Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Three Things are Appropriate

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers is a book by Benedicta Ward which collects and catalogues the sayings of Christian ascetic monks in Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries CE. It interests me primarily as an observer of human behaviour and as one seeking to make sense of it. One can read through the book even at random and begin to get a sense of the mentality of these people, how they think, what they value, what their aims in life are, and so on. I find in them a strange mix of the philosophical, the theological and the very human. One saying in particular has stayed with me since I first got the book and not least because it is attributed to a namesake, Abba Andrew:

Abba Andrew said, “These three things are appropriate for a monk: exile, poverty and endurance in silence.”

I must admit that I have stared at this apophthegm many times and found in it many pathways of thought. I note several things initially. For starters, the saying does not say that its three things are good; it says that they are “appropriate” and for a monk. It is, thus, not focused on people in general but on those who have taken a specific religious vocation and what is appropriate, not good, to it. Next I note that the three appropriate things are things which cut the monk off from society in general. A monk is exiled, economically bereft and uncommunicative. There is a sense here that the monk is perfecting himself, taking responsibility for his own existence and not expecting things to just happen except by attention to them and focus upon them. Third, I note that this is a kind of “how to be a monk” saying. There is no reference in the saying to anything outside of this. “Monk” thus seems to be a very single-minded vocation - and perhaps one in which the monk separates himself (it was usually a him) from society and community. It seems a vocation in which the individual life looks beyond itself to an eternal context in which it becomes the thing at stake. Here the existential and the eternal seem to meet and interact, in fact, and in a way in which the temporary and ephemeral existential are not extinguished by the sheer awesome overwhelmingness of the eternal but in which it is, in some sense, purified or perfected by it. We see from numerous other sayings of the Fathers that to take this vocation was to take suffering as a vocation and Christians, in Jesus, have from their very first writings taken their God as their paradigmatic forebear in such “perfection through suffering”. A Christian is led to think, “If Jesus suffered then why shouldn’t I?”

But I turn to Andrew’s three things in turn now beginning with “exile”. Exile is a prominent theme throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures where the exile is from God but also from his promises such as “land” or “salvation”. We may sum up the notion of exile here as being cut off from God. Meanwhile, both modern thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and theologians such as Tom Wright have used “exile” as a metaphor in their own academic work, the former perpetuating an argument about language as an alienating and exiling force whereas the latter has argued that Jesus was God’s agent of the end of human exile from Himself in a theological interpretation of the historical Jesus. If we ask ourselves what the monks are exiling themselves from the answer must be “society” and so, basically, outside influence or temptation to straying from the existential path the monk has set before them. This is not an inconsequential choice or an easy path to take, as anyone who has ever been alone for a decent period of time will likely testify. It is noteworthy, however, that here exile is regarded as a positive thing, something which gives the monk space and time to go about their monkish business. Often exile is perceived religiously as a punishment or in a negative light in contrast to this.

So why is exile appropriate for a monk? Because they are those who have single-mindedly chosen to focus on a vertical relationship with God which, they believe, will result in their own eternal good. But in choosing exile from society they have also chosen exile from friendship, from comfort, from diversion from themselves, from simple help, for such monks historically lived alone in cells. Exile is a choice to bear one’s existence alone without assistance, to forego the horizontal  community for the vertical eternity. This puts oneself under a terrible microscope in which hitherto unnoticed details about the self become apparent. It seems that Abba Andrew finds this entirely appropriate for the monk who must seek to root out all insufficiencies from the one who seeks to dedicate himself to a God thought perfect. That one cannot be of God and of the world is an old Christian thought and so the monk is to choose exile from the world in an attempt to better approach God instead. Abba Arsenius is reported to have heard God say to him, “Flee from men and you will be saved.” This is the attitude that Andrew also preserves here. Human society in general, so it is thought, can only distract and contaminate thought that should be on higher and more eternal things. “The perfection of the self cannot be carried out amongst the distractions of the crowd” is the thought at work here.

Next in the list of things appropriate for a monk is poverty. Monks should not have “things” in general and for much similar reasons as to why they should not have neighbours: they can only act as a distraction from the focus required for the task at hand. Abba John the Dwarf is reported to have said that “if a man goes around fasting and hungry the enemies of his soul grow weak” and we see this thought in Andrew’s imposition of poverty upon the monk. Theodore of Pherme said, “It is best of all to possess nothing,” another desert witness to the same thought. Here possessions are simple distractions, unnecessary things which can only take up time and thought and get in the way. Having things or wealth are those things which will demand attention of their own which the monk can ill-afford to give away since he must always be watchful. Interior peace is regarded by many Desert Fathers as something necessary and how can one have that if one is worried about his possessions - or has possessions to worry about? Better, then, not to have any and here we see the very ascetical bent of the Fathers brought to the fore. This ascetical poverty is an enforced simplicity, a mindset of “having enough” as being good enough. If one survives then one has achieved one’s goal and one, by very definition, has had enough, all that was required, to do so. Here “excess” would be any more than this bare minimum. This poverty would seem to enforce a necessary simplicity and humility upon the monk in his reduced circumstances. And this, in turn, reminds me of the second two of the “Three Treasures” from the 67th saying of the Tao Te Ching, those being frugality and humility.

The third item in Andrew’s list is “endurance in silence,” a composite notion that needs unpacking. “Endurance” suggests something that needs to be endured and in the notions of both exile and poverty we have suitable referents for neither are simple matters easily negotiated. “Endurance” here also suggests to me the New Testament Greek word (the Fathers were Christians after all) “makrothumia” which is longsuffering, forbearance, fortitude (sometimes simply rendered “patience”). It is literally makro - long - and thumia - temper - and so cultivating a “long temperedness” as opposed to being short tempered. Paul gives makrothumia, the ability to calmly play the long game, as one of the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22. But here the endurance is “in silence” and this is not an unimportant addition for, once more, talk is seen as a problem because it is a distraction, something else to be concerning yourself with instead of the thing the monk should be focused on. To be a monk is, as one Father says, “to be always mindful of God.” Another, Abba Pambo, was asked by the brethren to say something to Theophilus the Archbishop when he came to visit the Fathers in their desert cells. But he replied to them, “If he is not edified by my silence then he will not be edified by my speech.” Here silence is taken as having better things to do with one’s time than talk and is indicative of a more important communion than oral discourse. “Endurance in silence” is then an inward attitude of silent resilience without distraction yet also a witness to something beyond words.

