The good, the bad, and the meaningless

“He who wants to become wise will profit greatly from at some time having harboured the idea that mankind is fundamentally evil and corrupt: it is a false idea, as is its opposite; but it enjoyed dominance throughout whole ages of history, and its roots have branched out even into us ourselves and our world.  To understand ourselves we must understand it; but if we are then ourselves to rise higher, we must rise up above it.  We then come to recognize that there is no such thing as sin in the metaphysical sense; but, in the same sense, no such thing as virtue, either; that this whole domain of moral ideas is in a state of constant fluctuation, that there exist higher and deeper conceptions of good and evil, of moral and immoral.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (emphasis in original; trans. Hollingdale)

The power of pain

“Observe children who weep and wail in order that they shall be pitied, and therefore wait for the moment when their condition will be noticed; live among invalids and the mentally afflicted and ask yourself whether their eloquent moaning and complaining, their displaying of misfortune, does not fundamentally have the objective of hurting those who are with them: the pity which these then express is a consolation for the weak and suffering, inasmuch as it shows them that, all their weakness nothwithstanding, they posses at any rate one power: the power to hurt.  In this feeling of superiority of which the manifestation of pity makes him conscious, the unfortunate man gains a sort of pleasure; in the conceit of his imagination he is still of sufficient importance to cause affliction in the world.  The thirst for pity is thus a thirst for self-enjoyment, and that at the expense of one’s fellow men; it displays man in the whole ruthlessness of his own dear self.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (emphasis in original; trans. Hollingdale)

A useful truth

“The state never has any use for truth as such, but only for truth which is useful to it, more precisely for anything whatever useful to it whether it be truth, half-truth or error.  A union of state and philosophy can therefore make sense only if philosophy can promise to be unconditionally useful to the state, that is to say, to set usefulness to the state higher than truth.  It would of course be splendid for the state if it also had truth in its pay and service; but the state itself well knows that it is part of the essence of truth that it never accepts pay or stands in anyone’s service.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations (emphasis in original; trans. Hollingdale)

Wherever you go, you’re still there

“In individual moments we all know how the most elaborate arrangements of our life are made only so as to flee from the tasks we actually ought to be performing, how we would like to hide our head somewhere as though our hundred-eyed conscience could not find us out there, how we hasten to give our heart to the state, to money-making, to sociability or science merely so as no longer to possess it ourselves, how we labor at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because to us it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think.  Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself; universal too is the shy concealment of this haste because everyone wants to seem content and would like to deceive more sharp-eyed observers as to the wretchedness he feels.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations (trans. Hollingdale)

Money talks

“Wherever money achieves preeminence, i.e. cities, it radically reshapes the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior of the people who use it to organize their social relations not as ties but exchanges. The minds of intellectually sophisticated metropolitans become quite literally minds of money, full of the thoughts and judgments money would have, if it could have them.” — Erwin Montgomery, “The Withdrawal Method”

An argument for checks and balances

“When the historical sense reigns without restraint, and all its consequences are realized, it uproots the future because it destroys illusions and robs the things that exist of the atmosphere in which alone they can live.  Historical justice, even when it is genuine and practised with the purest of intentions, is therefore a dreadful virtue because it always undermines the living thing and brings it down: its judgment is always annihilating.  If the historical drive does not also contain a drive to construct, if the purpose of destroying and clearing is not to allow a future already alive in anticipation to raise its house on the ground thus liberated, if justice alone prevails, then the instinct for creation will be enfeebled and discouraged.  A religion, for example, which is intended to be transformed into historical knowledge under the hegemony of pure historical justice, a religion which is intended to be understood through and through as an object of science and learning, will when this process is at an end also be found to have been destroyed.  The reason is that historical verification always brings to light so much that is false, crude, inhuman, absurd, violent that the mood of pious illusion in which alone anything that wants to live can live necessarily crumbles away: for it is only in love, only when shaded by the illusion produced by love, that is to say in the unconditional faith in right and perfection, that man is creative.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations (emphasis in original; trans. Hollingdale)

Where are we? How did we get here?

“Men and ages which serve life by judging and destroying a past are always dangerous and endangered men and ages.  For since we are the outcome of earlier generations, we are also the outcome of their aberrations, passions and errors, and indeed of their crimes; it is not possible wholly to free oneself from this chain.  If we condemn these aberrations and regard ourselves as free of them, this does not alter the fact that we originate in them.  The best we can do is to confront our inherited and hereditary nature with our knowledge, and through a new, stern discipline combat our inborn heritage and implant in ourselves a new habit, a new instinct, a second nature, so that our first nature withers away.  It is an attempt to give oneself, as it were a posteriori, a past in which one would like to originate in opposition to that in which one did originate: — always a dangerous attempt because it is so hard to know the limit of denial of the past and because second natures are usually weaker than the first.  What happens all to often is that we know the good but do not do it, because we also know the better but cannot do it.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations (trans. Hollingdale)

Contemplating the kine

“Consider the cattle, grazing as they pass you by: they do not know what is meant by yesterday or today, they leap about, eat, rest, digest, leap about again, and so from morn till night and from day to day, fettered to the moment and its pleasure or displeasure, and thus neither melancholy nor bored.  This is a hard sight for man to see; for, though he thinks himself better than the animals because he is human, he cannot help envying them their happiness–what they have, a life neither bored nor painful, is precisely what he wants, yet he cannot have it because he refuses to be like an animal.  A human being may well ask an animal: ‘Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?’  The animal would like to answer, and say: ‘The reason is I always forget what I was going to say’–but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations (trans. Hollingdale)

