I originally started writing this as the intro to part 7 of the neverwas movie but then it went somewhere a little too serious for the neverwas nonsense.
So if you’ve read the earlier parts to this you might remember Jeeves and Wooster feature in a bit of it and when I posted that bit I said I wanted to say something about Bertie Wooster but then I didn’t because I was quite sick that week and just decided to hurry up and post that bit rather than wait till I was making enough sense to make the point I wanted to make. (I actually didn’t even mention that I had something more to say.)
If you’re curious here’s a copy of my attempt to make sense that time. It ends after 2.5 pages in the middle of a sentence. Honestly, I don’t even know what I was going to say there. I was very sick and had taken my usual cure of a few hot whiskeys. I start off in great spirits, by the end I’m getting a bit testy and then, mid-sentence, I just put the laptop to the side and fell fast asleep.
And here’s a link to article in thejournal.ie titled What is the theory of relativity all about? – it doesn’t go into too much depth but it tells you something. (29/03/2017 – today I found this video on youtube that explains the equation E=mc2 and this playlist that tries to make general relativity understandable – isn’t the internet great?)
So I am going to have another go at trying to make the point I was trying to make there because there’s a scene in this bit where Howard is sitting in his apartment reading Nietzsche. The scene is cut and pasted directly from the original – except that bit where he’s reading Nietzsche – I added that bit.
In part 1 I explained how I had found a text dump of all the dialog in the film. I called it a script but really it’s just a text dump because it doesn’t contain any directions or even any clues as to who is saying what. Since I was determined not to watch the film again I had to rely on my memory of how the scenes played out and who said what. Well I remembered this scene as Howard reading a book before Dominique enters. He isn’t. He’s just sitting there waiting for her. As men do. In an Ayn Rand story.
Anyway that was the way I remembered it and I was thinking “hmm, I wonder what book he was reading?” And I thought “it’s probably Nietzsche”. I don’t know much about Nietzsche but I know old movies and if a character like Howard Roark is going to be reading a book chances are it’s going to be by Nietzsche. So I started that scene with “Howard is sitting reading Nietzsche.” and then I decided I might as well read a wikipedia page or two on Nietzsche just in case.
That’s when I read about the Superman concept – which I think I had heard of before – but I hadn’t heard about the Last Man. The last man is the antithesis of the superman ideal. The last man is tired of life, takes no risks, and seeks only comfort and security. That line is copied from this wikipedia page and actually I’m just going to straight cut and paste a few more lines and then make my little point. Eventually.
According to Nietzsche, the last man is the goal that Western civilization has apparently set for itself. After having unsuccessfully attempted to get the populace to accept the Übermensch [Superman] as the goal of society, Zarathustra confronts them with a goal so disgusting that he assumes that it will revolt them. The lives of the last men are pacifist and comfortable. There is no longer a distinction between ruler and ruled, strong over weak, or supreme over the mediocre. Social conflict and challenges are minimized. Every individual lives equally and in “superficial” harmony. There are no original or flourishing social trends and ideas. Individuality and creativity are suppressed.
If you read that paragraph thinking that he was quite prophetic I’ve got to tell you I couldn’t disagree with you more.
I don’t understand how people could associate pacifism with a lack of individuality or creativity. And while I do think that adversity often sparks creativity in people I can’t imagine that it would be possible to make existence so comfortable that a person could live without experiencing adversity of some kind or another. Like Buddhists say “life is suffering” – I think life is pretty much everything, but I think I understand their point that in this plane of existence where change is the only real constant suffering is inevitable because although change will bring good things the impermanence of everything means that grief and loss are an unavoidable part of conscious existence.
The distinction between ruler and ruled, and strong over weak, and the horrible conflicts that ensue as result, still very much exists in our world. Does this distinction somehow help us steer clear of mediocrity? How? Surely if it’s possible for an individual or group to somehow place themselves in a superior position to others, this elevated position or cocoon makes mediocrity more rather than less likely?
I’m quite passive. Passive-reactive. Occasionally pro-active if I’m really exercised about something. What I was going to say about Bertie Wooster was that I relate to him even though I have nothing in common with the character, because he’s passive-reactive. Bertie is good natured and well-meaning but he isn’t ever going to push himself to accomplish any great achievement or even do anything that discomforts him, unless forced to by an aunt, friend, fiancé, stray cat… he’s a bit of a pushover really. He’s a last man.
