Pain and death

‘Yes, much bitter dying must there be in your lives, you creators!’ Thus Spoke Zarathrustra, Friedrich Nietzsche

Creation is one of the unique things about human existence-without creation existence becomes difficult and tiresome, perhaps even completely pointless. Marxist theory suggests that a life devoid of creation is the reason why people turn to religion. Many jobs involve little or no creation, and Marx believed that this lack of creation leads people to religion as a form of consolation, an idea developed later by Freud. Nietzsche said ‘Creating-that is the great redemption from suffering’. Creation is painful in itself, but through this painful creation there is a salvation from suffering. Nietzsche combats the way which people turn to religion for salvation, and entreats that we should rather create in order to save ourselves. Why, though, must creation involve ‘bitter dying’? Because that which precedes creation is self-destruction. Sacrifice must be had if we want to create. Pain and death, then, can give rise to a redemptive and greater form of life.

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Live dangerously

Progress isn’t made without taking risks. Development comes through putting ourselves in positions unknown, making them known, becoming strong by exposing weakness. Repetition with no steps forward will not bring fulfilment. If we do not take risks, we risk becoming lost in mediocrity. The greatest risk, then, is to dare not to take risks.

Nietzsche’s notorious quote ‘that which does not kill me makes me stronger’ is relevant here. The greatest reason for not taking risks is fear: fear of danger, humiliation, and, ultimately, failure. We would rather stay where we are than fail, but failing is a necessary part of evolution and growth as a human being. Nietzsche said to ‘build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius.’ For the greatest yielding of progress, the possibility of failure or pain is also the greatest possible. We are left with a choice-living dangerously or living in mediocrity.

Amor fati

Amor fati (‘love of fate’) is a concept prominent in the thought of Nietzsche, affirming that essentially nothing can be prevented (there is a lack of control), and so rather than cursing when things seem to go wrong, we should embrace whatever happens. This is a heavily Stoic idea (particularly Epictetus), emphasising that we should deal with life as it comes, not as we would wish to happen. Although rather seemingly pessimistic, amor fati is in fact a life-affirming concept.

Whatever happens, seemingly good or bad, we should embrace and love it. This is amor fati. It might seem genuinely naïve at first, yet it is rather accepting the reality of what has occurred-working with what has happened rather than fretting about what we wanted to happen. It is a way of affirming power-whatever happens to us, we are ready to deal with it. In daily life, troubles and conflict occur. Amor fati asserts that we shouldn’t despise them, but love them, or at least see them as necessary, and then act accordingly. Rather than looking at conflicts and troubles as a problem, we should view them as opportunities to enhance ourselves and evolve. After all, we cannot change what has happened, and we can only work with what has happened, so we might as well accept it, and if we do, we may find ourselves in places we never thought we could reach.

 

Wake up

Many of us are asleep. This isn’t stating the obvious, this is stating that even when ‘awake’, many of us are still asleep, not really aware of where we are or what we are doing. We are the products of millions of years of evolution. Millions of years of toil and suffering has produced you and me. Not only that, but our lifespan is completely negligible compared to the time spent evolving before our existence began. If you’re not careful, life will pass you by without you realising, you’ll have wasted years of time, filled with regret, and you’ll be old, near to death. The cessation of life is a reality we all have to face, and it is perhaps the most important of all realities, and perhaps the only one. Yet in spite of all this, we remain where we are, asleep and half-conscious, dazing through life like a zombie-doing, but not really living. Nietzsche had this idea, that life is usually rejected, and rather than striving for greatness, we settle with mediocrity. His idea was to create an Ubermensch, an overman. This target is a target of greatness and of evolution-to make something better of ourselves, parting from ‘herd instinct morality’, and simultaneously becoming life-affirming, in essence-waking up. And once we do wake up, asleep will never appeal again. We just have to fight ourselves if waking up is what we really want.

