to be so. To the true Spartan, this space required should be small, as he only has the sword and a few pieces of armor to put away.

Every modern warrior who regularly interacts with other humans must be concerned about hygiene—that is, he needs an opportunity to bathe, clean his teeth and attend to other personal maintenance. One shouldn't allow ones body to become too rank, as this can become a barrier to social relations.

Any modern warrior shouldn't go long without a medical plan. It may be honorable to die on the field of battle, but what if you are only wounded? You don't want to just lie there and bleed to death when you can possibly recover and fight again. You need Blue Cross or something.

Most warriors needs some form of transportation, at least to get them to and from the battlefield. A horse is okay but not terribly utilitarian nowadays. You'd be better off feeding a motorbike or a small foreign automobile. The subway is good but doesn't always get you where the battle is. You need to think this one through. You want the right equipment for the job.

A Spartan needs communication so he can coordinate with other warriors and bone up on the latest slaughtering skills. Ancient Greece didn't have the internet or cell phones, but if it did, you can guarantee that every soldier would be using them. It always helps, in any battle, to have as much relevant information as possible.

However, you don't want to get all fat and flabby with too much superfluous information. This is a major danger in the modern world. (See Data Obesity and The End of Rumination.) Like food, you want only the information that is nutritious and sufficient to the task. You don't want mental junk interfering with your clarity of mind.

Sadly, the modern Spartan needs money to pay for all of the preceding. Unless Daddy left you with a wad, you are probably going to have to get a job or engage in some other form of economic activity to supply your coffers. This is unpleasant business, as you may have to do someone else's will or support goals that you don't entirely believe in. Nonetheless, this distasteful activity is necessary to at least pay for your sword and loincloth.

It is easy to be seduced by the money-making game, especially after you start becoming successful at it. Please remember, however, what the real coin of the realm is: It is not money, but time. There's not much point in making a million dollars if you are almost dead by the time it happens. One of the aims of the Spartan lifestyle is to free yourself of unnecessary servitude to the economic system, so that you have more of your time to use as you wish.

A warrior also needs social relations. You can live alone on an island for a while, but sooner or later, you have to come ashore. To achieve any meaningful goal, you have to interact with your fellow man and/or woman. You were born into a society, and in the long term there is no living without it. Otherwise, you won't just be sleeping with your sword; you'll be talking to it, caressing it and perhaps even inviting it to cut you.

Finally, every warrior has to have a mission. In ancient Sparta, the mission was clear: You followed orders. In the modern world, we rarely have it so easy. How should you best use your warrior skills? There is no simple answer. Finding your mission is half the battle in life. You need only know now that there has to be one; it has to push you to your limit, and it has to be meaningful beyond your own temporary existance.

This mission, in turn, is going to require certain essential tools: a sword if you are fighting battles, a computer if you are writing, and an arc if you a transporting a large number of animals. There is no fixed spending limit when a Spartan needs tools. It is a matter of what the tool can do for his mission and how much it is worth in the long run. Always, of course, he is economical, acquiring only the essential aids and nothing more.

Marching To War

Whether or not he yet has a mission, the New Spartan should be guided by economy—economy of body, economy of activity, and economy of mind. He eliminates the fat wherever it can be found. He tries to identify his own natural skills, and he hones them. He looks for what is truly important in life, and he distills it.

The warrior must not be waylaid by the superfluous. No silly, frilly, girlie things for this Spartan, no sir! No sentimental attachments. No entangling alliances. Just the mission.

And there will be no daydreaming about silly, frilly, girlie things either. Snap out of it!

Keep your mind on the mission, man!

—G.C.




