Sunday, August 23, 2009

I just borrowed this book on Philosophy (The Everything Philosophy Book, by James Mannion) from the library yesterday (and jl, I didn’t see any Sarah Dessen on the shelves! Guess I’m not the only fan). Some of Plato’s ideas are starting to make sense to me now. Also, I read up about some other philosophers and their ideas.

One of those who appealed to me is Nietzsche, the most famous – or should I say infamous – German philosopher, who is also the most misunderstood. Most people think of a Nazi when they think of Nietzsche. But Nietzsche has never been an advocate of Nazism. It was his sister who was anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi, and who went about promoting her brother’s works, that people tend to associate Nietzsche’s ideas with Nazi propaganda. It also didn’t help that the Nazis seized Nietzsche’s principles and corrupted it, making it suit their quest for absolute power over the state.

You see, Nietzsche had this Superman principle: he believed that we are enslaved by the moralities that society and religion impose upon us, and that we should strive to break out of these confinements and achieve our greatest human potential, thereby rising above the ‘herd’ (as he called unwashed masses). He believed the Superman does not bow to the power of religion or other authority figures, or conform to the throng of humanity. The Superman makes his own ethical decisions based on his own morality, not one imposed by society and religion.

Nietzsche was advocating mastering yourself and achieving your personal potential without allowing yourself to be inhibited by a repressive society. However, the Nazis distorted his principle so as to gain absolute control over Germany. Thus the bad rep for Nietzsche.

Nietzsche’s most famous work is called Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which begins with a fable that sums up his views on the objective of the individual in society. In the fable, a camel morphs into a lion, the lion slays a dragon named ‘Thou Shalt’, and then the lion morphs into a child.

In youth, we are all camels (why camels and not giraffes or hippos, I don’t know). Born into blank slates, we have the weight of the world heaped upon us. We are ‘beasts of burden’, carrying all that society and religion have imposed on our innocent souls, preventing us from achieving our full potential and finding true contentment in our lives. In adulthood, we become lions and venture out into the world. The more crap we face from the diabolical forces of society and religion, the stronger we become. (It was, in fact, Nietzsche who uttered the famous aphorism: That which does not kill us makes us stronger.)

So then the lion is confronted by a dragon named ‘Thou Shalt’, which symbolises all the do’s and don’ts of society and religion that have stifled us in our lifetimes. The lion slays the dragon and is then transformed into an innocent, uncorrupted child. Paradoxically, this childlike state should be the goal of the fully matured adult who has survived the slings and arrows, remained broken but unbowed, and slayed the dragon to emerge the triumphant Superman.

That is Nietzsche’s philosophy in a nutshell. Which kind of makes sense.

Now, don’t start thinking I’m some kind of anarchist or irreverent Atheist (although I do reject the idea of a higher power – but I shall leave it at that, since the topic of religion makes me uneasy). I just think that what Nietzsche said about mastering yourself and not conforming to the ideas imposed upon you so as to achieve your highest potential makes complete sense. His philosophy is one that encourages seizing life by the reins with gusto and being all that you can be.

The problem is, some Nietzsche-philes misinterpret his idea. They think that since Nietzsche said other people may get hurt along the way as you exert your will to power, and you may get hurt by another’s rampaging will, but hey, that’s life, that they are justified in tyrannical means to emerge as the victorious and the powerful. That’s why many people think Nietzsche’s a trouble-maker for coming up with those ideas of his.

I say, you fear what you don’t know.

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