Some “Super” and Surprising Advice

Though I am not Ask Amy, Carol Hax, or Dear Abby, today I present advice over 100-years-old. Life-changing notions, many think. Below is memorable guidance on how best to live from a man famous for saying, “I am dynamite!”

While lions and tigers and bears don’t menace us anymore, the writer in question claims we face towering psychological challenges without them. The following aphorisms try to scale those heights.

I’ll reveal our secret advisor, N, before this essay’s end.

Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.

We are, according to the author, desperate to be many things to many people. The masses are hypnotized by beliefs learned long ago, beliefs repeated over and over by our parents, relatives, our community, teachers, and religious leaders.

We want to fit in and “succeed” as defined by our nation and neighbors, and rise to the afterlife. This leads to a “herd mentality,” in the words of the wise man.

Winning a mate is dependent on what others think of us and how well we conform to the popular estimate of desirability. As N observes, we wear masks instead of embracing our own inner truth. Thus, he also wrote:

Become what you are.

Put differently, he refers to a potential transformation of ourselves once we throw off the training wheels and invisible guide wires society uses to constrain us. Having accomplished this emancipation (no one else will do it for us) we can be what we should be. Humans are otherwise automatons tricked into believing they are liberated and enlightened.

Let the youthful soul look back on life with the question: what have you truly loved up to now, what has drawn your soul aloft, what has mastered it and at the same time blessed it? Set up these revered objects before you and perhaps their nature and their sequence will give you a law, the fundamental law of your own true self.

When those words are followed, N believed they lead us to discover that which is at our core. The real identity within us can be glimpsed if we possess the courage to break the “group think” of the tribe. Few will have the will power to do it. N insisted only a handful of us will identify and reject the restrictions stamped onto and into us from our beginnings.

Finally,

You repay a teacher badly by becoming merely a pupil.

Here, the German philosopher (I’m giving you a hint as to his identity) defines what he means by a student. N tells us we are pupils not only of the instructors we meet in school, but the received “wisdom” of institutions and authorities, including government, religion, philosophers, and books. We must dispense with whatever part of their thinking doesn’t survive critical analysis.

Our task is to leave behind worn-out doctrines and replace them with our own. Indeed, he hopes the beginner will, by dint of his internal strength, courage, and intellect, create a revolution in his thought. The most extraordinary among us, N imagined, become breakers of norms, inventors of a re-engineered vision of the world and our own place outside of the mainstream. The former novice thereby morphs into a superman (Übermensch).

The creator of these ideas was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), a German philosopher and cultural critic. This groundbreaking thinker had the misfortune not only of an early breakdown but an anti-Semitic sister who misrepresented his work just as it began to gain attention and after he was incapacitated.

While Nietzche rejected the doctrine of Aryan and national German superiority voiced by the reactionary writers of his time, the Nazis caused the further posthumous distortion of claiming him as their philosophical mentor.

His Übermensch was a rare and solitary hero of individualism, not part of any racial white herd who bowed robot-like before a leader, whether religious or governmental. He rejected materialism, capitalism, and outward show. Nietzche’s enlarged man, instead, met life without fear, realizing his personal (not group) potential and finding joy in his short existence, come good fortune or bad.

Shall we develop and live by our own out-of-the-box ideas, rejecting the tribal masses in their lockstep march to a tune other than their own?

Only if we are brave enough, said Nietzsche.

