Would you say you knew a lot of people who wanted to take over the world when you were young?
Because I knew a lot. At least five, two of which had serious plans for doing so. I cannot tell if this is a function of the particular hyper-intelligent, low-empathy men I used to hang with, or drama students, or frustrated middle class white boys or what. What demographic meant that I had so many friends who were essentially Junior Dr. Horribles, chanting The world is a mess and I just need to rule it.
One of them had and probably still does have an impressively SFnal plan for world domination involving a pseudo Plato's Republic (I did not always quite get how totalitarian the Republic really is, and I assure you none of my friends had any intention of giving up pastries or knowing which children were theirs or the kind of films not covered under Plato's Guide to Poetry/Theatre Approved for Your Republic) and an artificial island and somehow, with an underpants gnomes style leap of logic, mass drivers.
Thing is, he was totally serious. So was the other guy with a less exciting but more manageable plan involving slow political games. And so were the other boys who just had vague dreams of rule and power and heirs and women and Setting Things Right. Sometimes these involved Ayn Rand, I'm not gonna lie. I cannot be the only one who knew these guys. And they were always guys--I never knew any women who thought they had literally every single answer.
I'll confess that at age 18 or whatever I must have found this attractive to some extent--grandiose bombast can be pretty hot, and we were all kind of dumb about the books we read that just seemed So Much Smarter Than Anything Ever. Certainly, at 31, it all seems pretty completely hilarious to me. And if I met someone my age with these ideas I would laugh FOREVER and then TWEET ABOUT IT and then LAUGH MOAR. But somehow I did not laugh then, even when they said risible, stupid, and often quite sexist things about their plans. (Obviously one needs a Marilyn Monroe type as consort to communicate one's virility to the masses, but for actual childbirthing, someone like me is more desirable due to my smart, smart brainz. Insulting, misogynist, and insulting again on the flipside. Triple douche score.) In many ways I really have nothing to say about my ability to make quality decisions/seek out quality people at age 18. Look at your life, as Sassy Gay Friend says. Look at your choices.
It was a funny kind of privilege/not privilege at play, too. These were all white men from affluent but not rich families--raised to think they were special and right all the time and entitled to a certain amount of largesse from the universe. But at the same time? We were all in community college, yo. These guys had already made the choices that would lead them to never rule much of anything beyond the men's wear department at Sears. Our Beloved Leader did not go to ITT Tech, you know? Maybe they were planning to have that erased from history when the time came, I don't know. There was such a lack of empathy or care for other humans, a conviction about being right, about being the smartest, about no one knowing better or more or being remotely as awesome as they were. When I think back on it it seems like a fantasy of being able to make any difference at all in the world, a fantasy made of Dune and Atlas Shrugged and Lord of the Rings, of wanting to impress girls in a primate sort of way, an I Will be King of the Jungle sort of way, a fantasy of narrative, of a life that no one could ignore. I knew many more than five people who were certain they were going to write the Great American Novel, and I suspect that comes from a similar place of needing to be seen. To be unforgotten. To express ubermale primate authority in front of all the cutest gorillas.
Because of course a lot of that was always about getting laid, about being the kind of ubermensch that would bring all the girls to the yard--or at least that political wonk geek kids thought would bring them to said yard. Never about sleeping with me, though--with me they only wanted me to admit they were the very smartestest. That was enough. Almost as good as sex. I was always one of the guys, because a girl who talks back is either one of the guys or out of the group. You wouldn't want to date someone like that. Who would look at you adoringly and ask you to teach them, you who are so wise and handsome?
It should be fairly obvious that none of them have actually taken over the world, since their faces are not on any mountains, nor on gold coins, nor have we made it to the stars on the power of their awesome. Even then I did wonder what the boy who wants to take over the world at 17 does at 30 when he's still just a dude like the rest of us. I think the post 9/11 festivities put the kibosh on many of the reindeer games they played loudly and often back then. But I cannot be the only person who knew these folks. If I ever write about supervillains I will have no dearth of experience to draw on. I suspect a number of them are Tea Party members now, though I have nothing to back that up, just an observation that the anti-government and conservative anti-empathy attitudes they had then were, well, before their time, so to speak.
We were all very young and very naive. We did not have the first idea how the actual world worked. In retrospect it seems almost cute, the way babies hit each other with their little hands and it's just adorable. It's not like grown ups, it's just a dumb game for kids to play before they learn fine motor skills. Of course, fine motor skills of the heart take a lot longer, and some people never develop them.
I'm curious, deeply so, whether any of you knew That Guy. Or if there was some other Improbable Demographic you saw all around you--or see around you now. Tell me of your secret cabals, o internet.
Rules for Anchorites
Letters from Proxima Thule
- Everybody Wants to Rule the World