What is happiness?

Nietzsche defines happines as “a feeling that power is increasing” and unhappiness as a feeling that “power is decreasing.” He didn’t define “power” but I assume that he was referring to the inflation of the ego – a feeling of self importance or esteem or a domination of others. I find this definition concise but quite unsatisfactory. Happiness is not really a state but a process. The process must constantly repeat itself for one to continue to be happy. That is why it’s important to seek happiness from an activity rather than from a place, thing or person. When people are happy together, it’s foremost because of their activities not their proximity.

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The Influence of Power on Moral Truth

According to Nietzsche there is no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena. This means the morality of an action or a deed is in the interpretation of that deed, making morality subjective. All things subjective are of, existing in or related to the mind. There is also the issue of motive which helps us to judge whether an act is moral or not.

For instance, we cannot say something is good or bad until we know the motive with which it’s done. If a politician builds a library or makes a cash donation to his community, we cannot say he is a good man until we know his motive, which is often definitely to seek another term of office, which means plowing his money back from state coffers or from bribes.

Kant, Locke, Hobbes and even Rousseau presented their ideas about morality as if it were a direct product of reason or rationality. They implied that primitive societies which had not ‘mastered’ reasoning had no sense of morality at all but this is erroneous. Kant in particular attributed virtue to individual freewill and autonomy but our modern experience presents a different evidence. It is indeed true that with personal freedom and autonomy comes reasoning but morality does not necessarily follow through. We pride ourselves today for being in the age of reason but our moral curve keeps plunging downwards. My observation is that virtue is an attribute of nothing but the emotions in their proper frameworks and that the source of both virtue and vice is in our primitive days. Reason only comes in after the stage is set.

All good or evil deeds proceed from the heart and reason, though resulting in self awareness and personal security, does not necessarily prevent evil. Most people who commit moral crimes are aware of the evil nature of their deeds but they do it anyway. Reason for the most part is self serving and often fails the motive check which I mentioned earlier. For instance, people who give a part of their salary to the homeless and beggars have no apparent reason or motive at all for doing that. They simply were moved by their emotions.

There is another interesting twist to morality – which makes it somewhat undulating in nature. Consider this: A murderer is an immoral person but one who murders the murderer for the safety of the community is deemed moral. It follows that the murderer’s murderer’s murderer is also deemed immoral and it goes on and on switching back and forth. We can think of it as an equation attempting psychological equilibrium, which is something inbuilt in us.

The biggest problem in morality so far is the influence of power or authority. Nietzsche goes on to say that whatever interpretations exist or persist is a function of authority and not truth. One will notice that Pilate’s question to the Jew: ‘What is truth?’ lends credence to this statement. To Pilate, truth is what the Roman empire says it is, so he wanted to know the deferring truth which the Jew was purported to have taught his disciples. In practical life, one will have noticed that the vast majority of people will readily accept truth only and if only it is backed by authority. Sometimes during a court trial, witnesses freeze or crumple in the witness box or fail to appear altogether because the truth which they witnessed will offend authority.

And now a question: Though they all claim to be doing it for peaceful purposes, do you think there is morality or moral truth or ethical merit in so called nuclear programmes? To what extent should a nation go in protecting itself or its interests?

Nietzsche’s “The Voluntary Beggar”

 

Extracts from Nietzsche’s “ Thus Spake Zarathustra”

 

………………………….When, however, he spied about and sought for the comforters of his lonesomeness, behold, there were kine there standing together on an eminence, whose proximity and smell had warmed his heart. The kine, however, seemed to listen eagerly to a speaker, and took no heed of him who approached. When, however, Zarathustra was quite nigh unto them, then did he hear plainly that a human voice spake in the midst of the kine, and apparently all of them had turned their heads towards the speaker.

Then ran Zarathustra up speedily and drove the animals aside; for he feared that someone had here met with harm, which the pity of the kine would hardly be able to relieve. But in this he was deceived; for behold, there sat a man on the ground who seemed to be persuading the animals to have no fear of him, a peaceable man and Preacher-on-the-Mount, out of whose eyes kindness itself preached.

“What dost thou seek here?” called out Zarathustra in astonishment.