Cold sober and seeing straight

“One can live only so long as one is intoxicated, drunk with life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail to see that it is all a stupid cheat. What is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.” — Count Leo Tolstoy (quoted by William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience)

It’s simple, really

“What is it that makes Homer so much more vivid and concrete in his descriptions than any other poet?  His lively eye, with which he discerns so much more.  We all talk about poetry so abstractly because we all tend to be indifferent poets.  At bottom the esthetic phenomenon is quite simple: all one needs in order to be a poet is the ability to have a lively action going on before one continually, to live surrounded by hosts of spirits.  To be a dramatist all one needs is the urge to transform oneself and speak out of strange bodies and souls.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (trans. Golffing)

Keeping out of your own way

“The subject—the striving individual bent on furthering his own egoistic purposes—can be thought of only as an enemy to art, never as its source.  But to the extent that the subject is an artist he is already delivered from individual will and has become a medium through which the True Subject celebrates his redemption in illusion.  For better or worse, one thing should be quite obvious to all of us: the entire comedy of art is not played for our own sakes—for our betterment or education, say—nor can we consider ourselves the true originators of that art realm; while on the other hand we have every right to view ourselves as esthetic projections of the veritable creator and derive such dignity as we possess from our status as art works.  Only as an esthetic product can the world be justified to all eternity—although our consciousness of our own significance does scarcely exceed the consciousness a painted soldier might have of the battle in which he takes part.  Thus our whole knowledge of art is at bottom illusory, seeing that as mere knowers we can never be fused with that essential spirit, at the same time creator and spectator, who has prepared the comedy of art for his own edification.  Only as the genius in the act of creation merges with the primal architect of the cosmos can he truly know something of the eternal essence of art.  For in that condition he resembles the uncanny fairy tale image which is able to see itself by turning its eyes.  He is at once subject and object, poet, actor, and audience.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (emphasis in original; trans. Golffing)

Therein lies a difficulty

“The great misfortune for intellectual merit is that it has to wait until the good is praised by those who produce only the bad; indeed, the misfortune already lies in the general fact that it has to receive its crown from the hands of human judgement, a quality of which most people possess about as much as a castrate possesses of the power to beget children.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (trans. Hollingdale)

Full of sound and fury

“Exaggeration in every sense is as essential to newspaper writing as it is to the writing of plays: for the point is to make as much as possible of every occurrence.  So that all newspaper writers are, for the sake of their trade, alarmists: this is their way of making themselves interesting.  What they really do, however, is resemble little dogs who, as soon as anything whatever moves, start up a loud barking.  It is necessary, therefore, not to pay too much attention to their alarms, and to realize in general that the newspaper is a magnifying glass, and this only at best: for very often it is no more than a shadow-play on the wall.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (trans. Hollingdale)

Just how much time do you think you have?

“The art of not reading is a very important one.  It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time.  When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public.—A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Books and Writing” (emphasis in original, trans. Hollingdale)

The dinosaurs of lit

“As the strata of the earth preserve in succession the living creatures of past epochs, so the shelves of libraries preserve in succession the errors of the past and their expositions, which like the former were very lively and made a great commotion in their own age but now stand petrified and stiff in a place where only the literary palaeontologist regards them.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Books and Writing” (trans. Hollingdale)

For me it started before that

“Payment and reserved copyright are at bottom the ruin of literature.  Only he who writes entirely for the sake of what he has to say writes anything worth writing.  It’s as if there were a curse on money: every writer writes badly as soon as he starts writing for gain.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Books and Writing” (trans. Hollingdale)

What about the comets!

“Writers can be divided into meteors, planets, and fixed stars.  The first produce a momentary effect: you gaze up, cry: ‘Look!’—and then they vanish forever.  The second, the moving stars, endure for much longer.  By virtue of their proximity they often shine more brightly than the fixed stars, which the ignorant mistake them for.  But they too must soon vacate their place, they shine moreover only with a borrowed light, and their sphere of influence is limited to their own fellow travelers (their contemporaries).  The third alone are unchanging, stand firm in the firmament, shine by their own light and influence all ages equally.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Books and Writing” (trans. Hollingdale)

Which cup is the nut under?

“The system is rigged.  Look around.  Oil companies guzzle down billions in profits.  Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.  And Wall Street C.E.O.s—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren (quoted by Jeffrey Toobin in “The Professor”)

So what’s the problem?

“Government gets used to protect those who have already made it.  That becomes the game.  And so we had the big crash and I thought, O.K.!  We tested the alternative theory.  Cut taxes, reduce regulations and financial services, and see what happens to the economy.  We ran a thirty-year test on that and it was a disaster.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren (quoted by Jeffrey Toobin in “The Professor”)


“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.  Nobody.  You built a factory out there, good for you.  But I want to be clear.  You moved your goods to the market on the roads the rest of us paid for.  You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren (quoted by Jeffrey Toobin in “The Professor”)

Forgive me, Father…

“The weak point in all religions remains that they can never dare to confess to being allegorical, so that they have to present their doctrines in all seriousness as true sensu proprio; which, because of the absurdities essential to allegory, leads to perpetual deception and a great disadvantage for religion.  What is even worse, indeed, is that in time it comes to light that they are not true sensu proprio, and then they perish.  To this extent it would be better to admit their allegorical nature straightway: only the difficulty here is to make the people understand that a thing can be true and not true at the same time.  But since we find that all religions are constituted to a greater or less degree in this way, we have to recognize that the absurd is to a certain extent appropriate to the human race, indeed an element of its life, and that deception is indispensable to it.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Religion” (emphasis in original, trans. Hollingdale)