Having given brief thoughts I now want to change tack and interpret this from a Taoist / Zen perspective. Consider the following Zen / Taoist sayings culled from a popular Twitter account dedicated to tweeting such things within 24 hours of me writing this:

Mirror facing mirror. Nowhere else. - Ikkyu

If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it. - Taoist proverb

The art of simplicity. - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Without the Tao, kindness and compassion are replaced by law and justice. - Lao Tzu

The supreme form of wealth is contentment. - Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. - Zhuangzi

The valley stream's rushing sound is the eloquent tongue of Buddha. The mountain's vibrant colours are nothing but the Buddha's form. - Dogen Zenji

If you let go a little you will have little happiness. If you let go completely you will be free. - Ajahn Chah

Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity. - Lao Tzu

Silence is proactive. - B. D. Schiers

When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much. - Zen proverb

Fundamentally, the marksman aims at himself. - D.T. Suzuki

What mindset, what attitude, what worldview, is being cultivated and recommended by these sayings? How does it compare with that put forward by Abba Andrew as an example of the Desert Fathers? One big difference is that the Desert Fathers, as Christians and monotheists, have personalised the infinite and eternal, that which is beyond them, whereas Buddhists and Taoists in general have not. Taoists, for example, have “the Tao” which translates loosely as “the Way” and it is thought to be in, around and through all things. “Buddha” itself is a title (like Christ is whether applied to Jesus or not) meaning “the awakened one” or “the enlightened one” and not a name and the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is not a god within Buddhism but merely the most enlightened human being who ever lived, one in balance with all things and at perfect peace. This latter point, however, is a point of possible contact with the Fathers who also seek peace yet through communion with their god. Yet we may say, in general terms, that there is a very different point of emphasis for these two ways. The focus of the Desert Fathers is God and they themselves are regarded as those who need to be perfected to be in perfect communion with him. Along the way they may expect to struggle, to have to purge themselves of sin or evil desires and this will more than likely be a painful experience. In contrast, the Buddhists and Taoists might be represented by the quote of Zhuangzi above: To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. Here the focus is the individual themselves, albeit in the context of absolutely everything else one may experience or encounter. Neither Buddhists nor Taoists seek communion with a being but perhaps they do seek it with Being, an ineffable oneness with all things in a peaceful harmony. Peace or serenity we may see as a, if not the, goal of these latter paths.

Here the mention of silence in both traditions is interesting and worth exploring. From both Abba Andrew’s words here and those of some of my Zen and Tao quotes we can see that words have their limitations. For Andrew words were confusers or distractors that pulled the monk from the place he needed to be. Yet for both Abba Pambo and B.D. Schiers silence itself is saying something, perhaps plenty, yet without words. In both these religious traditions more widely conceived it seems to me that there is just so much room for what cannot be said, for acknowledging that words fail and language reaches a limitation. One need not be overtly religious to reach this conclusion either since 20th century philosophers of language, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein, both seemingly come to similar conclusions should you read their work. I see in both of these ways, that of Christian Desert Fathers and that of Zen Buddhists and Taoists, that neither perceive of everything as a mass of facts scientifically understood, a very instrumental and detached mode of thinking. The world, existence, could not for any of these people potentially be tagged and catalogued so that one day we could imagine that everything could be logged, known and worked out. Both operate with a much more experiential and even existential understanding of knowledge than that. For them, we are in a world of experience and not one of subjects and objects where the former can, with ingenuity, skill and patience, learn all about the latter. I see the importance of silence in all these traditions as related to this. I see the recognition that words stop as a recognition that “knowledge” stops too. It is not the supreme need, the major requirement. It is merely a tool but the true riches are so much more than it can ever provide. Words are inadequate to experience as knowledge is inadequate to understanding.

So what happens when the talking stops? For one thing, other things then become possible such as listening and thinking (the latter perhaps being a kind of listening to yourself). In the Zen proverb quoted above “understanding” takes one beyond the realm of words so that even one is too much, or, perhaps, never enough. Thinking like this even seems to make something like a Derridean deconstructive operation something of religious significance. Here, according to Derrida, language is itself insufficient to the task it sets for itself. In use we find that it cannot fix the price of things. It sets out to say something but, in the act of so doing, we find that it disrupts its own operation. It can also be seen to say other things it did not mean to say, it can be subverted and used against itself, it falls short of its target. This, in philosophical guise, is not far from the monkish notion that silence can be more edifying than speech or the Zen notion that even one word is too much. According to one Buddhist proverb “the no-mind thinks no-thoughts about no-things” which expresses this mode of thinking perfectly. Not only is there no-mind but there are no-thoughts and there are no-things. How would a knowledge-based, instrumental, objective, scientific mindset cope with something like that? Neither tradition here has to worry about that, though, since, I argue, they are experience-based mindsets and not epistemologically-based mindsets. They are focused on experience not facts. Experience, unlike facts, is not simply known; it is felt, it is intuited, it can be instinctive, it embraces more than intellect. Experience gives cash value to the lives, and the pathways those lives take, of every thinking being.

I discussed above how, for the Desert Fathers, exile was primarily a matter of separation from the world for the purposes of personal devotion to God and the cultivation of that vertical relationship. The figure of exile applies in Buddhist and Taoists contexts too but here it is in the guise of alienation from the Tao, if Taoist, or “all things” if we talk more generally. The aim of these religious paths, it seems to me, is therapeutic: they aim at universal peace and harmony and so rest which becomes understanding or enlightenment. Their aim is the dissolution of a grasping, desirous existence which can only lead to conflict and turmoil. As Ajahn Chah says above, the aim is to “let go completely” and here the notion of Wu Wei, the action of non-action, plays a large part. Here again we can see how knowledge or fore-knowledge is consequently deprioritised for in these traditions we are not knowing subjects who progress through our existence by the manipulation of objects we know facts about. Indeed, it is hard to see how these traditions are based on knowledge at all as an essentialist, foundationalist or realist (in the philosophical sense) might understand these things. This idea of letting things be is totally alien to a modern Western mentality based on knowledge about things and this knowledge as the means to their instrumental use. For the Taoist, for example, it is not our job to impose our will upon things. The viewpoint here is much more holistic than many are capable of being, the idea is that, in a meaningful sense, everything is already a part of everything else and it a part of that in return. So when D.T. Suzuki says that, fundamentally, “the marksman aims at himself” he really does literally mean it. “Mirror facing mirror. Nowhere else” says Ikkyu, to change is to ruin, to hold is to lose, runs another Taoist proverb. The worldview here is one of movement, of constant change, of the idea of knowledge, beloved of others, being one that is static and ossifying and so not at all true to the world of experience for that is never still and always changing. A Buddhist or Taoist experiences exile, alienation, when out of this stream of existence, not in balance with the way of all things. This is not something we know facts about and so attempt to control; it is that which, with non-action, we become one with.

