Don’t Take Your Marching Orders From Your Belly

New technology, new ideas and an all-encompassing need for innovation. This is the age of disruption, where old industries are upended by a wave of change. It’s time to let go and embrace the future—or it will be too late.

During the Winter War, Finnish soldiers fought off Russian forces entering their nation and frequently gained stunning successes. Despite being massively outmanned and outgunned, they fought back by being mobile, being resourceful, and using their most prized weapon: sisu, or tenacity.

One of their unlikely victories, though, was due to the perfume of their soup, not the zeal of their tactics.

A battalion of Soviet forces crept through the inky blackness and dense trees near Finland’s Tolvajärvi front about 11:00 p.m. on December 10, 1939, attempting to flank the line. Despite the fact that the region being attacked had few combat soldiers — it was mostly occupied by medical and support personnel — the assault would enable the Soviets to cut off the front’s sole supply path. The Finns had launched many surprise assaults on the Russians; now it was their time.

The stunned Finns ran in terror as the Soviet troops appeared out of nowhere among the forest. The Russians marched ahead unopposed, and chaos ensued. They were on the verge of obliterating the Finns off the field entirely.

The Finns’ field kitchen, on the other hand, was one of the first things the Soviets came across as they approached. Despite the absence of the chefs, massive pots of sausage soup continued to boil on the burners. The freezing, famished Russians halted as the scent of it floated into their noses, smiling and wetting lips… then shouldered their guns and ladled themselves bowls of hot soup and meat.

The impetus of the Soviet charge lessened as the Soviets avidly slurped the soup, giving the unbelieving Finns a time to reorganize.

Colonel Aaro Pajari of Finland organized and equipped a ragtag group of doctors, chefs, and supply sergeants, and turned them against the Russians. This haphazard, ragtag collection of ex-non-combatants suddenly found themselves carrying bayonets and fighting the Russians in a terrible hand-to-hand battle. Two combat units of Finnish soldiers arrived to join the struggle, which became known as “The Sausage War,” as they fought and held off the attackers. The defenders screamed “Hakkaa päälle!” — a historic Finnish war cry that had not been heard in generations and meaning “Cut them down!” and “Give no quarter!” as the conflict continued.

By 4 a.m., the Soviets had started to withdraw; just a few dozen of the 500 attackers had made it back to their position. The combat was almost ended by daylight, and the sun rose to reveal a horrific scene: 100 Russian troops lying dead in the Finns’ former field kitchen, bowls overturned by their freezing corpses, sausage hanging to their chins.

Don’t let your belly give you marching orders.

What should have been a clear triumph for the Soviets ended up being a rout. All because the soldiers who should have swept to victory followed the commands of their tummies.

From a distance of time and the comfort of one’s armchair, the choice to eat in the heat of a war seems absurd. That was the case. However, the story is only a high-stakes version of what we all do on a daily basis: we sacrifice a greater good in order to satisfy a lesser need or urge.

 

Instead of getting up and working exercise, you hit the snooze button.

Allowing a single dietary blunder to snowball into a week-long junk food binge.

Staying with a nasty, self-destructive partner just because she’s attractive and the sex is satisfying.

Oversleeping and failing to pass a test

Shyness is preventing you from making a crucial phone call.

Instead of reading a book, I’m always on social media.

Allowing your anger can wreak havoc on your relationship with your children.

These decisions may not be life or death, but if someone could examine the whole of our lives from an objective, bird’s-eye perspective, they’d leave us as perplexed as we do the Russians — “He exchanged that for that?”

We all trade short-term pleasures for progress on our long-term objectives on a regular basis. We all have a habit of stopping and slurping soup in the middle of our quest for perfection.

You’re not a rat, you’re a man.