“What do I here seek?” answered he: “the same that thou seekest, thou mischief-maker; that is to say, happiness upon earth. To that end, however, I would fain learn of these kine. For I tell thee that I have already talked half a morning unto them, and just now were they about to give me their answer. Why dost thou disturb them?

Except we be converted and become as kine, we shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. For we ought to learn from them one thing: ruminating. And verily, although a man should gain the whole world, and yet not learn one thing, ruminating, what would it profit him!  He would not be rid of his affliction, –His great affliction: that, however, is at present called DISGUST. Who hath not at present his heart, his mouth and his eyes full of disgust? Thou also! Thou also! But behold these kine!”– Thus spake the Preacher-on-the-Mount, and turned then his own look towards Zarathustra–for hitherto it had rested lovingly on the kine–: then, however, he put on a different expression. “Who is this with whom I talk?” he exclaimed frightened, and sprang up from the ground.

…………………………”Speak not of me, thou strange one; thou amiable one!” said Zarathustra, and restrained his affection, speak to me firstly of thyself! Art thou not the voluntary beggar who once cast away great riches,–Who was ashamed of his riches and of the rich, and fled to the poorest to bestow upon them his abundance and his heart? But they received him not.

“But they received me not,” said the voluntary beggar, “thou knowest it, forsooth. So I went at last to the animals and to those kine.” “Then learnedst thou,” interrupted Zarathustra, “how much harder it is to give properly than to take properly, and that bestowing well is an ART–the last, subtlest master-art of kindness.”

………………………….I flee away further and ever further, until I came to those kine.” Thus spake the peaceful one, and puffed himself and perspired with his words: so that the kine wondered anew. Zarathustra, however, kept looking into his face with a smile, all the time the man talked so severely–and shook silently his head.

“Thou doest violence to thyself, thou Preacher-on-the-Mount, when thou usest such severe words. For such severity neither thy mouth nor thine eye have been given thee. Nor, methinketh, hath thy stomach either: unto IT all such rage and hatred and foaming-over is repugnant. Thy stomach wanteth softer things: thou art not a butcher.

Rather seemest thou to me a plant-eater and a root-man. Perhaps thou grindest corn. Certainly, however, thou art averse to fleshly joys, and thou lovest honey.” “Thou hast divined me well,” answered the voluntary beggar, with lightened heart. “I love honey, I also grind corn; for I have sought out what tasteth sweetly and maketh pure breath: –Also what requireth a long time, a day’s-work and a mouth’s-work for gentle idlers and sluggards.

Furthest, to be sure, have those kine carried it: they have devised ruminating and lying in the sun. They also abstain from all heavy thoughts which inflate the heart.” –“Well!” said Zarathustra, “thou shouldst also see MINE animals, mine eagle and my serpent,–their like do not at present exist on earth.  Behold, thither leadeth the way to my cave: be to-night its guest. And talk to mine animals of the happiness of animals,– –Until I myself come home. For now a cry of distress calleth me hastily away from thee. Also, shouldst thou find new honey with me, ice-cold, golden-comb-honey, eat it! Now, however, take leave at once of thy kine, thou strange one! thou amiable one! though it be hard for thee.

For they are thy warmest friends and preceptors!”– –“One excepted, whom I hold still dearer,” answered the voluntary beggar. “Thou thyself art good, O Zarathustra, and better even than a cow!” “Away, away with thee! thou evil flatterer!” cried Zarathustra mischievously, “why dost thou spoil me with such praise and flattery-honey?

“Away, away from me!” cried he once more, and heaved his stick at the fond beggar, who, however, ran nimbly away.

 

 

Interpretation (Mine)

Nietzsche’s writings have been taken out of context through subjection to rigorous logical analysis. And that’s to be expected considering his contradictory nature. Though there are gaps here and there, I have no difficulty at all understanding this particular book. Nietzsche chiefly wrote this book in symbolic language like all religious texts. The things he speaks of should never be taken literal. For instance when he speaks of kine and eagles and serpents, he was speaking of humans with the dullness of mind of such bovine animals as oxen. And speaking of eagles and serpents, one knows how agile and cunning these creatures are in contrast to oxen.

In this chapter (The Voluntary Beggar) , clearly, Nietzsche was parodying “the sermon on the mount” in the Bible, (Except we be converted and become as kine, we shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. For we ought to learn from them one thing: ruminating. And verily, although a man should gain the whole world, and yet not learn one thing, ruminating, what would it profit him!)