The Taoist and Buddhist alike also know about Abba Andrew’s “simplicity” (which he calls “poverty”) and they would see its necessity. I have already mentioned that the Taoist Tao Te Ching regards frugality and humility as two of its “three treasures” - and this is not merely for monks, those dedicated to a life of religious devotion, but for all to be in accord with that which is beyond them, be that a Way or a God or simply the Everything. For neither religious tradition here, the Christian and the Buddhist/Taoist, is the personalised, self-concerned form of existence that we experience all that there is. For these traditions, Man is not the measure; instead human beings are part of a much greater whole the overwhelming majority of which is unknown and, to all intents and purposes, perhaps even unknowable. For a Christian their God is not reducible to human minds and understanding anymore than for a Taoist the Tao can be put in a box and explained. Both retain concepts of the Beyond, the Ineffable, That Which Can Be Experienced But Not Known. Its also worth pointing out that this isn’t necessarily about us doing anything either. It is about our not-doing. “Do your work, then step back,” says Lao Tzu, suggesting that we just go about our business quite matter-of-factly. In these traditions simple things become sacred things, not because they are special but because the whole, everything, anything, is, in that sense, special. Here we partake in the All just because we are, because we exist. We seek peace within it not by grasping it and bending it to our will but by flowing as it flows. Unlike the God of the Desert Fathers, the Tao is not a will and so it is not a matter of using our will or bending it to that of another. Instead, its absence and negation is sought. “Simplicity” here is a life of non-action lived without will, an openness to all things. And if we are open to all things then the value of specific things dissolves accordingly. Things are made simpler. Less is more.

I have not wanted to suggest in this brief essay that Christian Desert Fathers and those of Buddhist or Taoist persuasions are versions of the same thing. This essay has been far too brief for even a cursory evaluation of such issues and my intuition is that, if such an essay were attempted, it would find areas of common interest but also others of conflict and differing agendas. But what I would take from the words of Abba Andrew, and from the Buddhist/Taoist interests that I introduced to discuss those words, is that exile, poverty and endurance in silence are not merely matters for monks in the desert in the conscious gaze of their god nor Eastern mystics seeking enlightened harmony with all things. They are matters for all of us. Exile, alienation, is very prevalent in the world of anybody who looks out of the window. The question of what is needful for a human being, and if the economic treadmill so many willingly climb onto, and to which so many others are either coerced or forced, is beneficial or necessary, is very apparent. That people’s experience of life is disregarded and vilified to their detriment for a mentality of “knowledge is power,” the logical conclusion of an epistemological approach to life, takes its toll upon the existence of many who are regarded as inconsequential casualties of progress or as natural wastage, those who couldn’t keep up.  “Exile,” “poverty” and “endurance in silence” my seem very objective things in Abba Andrew’s statement but when read through any number of real lives they come to have consequences far more far-reaching than Andrew himself can ever have imagined. They also come to be relevant to every human being.

Human society is constructed from an ever growing number of human beings. Each, by means of any number of connections, is connected to all the rest. Each, by virtue of living in a shared space, has consequences for the rest. It is my intuition that it would do us good to concentrate on these notions of exile, poverty and endurance in silence, and their consequences, some of which I have teased out in this short essay, and that doing so would be to our common good. It is my view that we each have our part to play in the world and that any “change” that we think the whole needs begins with each one of us. You cannot change a system if you cannot change the people within it and so positive change of any kind is a matter not merely of changed circumstances but of changed people. Abba Andrew recognises this in the monk when he requires him to completely change his lifestyle in order to change society for, in fact, the Desert Fathers were taken as examples by many of how to devote oneself to God. They acted for many as examples of devotion and commitment. We may not believe in God but the point remains that to change the whole it starts by changing yourself. (Of course, it may be granted that Christianity in general has had a mixed record of effects upon society in general and that all but the most bitter of its critics would admit that these were not all bad.) The Buddhists and Taoists, too, recognise this in that their thinking is about a program of personal change which works a holistic harmony through the dissolution of both individual wants and an obsession with knowledge as power. No one can force people to change themselves. No one can even enlighten them to the notion that they need to be changed. Yet it remains my own personal, perhaps spiritual, conviction that when people change, societies change. And if they can change then why not for the better? The battle is not merely at societal level but, fundamentally, at the personal one as Abba Andrew, sundry Zen Buddhists and Taoists  seemingly know so well.

This essay is taken from a forthcoming collection of philosophical, theological and hermeneutical essays I am writing called Being-in-the-midst: Hermeneutics, Interpretation, Tradition.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Creation/Destruction: Annihilation

An object burns through the Earth's atmosphere and smashes into a lighthouse somewhere in the swamplands of the southern United States. Slowly, things in the area begin to mutate in inexplicable ways. A strange "shimmer" appears over the area and this shimmer begins to grow in size. The area is evacuated and the authorities send teams into The Shimmer, which they refer to as Area X, but no one from these teams ever comes back and as soon as they enter The Shimmer they become cut off from the outside world. Communications devices don't work, compasses refuse to obey their magnetic imperative, even human memories are warped and seemingly wiped away. Everything is changed.

                        The lighthouse at the moment of impact

The is the setup for the plot of the newly released film, Annihilation, by British writer/director, Alex Garland. Amongst other credits, Garland wrote The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd and his directorial debut, which he also wrote, was Ex Machina, a film I also loved and discussed HERE. Annihilation is not originally a story of Garland's but is a book, part of a trilogy, by Jeff Vandermeer. I had not heard of the book and so neither do I have any knowledge of how the story in the book differs from the film although I understand it does. Garland re-wrote the story for the screen as a memory of reading the book and so he has taken a few new directions of his own - with the original author's permission. In what follows there may be a few gentle spoilers for the film so if that bothers you now is the time to bail. I intend to discuss its themes and ideas arising from the film in the main.

