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Thursday, January 13, 2005


but for the grace of god

in many discussions in my life recently, i have been struck by the lack of common humility in modern man. i think this an inevitable effect of individuality taken to its absurd extreme -- after all, a hero cannot be humble if he must walk in solitude against all the world. in a life in which we are, or dream ourselves to be, all artists, all heroes, all individuals -- perhaps arrogance is unavoidable.

i take respite from pride in remembering john bradford, the 16th c english protestant martyr, who had a much less important vision of himself -- who knew enough of the world to say, famously, when observing criminals being walked to the gallows, "there, but for the grace of god, goes john bradford."

i wrote recently, inveighing against nietzsche:

a life devoid of sympathy -- as nietzsche advocates -- is what? a life spent in the love of pain.

this is not a love of life -- it is antithetical to life and its enjoyment. if life cannot be enjoyed -- if indeed the point of life is only pain -- why live it?

i know men to be animals of the meanest sort. but i, unlike The Misanthrope, do not take that to be evidence of their worthlessness. why? because i know that i am immeasurably better if i am at all -- and that no man is better than any other except by pernicious chance.

we are learning by observation that the world is random and probabilistic at its smallest quantum levels, and chaotic even in its largest systems. in our nature, in our development, in the outcome of our existence -- in this way the universe assures randomness is the most significant factor in our lives.

nietzsche argues against free will -- "a man is as he ought to be" -- he believes Great Men destined to be great, each ruled by his internal noble idea, and that Noble Greatness entitles the Superman to be valued over a million lessers. he is wrong -- which is not that free will is right. it is simply to say that Great Men are the product of the outcome of a series of probabilities which they have nothing to do with deciding. Great Men are random -- they are made or destroyed by chance.

when this is so, how can any man be admired above any other? we are not equal; and yet, the quality of our lives is distributed randomly, irrespective of our inequalities, because the role of chance is so large in comparison to them.

nietzsche's philosophy is that of a man who cannot live except in fear of this truth -- and in his psychopathic insecurity, he was forced to believe in destined Greatness because he could not accept randomness.

because the lowest wretch and the highest hero are different from me by chance, i know that there are no Supermen -- at least none i could separate from ordinary men -- but only fortunate men.

i am unable to muster lasting contempt or worship for men who are significantly different from myself on that basis -- as nietzsche was able to, on the premise that some were destined to be greater than others. i am unable to condemn prudence as a symptom of weakness, when the random turn that destroys a fortunate man is waiting around every corner, as solon knew -- as nietzsche could not admit, deriding prudence as Slave Morality. i am unable to avoid sympathy in considering the pain of my fellow man because i know that mere chance separates me from him -- something nietzsche was well capable of because of his misguidance.

i am able only to try to enjoy my life, accepting its random distributions with levity, and to help where i am able to assist my fellow man in doing so as well for the benefit of us both -- knowing that he, if he is like me, will assist me when he can.
that i should be fortunate enough so as to live my life in this way is all that i can hope for.

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