The now famous (infamous) quote, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote,” which is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but not confirmed, has been dissected left and right.
For the purpose of this article, we will not be attempting to discover the validity of the quote’s author. We will be focusing on the vitality of the well-armed lamb concept. Worrying about who wrote it is a distraction from the powerful impact of what has been written. The concept is what really matters.
I can attribute it to whomsoever I please: Gandhi, Thoreau, Genghis Khan, or even Hitler, and the concept would still be true. Besides, as Abbie Hoffman (or whoever) wrote, “You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.” Having said that, let’s dive into five ways you may already be a well-armed lamb.
1.) You’ve Broken the Shepherd’s Spell
“To efficiently control the human farm, you need a majority of broken, self-attacking, insecure, shallow, vain and ambitious sheep, forever consumed by inconsequentialities like weight, abs and celebrities –and a minority of volatile, angry and dominant sheepdogs, which you can dress up in either a green (military) or a blue (police) costume and use to threaten and manage the herd.” –Stefan Molyneux (or at least someone using the alias of Stefan Molyneux)
You understand, as William Blake (or is it Blake Williams?) did, “I must create my own system, or be enslaved by another man’s.” You daily ask yourself: am I living from programming or from purpose? You realize that if you can honestly answer “from purpose” then you’re already on the path toward becoming a well-armed lamb. If you cannot, then you are more than likely living from programming, and you are inadvertently a sheep, a victim of an unhealthy culture’s programming. That is to say, you are still under the Shepherd’s spell. The Shepherd is a metaphor for perceived authority, whatsoever or whomsoever that perceived authority may be: God, government, money, husband, wife, teacher. There’s the down and dirty rub. Like Daniel Dennett said, “There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.”
Here’s the thing: It’s okay that you were once living from programming. We all came from a certain cultural preconditioning, even wolves and lions. But a well-armed lamb is a creature who has had the courage to recondition the preconditioning, to, as Nietzsche said, “rebaptize our badness into the best in us.” Like Eliezer Yudkowsky said, “You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.”
Lambs are victims of their preconditioning. Even wolves are victims of it; they are just more ruthless about it and on the other end of the power spectrum. It is only the well-armed lamb, the lamb-turned-lion, who has reconditioned the preconditioning and thus broken the Shepherd’s parochial spell. Better a day as a lion mocking wolves, than a lifetime as a lamb kowtowing to them. Indeed, a lion never loses sleep over the opinions of wolves, let alone sheep.
2.) You Practice the Zen of Fearlessness
“Regard fear as the kindling to build a big fire of fearlessness.” –Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
You understand that in order to be a force to be reckoned with in this world, you cannot come from a place of fear, but from a place of fearlessness. You live a courage-based lifestyle, having left the typical fear-based lifestyle of modern day cultures behind. You don’t seek invulnerability like a coward in a tank afraid of the world. You have become absolutely vulnerable like a ninja in the light fearless of the world. Your courage is your intimacy with fear, your embracing of risk. Like Jonathan Lear said, “To be human is necessarily to be a vulnerable risk-taker; to be a courageous human is to be good at it.” And you are damn good at it too. Nothing is safe from your questioning heart which you use like a double edged sword to cut through the outdated way of things.
Attitude is everything, and your attitude is, “nothing can stop me, but me.” Your fearlessness is not founded upon lack of fear, but on transforming fear itself. Fearlessness is not the absence of fear; it is being absolutely terrified, but doing it anyway. You have simply decided to use fear as a steppingstone toward something greater, rather than as an emotion that cripples you into a state of cowardice. Fear is your kindling. Fear is the compost that causes the seed of your courage to become robust. You Fear is not a setback, but a reason to push back at power. Like Karl Frei said, “Attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.” Being afraid and doing it anyway, because it needs to be done, is always an adventure, especially when it is also an ordeal. Like the Zen proverb says, “The obstacle is the path.”