                                 The Shimmer

If we ask what Annihilation is about perhaps the answer that gets to the heart of the many themes skillfully threaded through it is CHANGE. A metaphor running through the on screen action is that of a cell which divides, as cells always do since this, at cellular level, is exactly what life is, a ceaseless reproduction of cells, a division of the one into more of the same. The absence of this behaviour is death and cells which did not die would be immortal. A character in the film remarks how this death is actually a genetic fault. Cells should live forever. Yet we see death as the pre-ordained outcome of life, creation which carries within it the seeds of destruction. Yet even this death of cells would not be the end for from death always comes new life even as fruit, once part of a growing plant, once picked, ceases to live yet, as it rots, new life uses it as a source of its own, a ceaseless dance of life/death or death/life. From the cellular perspective things are always changing for cells are always dividing and sometimes mutating. We are literally not the people we used to be and are constantly becoming someone new.

                       A cell divides and mutates in Annihilation

As I explained in the setup, inside The Shimmer the rules are changed and "change" itself is the guiding principle. We see numerous plants and creatures in the film that should not exist, strange admixtures of DNA that have created (or destroyed, from another point of view) strange chimera. We also see that in The Shimmer duplicates of things can be created and these duplicates can even retain memories or personal characteristics. Here the guiding metaphor is that creation is destruction is creation, creation and destruction are functionally THE SAME THING. When something is destroyed something else is created, when something is created something else has been destroyed. This is inevitable and unavoidable. We carry this destruction as creation within us. Each of us was created and yet within us we carry the genetic material of our own destruction... which will lead to the creation of something else in a functionally endless cycle. We can no more end this destruction than we could affect our creation. One symbol of this is an ouroboros tattoo which plays a part in the plot of the film. It symbolises infinity. One character, exposed to The Shimmer, is asked about what has happened to him and he answers, "What does it matter?" a person alone in the context of the forever actions of creation and destruction that he cannot stop for he is changing, creatively and destructively, even as he speaks. This theme is also played with in the film in the context of self-destruction. He, like all of us, is change. Not only is this physically true, we literally are the engines of our own change and eventual death, but also psychologically, we have self-destructive urges which destroy our characters and create new ones as the film makes clear. This also has a social application as each "cell" of society, each of us, changes and so changes society itself which is the greater organism.

         Two white deer from Annihilation with branches for horns

Plants that have mixed with the human genes which determine human bodies

Change, destruction and creation are very basic themes behind the film without giving away too much plot. But I now want to discuss some of the ideas arising. One such is the idea of human identity which is something we all highly prize but which, in cosmic context, is insignificant, empty and meaningless. That which makes up all that is takes up human identity for only infinitesimal fractions of its existence and amounts to a vanishingly small percentage of the whole and yet, as those identities, we value them highly in a way that the rest of the cosmos simply does not. For things in general do not concern themselves with what they are. Such a thing is irrelevant and neither was it any purpose. Cancer, for example, another metaphor in the film, does not want or desire anything. It would be useless to ask it what it was doing and why. It just functions. In a similar way it is useless to ask any cell why it divides, why it reproduces and survives. It just does. There is no purpose, no desire, no will here. Only function. Applying this to identity it becomes clear that human life equally has no purpose, and its not remotely important that you or I as specific examples of it exist. You specifically are merely a vehicle for something else and self-importance, importance as yourself, is utterly misplaced. Self merely facilitates survival. And survival occurs not through static identity but through change.

So, echoing that earlier character, "What does it matter?" We are collections of cells that grow and then die in which our identity was not the point of the exercise but merely the means, the means to certain genes reproducing and surviving if they can. I mentioned earlier that in The Shimmer memory fades or even disappears, unsurprising if everything there is exaggerated change, but what would lack of memory do to your identity? Don't you literally need your memory to be who you are, to remember who you are? Isn't identity partly based on the notion that you can remember a narrative of self that tells you who you are? And then there is the issue of the duplicates that The Shimmer can generate. Does "another you" change who you are or recontextualise it? In all this identity talk I am powerfully reminded of Buddhist or Taoist notions that there actually is no "self". These spiritual outlooks regard this as an illusion, something to be got past. They view it as a static way of seeing what is actually moving and so not a very helpful way of seeing, one at odds with their view of life as constant change, an ever-changing stream of "now moments." In the cosmic context of Annihilation (the film and the existential fact) this is brought more clearly into focus.

This highlights for me a facet of my own character that I have always noticed. When I was a teenager, at that age when people at school or parents ask you "what you want to do with your life," I instinctively knew my answer: I wanted stability, a stable, secure situation that I could imagine lasting forever. This, of course, was naive and unrealistic and you will be unsurprised to learn that it hasn't turned out that way. Yet its worth thinking about for a moment. I did not want wealth or fame or even a salary. Just give me stability, a static life of known quantities. It is ironic that in the light of the themes of Annihilation I was wishing for the one thing I could never have. I was, perhaps, even wishing for a metaphorical divinity, the ability to be forever the same, unchanging, ineffable. I did not realise that I am part of the realm of change, of creation and destruction, of annihilation. I am myself change, destruction, creation, annihilation. Coming to appreciate this is a part of an appreciation of what we are, of human being, of what being means. We think of will and purpose as essential characteristics of self, of identity, but are they too just functions, means to that eternal end of reproduction and survival? It may be important to you WHAT you want but at another level perhaps it is only important THAT you want and that this illusion of self enables reproduction and survival, the functions of existence, the eternal story that is blotted out by several billion egos that think they matter but don't even realise they never really mattered at all and will soon not exist as themselves anymore.