Reader Comments

“Slightly skewed, but enjoyable. Needs more about actual self-defense. Ya gonna camp inside police headquarters?” —tularetrump@hotmail.com 12/21/06 (rating=3)

“Are you still living the spartan life (?)-- any new insight into how it's going would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!” —Billy Ray Chen-Liu 3/9/07 (rating=2)

“Mildly entertaining, although it would be better with more on actual spartans (who would be more likely to use spears), include some better examples, and how about being a mercenary?, wouldn't that be a modern day spartan?” — 5/5/07 (rating=3)

“very interesting indeedy ill take account of these things” —Isa 5/8/07 (rating=2)

“too unbalanced to be a direct answer to modern life. However, the core of this idea is useful” —an interested disciple 5/13/07 (rating=2)

“you know you could just buy either a bow, a spear a knife or a gun (or all of them its really your choice) and kill for your food...that would take down alot of what you need...although admittedly money would be good if the animals ever turn against you and hunt you down...” —Reyn Campbell 5/15/07 (rating=3)

“most people do not know that spartan life is more than just war. it was absolute loyalty to the state- loyalty to the death. Spartans were born to serve the state, and if they were not capable of doing so, then they were left to die as babies. Spartans did not give up possessions to make their lives simpler, but because such things are of no use to Sparta. Only at age 30 were they allowed the priveledge of owning property. The point is, someone thought they knew about living life, but he doesn't. He also thought he knew about being a warrior, but he does not. The Spartans follow a code shared by the samurai, as well as many others- service. Those who serve others before themselves will have a meaningful life, and those who lay down their lives for others will be honored and remembered. That is the way of the Spartan. And by the way, Achilles was not a Spartan. He was from southeast Thessaly. If it is a Spartan hero you wish, try King Leonidas. If anyone has questions, send them to emesa28@hotmail.com.” —Eric Mesa 5/19/07 (rating=1)

“I accidentally put the wrong rating on my survey. Here's the correct one.” —Eric Mesa 5/19/07 (rating=0)

“it is fool hardy” —jesus 5/29/07 (rating=0)

“fix it!!!!!” —Yuricci 6/13/07 (rating=2)

“Your pictures are of Brad Pitt, who played a MYRMIDON!! Why the devil not use a picture of a Spartan! Foolishness.... -grumbles-” —Commissar Engart 6/18/07 (rating=0)

“I think I just wasted 23 minutes of my life reading this nonsense. The movie 300 was much better.” —Rusko 8/20/07 (rating=1)

“wonderful” —calvin 9/23/07 (rating=4)

“this stuff was f ing crap” — 2/7/08 (rating=0)

“erick Mesa is right on” —criticalman 2/7/08 (rating=0)

“very basic, pertinent to modern life, good start” —spartan130 3/12/08 (rating=3)

“I agree with the others -- get a picture of someone in classical Spartan panoply. And what's with the picture of Achilles on a freaking CELL PHONE? Other than that,pretty good article.” —Spartan198 3/25/08 (rating=4)

“Its good, but no fighting. Its good for the average person” —Excessum 4/20/08 (rating=3)

“รจ mitiko” —kikka 5/17/08 (rating=5)

“Well that sucked.” —A Spartan 6/9/08 (rating=1)

“achilles was not spartan” — 2/20/09 (rating=0)

“Very nice :)” —Half-god 3/21/09 (rating=4)

“wtf?” —SmarterThanYou 4/17/09 (rating=0)

“I think you are a futuistic pussy, as a sosldier myself I know the true meaning of sacrifice and you truely do not. You need to really join something better than youself and i stress the fact better than yourself become something truley better than you! and you may know true greatness” — 6/22/09 (rating=1)

“rah blah mufah ghala” —meufrablablah 6/24/09 (rating=1)

“I don't know what all these other people are thinking, but this is pretty good description of what a 'spartan' lifestyle should be like; economical. It's not about actual Spartan lifestyle... fools, go pick up a dictionary.” —halcyin 8/10/09 (rating=3)

“Don't listen to these negative haters. It's great that Spartan ideas/ideals are being 'put out there.' GOOD JOB.” —El Todopoderoso 9/8/09 (rating=3)

“nice and good” —al-nidzfar imdani 12/6/09 (rating=4)

“Achilles wasn't a spartan. You aren't a spartan. This is crap.” —Annoyed Googler 6/20/10 (rating=0)

“Join the Army.” — 1/19/11 (rating=1)

Ratings so far: 4 3 3 4 2 0 5 3 2 2 3 1 0 0 2 0 1 4 5 1 0 1 0 4 0 0 0 3 0 0 3 4 3 3 5 3 1 1 0 4 0 0 4 0 0 5 1 1 3 3 3 3 4 5 0 1 3 1 4 (Average=2)

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