3.) You’ve Become an Autodidact of the First-Order
“You want weapons? Go to a library. Books are the best weapons in the world.” –Doctor Who
You are not well-armed with weapons necessarily (though you can be). Rather, you are well-armed with knowledge and a healthy hunger for questioning all things, especially authority. You are armed with open-mindedness, spiritual plasticity, and a hunger for the unknown. You don’t settle for answers, you question them, because you understand the fallibility of the human condition and you realize that the pursuit of truth is never ending. Nothing is free from your intelligent interrogation, especially yourself. You purposefully poke holes in things that are considered sacred, and then question them to the nth degree. Like Richard Feynman said, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
In order not to fool yourself too much, you have chosen self-education based upon the method of fallibilism: a philosophical principle of being constantly and consistently open to new evidence that could contradict some previously held position, belief, or expectation. It is implied in the natural sciences. Like Richard Feynman also said, “Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.” You realize the first step toward gaining wisdom: question everything; the second step: question the answers. The third step: repeat, ad infinitum. The knowledge gained will be painful and will almost never meet people’s expectations, which is why it’s better not to have expectations to begin with. Besides, you understand that it’s better to relish in the pain of knowledge than to languish in the bliss of ignorance. Like Douglas Adams said, “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”
4.) You Break the Rules Like an Artist
“Creativity is the greatest form of rebellion.” –Osho
You know all the rules but the rules don’t know you. Armed with the power of your imagination and the mighty spirit of your creativity, you are the tip of the spearhead, the point of the pencil, the aim of the paint can, the apex of the artistic soul. Your art is your shining light. But it’s also your blackest darkness. It tampers the sun even as it trumps the shadows. You use it as a lighthouse of hope for the powerless and a dark beacon of warnings for the powerful. It cannot be ignored. The pen is mightier than the sword, and you are the walking, talking personification of that fact, disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed. You are constantly in the throes of metanoia. Indeed, you are here to cause a creative ruckus, to disrupt the apathy of silence, to free the unfree by picking the lock of their imagination. Like Howard Zinn said, “They’ll say we’re disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war.”
In the face of war and all warmongers, you are strategically mobilizing peace and open-mindedness through your art, because you realize as Martin Luther King Jr. did, that, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” Your artwork is the epitome of peaceful organization precisely because it is politically dissident and confronts the powers-that-be like David facing Goliath. Your art liberates the human mind from the dominion of dogma, liberates the human body from the dominion of property, and liberates the human soul from the shackles of poor human governance. Like Arundhati Roy said, “Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.”
5.) You Lead by Ego/Eco-Moral Example
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor.” –Henry David Thoreau
You are no longer a victim of the world, you are the world. You have matured out of both codependence and independence and into a heightened state of interdependence. You are superior to circumstance. Your ego no longer has any power over you. It is your puppet, not the other way around. The same thing goes for your shadow. You are their puppet master. They are your tools, but they are sacred tools. You use them to master your soulcraft: human flourishing. You use them to leverage cosmos into absolute interdependence. Like Bill Plotkin said, “Once one has said yes to the call to adventure, the ego is securely in the grip of the soul, and the soul serves notice that the ego will not emerge unchanged.”
Your ego is the tip of the sword of your moral reasoning. Your shadow is the cut of your passion, setting the too-moral goody two-shoes on notice. The two combined make you an amoral agent par excellence, tricking the immoral culture into a state of morality and tricking the cosmos into revealing its secrets. What it reveals is the interconnection of all things: an eco-consciousness that cannot be ignored. Your response to such an all-encompassing force is nothing short of eco-moral: a deep respect for the balance and moderation of cosmic law. With this knowledge you put the “well” into being a well-armed lamb. You are a force to be reckoned with precisely because you are a force of love that refuses to back down. Like Derrick Jensen said, “Love does not imply pacifism.” Your love is a lion’s love: fierce and courageous. Sheep may vacillate. Wolves may be certain. But you make them both tremble with a love gained from hard-earned pain. Let them tremble, or let them join you. Either way, you’re a lamb-turned-lion despite them. Your destiny is not left up to chance, for you have chosen to be well-armed.
Read more articles from Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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