Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fantasy vs Reality

In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history"—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it. But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that he floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world. There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees on the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.

It is strange that this should be the effect of the intellect, for after all it was given only as an aid to the most unfortunate, most delicate, most evanescent beings in order to hold them for a minute in existence, from which otherwise, without this gift, they would have every reason to flee as quickly as Lessing's son. [In a famous letter to Johann Joachim Eschenburg (December 31, 1778), Lessing relates the death of his infant son, who "understood the world so well that he left it at the first opportunity."] That haughtiness which goes with knowledge and feeling, which shrouds the eyes and senses of man in a blinding fog, therefore deceives him about the value of existence by carrying in itself the most flattering evaluation of knowledge itself. Its most universal effect is deception; but even its most particular effects have something of the same character.

The intellect, as a means for the preservation of the individual, unfolds its chief powers in simulation; for this is the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, since they are denied the chance of waging the struggle for existence with horns or the fangs of beasts of prey. In man this art of simulation reaches its peak: here deception, flattering, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself—in short, the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men. They are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images; their eye glides only over the surface of things and sees "forms"; their feeling nowhere lead into truth, but contents itself with the reception of stimuli, playing, as it were, a game of blindman's buff on the backs of things. Moreover, man permits himself to be lied to at night, his life long, when he dreams, and his moral sense never even tries to prevent this—although men have been said to have overcome snoring by sheer will power.
-Frederich Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense"

4 comments:

FreeThinke said...

It's a pitiful, deeply cynical, depressing, self-centered, self-defeating worldview. This was one miserably unhappy individual. Sorry, but despite the beauty of his prose -- even in transition -- his point of view calls for immediate rejection. Acceptance would, perforce, induce madness and desperation.

Reminds me of another thinker you seem to admire whose, apparent, primary ambition was to upend the Universe and stand it on its metaphorical ear. He failed, of course, but not before he did a great deal of harm that, Alas! may prove irreparable.

A fellow named Sigmund Freud,
Whose writings cannot be enjeud,
Said, "I find, I confess,
Mankind's Mind is a mess
And would be better off unempleud!

-FJ said...

Madness, I'm afraid, is all we have.

I once went mad, and needed to know why. Now, I know.

Sorry if this perspective upsets you. I. too, would prefer a Platonic or Christian Universe. And when I need to, I return in mind, to it. But I no longer "live" there. And when the pain of living "here" is no longer worth the trouble, I will, like Lessing's son, willfully depart from it.

Sorry again for the morose turn.

FreeThinke said...

No need to apologize -- EVER. You are entitled to your thoughts and feelings.

I believe that by exercising a DETERMINATION to cultivate faith and exercise optimism (hard to do, I know!) we may not change the world, which admittedly is a fearsome place, but we CAN improve our own prospects, and live more joyfully and serenely until The Axe falls. SO, on general principals I opt for a cheerful outlook.

It took me a long time, because though never a liberal (God forbid!) I used to be something of a whining Sad Sack. It didn't pay, so I dropped it.

It's still a daily battle to keep the blues at bay, however, but it's definitely a battle worth fighting, even though "victory" is always temporary at best.

-FJ said...

You have a wonderful faith, FT. Never let it go!