Just about anything is possible once you get rid of the rules and boundaries that hold you back.
As I discussed in my last post, Nietzsche believed that nihilism was going to sweep across Europe following the ‘death’ of Christianity and objective morality. In order to prevent Europe from sinking into nihilism, Nietzsche believed that man must re-invent himself. Man must become an Ubermensch (German for Superman or Over-man).
An Ubermensch is a man who is able to overcome the herd perspective and is capable of creating a new perspective without dogmatically forcing his perspective on others. By herd perspective, Nietzsche is referring to dogmatic beliefs that are widely held and accepted by society. Many of these beliefs go unquestioned, and thus we live in a sort of ‘herd’ similar to sheep (the term sheeple is probably the best representation of this). By overcoming the herd perspective, a man can free himself and achieve new heights.
The Ubermensch is supposed to act as the answer to the problem of nihilism. Since God is dead, that means there is no objective truth or morality. Thus, an Ubermensch acts as his own ‘God’, abandoning the herd instinct and determining his own morality. He is neither slave nor master, as he does not impose his will on others. He is a master of self-discipline. He must be willing to embrace suffering and learn from it. In a way, the Ubermensch is the next step in human evolution. It’s a new intuition, perspective, and greatness for mankind.
As Nietzsche wrote ‘Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”
The Ubermensch does not focus on life after death or on other worlds. Rather, an Ubermensch focuses only on his current life. He loves life, and thus embraces it. Nietzsche believed that religion, specifically Christianity, was bad because it taught people to focus more on the idea of an afterlife than on their current existence. Thus, an Ubermensch is the opposite. He does not focus on the afterlife, he only focuses on his life now, on his current existence.
Despite the struggles and suffering that will inevitably come as a result of such an existence, the Ubermensch does not look for ways to ease his suffering. Instead, he embraces the suffering and uses it to his advantage. As Nietzsche said, ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ An Ubermensch must use the pain and suffering they feel to better themselves. They cannot turn away or try to subdue the pain. Rather, they should use the pain they feel as motivation to take control of their lives.
We always try to give a meaning to our suffering. For example, a Christian will suffer and believe that once they die, the will go to Heaven – a place of eternal peace. Similarity, a Buddhist or Hindu suffers because they believe that eventually they will break samsara (the cycle of rebirth) and this ascent to Nirvana or Moksha (also a place of eternal bliss or peace). Basically, when we suffer we try to tell ourselves that it is for a reason. But with nihilism, it would mean that our suffering is meaningless. We suffer for no reason, and there will be no positive outcome from our suffering. We suffer and that’s that. There is no meaning, no end goal.
The idea of an Ubermensch was supposed to give meaning to suffering. In other words, mankind will suffer because by suffering they can become the Ubermensch. Thus, suffering no longer seems meaningless.
There is no objective way of achieving the Ubermensch. It is an individual process, and thus can differ from person to person. A person becomes an Ubermensch by themselves – they create their own path towards the overman. Personally, I like to image that there are two cliffs.
On one side is man, and on the other side is the Ubermensch. Below is a dark, seemingly endless abyss. The goal for the man is to reach the other side. How he does this up to him. Maybe he builds a bridge, or perhaps he attempts to jump. Perhaps he goes down to the bottom of the abyss and climbs back to the top on the other side. There are numerous ways to reach the other side – none of them are really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It all depends on the individual. In order to become an Ubermensch, the individual must do it themselves.
Again, there is no ‘one’ way to become an Ubermensch, however Nietzsche did give some advice on how to achieve it. This included abstaining from alcohol and religion and accepting that our desires dictate our lives – and therefore we should use envy as a guide to try and get what we want. By abstaining from things that numb our pain (such as alcohol or religion), we can see the world as it truly is and thus overcome it.
The Ubermensch is supposed to act as the cure for mankind’s current illness. Perhaps the greatest test for the Ubermensch is the Eternal Recurrence, which I will explain in part 3
For some reason people seem to love consistency. I mean this in the sense of consistency of ideas. This is especially true in the world of philosophy/politics. People seem to prize themselves on being adamant. And yet I do not understand why.