He substituted the sheep for the kine – which nonetheless meant the same thing – people lacking shrewdness or mental quickness and who avoid heavy thoughts that trouble the heart. Nietzsche has been known to parody the Bible on several occasions. In his days, it was made clear to him by the Protestant Church that he will never be offered employment because of his attitude to Christianity. That may have aggravated his life condition.

When Nietzsche spoke of “the voluntary beggar,” he was referring, I’m afraid, to the Christian Messiah. In the Bible it was written that when Jesus was thirty he went out to the world and was tempted by the devil thrice. The devil did offer him all the kingdoms and the riches of the world if only he will avow his allegiance to him (the devil) where upon he rejected the offer and the devil departed from him (Art thou not the voluntary beggar who once cast away great riches,–Who was ashamed of his riches and of the rich, and fled to the poorest to bestow upon them his abundance and his heart? But they received him not?)

Afterwards Satan never tempted him again but he became a pauper and lived amongst the poor (his disciples) which was more or less, as implied in this passage, a punishment for sticking to the truth. (Thou doest violence to thyself, thou Preacher-on-the-Mount, when thou usest such severe words. For such severity neither thy mouth nor thine eye have been given thee. Nor, methinketh, hath thy stomach either: unto IT all such rage and hatred and foaming-over is repugnant. Thy stomach wanteth softer things: thou art not a butcher.)

Although it was not written anywhere in the Bible that he made a living by begging for alms, Christ once lamented: “Foxes have lairs and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Thus according to Nietzsche, Christ became a begger by choice. It was a very heathenic thing to say or even think but if you are familiar with Nietzsche’s writings then you shouldn’t be surprised.

He also introduces Zarathustra, an imaginary Persian prophet to the kine at the same time the Christian Messiah was preaching on the mount. Thus an argument ensues between the two prophets while the kine looks on confused as to who is a true prophet. Although this chapter is quite lengthy, it repeatedly expresses the same theme of guardianship. In a broader sense, it also figuratively captures the struggle between eastern and western religions, for the hearts of men – each prophet representing each religion.

 

The Tree On The Hill

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Extract from “Thus Spake Zarathustra” by Nietzsche

Zarathustra’s eye had perceived that a certain youth avoided him. And as he walked alone one evening over the hills surrounding the town called “The Pied Cow,” behold, there found he the youth sitting leaning against a tree, and gazing with wearied look into the valley. Zarathustra thereupon laid hold of the tree beside which the youth sat, and spake thus:

“If I wished to shake this tree with my hands, I should not be able to do so. But the wind, which we see not, troubleth and bendeth it as it listeth. We are sorest bent and troubled by invisible hands.” Thereupon the youth arose disconcerted, and said: “I hear Zarathustra, and just now was I thinking of him!”

Zarathustra answered:

“Why art thou frightened on that account? –But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeketh to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthward, downward, into the dark and deep–into the evil.” “Yea, into the evil!” cried the youth. “How is it possible that thou hast discovered my soul?”

Zarathustra smiled, and said:

“Many a soul one will never discover, unless one first invent it.” “Yea, into the evil!” cried the youth once more. “Thou saidst the truth, Zarathustra. I trust myself no longer since I sought to rise into the height, and nobody trusteth me any longer; how doth that happen? I change too quickly: my to-day refuteth my yesterday. I often overleap the steps when I clamber; for so doing, none of the steps pardons me. When aloft, I find myself always alone. No one speaketh unto me; the frost of solitude maketh me tremble. What do I seek on the height?

My contempt and my longing increase together; the higher I clamber, the more do I despise him who clambereth. What doth he seek on the height? How ashamed I am of my clambering and stumbling! How I mock at my violent panting! How I hate him who flieth! How tired I am on the height!”

Here the youth was silent.

And Zarathustra contemplated the tree beside which they stood, and spake thus:

“This tree standeth lonely here on the hills; it hath grown up high above man and beast. And if it wanted to speak, it would have none who could understand it: so high hath it grown. Now it waiteth and waiteth,–for what doth it wait? It dwelleth too close to the seat of the clouds; it waiteth perhaps for the first lightning?”