“If sensuality meant pleasure, animals would be happier than humans; but, human happiness is rooted in the spirit, not the body.” –Seneca


“What is a man if his primary good, and the market of his time, is to sleep and eat?” “I’m no longer a beast.” –Shakespeare


“True grandeur comes from the quiet conquest of ourselves; without it, the conqueror is nothing more than the first slave.” –James Thomson is a writer who lives in the United Kingdom.


“The most valuable of all possessions is the power over ourselves; the power to withstand trial, to bear suffering, to face danger; the power to control pleasure and pain; the power to follow our convictions, even when threatened or scorned; the power of calm reliance in the face of darkness and storms.” He who lacks command over his impulses; he who lacks the ability to resist the impetus of current pleasure or pain for the purpose of doing what reason says him is proper, desires the genuine principle of virtue and industry, and is in risk of never being excellent for anything.” –James Locke


“The greatest kingdom a man can aspire to is command over one’s own self, and so to be subject to our own impulses is the most heinous enslavement.” The person who can best manage himself is the finest person to rule others.

More than a king is he who governs inside himself and controls his emotions, wants, and anxieties.” –The poet John Milton

From the ground up, the human brain developed. The “reptilian brain,” which is responsible for our more “primitive” instincts, is controlled by the brain stem and mid-brain, which govern fundamental physiological processes and appetites. The limbic system, which governs our emotions, is located higher up. These parts of the brain are similar to those of animals, which is why scientists can conduct tests on rats and extrapolate the findings to humans.

The neocortex – the home of our reasoning abilities and more complicated, abstract, sophisticated thinking processes — is much higher up. The size and volume of these cortical regions are what distinguishes us as humans, and as we get older, they gain a larger and greater power to regulate and check our baser cravings (ideally, with sufficient training and experience).

 

As a result, anytime we act on instinct without thinking, we are relegated to the status of animals. And anytime we feel the itch of instinct but manage it rationally, we reach the pinnacle of human achievement.

I feel more human whenever I gaze at art, listen to fine music, read a challenging book, have a concentrated discussion, or defeat a temptation.

On the other hand, I feel like a beast anytime I put off a job due to laziness, overeat, find myself unable to focus on a book, tune out of a conversation, or can’t pull myself away from my smartphone. I’m starting to feel like a reptile.

This is especially true when it comes to my desire to engage in the latter pastime, namely, online browsing. I feel like nothing more than a clever animal when I check my phone too often for the likes of a social media post, when I can’t seem to stop myself from clicking on a link I know is clickbait, when I respond to the ping of a text message like a Pavlovian dog, when the itch to check my phone feels insatiable — even when I want to be immersed in something else, even when I want to pay attention to my kids — I imagine one of those lab rats being put in a cage where they can push a lever to acquire a food pellet. Get a prize by pressing the lever. Get a prize by pressing the lever.

Toggle the lever. Toggle the lever. Toggle the lever.

The cycle seems like “a sprint to the bottom of the brain stem,” as tech critic Tristan Harris puts it.

This isn’t to argue that our baser wants aren’t undesirable. Our instincts and emotions push us to do what we need to live, flourish, and reproduce — eat, relax, have sex, seek novelty, achieve status, run danger, and so on. They give life a tremendous amount of energy and joy.

The objective for a man should not be to suppress his primitive impulses and emotions, but to harness and manage them — to be able to select when, when, and how to either release or check them, and to make such judgments in accordance with higher ideals. Plato’s allegory of the chariot describes the ideal soul or psyche, in which the black horse of desire races alongside the white horse of noble spiritedness – all while Reason controls the reins.

Appetites become an issue only when they outnumber our better selves. When they stop being our slaves and start becoming our masters. When they get in the way of our efforts to form bonds, achieve objectives, and reach a higher level of existence. When the soul wants to do something but the physical isn’t up to it.

The idea is to put the animal inside in its proper spot, not to kill it. To develop less rat-like and more human behaviours via practice, training, and habit formation. Rather of taking instructions from your stomach, let the finest qualities of your character call the shots. To give oneself the option of choosing ultimate triumph over a shambles — or sausage.