This understanding can become spiritual or mystical and Annihilation hints at this (not least in its ending which I won't give away) and sometimes seems to regard this forever change in which we are submerged and of which we are irredeemably a part as the greater context to life which many religionists conceptualise as a divinity of some kind. I myself can do this and when I think of my own annihilation, as I often have, I can only regard it as a peaceful, mystical experience, not something to be afraid of but something for which I was always destined. (Of course the physical signs may be more traumatic as we daily notice ourselves falling apart.) The character Ventress in the film seems to take this view and her story is a very visual representation of this. It is naturally human to muse about that which is beyond it and this film does a similar thing in an engaging way that is not immediately obvious and with numerous twists. It is a film for people who think about who they are or why they are... or even why anything is. It discusses life, what it is, what contextualises and conditions it, and tells a few home truths about human beings and their self-destructive urges. It does this in a way which perhaps questions if we can even help ourselves when we do this. But then, what does it matter? Everything that comes to be changes, everything that is is changing. Everything faces annihilation. Do we embrace it or resist it? What does it matter?

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Walking and War

Yesterday I went for a walk as I often do. Normally I have in my head the route I will take, this being chosen as I put on my shoes and go through the various several routes I have taken over the previous few years. This was also the case yesterday and as I set out I had pre-selected one of the shorter routes. But about 15 minutes into the walk, as I was walking through my local park, a thought suddenly occurred to me. This thought was that my next hour had been planned out in my head ahead of time by my decision. By pre-selecting the route I knew where I would be going, probably what I'd see, etc. I thought about this as I kept walking and compared it to what would be case if I'd not pre-selected my route and just set off at random, not deciding ahead of time which direction I would take at junctions and, therefore, not knowing where I'd be going. The second option seemed suddenly more attractive, especially the not knowing and the consequent unfolding surprise such a walk would be. 

I was coming to the path at the bottom of the park where I would be forced to turn either left (as I'd preselected) or right and suddenly in my head there was a jeopardy for, suddenly, I imagined not knowing which way I would go. I thought to myself that I would go left anyway, as I wasn't feeling particularly energetic and this way was the shortest. I settled into this idea for a minute. But then the possibility of turning right and going the longer, unprepared for, way began to reassert itself as a possibility. I vacillated back and forth, not knowing what option I would take. Then, annoyed with myself, I determined to stop this nonsense, enjoy the moment of my walk and let a momentary decision decide when I actually got to the point a few hundred meters ahead of me when I would have to make a choice. I did notice, however, that the rest of the walk then became better as a result of this choice, this not knowing what would happen, this living in the moment rather than having my immediate future pre-planned and decided.

The last book of the Christian bible and so, logically, the culmination of the bible's story, is a vision of a cosmic war. One of the things this book describes itself as is a prophecy by which, in common parlance, we take it to mean a foretelling of the future. It is a fact you may become aware of in the unlikely scenario that you ever take a course in biblical studies that "prophecy" is not usually regarded as "foretelling"; its more a case of "forth telling" but I digress. In any case, should you be one of those who thinks of prophecy as foretelling the future then Revelation presents itself as the story of the end of the world, the way God wraps up the whole story of this creation he has, according to the script of the bible, made. It is not a pleasant scene. Here God sends his champion, that Jesus fella who was formerly in the bible saying "Blessed are the poor," healing sick people and telling people to turn the other cheek, on a big white horse to slaughter all the unrepentant people who don't believe in God. Basically, what we have is the notion that, at the end of all this "God is love" business you might have heard of, God is actually just going to kill all the people who haven't done what he wanted. Its divinely sanctioned violence. That is the story of the world, that is our future foretold.

Now as with my walk, I'm not too happy about this when I realise that someone has written a story in which "the end" is apparently foretold. (Put aside the question of if its true or not. Its not, but that doesn't matter.) In my new, post-realisation mind set, not knowing things gives a better opportunity for a fresh look at and appreciation of life than one that is planned out. And then there is all this violence business. Its bad enough that actual people will be violent to each other without the gods joining in. But do I have this the right way round? I wonder how many Christians over two millennia have read Revelation, seen that the way the story ends is by God killing all the bad guys, and then thought, "Well if that's what's going to happen in the end anyway then what's the problem with dusting off a few unbelievers right now?" 

Since Revelation was written we have had Crusades and an Inquisition and I sense a latent desire from some good old white Christian boys across the water (and not just across the water) to kill the unbelieving Muslims because they are on the wrong side of this pre-decided history. Preachers of hate such as Britain First, a ragtag band of self-aggrandizing troublemakers made more famous when Trump retweeted their error-strewn material, have expressly used "Christian" imagery in their ideological war against immigrants as, apparently, it is their lack of "Christian values" that marks them out as not like us the most. Which "Christian values" are these, I wonder, the ones from Revelation where all the ones not on our Christian side will be slaughtered for making the wrong choice?

So there is a problem with divine violence in Revelation and its not a Muslim problem or a problem of any other religion (although I won't deny their problems with a similar thing either): its a Christian problem. Revelation, so at least two New Testament scholars I respect have said, is "the most violent book in religious history." The problem is that by telling us the violent end of the story this book has apparently mandated violence in the name of its God and religious violence is probably the most insidious form of violence for how do you stop someone convinced that a divine being has authorised their activities? As I intimated before, its only bumping up the schedule if we good Christians dust off a few bad guys now, its not fundamentally changing the script. And what's worse, God is actually shown to be approving of violence in Revelation. Revelation acts as a divine endorsement of divine violence. Jesus, that nice fella from the gospels who was, in the time-worn phrase, "meek and mild" is not very meek and mild in Revelation. He is a Terminator or a Predator hunting down all the people who don't follow a certain religious path. And chopping their heads off. No more "King of Kings," he is now "Warlord of Warlords". In fact, as someone who has worked on "the historical Jesus" at university for PhD studies and written a couple of books about it, I don't recognise this guy. Whoever wrote Revelation has a massive hard-on for killing and death for Revelation is a major revenge fantasy. They've taken Mr Meek and Mild and turned him into a violent killer and called it "good news"!

I mentioned earlier that, of course, Revelation is not true. I also said it didn't matter because, as with any literature, what matters is what it disseminates and motivates and not whether its true or not. Things don't need to be true, they just need to be believed. Have we not learned this lesson by now? Does it matter if Revelation is true if Christians across the centuries see in it a warrant to kill the enemies of God? I imagine the writer of Revelation never figured as he wrote his revenge fantasy of the Christians beating their persecutors that before too long the Christians would actually be running the show and could begin the timetable of Revelation a bit early. Oops. But there we are, what's done is done. I do wish, however, that the writer had not decided to tell us the end before we got there because, in a way, he has ruined everything and there's blood on his hands. In retrospect, isn't it just better not knowing and trying to enjoy each moment we get without worrying about ultimate destinations? Do we need to exist in our own version of the Final Destination films where we know there will be a grisly death and its shadow blights everything we do? Ends can always cast mighty long shadows and not really for any good. At least, that's how it seems to me. 

