By Steven Pressfield
Published: October 15, 2014
Readers who follow this blog will have already guessed what today’s post is going to be about:
The Oakland Raiders are an example of an institutional culture. The Raiders are the poster child for a losing culture. No matter what players the Raiders draft or acquire in free agency, no matter what coach they hire or what new quarterback they install, they still stink. (Yes, I am a Raiders fan.) The losing culture is so entrenched and so powerful that it cannot be overcome. At least not yet. (Jon Gruden, are you listening?)
But let’s get back to ourselves as artists and entrepreneurs. We too have cultures.
Internal personal cultures.
These cultures are identical to institutional cultures except they’re one-person versions, and they exist entirely within our own heads.
Like institutional cultures these personal cultures consist of our histories; our records of success or failure; our assumptions about ourselves and the world; our expectations, fears, and hopes; our methodologies, our skills, and so forth.
One element is common however to all cultures, personal and institutional.
That element is Resistance.
Cultures evolve in response to Resistance.
Successful cultures overcome Resistance. Unsuccessful cultures are overcome by Resistance.
Where do cultures come from?
We breathe them in from birth—our national culture, our religious culture, our ethnic culture. These form our baseline. Over these, specific and unique organizational and personal cultures become overlain.
If you were born and raised in the American consumer society you have already, whether you realize it or not, imbibed and internalized an extremely insidious, pernicious, and toxic personal culture.
Where did this Toxic Culture come from? From well-meaning parents and positively-intentioned teachers, from traditional role models such as Congress, the President, the Supreme Court (stop me if you’ve heard this before). This toxic culture consists of consumerism, conformity, faux “liberation” and the affectation of self-conscious “irony,” from the values implicit in the prescription of Adderal and Ritalin; from political correctness; gangsta and wannabe-gangsta self-conception and presentation; from “self-esteem;” narcissism, shallowness, laziness, lack of work ethic, pursuit of external stimulation; from entitlement, worship of celebrity, instant gratification, nerd culture, self-indulgence, flight from adversity, pursuit of third-party validation, etc.
This is the mass culture that you and I inhale from movies, TV, pop music, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s the sea we swim in. We can see it no more than a flounder can see the Pacific Ocean.
This culture has to go. It must be eradicated by you and me and replaced, component by component, by an internally-originated, self-generated and self-approved personal culture.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
In January of 1966, when I was on the bus leaving Parris Island as a freshly-minted Marine, I looked back and thought there was at least one good thing about this departure. "No matter what happens to me for the rest of my life, no one can ever send me back to this freakin' place again."
Over forty years later, to my surprise and gratification, I'm far more closely bound to the young men of the Marine Corps and to all other dirt-eating, ground-pounding outfits than I could ever have imagined as I left Parris Island that first time. Gates of Fire is one reason. Dog-eared paperbacks of this tale of the ancient Spartans have circulated throughout platoons of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since the first days of the invasions. E-mails come in by hundreds. Gates of Fire is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps' Reading list. It is taught at West Point and Annapolis and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico; and Tides of War is on the curriculum of the Naval War College. In 2009, I launched the blog "It's the Tribes, Stupid" (which evolved into "Agora"), to help gain awareness of issues related to tribalism and the tribal mind-set in Afghanistan—with the goal of helping the Marines and soldiers on the ground better understand the different people they were facing in Afghanistan.
My father was in the Navy, and I was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943. I graduated from Duke University in 1965. Since then, I've worked as an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout and attendant in a mental hospital. I've picked fruit in Washington state, written screenplays in Tinseltown, and was homeless, living out of the back of my car with my typewriter. My struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took seventeen years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in The War of Art.
With the publication of The Legend of Bagger Vance in 1995, I became a writer of books once and for all. From there followed the historical novels Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign and Killing Rommel.
My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call "Resistance" with a capital R (in The War of Art). The technique for combating these foes can be described as "turning pro."
I believe in previous lives and the Muse—and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists. My conception of the artist's role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of "where it all comes from" and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.
There's a recurring character in my books, named Telamon, a mercenary of ancient days. Telamon doesn't say much. He rarely gets hurt or wounded. And he never seems to age. His view of the profession of arms is a lot like my conception of art and the artist:
"It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior's life."