In life, we all want to become good and virtuous people. Whether it be through the betterment of others, or by choosing humility and love over pride and hate, we all seem to have this idea that to be virtuous is to be good. But what if these “virtues” are just a mask for our primal and evil tendencies?
The Inevitability of Nihilism
In this age of atheism and perceived rationality, we have inevitably strayed away from following religious traditions and doctrines. But even Friedrich Nietzsche noticed this shift in his own life in the rise of a rapidly industrializing Germany.
Like many parts of the modern world that we live in today, nationalism and patriotism would come to dominate countries and take a hold of societies. But what also came was, as Nietzsche put it, the death of God.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
This is one of the most misunderstood quotes of Nietzsche’s and is still to this day taken out of context. But to put it simply, humanity has killed the idea of God, and we have lost all purpose and meaning because of it. Now we must build our own meanings out of the dirt and earth, rather than from the heavens above. Nietzsche wants us to know that it is up to us to take the place of God in creating values that will be worthwhile, useful, and good for mankind.
Inevitably, from the loss of meaning and purpose, we as a human society have found ourselves between a rock and a hard place. We are now forced to take to the steering wheel and drive the vehicle of meaning and truth and find the destination that we seek. But, very few of us are actually willing to drive this colossal beast of a vehicle, and we are suffering from our own incompetence.
We as humans seek truth, knowledge, and rationality. However, viewing the world in this way will inherently have its own problems. We aren’t just rational creatures but emotional ones as well. No matter how tough-skinned you may think that you are, our emotions and perceptions in it of themselves will shape our reality. And it is this that allows us to find our own inherent meanings. Although reason and rationality are what spark innovation, advancement, and the pursuit of truth, trying to find the objective meaning of life, is like trying to find the meaning of a blank canvas. There is nothing to go off of.
The Creation of a Slave Morality
But what Nietzsche believed, was that we had our own meanings to paint into this blank canvas. But what do you think is easier? Creating a painting from scratch all on your own with absolutely no help, or having someone else paint the painting for you? Everyone wants to have their own painting, but they don’t want to spend the time, dedication, and effort to actually create something original on their own canvas. And by skipping the process of building your own values and virtues, you inherently encourage laziness and even fake virtues.
“Here the ways of men divide. If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche critiques the idea of seeking to be happy and peaceful. As it is that which will lead to the complacency that will ultimately destroy the drive to learn and seek truth. When you take a look at the virtues of the Christians and even the post-modernist era, you can see this idea of blind following and weakness that Nietzsche speaks of. He believes, as do I, that many of these virtues forged from blind faith are really just an excuse for weakness.
The persecution of the Christians by the Romans would play a major part in establishing the Christian ideals of good and evil. As the Romans would come rule over the Christians, and would often be discriminated against, the Christians sought to find spiritual strength rather than the physical strengths that the Romans exhibited.
This would manifest itself in ideas such as humility, patience, forgiveness, et cetera. These values came from the Christian’s inability to fight back against the Romans, and gather any sort of material wealth. Nietzsche calls this the “slave morality.” The “slaves”, in this case, the Christians, come to justify their weakness as a true sign of strength and would ironically regard the power and strength of the Romans as a mark of weakness. This is what Nietzsche called “ressentiment,” aka resentment.
Now, I’m not trying to say that these are bad virtues and neither is Nietzsche. But the true value of these virtues is lost in the guise of slave morality. These virtues were an excuse. The Christians had no other options in regard to fighting back. And so, these values have been forged
But from this, ideas such as pride would not be seen as virtues but as evils. Sins that only horrible people could commit, and would lead to their ticket to hell. But, without knowing the true nature of these “sins,” one cannot become a virtuous being.
The idea of integrating the shadow was an idea from the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, but it helps to add to the idea of the slave morality postulated by Nietzsche, and to which I heavily agreeing with.
“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
— Carl Jung
The shadow is the hidden part of your psyche that is part of the unconcious being. It is the parts about you that you hate and that you try to keep tucked away deep inside your mind. But when you try to forget about it, it shows itself. It begins to manifest control over you when your guard is down. And if you aren’t aware of your shadow, you may inevitably be consumed by its presence. If the shadow is not truly one with the being, you will never be able to find your true self.
Carl Jung believes that true integration of this shadow into your life leads to growth and the unification of your being. By recognizing and integrating your shadow, you are able to truly control your actions and you will have the awareness to work towards true improvement and growth.
This idea of the shadow helps to define what true virtue looks like. A harmless and weak human is not virtuous just as a worm is not virtuous. Only having the option to submit and unable to do anything not signify anything other than weakness.
On the contrary, a virtuous human is a being that is capable of the most wicked and nasty things and actions, yet it chooses to do what is good. Virtue is not forged from a lack of options to do anything else. Virtue is a manifestation of judgment and control.
But even these inherent virtues and values are still not good enough. As many religions seek to reach towards the heavens, and other ideologies reach for utopias, few seek to truly improve the world that we are in right now. This plays towards Nietzsche’s critique of what he called “true world theories,” the idea that this world is only temporary, and that another world with infinite happiness and bliss is possible. But with this, people forge their values and virtues as a gateway to other worlds, and not values to improve this world. It is the ubermensch(overman) who will usher in the values that will affirm life as it is right now, rather than to escape and resent life.