—–

The first two paintings are by Paul Klee: Senecio (1922) and Magic Mirror (1934). They are sourced from Paul Klee.net/ The final image is Friedrich Nietzche (1906) by Edvard Munch, from Wikiart.org/

14 thoughts on “Some “Super” and Surprising Advice

  1. Another great philosophical post, Dr. S! Hmm… I would like to think that “strange ones” are brave, as opposed to inept, for being who they are despite ad hominem attacks and false attributions. Yet, the misunderstood include a diverse crowd of those who deviate from norms on both high and low ends of the marginalized spectrum we call society. Those on either end could easily get pathologized, but what if they actually possess gifts of uniqueness and relating, instead? Further, bravery to be who we are at our core does not exclude feelings of defeat, torment, persecution, depression, madness, and anxiety when actual stigma, discrimination, and/or disdain are present. Being different is not always easy, and experiencing post-traumatic growth on many levels often gets dismissed as another deficit, as opposed to a strength borrowed from positive psychology. Yet, even in our individualist society we seek to conform to its norms and live somewhat along the lines of collectivists, only, without empathy. We need more empathy and understaning in the world, and a balance between the polarized ends of individualism and collectivism. Nevertheless, the philosopher you mention makes a great point, as do you!

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    • Thanks, Gayle. All the points were those of Nietzsche. He is easily misunderstood, even today, and even for those that understand he was neither an anti-Semite nor a proponent of a “master race.”

      He was an opponent of pity. His idea of nonconformity is not simply being different than others, but being capable of the intellectual understanding of ideas that didn’t deserve acceptance. His “hero” rose above such things as depression, madness, and anxiety. He met life’s victories and disappointments on the same terms. Nietzsche was contemptuous of organized religion, but especially those that were preoccupied with an afterlife. The philosopher thought all that mattered was this life itself, and a focus on anything else was a mistake that contributed to the “herd mentality.” He also inspired many people, including the composer Richard Strauss, who wrote “Also Sprach Zarathustra” after Nietzsche’s fictional hero Zarathustra. You’d recognize its opening instantly, which is featured in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and many commercials.

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      • Was Nietzsche an atheist?

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      • His most famous quote is “God’ is dead.” Another is “Is man God’s mistake or is God man’s mistake?”

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      • Interesting perspective! I border on atheism and agnosticism myself, only because of the ritual abuse I had experienced and witnessed. Nevertheless, does not herd mentality also include idealism, stoicism, wanting to perceive thyself as highly intelligent and rational? Such an infinitesimal class of superior enlightenment, while elite and marginalized on the higher end of myriad spectra, appears to be part of a small herd of humans. Is that not also a diverse type of herd mentality? Is there not a divergent solution to a convergent problem comprising segregation of various stata?

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      • Nietzsche’s “idealism” is subject to argument. To the extent that he sees the “superman” as inventing his own rules, some might find him less than admirable. Importantly, Nietzsche believed that all philosophers, presumably including himself, fashioned their philosophies out of their own experience and viewpoint. His life, if you choose to read about it, was not an easy one purely at the level of physical health. Moreover, until just before his breakdown, his books were hardly read. Some of the later ones he self-published.

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      • Enlightenment is another social construct that separates. Idealism versus realism. It would be ideal for mankind to be healthy and intelligent, rational and forever fixated on innovation and improvements – to almost stray away from the human nature comprising emotion, belongingness, and curiosity about the afterlife when presented with conventional loss. Care ethics would be highly stoic, as opposed to embracing the importance of empathy, shared emotions, etc. Anyone who deviates far from the norm, even those who claim they are intellectually intelligent and therefore more rational, is easily misunderstood.

        But there is rationale in balancing conformity with innovation, and intellect with emotion. There is a time and place for it all, lest we explode or forever live a lie of someone we are not. We are humans with emotion, and to deny that part of self is to negate our core as well. Enlightenment includes emotions, different perspectives, and even those who are ill mentally or physically. No one human being is superior enough to claim the highest enlightenment status, lest he himself become narcissistic and almost antisocial.

        Some therapists and psychological philosophers claim that pity is an important emotion to experience and express in treatment. I forgot the psychologist who proposed that, but he made an excellent point concerning grief and loss healing.

        Pehaps the misunderstanding with Nietzsche is that his philosophy does in fact segregate and discriminate. Those psychological philosophers who seemingly oppose this point of view purport mental health promotion that allows harmonious blending of illness with strengths (positive psychology, contemporary resilience), as opposed to a medical model that excludes illness in its traditional resilience models. Health promotion is not the absence of illness, but rather strenghths and resilience in the midst of illness.