The will to power

The concept of the will to power is more apparent today perhaps more than ever before. This is clear from the prevalence of social media. The majority of social networks are founded upon this principle of will to power, and social media taps into our will for power-it is what draws us in. Power is the reason photos are posted on Instagram and why videos are posted on Snapchat. The question is not whether social media appeals to people because of the supposed power it claims it brings (that is obvious), but whether we should partake in it or not. Another question is whether it is possible to avoid our will to power-is, for example, the denial to use social media just another form of the will to power because one believes that abstaining from social networks brings power with it? We must ask ourselves whether we want to fight for power, to (perhaps pointlessly) strive for attention and recognition. No, it cannot be. It is not that we should try to abstain from the will to power, for this may not even be possible, but to come to realise the best way to attain power-from within. Social media fools us by baiting us to look for power from people other than our own selves. By posting photos and videos with the hope that people will see them and think better of you or be jealous of you, that is not a sign of power, it is a sign of weakness. Social media relies on you relentlessly caring about the opinions and thoughts of others. Power can be attained, but not through the external. Real power comes from within, realising that we don’t need the recognition of others to remain in a serene state.

How to attain the life you want

All you need is a reason. Once you have a why, all you need is will. The simple truth is that if you truly and deeply will something, then you will, regardless of what challenges you, achieve it. It is a matter of desire. If you genuinely want something, there should be nothing denying you from reaching it. This is, I believe, because we act how we want to, always. We might say ‘I don’t want to do this’, but at a closer examination it is actually what we want. We say we don’t want to go to work or school, yet we know that we need to work for money or we need education for a degree and so in fact it is the case that it is what we want. Our actions reveal what we want, and we never act in contradiction to our wishes, even if we may think we are. So, the answer is, for whatever you want to achieve, that you must genuinely want and desire what you are chasing. Otherwise, all your efforts will, in the end, be futile.

Want it, then act, and if you really wanted it, what you wanted you will have gained.

Can we be truly original?

True originality is overrated. In fact, it’s impossible. We are constantly acting in the guise of other people. This is even more apparent in today’s consumer culture. We are told who we should be like through the medium of advertising. Growing up, we are sold an identity. We want to be Cristiano Ronaldo or Harvey Specter or Ricky Gervais. Rene Girard talks about this in his mimetic theory, in which humanity is constantly imitating others in a cycle, and there is no such thing as being truly original, contrary to the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed we should ‘become who you are’. We cannot, with all the immense influences of the world, create something utterly and irrefutably original and unique. We are, in a sense, the compounds of many different influences put together. This may be similar to the idea of Hegel, in which there is a thesis and an antithesis, a view and an opposing view, which form to become a synthesis, which is the result of these opposing views clashing. Of course, two views may be different, but do not have to oppose each other, and so one may take ideas from both sides, perhaps forming a more complete and satisfactory result. We must not, however, become frustrated or anguished that we cannot be truly original. Who should we imitate? We must decide who to imitate in order to decide how to live. It is still up to you. It is your decision who you imitate. Who knows, perhaps one day people may find themselves imitating you. It just depends on how you choose to live your life.

Mill and education

In On Liberty, Mill writes about education, stating its importance, saying that the purpose of universities is not to produce good lawyers, teachers and politicians, but ‘cultivated and capable human beings.’ Mill was more concerned with person we become and who we are, rather than our status, power or wealth. Mill criticises the education system, saying that all education is for is so that we can learn what is easy and interesting, so that when we have to go out of our comfort zones and do something that is not easy or interesting and may not be enjoyable, which we all will inevitably have to do, we become disheartened and frustrated.

Mill would, I think, despise today’s education system, and it is not difficult to see why. Rather than focusing on what is right and wrong when being taught, the emphasis is on what will bring oneself the most pleasure and the least pain, a key utilitarian idea, which Peter Vardy calls the transactional-utilitarian model. Moreover, the education system is strongly individualistic, not really bothered about the concept of community, but only the success and enhancement of pleasure of individuals. This culture of immediate pleasure, and not really thinking about who we become appears to thrive in consumerist cultures, for consumerism advertises and encourages individual success so that one can, through consumption, achieve happiness. Mill would say, however, that we have lost any real concept of happiness, and that consumerism and individualist society does not make us happy.

