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Schopenhauer on the heights: there is a passage in Schopenhauer where he reflects that animals live purely in the moment, without fear of death, and so have a great aliveness and spontaneity; being unbothered by consequences, they truly “have life”—have total courage. He goes on to say that this attitude is present in man too—but only, really, in people who are rather too stupid to think about the past and the future, about the regularity in nature and the inevitable death that awaits them.

Such men are fools—they charm in their frankness and vivacity, they are ingenuous. The smart man, as Schopenhauer was, can never enjoy that spontaneous and alive relation to life—he always weighs up the consequences, acts in a prudent way, and must fall into a certain melancholy and detachment from man (for he will tire quickly of the transparent ruses used by less intelligent men, see too easily their objectives).

Schopenhauer misses the fact that the very message contained in Jesus and the Buddha (and many other religious figures besides) is precisely to live “like an animal”, except at a higher level—to live with the fool’s vivid aliveness, because, living entirely in “the now”, there is no fear of death and no concern with consequence. Hence there is great vivacity and aliveness.

“Think not of the morrow”—men like Schopenhauer hear that view expounded and analyse it. “Suicidal nonsense,” they say—especially if a Darwinian or Nietzschean—for if you don’t live with thought of the morrow you will have no food and your enemies will overrun you. Hence Christianity has no survival value.

Yet it is not a rational piece of advice, and to treat it as such is a category error; it is not as if you came to me and said, “Should I plant wheat or oil seed rape for next summer?” and I said, “Think not of the morrow.” Yes, indeed, that would be bad agricultural advice—but Jesus and Buddha did not offer agricultural advice, although what men like Schopenhauer do is treat it as if they did and then dismiss it as impractical.

What they refer to is, of course, a state of consciousness that is analogous but higher to the animal state—in its ultimate form it is a position of total trust in the cosmos, which doesn’t even amount to a teleology or an attempt to work out “what plan does the cosmos have for me?”.

If you really trust, say, that your bicycle works—from experience—you don’t spend every minute you ride it engaged in deliberation as to “what is the bike’s ultimate purpose, how does it work exactly?”. You just get on it and ride it—you trust it.

For Schopenhauer, the world is divided into three types:

1. there is the minority position, which he barely considers, made up of animals and blissful vivacious fools;

2. then there are men of ordinary intelligence, who are basically bovine, never examine their own lives, and whose schemes and plans are painfully dull or obvious to more intelligent men—these are the majority;

3. finally, there are men like Schopenhauer who penetrate through it all, are capable of genuine thought where they work things out for themselves—and are, in consequence, relegated to the lonely heights, because they understand even why people chit-chat and that most chit-chat is empty (an attempt, for example, by one party to convince himself he is something by getting the other party to buy into it). “It’s all a game”—just like the book Games People Play.

So Nietzsche and Schopenhauer “on the heights” refers to the man who is tired with his fellows because it is all too obvious what they’re up to. “He’s trying to get a better position”, “He’s trying to sleep with her”, “He wants you to think he’s intelligent”. For the higher man, it’s all so obvious—the ordinary man, meanwhile, who can’t reflect on himself, just takes it all for granted.

You could play too; but it seems petty, so you go up onto the peaks—because you can’t be absorbed in these games as most people are because for them there’s no meta level to the game, they don’t even see it (and can’t even play the optimum strategy).

Someone said to me, “Don’t you want to better yourself?”. I thought, “I want to know the meaning of life—not jump through pointless hoops for social approval and money-shaped doggy treats.” I want to know the meaning of life—I want to know what is the right action. But for most the question is just, “How do I get more doggy treats?” Annual review—this is your time to shine (they say with cynical irony).

And this gives rise to the “overman” on his mountain peak—where there is fresh air. Yet this is all purely from the intellect—the weakness with Schopenhauer especially, it’s all about intellectual activity. He surveys the land with his superb intellect and concludes it’s all futile—it’s folly.

If you told Schopenhauer to pant like a dog as a meditative exercise he wouldn’t get it; for men like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to be “meditative” would be taken in its old sense, in the sense Descartes meant—“to think about it”. And that’s the problem with Western philosophy—it’s a purely rational exercise, it’s an exercise in mental activity but it is without awareness.

You’ll never find life in a book by Kant—or even Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. A lot of the time, especially the latter two, they play a game to look clever, to come up with an aphorism that sounds profound. There are many aphorisms in Nietzsche that are either banal observations or points he developed in a self-conscious way to look profound (hence immediately becoming unprofound, being unreal). He does things like say “A late stitch as often or not saves more than nine.” This is contrived—and it is not life.


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