Never before has it been easier to live a life of simple pleasures without hardship and without hard work. One can be lazy and still survive. Mediocrity is the easiest way of life, and provides an existence free from pain, danger, and suffering. Yet at its centre, it is a life of mediocrity, a form of life that Nietzsche detested. He said ‘I abhor Christianity with a deadly hatred’ because it puts the crowd above the exceptions, and mediocrity is worshipped and heralded. He criticises the idea of moderation, saying that this is mediocrity feigned as a moral virtue. For Nietzsche the answer to a meaningful existence was to live dangerously-to embrace the pain and suffering and to make something of it, rather than cowing away from it. We can never be great if we are satisfied with a painless life without any real toil.
Taking risks is dangerous, but it is what distinguishes people and leads to the recognition of a fruitful life. At the end of one’s existence, it may be haunting to realise that we did not take enough risks, that we did not push ourselves out of comfort, and that our sense of security held us back from becoming the best version of ourselves.
Literally a ‘lover of wisdom’, the philosopher can be defined in many ways. Some imagine a philosopher as someone sitting around thinking about abstract concepts which have very little relevance to real life (Marx said that philosophy is to the real world what masturbation is to sex), others may view the philosopher as an antisocial outsider who does not participate in anything public, or as an exclusively academic position. Perhaps the most notable description of what a genuine philosopher is comes from Nietzsche, who wrote that living “as a philosopher” ‘hardly means more than living “prudently and apart”.’ He argues that the genuine philosopher lives “unphilosophically” and “unwisely”-‘he risks himself constantly, he plays the wicked game.’ The wicked game, it seems, is the game of making a judgement, ‘a Yes or No, not about the sciences but about life and the value of life’. The philosopher doubts his ability or even duty to this judgement, but he must seek this right ‘only from the most comprehensive-perhaps most disturbing and destructive-experiences, and frequently hesitates, doubts, and lapses into silence.’ Genuine philosophising involves delving into the darkness of existence, and not only contemplating it, but experiencing it. The Yes or No judgement, perhaps the greatest judgement of all, is incredibly complex and not at all straightforward. The answer is unclear, and may remain elusive for great periods of time, perhaps for one’s whole lifetime, yet only through experience and feeling ‘the burden and the duty of a hundred attempts and temptations of life’ can a person begin to become a true philosopher.
‘I’m tired.’ ‘I cant be bothered.’ ‘It’s too hard.’ ‘I don’t have the time.’ These are common excuses to avoid doing things we don’t want to do, but that we know would be good for us if we did. Instead of doing things which further us and move us towards becoming better versions of ourselves, endlessly we watch Netflix, mindlessly we browse social media, and purposelessly we scour the internet for anything that might distract from doing what we know would be good for us in the long run, be it reading, studying, or exercising.
We are all the product of millions and billions of years of evolution. Each individual is the product of millions of years of hardship, toil and struggle. Your ancestors all had to fight to survive and to reproduce, and to undergo all kinds of hardship. Every single ancestor, from simple cells to humans, had to endure every kind of difficulty in order that their genes would continue to survive in their descendants. And now here we are. The product of all this effort. In some ways, we are at our weakest today. We can’t bear even the smallest amount of mental or physical pain, and so we spend our days distracting ourselves from anything even a little bit challenging. This isn’t to say that life isn’t hard-it is. Life is difficult and is by nature a struggle filled with toil, suffering and hardship. Yet this does not mean that it is worthwhile or meaningless. The product of suffering is what justifies it, and the product of toil is always more valuable than the product of apathy. Without suffering, nothing worth anything is achieved.
‘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.
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 (‘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.
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 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.
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.
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.