William Durant was a foremost student of history and the human condition. His works in the middle of the 20th century survive long past his death, which by his own criteria, “win!”
Durant’s studies led him at times to conclude with some harsh realities, realities that may not conform to things like short-lived modern liberalism, humanism, or most methods of governance, for all these things pass and come back again through history.
The content of this post comes from my notes of Durant’s authorship. They try to reconcile the socio-historical perspectives of Durant with something tangible to a single person (me). As I tried to figure out what Durant was saying, not all that follows necessarily stands for my own conclusions after reading his work.
That said, let me share with you the ways Lessons of History may matter to us today:
1. Means Change, Motives Endure
What are the motives of a people? A person? What are yours? Knowing what drives action gives a means of control over that action. Just opposite to how the motive to find romance endures in humans across millennia, the means have evolved from arranging marriages for life to hook-up phone apps and divorce more common than “to death do us part.”
Figure out your motives for what you do and worry less about the means.
2. Three Tiers of Concern
Care about your objective needs first. Food, shelter, something to contribute, retardation of pain, interpersonal connection. Meeting needs out-prioritizes all other goals.
Next, you will adopt the most convenience you can for yourself (and so will anyone else). Aim not to be an inconvenience to others because they will otherwise be active in being the same to you. Do whatever you can to make achieving your goals convenient!
Lastly comes the acquisition of status symbols. Beware of these: Symbols change, e.g. having large plantations and families has morphed into acquiring ever larger Instagram followings and slick gadgets. And not all peoples admire the same telegraphs of status.
Symbols are largely traps that sway you from your goals (the original sin here being about caring too much about what others think). But keep in mind the power of symbols because status can be used as a form of barter nearly as well as cold, hard cash.
3. 21st Century Values
Gone are the days where generic endeavors that cater to the lowest denominator had value. Durant calls any ideology a “morale,” though through his other words, certain modes of thinking are objectively more valuable than others vs. subjective as morales are.
Simply put, being attached to ideas of nationalism or other dogmas that originated prior to the 21st century is like refusing to get off a horse to get into a Model T.
As it applies to your goals, keep these things in mind:
- Picking a single niche to appease a few is more important than attempting to make everyone happy.
- Critical thinking your way, or “working smarter not harder,” will give greater returns than mere labor that anyone can do.
- Universal empathy for any other person is a novelty. Care first to have another care about what you do.
- Keep away from “exclusivity,” i.e. artificially restricting your outreach. Go where the audience is, which in the 21st century is everywhere across the globe.
4. Ideas vs Outcomes
Ideas are all created equal in that they are born worthless. They may develop into hopes and drives like spiritual and national religions do, but it’s the outcomes from those ideas that matter.
The same applies to goals. Goals are worthless unless they lead to an outcome, and there, outcomes only happen with you taking action.
5. Minorities Drive Majorities
Whether it be personal habits, life choices, or intimate groups of passionate people, very few things have a greater share of impact.
A radical student with a gun in Bosnia fires off the first World War. A few tens-of-thousands of eager Bolsheviks gain control of a country of tens-of-millions to redefine the twentieth century. 30 minutes of daily exercise increases life expectancy more than 30 years.
Whenever, wherever there is an active minority given care, changes are made.
Pay attention to the little things and the one-offs, for they drive the gains and the conflicts, while the passive majority reaps the consequences for good or ill. This applies to your time, your business and career, and ultimately any goal you set for yourself.
6. Competition Comes Before Cooperation
Any two sects will only cooperate to overcome a competition. Competition always boils down to overcoming some form of suffering. As the saying goes, “misery loves company.”
Find where the suffering is in a group of people or just a single other, and sympathize with it. Then you will gain allies against whatever the common antagonist is. Further, these sufferers will support your endeavors to overcome that suffering (i.e. your goals).
7. Fertility Wins
Be it with physical genes or abstract ideas, the success of either directly relates to how wide-spread it is. Things only spread when they are put out there and adopted by others.
People will only adopt whatever your goal is after a few steps happen first:
- Actively get that idea in front of others.
- Apply the idea in some tangible, valuable way where the benefit can be shown.
- Evolve that idea to be “same but different,” as in it must be familiar to the audience yet still unique enough to not have been experienced before by that audience.
- Return to step 1.
Being prolific is how you win, and you are prolific if you take action to 1) get yourself out there, and 2) cater demonstrable, novel benefit to your audience.
This may not seem “fair” (see the next point on justice). Unless you and your work persist, fairness does not matter in the least. “Good” is that which survives.
8. Justice Is Proving Merit
As most life advice has it, the world owes you nothing. As Durant would amend, a “just” society can at least give one right: the right to unobscured entry into tests of office and power, simply known as proving one’s merit.
Can you prove you have a mighty body? A strong mind? An attractive character? Or clever means? No more, no less – These are the only things you must feel obliged to show in your goals.
9. You Are Your Greatest Hinderance and Help
As Durant puts it, supernatural belief is the strongest protection against your own misdeeds. However, your fantasies about yourself, your actions, or the world can be taken too far, preventing useful consequences from occurring.
Towards this point, seize control of your mind. Be rational about what is legitimate caution versus overzealous fear. To take another quote, “fear is the mind-killer […] the little death that kills me over and over” (Dune) – only after your own terrors are reined will you be able to get out of your own way to accomplish what you set out to do.
10. Discipline Yourself
A person unprepared for success will be weak when they stumble into it but act strong. Being weak while drunk with power is delusional and therefore dangerous for everyone and everything.
Like letting a genie out of a bottle, getting what you want may be the worst thing to happen.
When it comes to goals, you strengthen yourself for success by disciplining yourself in your life. Family, finances, health, goals – everyday and always. Only then will you be prepared to achieve.
But what if you should fail to meet your goals? Discipline reinforces your mind, so such a failure will have much less impact than if you fail while also weak and undisciplined.
Extra Points Worth Note:
- Revolution (forcible change of a system) comes when the equality of merit or vote is nullified by an inequity of wealth, status, or means. The situation worsens when the strong (in any sense of the word) create monopolies of the tools and means to livelihood status. Revolutions cycle between these states:
- Wealth Distributes -> Wealth Concentrates -> (repeat)
- Monarch / Tyranny (one power) -> Aristocracy (few powers) -> Democracy (no powers) -> (repeat)
- Force (i.e. action by any and every means and effective methods) is the absolute final arbiter of a dispute or conflict. Only by force may an unassailable obstacle be overcome or unattainable attained. All else is a brain exercise for poets and philosophers.
- Economy is the manager of all things socially, personally, politically, or otherwise.
- Value floats up, so value injected at as low a level as possible sieves through higher layers, such as socio-economic levels (i.e. castes). Therefore, knowing your current caste, where value is being put into the system, and where you can put in value is of extreme importance.
- Beware the unsolicited “should.” Whenever a higher power (family, boss, state, divinity) hands-off moral wisdom without invitation, it’s just – if not more likely – that ‘wisdom’ serves an all-too-human agenda not your own.
Wow! That’s a lot! William Durant had a lot to say, which applied to a lot of my own goal-mindedness (hence these notes).
Durant found many patterns throughout history on a macro scale. I’ve tried to apply these to the micro and personal scale. How did I do? Which will you start using and observing in your day to day? Let me know!
Stay warm wherever you are, and cheers!