Everything is subject to change. Change is natural, change is inevitable, and change is everywhere. Yet, whenever someone ‘changes’ their opinion they seem to get alot of backlash. In regards to politics, people who change opinions more than once are viewed as being unreliable, or a ‘flip-flop’. The idea of say, a Communist becoming a Fascist is somehow a ‘bad thing’ so to say. If a person switches from being a Communist to being a Fascist, I guarantee many people will bring this up as a negative. They will say things such as ‘oh, well that guy was a communist at one point in his life, so why should we take his opinion seriously’ or ‘well that guy switched from being a communist to a fascist, so we shouldn’t listen to his ideas, because he clearly doesn’t know what hes doing’.
Of course this is only one example. A person who switches religions will probably get hate from his previous religion, and people in his new religion may view themselves as being better than him (since they were in the religion from the beginning). Lets say a person coverts from Christianity to Buddhism. His Christian friends will view him as a traitor, and his Buddhist friends will think ‘well he may be a Buddhist, but he has not been a Buddhist as long as I have,’ or ‘he may be a Buddhist now but he was once a Christian’.
Of course these are simply allegories but still. The point is that people dont seem to like change. They want consistency. People who are adamant are prideful of this. People are always bragging about how long they’ve been this, or how long they’ve been that. How long they have been a member of X organization, or more importantly, how loyal they have been to that organization. This is especially evident in Conservative religious groups, who pride themselves on how they have ‘never strayed from tradition’. Even the liberals, who claim to be proponents of change and progress – they too like to brag about how long they’ve supported X belief. They mention how they have always supported Gay Rights since its conception, or how they have been pro-choice since the creation of birth control – or something like that. In other words, both groups use their ‘well we’ve been supporting X since so-and-so year’ which is essentially another form of saying ‘look how consistent we are’.
In my opinion everything is subject to change. Change is natural, and people should not be afraid to change. If you want to change religions then do so! If you want to change political parties then do so! You dont even have to have a radical ‘change’ so to speak, yet most people will try hard to say consistent.
For example, there are some people in the Republican Party who were once pro-life but are now secretly pro-choice, but they do not want to admit this. Why? Because this would seem inconsistent. By disagreeing with one tenet of their party, they will come off as being ‘not in line’ with the rest of the party.
Many people are afraid of researching or reading about ideas that may conflict with their own. Why? Because they are afraid that they may find something that will change their minds and opinions. They are afraid that they may like what they have read and thus must now make a decision – should they change opinions and face scrutiny or conceal their true feelings and wear a mask in order to seem consistent.
I met one man, a Catholic, who said that he was interested in Satanism (not interested as in he wanted to become a Satanist, but interested as in he was fascinated with its ideas and was curious about it; similar how a person may be interested in say, baseball. It doesn’t mean they want to become a baseball player, it just means that they want to know more about it). Anyway, this Catholic man said that he was interested in Satanism but that he did not want to read any more about it because he was afraid he might like it, or agree with. And of course I asked ‘so what if you like it? If you prefer Satanism, then become a Satanist.’ But he did not want to become a Satanist even if he liked its ideals, simply because he was afraid of changing ideas.
He was raised a Catholic, and he was afraid of anything that might turn him away from being a Catholic. Thus, subconsciously speaking, this man was afraid of being inconsistent. To go from being a Catholic to a Satanist is very inconsistent – you are essentially adopting the anti-thesis of your previous beliefs.
And why was he afraid of being inconsistent? Because our society seems to prize consistency. We do not like change, as I have mentioned above, and we do many things to try and discourage change. Sure, we tell people to ‘think for themselves’ – but people who really do ‘think for themselves’ end up like Nietzsche, or Charles Manson, or the Unabomber. Now, I am not saying all people who ‘think for themselves’ become terrorists or killers (hence Nietzsche), but what I am saying is that people who really do ‘think for themselves’ tend to become very distant from societies rules.
Society does not want too much change, because society is based off of consistency. A society functions best when everything follows a certain pattern. Change is detrimental, and thus there seems to be this unconscious fear that anything ‘inconsistent’ is somehow bad. Thus, we look down on people who are inconsistent. We view them as being unreliable or untrustworthy. We view them as being lower than those that never change their views.
A person who rarely changes views will probably hold themselves very highly. They will probably think that they are always right, and that is why they have never had to change their views. But I largely disagree. A person who remains adamant is not necessarily right, they are simply afraid of changing views because it will look inconsistent. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they refuse to admit that they may be wrong, and thus stubbornly hold on to their beliefs.
