Strong Men

G Michael Hopf said in Those Who Remain,

Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.

Despite the fact that Those Who Remain (2016) is a science fiction post-apocalyptic novel, the quote has spread widely in memes, and I’ve heard it quoted sincerely a couple of times. I am not fond of the saying for a number of reasons. Even ignoring the implication that it assigns both agency and impact to only men (we can assume Hopf was using “men” in the poetic sense to refer to people of all genders), it implies that strength produces good, and weakness produces bad. My issue with this is that it’s not true; it doesn’t stand up to historical scrutiny. Adolf Hitler was a product of hard times. So was Joseph Stalin. And Pol Pot, and Fidel Castro. All of these men were strong men (and good examples of “strong-man dictators”), and none of them created times that anyone but a minority would consider good. The point is that there are plenty of examples of good times creating good men, and hard times creating weak men, and many, many examples of strong men creating bad times. Additionally, it says that hard times are directly the result of weak people, ignoring global climate swings like the cold period that led to the Dark Ages, and massively disruptive events like the industrial revolution. The strongest man ever produced by any society couldn’t have saved Italy from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Even if we ignore natural disasters and climate shifts, the world has seen golden ages spanning generations who, if we believe the quote, were run by men produced in good times and were, therefore, weak. But you could consider the statement a tautology: if a man creates good times, then they’re by definition strong; and if they create bad times, then they’re weak. Tautologies are catechisms for the weak-minded.

It’s a catchy quote, and good writing in a book of fiction – but it’s not a good statement to be quoted as sage wisdom: it’s either provably false, or it’s circular logic, and in either case I don’t much care for it.