Will-to-power versus destiny: the will-to-power will tell you to do things like take up karate when you’ve never done it before and reach black belt within three years—let’s say you’re not a particularly active person but you set that objective for yourself, you create your own values, and at the end of the three-year period you have been transformed into something completely different.
You have experienced “self-overbecoming”, you have transcended what you were—and placed yourself, from your perspective, on a higher plane. The will-to-power is biological but it’s not like Darwinian biologism—it’s like a flagella on a microorganism, it reaches out to probe its environment; and in its response to that environment it helps the little organism to “master space”.
It’s this iterative probing that constitutes the will-to-power, each time you put a “feeler” out you learn something—perhaps you grasp something and assimilate it into yourself, if you “burn your fingers” you still grow (you learned something, you internalised a lesson—that which did not kill you made you stronger).
So you keep on that way, setting objectives and reaching them (or failing to reach them) and changing in the process—growing in strength, ideally (“eating” more of the world). The objectives themselves are arbitrary because there is no other world to set values for you—to choose karate is as good as to choose off-road racing.
That’s your prerogative, it’s up to you to create your own values and to decide what’s worthwhile to do (in the end, per the eternal return, it all comes round anyway—you’re fated to do this time and again, because Nietzsche follows Spinoza’s materialistic vision where we are slaves to cause-and-effect relations; it’s just some of us can perceive that we are no more free than a stone that falls through the air).
This is the predominate way people understand how to create a “meaningful life” in modernity—it’s up to you to choose some objectives, probably your choice is determined in the scientific sense (we can’t know for sure, but it’s probably just a causal chain).
You’ll do what you do and that’s one reason why we’re reluctant to punish criminals, because they couldn’t help themselves—they’re just like stones on the long fall (not bright enough to realise they’re stones). It’s all arbitrary, but if you feel overwhelmed by the arbitrary choice of values that’s inevitable too—the people who just can’t sort themselves out were never going to anyway.
I don’t agree with the Nietzschean picture, because I think people have a destiny. You don’t choose your destiny, it chooses you. So if you spend your time “setting your own values”, you may well be missing out on your destiny (“Climb Everest by age 32”—and yet, maybe, that’s not your destiny).
You know where your destiny is? In the stars. It’s like the theme song to the old Australian soap Home and Away “you’re my guiding star, just to know (just to know), you are there…”. That is a suburban Australian woman singing about her husband, but people do have guiding stars nonetheless.
Shakespeare was already modern when he began to ask questions as regards whether our destiny is “in our stars or in ourselves”—really, Shakespeare came down on the side “in ourselves”, which is already an intimation of Nietzsche (“Just be yourself”—a commonplace popular adaptation of Nietzsche, as strained through that very Nietzschean discipline, psychotherapy).
So, for a long time, people have turned away from “our destiny was written in the stars” or “he followed his own star”—indeed, people say the latter still but usually they mean someone who acted in a Nietzschean way, set their own values and objectives against the mass.
Yet it should be taken in literal terms—you do have a star in the heavens (there are billions of them, after all—enough for everyone) and that star, once you find it, will guide you to your true destiny (to what you’re meant to do in life). It’s because the stars are the gods (we’ve just forgotten that religion should be read literally, “heaven” is “the heavens”—the night sky).
Hence you do have a guiding star—and if you pick your own objectives in a semi-arbitrary way you waste yourself, you miss your destiny (remember that destiny is what you’re here to do, fate is what gets in the way of achieving it).
So, not unsurprisingly, I come down against the will-to-power, not because it’s “cruel” and “mean” but because it’s a major diversion. There are means by which you can discover a higher purpose, you don’t just need to think, “Well, I’m here, what will I do with the time? I choose to challenge myself.” You’ll miss the boat if you do that—or, rather, you’ll miss your star.
You need to scan the heavens, find the star that speaks to you, and pray to it—admire it, hymn it. Then you will begin to discover your destiny—which will not be an arbitrary thing at all.
Shakespeare was informed by humanists like Erasmus who sneered at the stars—we have been modern for much, much longer than you suspect. Hamlet was already in “existential angst”—surrounded by plays within plays and games within games that were, in a way, arbitrary. The leap from Hamlet to The Castle is not such a large one as you might think.
So too many people miss out on their destinies altogether—and to follow Nietzsche will only cause you to further deviate from your actual path. We need to look at the stars again, we need to let the stars teach us—we need to let the stars lead us.
You don’t have to pick arbitrary goals, but you don’t have to pray to an abstract God for guidance either—you can get direct guidance from entities you can see. Surely, van Gogh knew—hence his paintings of the stars caught in cosmic swirls (alive with energy).