I personally do not mind inconsistency. As I have mentioned above, change is natural. Change you views! Change them as much as you want! There is no law, neither man-made nor natural, that states you must believe X all your life, or that you can only change opinions X amount of times! You are free to change your views as much as you want! So do it! If you want to change your views and admit it to the world than you should! Who cares about consistency? I dont, thats for sure.
The world is a chaotic place. I do not see why opinions should be any different. If you really want to be true to yourself then you will believe what you want to believe and will admit it proudly – regardless of how ‘inconsistent’ your ideas may appear over time.
The Hindu’s believed that the universe has four cycles of existence. According to the Hindu scriptures, we are living in the Kali Yuga – the fourth and final stage of the Hindu cyclical calendar.
While I am not a Hindu, and for the most part I am an atheist, I will admit that I do believe mankind is living in a Kali Yuga-esque world (at least in a symbolic way).
The Kali Yuga is an age of spiritual oblivion – where mankind is obsessed with material items and consumes at an unprecedented rate. As the Kali Yuga progresses, mankind becomes more and more obsessed with material items and possessions – to the point where these material items become the new ‘gods’ and ‘idols’ of man.
Never before in the history of our species has mankind been so obsessed with material possessions. We live in a world where money, commercial products and luxury items represent the worth of a human being. A person with a lot of money is considered a success – a person with little money is considered a failure.
People with expensive clothes, big houses, fast cars or glamorous jewelry are admired and respected. The public is more interested in the opinions of a rich celebrity than an actual expert. A person with enough money can essentially commit any crime they want and get away with it (or at least have a better chance of getting a lighter sentence), whereas poor people who commit petty crimes are thrown in a metal cell for years on end with no hope of rehabilitation.
Money, which is essentially a piece of paper, has become the driving force behind the world. Money is the backbone of our modern society. Almost everything that we need to survive (food, shelter, clothes, medicine) can only come to us if we pay for it with money. If you have a lot of money, you can buy more food, a bigger house, designer clothes or even the best medical treatment. And, if you don’t have enough money, you either settle for a lesser, subpar version of the necessities or you lack them altogether (which can lead to starvation, homelessness, nakedness, sickness).
People spend their lives getting jobs that they probably dislike in order to obtain money so they can buy things that they don’t even need. They might think that they need these items – but they don’t. Society, mainly the media, has tricked these people into thinking that they need to wear these clothes, or drive this car, or eat this food, or drink this water. Advertising makes us think that if we buy this or that we can somehow become successful, or beautiful, or even happy.
Another attribute of the Kali Yuga is that mankind drifts further away from God. Now, let’s say you are a theist – a Christian, Muslim, Jew etc. Surely you can agree that the power of the church, or the power of religion, is quickly decaying. The Roman Catholic church for example once held sway over most of Europe. Now, a large portion of the European population is agnostic or non-religious. The same goes for over here in United States, where church attendance is decreasing despite a growing population. With the rise of science, many aspects of religion are no longer accepted. Even the Catholic Pope is saying that evolution and the Big Bang theory are true – something that no pope previously would have ever even considered. Now, if you are a theist, you could say the world is slowly ‘drifting away from God’. Religion is becoming less and less important to the average person. Atheism and apathy towards religion have become more prevalent.
Now, as an atheist myself, I don’t think this is a bad thing, I am simply stating that it does seem true that mankind is drifting further from ‘God’. As Nietzsche himself said ‘God is Dead’. This doesn’t mean that God was an actual living being – but rather it means that the idea of a God is dead. The concept of God and all this God stood for no longer hold sway over our lives.
However, I believe that, when the Hindu’s said the Kali Yuga would be an age where ‘mankind drifts away from God’ – they meant it in a more personal way. Hindu’s are monists – they believe that everything is ultimately one. God, or any of the 300 million gods, are really just a part of ourselves. There is no difference between you and God. The world is filled with illusions and it is because of these illusions that people think they are separate from God. When you see past the illusions, you realize that God and you are the same thing – you are God, God is you. By learning about yourself, and understanding yourself, you will come to understand God – since the two are the same.