When Zarathustra had said this, the youth called out with violent gestures: “Yea, Zarathustra, thou speakest the truth. My destruction I longed for, when I desired to be on the height, and thou art the lightning for which I waited! Lo! what have I been since thou hast appeared amongst us? It is mine envy of thee that hath destroyed me!”–Thus spake the youth, and wept bitterly. Zarathustra, however, put his arm about him, and led the youth away with him.

“Thus Spake Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 Interpretation (Mine)

A young ambitious man was having trouble understanding the meaning of life and as a result had resigned into solitude. Zarathustra had noticed him long ago while he went through the town called “The Pied Cow” preaching. But as he was about to retire in the evening to the outskirts of the town, he met this same young man sitting quietly under a tree.

It is possible that his confusion is twofold. One may have to do with ambition to be “successful” in life. And the other, I believe, is a struggle to live a moral life (a spiritual struggle) which every society obligates on its youth – even if that society itself is not moral.

After some time the youth confessed to Zarathustra that the more he tries to be moral and live up to expectation the stronger the impulse (and for that matter the temptation) to commit immoral acts.

“But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeketh to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthward, downward, into the dark and deep–into the evil.”

Zarathustra first consoled him by implying that a lone tree grows taller and stronger than others in the forest but also reminds him that over ambition can kill:

“…so high hath it grown. Now it waiteth and waiteth,–for what doth it wait? It dwelleth too close to the seat of the clouds; it waiteth perhaps for the first lightning?”

The broader meaning of this passage also corresponds to passages in the book of Ecclesiastics in the Bible which speaks of life as having no purpose – that all is vanity and waste of time and energy. That men rise as high as they can only to be cut off by death. This is what, I think , this passage is about. When you look at the life history of most geniuses (in music, sports, politics, entertainment etc), you will notice that they were loved by the crowds for what they did and in trying to do more to please the crowds they ended their lives, mostly through drugs. A typical example is Whitney Houston.

Also the passage raises important metaphysical/psychological question, which I will call the internal struggle, which the bible also describes in the book of Galatians 5: 17:

And here I quote the Bible as I would any literature.

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

 Meaning that life becomes something like a seesaw. Either you please the inner world or the outer, but often one is torn between the two.

“Thus Spake Zarathustra” By Nietzsche

 

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EXCERPTS FROM ZARATHUSTRA’S PROLOGUE

Zarathustra, however, remained standing, and just beside him fell the body, badly injured and disfigured, but not yet dead. After a while consciousness returned to the shattered man, and he saw Zarathustra kneeling beside him.

“What art thou doing there?” said he at last, “I knew long ago that the devil would trip me up. Now he draggeth me to hell: wilt thou prevent him?”

“On mine honour, my friend,” answered Zarathustra, “there is nothing of all that whereof thou speakest: there is no devil and no hell. Thy soul will be dead even sooner than thy body: fear, therefore, nothing any more!”

The man looked up distrustfully.

“If thou speakest the truth,” said he, “I lose nothing when I lose my life. I am not much more than an animal which hath been taught to dance by blows and scanty fare.”

“Not at all,” said Zarathustra, “thou hast made danger thy calling; therein there is nothing contemptible. Now thou perishest by thy calling: therefore will I bury thee with mine own hands.”

When Zarathustra had said this the dying one did not reply further; but he moved his hand as if he sought the hand of Zarathustra in gratitude. Meanwhile the evening came on, and the market-place veiled itself in gloom. Then the people dispersed, for even curiosity and terror become fatigued. Zarathustra, however, still sat beside the dead man on the ground, absorbed in thought: so he forgot the time. But at last it became night, and a cold wind blew upon the lonely one. Then arose Zarathustra and said to his heart:

“Verily, a fine catch of fish hath Zarathustra made to-day! It is not a man he hath caught, but a corpse. Sombre is human life, and as yet without meaning: a buffoon may be fateful to it.

I want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the lightning out of the dark cloud–man. But still am I far from them, and my sense speaketh not unto their sense. To men I am still something between a fool and a corpse. Gloomy is the night, gloomy are the ways of Zarathustra. Come, thou cold and stiff companion! I carry thee to the place where I shall bury thee with mine own hands.”

When Zarathustra had said this to his heart, he put the corpse upon his shoulders and set out on his way.