And he’s alright. We don’t all have to set the world alight, do we? We just all need the opportunity to offer the world the best we can. Even if we don’t all choose to exploit that opportunity.
Maybe you think that that sort of blasé attitude is exactly what will ruin our world, lead to an end of great achievements and we will wade forever in the mire of mediocrity until we can’t take it anymore and so we catapult ourselves, en masse, into the vacuum of space. You don’t think that do you? That’s clearly crazy…
For one thing while I do believe most people are passive-reactive, far from everyone is. There are plenty of go-getters, the pro-active types, out there. I’ve nothing against go-getters. I admire them. When I say I’m anti-Supermen I don’t mean I’m anti people who go out there and achieve things. That would also be clearly crazy. At this point in The Fountainhead I still thought Howard Roark was actually fine. At this point he is a go getter. But later when he crushes any attempt to deviate from his plans, when he completely refuses to compromise, as if diluting the spirit of his vision with someone else’s mixer is going to poison it, rather than just make it more palatable, he’s no longer a go-getter he’s a Superman, towering above others, not limited by their lowly laws and morals or opinions. No, I haven’t had any hot whiskeys. Nothing wrong with that sentence. Oh, you think Ayn Rand would have done much better? Well… you’re probably right.
I just remembered what the point I wanted to make was.
The real problem One of the many problems I have with the whole Superman thing is that you can’t admit any weakness, so in pursuing your supreme individual achievement you actually deny a huge part of yourself. You end up caged by not being able to say “no, I’m no good at that” or “oops, got that totally wrong” or just “sorry”. Of course it’s equally important to be able to stand up and say “you need to listen to me on this point and unless you can convince me that I’m wrong I’m not going to let it go” or “yes I can do that, I can do that very well” or “I think it’s great”.
You know the way sometimes on nature shows about some primates there often comes a point where the narrator ponders on how we have achieved such dominance over the earth, when other primates, who are so close to us genetically, have not. The easy answer obviously is that we can tap the pads of our thumbs and index fingers together enabling us to make tools that other primates, unable to do this, cannot. But sometimes I think that what really set us apart is that we chose to be weak. We chose to have less physical defences, and by choosing the less immediately tangible strengths of tool-making intelligence and creative problem solving skills, by accepting the obvious weakness of slighter bodies, look at where we’ve got to. We don’t really fear other animals, for most of us the greatest threat from the animal kingdom that we face is another human being. Pacifism may seem like the weak option, like the cowardly or even stupid way, but if we could have the strength, courage and wisdom to turn the other cheek, where would we be then?
I didn’t mean to end up here but rereading through that my thoughts obviously turned to the tragedy in Nice, then to all the awful needless shootings that have been in the news recently, and then to all the awful needless armed conflicts that rage in the world, to all the people that have been displaced … so much horror, so much tragedy, so much suffering – and it’s all so needless. Life is suffering, I accept that. I don’t accept that we should add to the suffering though. We should be doing all we can to minimize the suffering, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t that be our ultimate goal? To reduce suffering as much as we can and give ourselves and each other the opportunity to enjoy life as much as we can, and to offer this existence whatever we feel capable of offering.
My heart goes out to all the victims and to those close to them. It feels like there’s something we should have done, something to have stopped things from getting to here, like we’ve failed them. I want to show solidarity – to somehow say we (as in everyone with a heart) are with you and we won’t let this happen again.
And it is heart wrenching to know that there is no way to make that promise real. No quick and easy way.
You may have a problem with my saying this but my heart also goes out to the perpetrators and to those close to them. How does a human being get so messed up, so separated from their soul that brutally and senselessly killing and injuring other human beings seems like a good thing to do? How does that baby with bright eyes and winning smile, with arms reaching up to embrace the world turn into a person so filled with hate and rage that they feel justified in tearing other people’s lives apart and causing so much pain and grief?
It’s true that things need to change. There is so much injustice in our world. But how does increasing unnecessary suffering lessen injustice? We need to have more control over the policies our governments make, we need to have more control over how our states behave and are run. And most importantly we have got to accept that we are all equal. Equal but different. Every single one of us. We are all different. And we are all equal.
And we’re better than this. We have got to be better than this.