In our modern era, the search for self-discovery seems non-existent. People care only about the opinions other people have of them. Everyone’s self-image and self-esteem is based largely on other people’s opinions. Rather than take the time and mediate on their self, people would rather read some shitty article or horoscope telling about their ‘qualities’ or ‘traits’. Young people need constant reaffirmation and praise in order to feel complete. Social media is a great example of this – where a person feels important based on the amount of attention their posts get. Snap chat is a great example of how young people have an urge to share everything they’re doing with their many ‘followers’. Young people need others to know that they are having fun, or that they just went to a concert, or that they just got wasted. It isn’t enough that the person doing the actual activity is aware that they did it – everyone else must also be aware that they did the activity.
People don’t even attempt to learn about themselves anymore. They’d rather read personal stories or gossip columns on celebrities than think about their own lives. People are always wishing they had the life of someone else rather than their current one. ‘Oh I wish I was so-and-so’ or ‘oh my life would be so much better if I was this person, or that person’.
The biggest problem is that people do not know what they really want. As I mentioned earlier, the media and commercial society has brainwashed most people into thinking that they want this item or that item. Our system teaches kids to ‘pursue their dreams’ – of course these dreams must require some sort of higher-education degree, and the dream must be ‘practical’ and ‘achievable’. If the child says they want to be an artist or singer they will probably be persuaded to chose a different career.
People are brainwashed. They believe that they have some sort of duty or allegiance to the system. They spend their lives working for a system that does not benefit them. They spend their lives chasing after material items that they don’t really want or need – but society has brainwashed them into thinking that they do need these items. The system teaches that people should be peaceful, moral, have a well-paying job, be law-abiding, get married, have a family, support your country, pay taxes, buy products, and be compliant. But is that really what you want? Maybe it is – maybe it isn’t. The point is that society has brainwashed most people into thinking that these are the only options available – or rather that these are the ‘best’ options available. People no longer live their lives as their true selves – they do what society wants them to do and believe what society wants them to believe. Thus, modern man is detached from ‘God’ in the sense that he is detached from himself. How can modern man know God if he doesn’t know himself? How can modern man love God if he doesn’t love himself? How can modern man know what God wants if he doesn’t even know what he wants?
It is sad really – because the only person that you’ll ever have the ability to really know is yourself. No one else will ever live your life, or experience exactly what you’ve experienced. Yet people don’t want to learn about themselves. They don’t want to meditate on their feelings and learn about their true self. In the Kali Yuga, no one knows who they are or what they want or even what potential they have. Everything they know about themselves is an illusion – a trick planted in their mind by the society around them.
There are many other attributes of the Kali Yuga that are prevalent in our society. Avarice will become widespread, sexual promiscuity will be socially acceptable, murder rates will rise, addiction to drugs and alcohol will increase, poverty will rise and spirituality will decrease. All of these things are very prevalent throughout our western world.
Overall, I do think that mankind is living in the Kali Yuga. Our current world is one filled with materialism and an unquenchable appetite for consumerism. Our leaders are corrupt, our world is ruled by a piece of paper, people are ignorant of God and of themselves, and the world slowly descends further and further into an abyss of misery.
The term ‘self’ refers to an individual human being, along with their body, mind, and in some cases, the concept of a ‘soul’. The western view of the ‘enduring self’ refers to the notion that “you are the same person you were earlier in your life. In other words, it assumes that we humans are selves that endure through time” (Velasquez 96). So, despite the many mental and physical changes that may occur during our life, we are essentially the same ‘self’ throughout our many developments. While western traditional has, for the most part, accepted and championed the idea of an ‘enduring self’, the exact definition and characteristics of this ‘enduring self’ are diverse. However, the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume and the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, both rejected the idea of an ‘enduring self’, even going so far as to claim any concept of a ‘self’ is an illusion. In this essay, I intend to examine the two different views and state my own thoughts on which viewpoint is more compelling.