        Focusing on the afterlife too much can be a farsighted solution to allostatic overload, but so can focusing on the here and now. A balance is due between polarized foci, whereby the strengths found in positive psychology include religious beliefs (not becessarily practices) and the social support found among those with similar beliefs. Posttraumatic growth includes spiritual/religious beliefs as a factor.

        Everyone in life experiences trauma at some point in their lives, including death. Enlightenment from such traumas does not exclude illness of any kind; the experience of trauma is enlightening, though not pleasant and not an excuse to harm or self-harm. Emotional expression and understanding is as important as emotion regulation (without suppression). Happiness and sadness are not opposites; they are siblings with different forms of enlightenment.

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  2. Herd mentality or “solidarity?” Individualism or “I’ve got mine?” It ain’t easy.

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    • The individualist “superman” was not interested in material things, Joan. He wouldn’t say, “I’ve got mine.” Nor did Nietzsche believe that the herd would ever be capable of enlightenment or the kind of critical analysis needed to break free of all the conformist messages of the government and the “focus on the next life” messages of many religions. He was a solo actor, not a member of any group.

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  3. Let’s talk more about this one of these days.

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  4. Awe. I was just watching a YouTube video on Nietzsche and psychology and understood him a little more concerning inner drives, internal chaos, and impulses. His take on actualizing oneself is impressive and lays a foundation that he, I think, claims to have founded before psychology was invented. I plan to read more about his personal life soon, since I, too, believe that philosophies often stem from the philosopher’s life history – psychology as a philosophy included. It is sad when the academe or otherwise elitist groups exclude one of their own – that is, until they are deceased. Nietzsche’s thoughts and theories were worth publication and consideration. Only today do we find such works to be worth exploring and building upon. Liberal freedom is ethical only when it does not harm others, and yet there is still a harm inflicted with conservative ways of government rule when liberal freedoms do harm. Put another way, individualism and collectivism both offer benefits and harms, but somewhere in the middle (convergent-moderate view) or outside of polarized (two-dimensional) planes lie divergent (independent) solutions that may parallel some (but not all) of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Because pathological narcissists are not defined as being brave enough to see the depths of turmoil within themselves like Nietzsche did in real life, this philosopher is not pathologically narcissistic. Nevertheless, delineating a separation of those with certain types of intelligence from those who conform and are therefore said to be less rational or intelligent is a major flaw that does little to promote self-actualization. To me, balance is key to enlightenment, and enlightenment as a form of intelligence can occur with any human conduit who is willing to… explore (not avoid) the self in relation to others, the self in the abscence of others (real self), the self as history, the other as abscent from the self (empathy), the self as more than history, the other as more than history, and the environment that is constantly changing.

    Winnicott wrote about the false self and real self, and I think I hear some Nietzsche in his psychological philosophy. But herd mentality does not always mean pathology or a lack of intelligence, and it certainly does not mean many false selves that blindly conform. There are strengths in numbers, and there is a healing benefit to social support and conformity. Humans can still be their true selves among others with similar beliefs and true selves. But there is a balance between individualism and collectivism, and individualism and solidarity. The balance is probably not on a convergent two-dimensional plane, but rather on a divergent three-dimensional plane that sees the importance of both harmoniously intertwined without segregation, one-upping, or non-pathological narcissiam.

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  5. Dr. Stein, though Nietzche’s ideas, presented in your very informative article, seem to make total sense, I struggle with the concept of “individualism.” We humans are social animals. We cannot survive for long on our own. Yes, I know that some individuals have attempted to do so. How do we retain our individuality within the whole? That to me is our challenge as a species.

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    • I agree. Nietzsche certainly doesn’t speak to that in what I’ve read of him, though I am certainly not the last word on this. Still, it is hard to imagine being (in his conception) a superman and also finding someone compatible with intimacy or friendship was we think of it. Thanks, Rosaliene.

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