To the ancient Greeks, danger and fear were good things—hell, fear was even a God they celebrated—it was comfort and security that were seen as the true dangers. They prized honor and excellence through adversity above all. Where they tried to live up to the mighty myths of Heracles or Odysseus, we try to make life as comfortable as possible.
Nietzsche, the 19th century philosopher, tried to warn us away from the temptation of an easy life. Yet this is what is glorified today in post-modernity. If I gave you the option of a hard life full of danger, beauty, and meaning, or an easy life full of comfort and pleasure, what would you choose? The second is tempting, but only the first makes the soul sing with vitality and growth. Imagine if Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, never left the shire, would you want to read that story? It’d be boring as hell, and yet, that is the story most of us want to write for ourselves. We hate suffering and uncertainy so much we try to fix it or avoid it at all cost. We want perfect safety and would have robots and AI do everything difficult for us. We want success without effort, adventures without danger. Most people want pills for every unease, and entertainment for every dull hour. If the soma drug of the Brave New World was invented, most would take the dehumanizing bliss-pill without a second thought.
No wonder Nietzsche said “Society has tamed the wolf into a dog, and man is the most domesticated animal of all.”
The Shi Tzu, for instance, is a direct descendant of the Grey wolf of china. Years of comfort and breeding for the weaker qualities destroyed the very essence that made it a wolf. Wolves are fierce, self-reliant, powerful creatures that can take down thousand pound caribou. They fight and live wild, free, and connected to one another. The shih tzu however is dependent on its master. Rolling around in its baby carriage and fed consistent meals, it has become a shadow of its former self. It’s instincts and feelings are dimmed. Its bark and bite are nullified. It’s soul has been trimmed down to the feintest echoe of the original wolf that prowled the hills.
The shih tzu is cute, but only the wolf is majestic.
Unfortunately, we more closely resemble a shih tzu than our wolf-like ancestors, and we wonder why we are miserable while swiping away on screens in dark rooms, eating frozen meals, and shunning our natural instincts. Nietzsche foresaw this remarkable de-evolution and warned against it. He warned against the temptations of an easy life, and encouraged those who could hear to aspire upward toward something greater.
In the last video, we discussed Nietzsche’s “The Last Man”, a shih tzu like human being that can no longer overcome himself or produce greater offspring. The Last Man lives a superficial life without aim, aspiration, or great upward struggle. He is the end of the evolutionary line of man.
Today, we are talking about the anti-dote to the last man. If you are watching this, you’re probably one of the brave spirits who reject modernity and want to bring forth a higher version of self and culture. There is such great potential within you. Potential that will lay dormant until you aim the arrow of your highest hope, and learn to live heroically and suffer well.
So much of my own life has been a desperate struggle through resistance and fear to bring forth the potential I feel inside. Along the way, the lessons and stories of heroes and warrior-philosophers has inspired me most. Nietzsche was one of these inspirations. He sought to elevate what makes man most healthy and spiritually alive, and his heroic philosophy has been a sweet nectar through times of trouble. He saw that the greatness within man can only be manifested through great aim, self-overcoming, and from acquiring a taste for danger and suffering. He did not wish ease upon his higher men and women, but for them to aim the arrow of their highest hopes and go into battle willingly. Here is the first video on Nietzsche’s guide to greatness and his advice to the free spirits of the future.
“For believe me! — the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously!”
The problem is, is suffering sucks. Getting sick, breaking your arm, losing something or someone you love, feeling lonely pain, it’s all tragic. And no one can fix that about life, no matter how hard they try. We don’t have a positive sense for the tragic drama of living anymore, not like the ancient Greeks, as a result, we have lost our taste for danger and exhalated suffering.
Nietzsche identified two approaches to life and the inherent problems it holds: Life-denial or life-affirmation. Life denial is the chosen path of the west, I call it the way of the Shih Tzu. Life deniers negate the way of nature, the way of strength, and pursue safety and comfort externally. They hate suffering and pain and discomfort as all evil things, so they try to escape it. They try to fix suffering. These life deniers try to make the world perfectly safe and equal, as to make existence as easy as possible for them and the herd. That is their highest value, making life easy and equal and safe.
To these life-deniers and preachers of equality, Nietzsche would ask: what is the purpose of civilization? Is it to make everyone safe and pacified with pleasure? Or is it to produce higher types of men and women who can push the human species forward. Also, he would question their motives and purpose for living. What makes man most alive and happy? Shall we strive to make man weak and cute, or strong, vital, and majestic? If we decide on the latter path, we need a re-evaluation of how we approach hardship and suffering.
Life affirmation was his solution. Life-affirmers do not seek to fix nature’s way, they seek to thrive through challenge. They affirm the wild, mysterious, and marvelous ordeal of living as it is. They do not seek to escape suffering, but overcome it. They revel in competition, and in conquering themselves. As a result of this approach, they build up their self-reliance and internal resources instead of relying on external securities to protect them. Where life-deniers become dependent on other people and institutions for their safety and happiness, life-affirmers take full responsibility for themselves. Life affirmers live dangerously where other people stay safe, they choose resistance over ease, and because of this spirit of heroism, they become free.
Suffering, resistance, and uncertainty are inherent to life. They represent the great obstacles that everyone must face. Life denial or life-affirmation represent the two paths we can take to deal with the suffering and uncertainty of life. One makes you progressively weaker, while the other makes you stronger and more profound than ever before. Nietzsche saw that our entire moral system as a people will come to reflect which path we choose to walk. Do we value equality and safety for the herd as the highest ideal, or heroism, nobility, and the production of high culture?
I just read the Giver. A fabulous book depicting a society that first appears as a utopia lead by progressive social systems and a wise circle of elders. Everything is set up under the principle of “sameness”. There is no contrast. No great pain or inequality or suffering. Everything is orderly and perfect. All the systems work smoothly, everyone is safe, and there is no social or personal disharmony whatsoever. Even death is removed from society, re-termed a “release” from the community. As you read further, this perfectly controlled society is actually a dystopia of a disturbing variety. Under the “sameness”, the leaders have removed the essence of “life” from living.
The main character awakened to this dystopia slowly after he was chosen to receive the dreams and memories of the world before the sameness. He was mesmerized by memories of cold, and hot, and snow, and changes in the season. He was overwhelmed by the majesty of color, because up until then, everything in his world was whitewashed grey. He realized that war, suffering, attachment, and pain had been eradicated in his community, but so was love and the sense of family. In whitewashed equality, there was no vitality in life. Without great pain and trials, there is no joy and exhaltation. There is no grief, sorrow, or true feeling. In total sameness, there is no valleys or peaks, just a dull happiness that is not true happiness at all.
This book and others like the Brave New World, provide a beautiful warning: When we try to legislate and manage society to make everyone equal, safe, and happy, life loses its zest. It’s power. It’s love. Utopia is not earned through denying life and trying to fix it, but through affirming the struggle of life as it is. Every golden age of humanity, whether it was ancient Greece or the Renaissance, has come from this heroic mentality of life-affirmation.
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