The European philosophers Plato, Descartes, and Locke all believed in an ‘enduring self’, however what exactly constituted this ‘self’ was varied. The concept of a ‘soul’ is often the most popular representation of an ‘enduring self’, because according to western belief, a soul is “immaterial or spiritual” (Velasquez 100), thus a ‘soul’ is beyond the physical realm and not subject to change like material objects. Plato was one of the first philosophers to state that the soul is eternal, so it is the soul of a man that makes him an enduring self, because even after death the soul continues to exist. Many years later, the philosopher Descartes stated that “thinking is an attribute of the soul” and that “the continuity of his thinking mind [is what] makes him remain the same person” (Velasquez 100). In other words, our consciousness is a result of our ‘soul’, or of our ‘enduring self’. Descartes basically believed that, if he could not think, then he could not exist, and thus ‘thinking’ in and of itself was what constituted an enduring self. Locke had a similar view, though his idea was the ‘enduring self’ is a person’s memory. In other words, it is our memory that allows us to identify ourselves, and it is the process of identifying ourselves that allows us to formulate the idea of a ‘self’.
While the western tradition may make some fairly significant justifications for an ‘enduring self’, the Buddhist philosophy completely rejects the notion of a ‘self’ in general, viewing it as an illusion. Buddhist philosophy believes that everything in life is ephemeral, or that nothing lasts forever. Everything is in a constant flux of change and impermanence, thus, the ‘enduring self’ cannot exist, because an ‘enduring self’ would imply something that is ‘permanent’ or ‘unchanging’. The Buddha taught that the idea of a ‘self’ is an illusion, and that this illusion leads to pain and suffering. By renouncing the ‘self’ and transcending the ego, one can obtain release from suffering (nirvana) and finally be at peace.
The Enlightenment thinker David Hume had a somewhat similar idea, in the sense that he too believed there is ‘no self’, and that what we think of as a ‘self’ is just an illusion. Hume “argues that all real knowledge is based on what we can actually perceive with our senses” (Velasquez 104). Hume believed that it was impossible to perceive the ‘self’ with our senses because it doesn’t actually exist – ‘the self’ is just an imaginary concept. Like Buddhism, Hume believed that “because everything is in flux, there is not even an enduring self” (Velasquez 105).
Personally, I find the Eastern tradition (along with Hume’s views) to be more compelling. Like Buddha and David Hume, I too believe that everything is impermanent, including ourselves. For example, right now I’m typing this essay, but the thoughts in my mind at this very moment are different from the thoughts in my mind a few seconds ago. Thus, how could I be an ‘enduring self’ when every few seconds the thoughts in my head are changing? In order to be an ‘enduring self’, wouldn’t that imply that I am unchanging, permanent and stagnant? Even the cells and carbon atoms that make up our bodies change repeatedly. Mentally and physically we are constantly changing, so I think that the idea of an ‘enduring self’ is nothing more than a mystical, idealistic concept.
I would say that the idea of a ‘self’ is just a notion that has been mentally created in order to give ourselves a feeling of identity and purpose. ‘The self’ is really only a product of our evolved consciousness – I personally don’t believe that it exists on any metaphysical, material or spiritual level. ‘The self’ may exist as a product of the mind, in other words, on a psychological level, but in all honesty I think even that definition might be stretching it. I agree with Hume in his reasoning that “we have no real knowledge of a self and so [we] have no justification for claiming that we have a self. What we perceive within ourselves is nothing more than a changing bundle of disconnected sensations” (Velasquez 104). In the end, I feel that David Hume and the Buddha’s views on illusionary nature of ‘the self’ are more rational and realistic.
Humans are always trying to distance themselves from nature. Our egos make us think that we are separate from nature – that the laws of nature do not apply to us. That we are beyond the chaotic world of primordial instincts.
The idea of an afterlife is example of how humans try to escape the concept of their ‘ultimate fate’ (i.e. death). The idea of an afterlife is based off of the notion that death is the end of the body but not of the soul, and that there is another life beyond this one. While this may sound comforting, it is interesting to note that it appears as if human beings are the only creatures that believe in the idea of an afterlife. There is no evidence that any other living creatures have any sort of notion or conception of an ‘afterlife’. So, in a way, the idea of an afterlife, or the notion that there is another life after death, is in itself another way in which mankind tries to distance itself from nature. As conscious beings, we like to tell ourselves that we will not perish after death, and that something else lies beyond the grave. However, this ‘afterlife’ only applies to humans, and not to other animals, or to insects or plants (all of which are living beings too). Thus, this idea of an afterlife is a purely human concept, and so it operates as a sort of mechanism that we use to try and distance ourselves from nature.