So, there are some stories we human beings probably shouldn't tell for, in the end, we cannot blame gods for them. Revelation, on the face of it a tale about how God subdues and takes over everything, making it wholly divine, is actually a story about how God just becomes a man, a man like us, a man who, when things haven't gone his way, resorts to killing to resolve his problems. Revelation is a book which shows God as very manly, aggressive and violent. Go on son (of God), knock him out! We here on planet Earth still have our own violence problems, of course, and many still envisage themselves or their countries as in a violent struggle for resources as, apparently, that people from one country prosper and survive is more important than that people from another one do. I wonder where such people see their story ending and what destination they have pre-selected? Is it in Orwell's perpetual war of 1984? On the other hand, don't tell me. I don't want to know.

PS I turned right.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

A Pious Deception of Self-Creation

What follows is at times philosophical, at others poetic, and at others still, metaphorical. Yet at all times it is thoughtful. Overall, its subject is our world, our place in the world, our rhetorical context as living beings cast into a universe beyond us. If you hate thinking and do not see why human beings should contemplate then it is not for you. Leave, you will only annoy yourself. But if you can think and, even, dare to try to understand then you will find this of use. It requires no special knowledge or understanding outside from a few references the well read may recognise. But, in any case, those with the curiosity to seek further always will. And those without it won’t. That is their joy and the bounty that nature has bestowed upon them. But, for now, I relay to you a kind of myth and ask only that try to understand it….

How we, too, are still pious. - In science convictions have no rights of citizenship, as one says with good reason. Only when they decide to descend to the modesty of hypotheses, of a provisional experimental point of view, of a regulative fiction, they may be granted admission and even a certain value in the realm of knowledge - though always with the restriction that they remain under police supervision, under the police of mistrust. - But does this not mean, if you consider it more precisely, that a conviction may obtain admission to science only when it ceases to be a conviction? Would it not be the first step in the discipline of the scientific spirit that one would not permit oneself any more convictions?

Probably this is so; only we still have to ask: To make it possible for this discipline to begin, must there not be some prior conviction - even one that is so commanding arid unconditional that it sacrifices all other convictions to itself? We see that science also rests on a faith; there simply is no science "without presuppositions." The question whether truth is needed must not only have been affirmed in advance, but affirmed to such a degree that the principle, the faith, the conviction finds expression: “Nothing is needed more than truth, and in relation to it everything else has only second-rate value."

This unconditional will to truth - what is it? Is it the will not to allow oneself to be deceived? Or is it the will not to deceive? For the will to truth could be interpreted in the second way, too - if only the special case "I do not want to deceive myself" is subsumed under the generalization "I do not want to deceive." But why not deceive? But why not allow oneself to be deceived?

Note that the reasons for the former principle belong to an altogether different realm from those for the second. One does not want to allow oneself to be deceived because one assumes that it is harmful, dangerous, calamitous to be deceived. In this sense, science would be a long-range prudence, a caution, a utility; but one could object in all fairness: How is that? Is wanting not to allow oneself to be deceived really less harmful, less dangerous, less calamitous? What do you know in advance of the character of existence to be able to decide whether the greater advantage is on the side of the unconditionally mistrustful or of the unconditionally trusting? But if both should be required, much trust as well as much mistrust, from where would science then be permitted to take its unconditional faith or conviction on which it rests, that truth is more important than any other thing, including every other conviction? Precisely this conviction could never have come into being if both truth and untruth constantly proved to be useful, which is the case. Thus - the faith in science, which after all exists undeniably, cannot owe its origin to such a calculus of utility; it must have originated in spite of the fact that the disutility and dangerousness of “the will to truth," of “truth at any price” is proved to it constantly. "At any price'': how well we understand these words once we have offered and slaughtered one faith after another on this altar!

Consequently, "will to truth" does not mean "I will not allow myself to be deceived" but - there is no alternative - "I will not deceive, not even myself”; and with that we stand on moral ground. For you only have to ask yourself carefully, “Why do you not want to deceive?" especially if it should seem - and it does seem! - as if life aimed at semblance, meaning error, deception, simulation, delusion, self-delusion, and when the great sweep of life has actually always shown itself to be on the side of the most unscrupulous polytropoi. (“Polytropos” was a word used by Homer of Odysseus in the opening lines of The Odyssey. It describes his wily ability to deceive which, in the story, is what gets him safely home and vanquishes even his divine enemies.) Charitably interpreted, such a resolve might perhaps be a quixotism, a minor slightly mad enthusiasm; but it might also be something more serious, namely, a principle that is hostile to life and destructive. - “Will to truth" - that might be a concealed will to death.

Thus the question "Why science?" leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are "not moral"? No doubt, those who are truthful in that audacious and ultimate sense that is presupposed by the faith in science thus affirm another world than the world of life, nature, and history; and insofar as they affirm this "other world" - look, must they not by the same token negate its counterpart, this world, our world? - But you will have gathered what I am driving at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests - that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. - But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine anymore unless it were error, blindness, the lie - if God himself should prove to be our most enduring lie?

As interpreters of our experiences. - One sort of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and their kind: They have never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. "What did I really experience? What happened in me and around me at that time? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will opposed to all deceptions of the senses and bold in resisting the fantastic?" None of them has asked such questions, nor do any of our dear religious people ask them even now. On the contrary, they thirst after things that go against reason, and they do not wish to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. So they experience "miracles” and "rebirths" and hear the voices of little angels! But we, we others who thirst after reason, are determined to scrutinize our experiences as severely as a scientific experiment - hour after hour, day after day. We ourselves wish to be our experiments and guinea pigs.

New struggles. - After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave - a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. - And we - we still have to vanquish his shadow, too. (Let us here not be dumb enough to imagine that what is meant is merely one sort of god.)

Let us beware.- Let us beware of thinking that the world is a living being. Where should it expand? On what should it feed? How could it grow and multiply? We have some notion of the nature of the organic; and we should not reinterpret the exceedingly derivative, late, rare, accidental, that we perceive only on the crust of the earth and make of it something essential, universal, and eternal, which is what those people do who call the universe an organism. This nauseates me. Let us even beware of believing that the universe is a machine: it is certainly not constructed for one purpose, and calling it a "machine" does it far too much honour.

