Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pity is a sin

“Our personal and profoundest suffering is incomprehensible and inaccessible to almost everyone; […] whenever people notice that we suffer, they interpret our suffering superficially. It is the very essence of the emotion of pity that it strips away from the suffering of whatever is distinctively personal. […] When people try to benefit someone in distress, the intellectual frivolity with which those moved by pity assume the role of fate is for the most part outrageous; one simply knows nothing of the whole inner sequence and intricacies that are distress for me or for you. […T]hey wish to help and have no thought of the personal necessity of distress […]. It never occurs to them that, to put it mystically, the path to one’s own heaven always leads through the voluptuousness of one’s own hell. […I]f you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that besides your religion of pity you also harbor another religion in your heart that is perhaps the mother of the religion of pity: the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness, […] for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together [Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), book 4, section 338, 269-70].” Pity is a form of appropriation. It is a lack of self-sufficiency to need the suffering of others. ‘I become what I am’ – the subtitle of Ecce Homo – not only because of the good things I did, but also because of my mistakes, failures and pains. Tragedy shows the world as it is and not how it should be, the illusionary ideal is confused with the worldly reality; we should, according to Nietzsche, devote ourselves to tragedy, because it teaches us the art of living through affirming all aspects of life, also our suffering. If one wants to escape nihilism one has to face the tragic and absurd beyond fear and revenge (however, to live beyond revenge might be considered with an ironic twist of fate the ultimate form of revenge). Amor fati, fatum brutum means for Nietzsche to accept reality so that freedom and necessity are reconciled. We should not shy away from our tragic fate, but embrace it. Pain is an inevitable part of life, which does not mean that pain has value as such, therefore, there is no need to celebrate it, as some romantics do. We cannot only choose those bits and pieces of ourselves we like, we also have to embrace those parts of our life we did not – could not – choose. Nietzsche rejects the claim of the fatalist that everything is fated. If fate rules everything then it is still fated if we resist fate. Nietzsche also rejects the claim of the fatalist that there exists a separation between fate and ourselves. Nietzsche is then not saying that we can change whatever we want, but that we also do not have to accept life passively. Extreme fatalism is a form of laziness, Nietzsche urges to be this-worldly perfectionists.

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