By William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an early adopter of Bitcoin because, as we’ve said many times, it’s still early.
But chances are that’s not all we can say about you.
Even though this is a community that defies blanket description, its members more often than not have given over — in part or entirely — to a contrarian, some might say fearless, way of thinking. It is a philosophy that promotes seeing the events of life objectively and a way of engaging with the world that shifts the locus of responsibility for health, wealth, and happiness from any centralized entity to the individual.
We call this decentralized thinking.
It is a vein of thinking that runs through crypto that is evident in anyone bitten by the crypto bug. You know this person. Likely, you are this person, the one who waxes poetically about the transformative power of blockchain while the eyes on you glaze over. You warn family and friends they might miss the coming Bitcoin moon the way Cassandra warned the Trojans — and get the same response.
This kind of decentralized thinking leads to decentralized living. It is self-selecting.
If you seek it in one facet of life, crypto for instance, chances are you’ll seek it in others. And we see that in the topics that ignite cerebral discussions and heated disagreements on crypto social media.
They include strength training — with heavy emphasis on the deadlift — and diets that shun standard western fare and government recommended eating regimens that come in shapes (pyramid, plate). The common theme is a pushing away from food that is heavily processed and loaded with salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats, to something more natural.
Decentralized thinkers are particularly drawn to the Stoic philosophers: Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and, in modern times, Viktor Frankl. Stoicism began in the early third century BC with Zeno of Citium and offers a path to personal happiness that is still practiced successfully today.
But it’s not what we think of as stoicism today — the ability to suffer without showing it. It is the exact opposite. A stoic, in the classical sense of the word, is someone who doesn’t let outside circumstances affect their inner calm.
Epictetus, who for many is first among the Stoics, describes a true stoic as someone who is “(s)ick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.”
These ideas seem alien today, but they are as ancient as the first Homo Sapiens.
In strength training we find this quest for personal agency at the most fundamental level: the physical. Many strength training devotees choose to test themselves against the barbell to get stronger. Some do it to look better but end up enjoying the strength as much as the attention it gets them.
Some do it as a hedge against the inexorable physical decline of aging. The strength industry calls this a metabolic savings account, something akin to clawing back up the mountain despite the ground slowly sliding out from under you. You know you’ll eventually lose that battle, but your struggles will give you a greater span of time near the top.
You just have to decide if it’s worth the work.
Mark Rippetoe, founder of the barbell training movement Starting Strength and author of the bestselling book by the same name, has seen this kind of thinking either arrive with new pupils or develop within them as their training progresses — because of what the barbell teaches.
“There is no more stark example of getting out of something exactly what you put into it,” Rippetoe said. “And it happens at such a visceral, neurological level that the lesson is learned by everyone that sticks with this. When you are under the bar, doing a squat and you get a set of squats done, then the effort you put into that set of squats is exactly proportionate to your body’s response to that set of squats.”
Rippetoe said the bar teaches you fundamental lessons about yourself. Chief among these is learning that your limits — to a point — are self-imposed. When you learn your real physical limits, you know what is within your physical control.
“The more you are in control, the less subject you are to the control of others,” Rippetoe said.
This is also a fundamental tenet of the Stoics, of the crypto addicted, the alternative diet curious, the politically Libertarian.
Because the same can be said for those who opt out of the standard western diet, whether they choose total meat carnivory — or something on the spectrum of meat-centric diets such as ketogenic or paleo — or animal-free veganism. The driving force is the same: a desire to choose for oneself the food that offers the greatest health advantages.
It shuns eating based on the advice from a central authority, whether that’s the government or advertising from corporations, which is often amplified by a lackey media.
Decentralized living is not about separating from the events of life. It is embracing them on your own terms, playing the game to the best of your ability knowing that how you play is what’s most important.
It was for combat decorated navy fighter pilot Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale, who served during the Vietnam War and is the only three-star naval aviator ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. After being shot down, Stockdale spent eight years a prisoner of war, four of them in solitary confinement, two in leg irons. He was tortured 15 times but survived the ordeal by applying what he’d learned from years of studying the Stoics.
In his book “Courage Under Fire,” Stockdale wrote that the brutality of prison taught him “that good and evil are not just abstractions you kick around and give lectures about and attribute to this person and that. The only good and evil that means anything is right in your own heart, within your will, within your power, where it’s up to you.”
So as a decentralized thinker, you’re in good company, and we can say with some certainty that you are someone who understands the value of being in control of your own destiny, someone who chooses to be captain of your own soul.
Would you want it any other way?
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think. – Marcus Aurelius
So I look for the best and am prepared for the opposite. – Seneca
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
– Viktor Frankl