Let us beware of positing generally and everywhere anything as elegant as the cyclical movements of our neighbouring stars; even a glance into the Milky Way raises doubts whether there are not far coarser and more contradictory movements there, as well as stars with eternally linear paths, etc. The astral order in which we live is an exception; this order and the relative duration that depends on it have again made possible an exception of exceptions: the formation of the organic. The total character of the world, however, is in all eternity chaos - in the sense not of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms. Judged from the point of view of our reason, unsuccessful attempts are by all odds the rule, the exceptions are not the secret aim, and the whole musical box repeats eternally its tune which may never be called a melody - and ultimately even the phrase “unsuccessful attempt" is too anthropomorphic and reproachful. But how could we reproach or praise the universe? Let us beware of attributing to it heartlessness and unreason or their opposites: it is neither perfect nor beautiful, nor noble, nor does it wish to become any of these things; it does not by any means strive to imitate man. None of our aesthetic and moral judgments apply to it. Nor does it have any instinct for self-preservation or any other instinct; and it does not observe any laws either. Let us beware of saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses. Once you know that there are no purposes, you also know that there is no accident; for it is only beside a world of purposes that the word “accident” has meaning. Let us beware of saying that death is opposed to life. The living is merely a type of what is dead, and a very rare type.

Let us beware of thinking that the world eternally creates new things. There are no eternally enduring substances; matter is as much of an error as the God of the Eleatics. But when shall we ever be done with our caution and care? When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our de-deification of nature? When may we begin to “naturalise" humanity in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?

Origin of the logical. - How did logic come into existence in the human being's head? Certainly out of illogic, whose realm originally must have been immense. Innumerable beings who made inferences in a way different from ours perished; for all that, their ways might have been truer. Those, for example, who did not know how to find often enough what is "equal" as regards both nourishment and hostile animals - those, in other words, who subsumed things too slowly and cautiously - were favored with a lesser probability of survival than those who guessed immediately upon encountering similar instances that they must be equal. The dominant tendency, however, to treat as equal what is merely similar - an illogical tendency, for nothing is really equal - is what first created any basis for logic.

In order that the concept of substance could originate - which is indispensable for logic although in the strictest sense nothing real corresponds to it - it was likewise necessary that for a long time one did not see nor perceive the changes in things. The beings that did not see so precisely had an advantage over those that saw everything "in flux." At bottom, every high degree of caution in making inferences and every skeptical tendency constitute a great danger for life. No living beings would have survived if the opposite tendency - to affirm rather than suspend judgment, to err and make up things rather than wait, to assent rather than negate, to pass judgment rather than be just - had not been bred to the point where it became extraordinarily strong.

The course of logical ideas and inferences in our brain today corresponds to a process and a struggle among impulses that are, taken singly, very illogical and unjust. We generally experience only the result of this struggle because this primeval mechanism now runs its course so quickly and is so well concealed.

Cause and effect. - "Explanation" is what we call it, but it is "description" that distinguishes us from older stages of knowledge and science. Our descriptions are better - we do not explain any more than our predecessors. We have uncovered a manifold one-after-another where the naive person and inquirer of older cultures saw only two separate things. "Cause” and "effect" is what one says; but we have merely perfected the image of becoming without reaching beyond the image or behind it. In every case the series of "causes” confronts us much more completely, and we infer: first, this and that has to precede in order that this or that may then follow - but this does not involve any comprehension. In every chemical process, for example, quality appears as a "miracle," as ever; also, every locomotion; nobody has "explained" a push. But how could we possibly explain anything? We operate only with things that do not exist: lines, planes, bodies, atoms, divisible time spans, divisible spaces. How should explanations be at all possible when we first turn everything into an image, our image!

It will do to consider science as an attempt to humanise things as faithfully as possible; as we describe things and their one-after-another, we learn how to describe ourselves more and more precisely. Cause and effect: such a duality probably never exists; in truth we are confronted by a continuum out of which we isolate a couple of pieces, just as we perceive motion only as isolated points and then infer it without ever actually seeing it. The suddenness with which many effects stand out misleads us; actually it is sudden only for us. In this moment of suddenness there is an infinite number of processes that elude us. An intellect that could see cause and effect as a continuum and a flux and not, as we do, in terms of an arbitrary division and dismemberment, would repudiate the concept of cause and effect and deny all conditionality.

How far the moral sphere extends. - As soon as we see a new image, we immediately construct it with the aid of all our previous experiences depending on the degree of our honesty and justice. All experiences are moral experiences, even in the realm of sense perception.

The four errors. - Human beings have been educated by their errors. First, they always saw themselves only incompletely; second, they endowed themselves with fictitious attributes; third, they placed themselves in a false order of rank in relation to animals and nature; fourth, they invented ever new tables of goods and always accepted them for a time as eternal and unconditional: as a result of this, now one and now another human impulse and state held first place and was ennobled because it was esteemed so highly. If we removed the effects of these four errors, we should also remove humanity, humaneness, and "human dignity."

Life no argument. - We have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live-by positing bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form and content; without these articles of faith nobody now could endure life. But that does not prove them. Life is no argument. The conditions of life might include error.

In the horizon of the infinite. - We have left the land and have embarked. We have burned our bridges behind us - indeed, we have gone farther and destroyed the land behind us. Now, little ship, look out! Beside you is the ocean: to be sure, it does not always roar, and at times it lies spread out like silk and gold and reveries of graciousness. But hours will come when you will realise that it is infinite and that there is nothing more awesome than infinity. Oh, the poor bird that felt free and now strikes the walls of this cage! Woe, when you feel homesick for the land as if it had offered more freedom - and there is no longer any "land."

The madman.- Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace. and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!'' - As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? - Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him - you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us - for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves.”

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

Mystical explanations.- Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even superficial.