“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the overman — a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
We often think that we are the most advanced creature to ever have walked this earth. Although completely justifiable, we tend to forget that we as a species are still constantly evolving. In the physical and mental space, we have massive potential. But we must remember that those primitive desires of reproduction, power, security, and all the rest are still baked right into us.
We as a species are able to become both the overman and a primitive animal. The path across the bridge is for us to choose. But the approaching crisis of total nihilism due to our rationality requires that we find and create the overman; the one who will save us, by creating meaning that will benefit and cherish life on Earth. But finding this overman will require us to grow and realize our full potential.
The Will to Power
In the process of self-overcoming, Nietzsche believes that we must realize our own “Will to Power” in order to truly ascend and grow as individuals. In essence, the will to power is the idea that every organism enacts its authority and strength over the world and other organisms. This idea is what Nietzsche believed to be the engine that powers evolution. Rather than the idea of natural selection, it is an organism’s will to power that allows for their evolutionary success. However, when Nietzsche speaks of power, he is referencing not only physical but also spiritual and mental power as well.
However, in the process of self-overcoming, we must enact our own will to power against ourselves. In this, we must set ourselves massive and hairy life goals, and do everything in our might to do so. And with this set, we must constantly iterate and improve. But in this pursuit, we will eventually face setbacks and suffering.
The Gift of Suffering
Suffering is an important part of our lives. Be it the consequences that we face due to tiny mistakes, or the unavoidable tragedies that may be stricken upon you, suffering is not something to scoff at.
“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Suffering is what teaches us to become strong. Suffering is what motivates us to do better. Suffering is that which allows us to progress towards truth. It is suffering and the understanding of it that will lead us towards the overman. The overman is concerned with creating meaning out of our world to serve the purpose of improving this world. We must truly get a grasp of the world we inhabit and the people within it in order to truly know virtue and meaning.
This idea of suffering is what fuels gratitude. It is suffering that makes us realize the beauty and fragility of the world. It assigns meaning and purpose to something that we often take for granted. Beauty cannot exist without wickedness, and good cannot exist without evil. It is the contrast between them that allows for distinction. We must sweetly embrace everything; all things bad and all things good. Because that is how we will understand the world.
And then, and only then, can the overman be created. The one who will create true virtues and values, which will affirm the life of Earth. The one who will dismantle nihilism, and create true meaning and purpose from those virtues. The one who will save us from extinction.
What The Future Might Hold
Now, this far into the article, you might be asking.
What is the point of all of this? The world is so different than what the world looked like in the 1800s. So this is all just old news. Right? Well… No.
The world we live in right now is technologically more diverse and complex. Whether it be through supersonic airplanes, or through genetically modified bacteria, we seem to have gained a massive amount of control over the powers of nature. But, we as human beings have not fundamentally changed. We like to think of ourselves as more intelligent and better than our ancestors, but are we really?
Right now, God is indeed dead. Movements such as the postmodernist movement have shown the extent to which some have gone reject universal truth and meaning. The “correct” way to live life is all subjective, but ultimately there will be an infinite amount of interpretations and ways to live it. However, what has not realized is that there are only a finite amount of ways to live life that won’t result in catastrophe or death.
A Shallow Meaning
With the degradation of meaning and purpose, hedonism might make a grand appearance before true nihilism sets in. Hedonism is the idea that happiness and quenching your every desire is the true meaning of life. But what this fails to realize, is that seeking pleasure in the short term, robs your future self of its potential and its possibilities.
“Some regard their ideal with shy humility and would like to deny it: they fear their higher self because, when it speaks, it speaks demandingly. In addition, it has a ghostly freedom of coming or staying away as it wishes; for that reason it is often called a gift of the gods, while actually everything else is a gift of the gods (of chance): this, however, is the man himself.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Everyone has their higher self, their future self who manifests all of their potentials. But it takes massive amounts of effort in order to change your potential into a true part of you. If we dispose ourself to only seeking pleasure, then we will never be able to struggle and become our true higher selves. Hedonism is but a shallow way to live a life. It exacerbates the potential within every human being and makes them submit to their primal desires. This path may be a path into the regression of what made humans rise above all other animals. We may see ourselves dig our own grave, and eventually fall into chaos and extinction.
However, one major problem that we are seeing right now, is the prioritization of positive feelings over everything else. The idea of the “snowflake generation” has been a modern invention of the twenty-first century and even became the word of the year in 2016 in the Collin’s English Dictionary
snowflake generation: the young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations”
Although it is good that we are standing up for others, hedonism is starting to rear its ugly head in the door. If we seek to not become displeased, which is still different from seeking happiness, then we will not gravitate towards difficult things. We have to realize that suffering is a part of life, and that the meaning that we find through adopting responsibilities will ultimately lead to greater happiness than true nihilism.
Every one of us is a complex product of our biology and our environment. By developing consciousness, we gained the freedom to experience and have complex thoughts about the future. But with this, our true fragility and weaknesses are also revealed. However, we cannot hide our weaknesses as virtues. We must become civilized monsters, capable of enacting destruction upon the world but still choosing not to. Then and only then, will we become truly virtuous.
“To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Thanks for reading to the end of my article! If you liked this article you can read some of my other articles on exponential technologies or philosophy! You can contact me by either emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. Again, thanks for reading, and have a wonderful rest of your day!