Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, is infamous for having had his work co-opted and corrupted by the Nazis. It became the intellectual basis for their terrible crimes. His Übermensch or Supermen idea was seized upon to justify the suppression of compassion. The need to take harsh actions. This twisting of an idea led to Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Belsen and the other death camps. Yet, Nietzsche would have disavowed the Nazis. He would have objected to their illicit and distorted adoption of his philosophy.
What interests me is whether Nietzsche is relevant today? I’d say yes. He has some interesting observations to make. Often overlooked in the post-war discussion of Nietzsche’s work is the predictions he made about how societies may evolve. Although, the outcome he predicted may not arise in its entirety.
Nietzsche's renown arises from leading the charge that saw the so-called ‘death of God’. He held that the Christian doctrine created a slave morality. You suffered in this life, to get a reward in the next. In the process, by adopting the Christian approach you fail to aspire by surrendering to your masters. Without power, the Christian lies a weakness into a strength. A herd mentality of servitude results. Nietzsche formed a belief that at its very core Christianity has a hatred of human nature. It seeks to suppress our urges. The things that make us human, it degrades by objecting to experiences that allow us to grow. Thus, Christianity with its worship of weakness, slows our progress, denting our aspirations.
Nietzsche struggled throughout his life with illness. This led to a psychological condition with syphilis the probable cause. A failed love affair made matters worse. Plus, he dabbled with the ideas of Mr Grumpy of the philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer. A notable falling out with composer Wagner, further helped shape his world view. At times he couldn’t write for more than 20 minutes without a break. He struggled on. Despite his many setbacks he never accepted all the dark sentiments of Schopenhauer.
Nietzsche saw beauty in the mountains, the arts and culture. What is more, he believed that pain, struggle and hardship made us better people. Yes, you can ascend to the top of the mountain by helicopter to admire the view. But to Nietzsche, that’s an empty unfulfilling event.
The greater person, the Übermensch, climbs the mountain. Huffing, slipping and fighting the elements. He gains more from the experience. Likewise with lost love, sorrow and mistakes. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Thus, suffering is to be embraced. Pain for Nietzsche unlocked happiness. Instead of following a blue print, the individual committed to themselves to the task.
Later in life, the foundation of his work was a failed effort to replace Christian values. He was that guidance for a new generation without God must be given. That never came to be during his life. Although his sister published his theories, these are by no means complete or coherent.
Nietzsche was astute to recognise that mankind could slip backwards as the world became comfortable. The ‘last man’ has turned his back on challenges, deals in mediocrity and the trivial. Wallowing in opulent ignorance. In the title, I’ve cited the Kardashian’s as emblematic of what distracts the ‘last man’. Actually, I’m spoilt for choice. Love Island, Big Brother, countless computer games in the candy crush milieu, also fit the bill. I suppose that’s the point. There is so much stuff out there that we are always distracted.
Watching reality TV, inane game shows, plus an obsession with mindless computer games appear to affirm Nietzsche’s view. That ‘last man’ devoid of a moral compass, faithless, listless, is average. Without their churches and religious masters, the herd is fragmenting. A void is being filled by polarised cultural choices purveyed by the Internet and TV.
I have to say there is profound intellectual snottiness in taking that position. As I look around me people continue to seek the exceptional, make sacrifices and aim for greatness. Yes, granted, the distracted common herd is increasingly segmented. That does not mean we have stopped moving forward.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.