Long live physics! - How many people know how to observe something? Of the few who do, how many observe themselves? "Everybody is farthest away - from themselves"; all who try the reins know this to their chagrin, and the maxim "know thyself!" addressed to human beings by a god, is almost malicious. That the case of self-observation is indeed as desperate as that is attested best of all by the manner in which almost everybody talks about the essence of moral actions - this quick, eager, convinced, and garrulous manner with its expression, its smile, and its obliging ardour! One seems to have the wish to say to you: "But my dear friend, precisely this is my specialty. You have directed your question to the one person who is entitled to answer you. As it happens, there is nothing about which I am as wise as about this. To come to the point: when a human being judges 'this is right' and then infers 'therefore it must be done: and then proceeds to do what he has thus recognized as right and designated as necessary - then the essence of his action is moral."

But my friend, you are speaking of three actions instead of one. When you judge "this is right," that is an action, too. Might it not be possible that one could judge in a moral and in an immoral manner? Why do you consider this, precisely this, right?

"Because-this is what my conscience tells me; and the voice of conscience is never immoral, for it alone determines what is to be moral."

But why do you listen to the voice of your conscience? And what gives you the right to consider such a judgment true and infallible? For this faith - is there no conscience for that? Have you never heard of an intellectual conscience? A conscience behind your “conscience"? Your judgment "this is right" has a pre-history in your instincts, likes, dislikes, experiences, and lack of experiences. "How did it originate there?” you must ask, and then also: "What is it that impels me to listen to it?" You can listen to its commands like a good soldier who hears his officer's command. Or like a woman who loves the man who commands. Or like a flatterer and coward who is afraid of the commander. Or like a dunderhead who obeys because no objection occurs to him. In short, there are a hundred ways in which you can listen to your conscience. But that you take this or that judgment for the voice of conscience - in other words, that you feel something to be right - may be due to the fact that you have never thought much about yourself and simply have accepted blindly that what you had been told ever since your childhood was right; or it may be due to the fact that what you call your duty has up to this point brought you sustenance and honours - and you consider it "right" because it appears to you as your own "condition of existence" (and that you have a right to existence seems irrefutable to you).

For all that, the firmness of your moral judgment could be evidence of your personal abjectness, of impersonality; your "moral strength" might have its source in your stubbornness - or in your inability to envisage new ideals. And, briefly, if you had thought more subtly, observed better, and learned more, you certainly would not go on calling this "duty" of yours and this “conscience" of yours duty and conscience. Your understanding of the manner in which moral judgments have originated would spoil these grand words for you, just as other grand words, like "sin" and "salvation of the soul" and "redemption" have been spoiled for you. - And now don't cite the categorical imperative, my friend! This term tickles my ear and makes me laugh despite your serious presence. It makes me think of the old Kant who had obtained the "thing in itself” by stealth - another very ridiculous thing !- and was punished for this when the "categorical imperative” crept stealthily into his heart and led him astray - back to "God," "soul," "freedom,” and "immortality," like a fox who loses his way and goes astray back into his cage. Yet it had been his strength and cleverness that had broken open the cage!

What? You admire the categorical imperative within you? This "firmness" of your so-called moral judgment? This "unconditional'' feeling that "here everyone must judge as I do"? Rather admire your selfishness at this point. And the blindness, pettiness, and frugality of your selfishness. For it is selfish to experience one's own judgment as a universal law; and this selfishness is blind, petty, and frugal because it betrays that you have not yet discovered yourself nor created for yourself an ideal of your own, your very own - for that could never be somebody else’s and much less that of all, all!

Anyone who still judges "in this case everybody would have to act like this'' has not yet taken five steps toward self-knowledge. Otherwise they would know that there neither are nor can be actions that are the same: that every action that has ever been done was done in an altogether unique and irretrievable way, and that this will be equally true of every future action; that all regulations about actions relate only to their coarse exterior (even the most inward and subtle regulations of all moralities so far); that these regulations may lead to some semblance of sameness, but really only to some semblance; that as one contemplates or looks back upon any action at all, it is and remains impenetrable; that our opinions about "good” and "noble” and "great" can never be proved true by our actions because every action is unknowable; that our opinions, valuations, and tables of what is good certainly belong among the most powerful levers in the involved mechanism of our actions, but that in any particular case the law of their mechanism is indemonstrable.

Let us therefore limit ourselves to the purification of our opinions and valuations and to the creation of our own new tables of what is good, and let us stop brooding about the "moral value of our actions”! Yes, my friends, regarding all the moral chatter of some about others it is time to feel nauseous. Sitting in moral judgment should offend our taste. Let us leave such chatter and such bad taste to those who have nothing else to do but drag the past a few steps further through time and who never live in the present - which is to say the many, the great majority. We, however, want to become those we are - human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves. To that end we must become the best learners and discoverers of everything that is lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists in order to be able to be creators in this sense - while hitherto all valuations and ideals have been based on ignorance of physics or were constructed so as to contradict it. Therefore: long live physics! And even more so that which compels us to turn to physics - our honesty!

The meaning of our cheerfulness. - The greatest recent event - that “God is dead,” that the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable - is already beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe. For the few at least, whose eyes - the suspicion in whose eyes is strong and subtle enough for this spectacle, some sun seems to have set and some ancient and profound trust has been turned into doubt; to them our old world must appear daily more like evening, more mistrustful, stranger, “older.” But in the main one may say: The event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude's capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived as yet. Much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event really means - and how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it; for example, the whole of our European morality. This long plenitude and sequence of breakdown, destruction, ruin, and cataclysm that is now impending - who could guess enough of it today to be compelled to play the teacher and advance proclaimer of this monstrous logic of terror, the prophet of a gloom and an eclipse of the sun whose like has probably never yet occurred on earth?

Even we born guessers of riddles who are, as it were, waiting on the mountains, posted between today and tomorrow, stretched in the contradiction between today and tomorrow, we firstlings and premature births of the coming century, to whom the shadows that must soon envelop Europe really should have appeared by now - why is it that even we look forward to the approaching gloom without any real sense of involvement and above all without any worry and fear for ourselves? Are we perhaps still too much under the impression of the initial consequences of this event - and these initial consequences, the consequences for ourselves, are quite the opposite of what one might perhaps expect: They are not at all sad and gloomy but rather like a new and scarcely describable kind of light, happiness, relief, exhilaration, encouragement, dawn.

Indeed, we philosophers and "free spirits” feel, when we hear the news that "the old god is dead," as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectation. At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an ''open sea”.

Taken from sections 344, 319, 108, 109, 111, 112, 114, 115, 121, 124, 125, 126, 335 and 343 of Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft by Friedrich Nietzsche.