Both Mill and Nietzsche had different ideas of what it meant to be happy and to be a ‘fulfilled’ human being. Mill concluded that, rather than seeking one’s own happiness, we should first seek the happiness of others, and this concept of a strong community may have been influenced by Aristotle. If we want to be happy, we must first want to make others happy. Nietzsche had a different view of fulfilment, and it was one where suffering and discomfort is prominent, things which the current education discourage and avoid. Nietzsche held the view that only through genuine sacrifice and effort will we achieve anything worthwhile, and that it is only through this that fulfilment can be achieved. Furthermore, the attitude we receive from our 18 years or so of education may influence the way in which we view our whole lives, and so our relationships may be deeply affected by the way we view them. Do we focus on what is right and wrong, or what brings us the most pleasure and the least pain? If we want to become fulfilled, which seems to becoming more and more difficult as consumerist culture takes a greater hold of us, Nietzsche and Mill would both agree that it is the education system that needs to change if we want our lives to change. Nevertheless, it is possible to detach ourselves from what society encourages, and to seek our own fulfilment and happiness, and, perhaps, this may start with community and sacrifice.

The Power of Art

Art is many things. It can inspire, comfort, transform. Art enables man to transform his essence. Christian Morgenstern said that ‘in every work of art, the artist himself is present’ and I believe this to be true. In the music of Mozart we are able to gain an insight into the intense feelings, doubts and frustrations of a musical genius, in the paintings of van Gogh we are thrown into a world of madness, pain and, again, majestic skill. At times, art can satisfactorily express emotions which words cannot.

Through art, Mozart, Bach, da Vinci, Ovid, Homer, and numerous other writers, musicians, poets and painters, became immortal. Although they were all inevitably destined for death, they were able to live forever, not in body or mind, but in spirit. Each person’s art allows a glimpse of that persons life. Not only does art satisfy and gratify the spectators, but it also satisfies the creators themselves. Art, it seems, is created because of some dissatisfaction or some feeling of emptiness that can only be filled by something creative. Many writers have expressed some belief of this sort, saying that ‘art never comes from happiness’ (Chuck Palahniuk) or ‘art is to console those who are broken by life’ (van Gogh). Art can, if we allow, assume a form of catharsis. To the artist himself, art is a means to expressing the inexpressible, to the spectator, art indicates that the feelings of loneliness, doubt, fear,  inadequacy, anxiety, and depression are not exclusive to the spectator alone, and that art can be used to channel these feelings. As Thomas Merton said, ‘art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’

We live in a society full of art. Music is available at a few clicks of a button, is played in supermarkets, restaurants, in transport, and in many other public and private spaces. Moreover, paintings are widely available to view and poetry and writings are at hand in many, many places. We have, thankfully, recognised its importance and its benefit to mankind. For art may be, at times, the only thing that keeps a man sane.

Why suffering can be good

‘Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing.’ Chuck Palahniuk

It is a commonly held view that pain is bad and that suffering is to be avoided. It’s true that avoiding suffering is generally easier than facing it and dealing with it. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what we should do. The idea of the importance of bearing with suffering goes back to Nietzsche who emphasised that suffering was necessary for greatness. Nothing good can come without pain, sacrifice, hard work.

An easy life can come from avoiding suffering. The most fulfilled lives, however, the lives of the greats, were made by suffering. It is because of suffering that we are able to listen to the likes of Mozart, to look at the likes of da Vinci, and to read the likes of Homer. The suffering itself may be incredibly painful, at times almost unbearable, but it is this suffering which will enable us to create art of another level. Arthur Schopenhauer, who was a heavy influence on the thought of Nietzsche, once said ‘once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.’ Only through enduring pain and suffering can we become greater human beings, and, if we wish, create something worthwhile.