People often wonder about happiness and how they can get them some. Sure I could, and do, throw some Aristotle and Nietzsche, in the mix, but ultimately it tends to come in epiphanic jolts which come to alter and make one’s mode of being brighter and more purposively, and intently lived. Of course not a permanent state, but without these moments, these jolts, often despairingly won, a simple state of inertia cuddling with hedonism, is all there is. Happy to be in an epiphanic ascent.
Nietzsche might have been heard saying that! But what of it? It’s not the kind of proverbial bullshit one can include in a 5-step program (or 6 or 7 or however many, dude!) towards happiness or enlightenment or authenticity, or whatever trending name it is given to cushion itself nicely in your little paradigm of meaning. It’s fucking hard work, an on-going, subversive and necessarily disruptive process. Is it quietude you seek? Is it a quiet life you want? (not the same as quietude, dude!) Is it a simple life you want? Is it a life that makes sense, you seek? Is it order and communitarianism, that will appease you? Is it a moralized life, set against unflinching standards you have come to call universal and your own, that you speak to you? Awesome. I almost envy the tyranny of your heart! See the “sense” in it all; I do! But what a pandemic that underlays the cowardice, the fear, the disenchanted, the cave-dwellers, the politically correct, the straight and narrow! Hallelujah, I shall sing and praise you to every corner of the Earth, if you should so as much as risk yourself, at the peril of your existential abyss; if you should choose it so, knowing it, in that moment of concretized singularity, as precarious as any other ventured choice you could have made!
The high road is feigned the road of the righteous, the fair, the just, the good. The fair, the just, the good, in turn, are feigned the rational, the sound, the balanced, the temperate. What a wondrous uncompromising, and deliciously ordered world this must be. How delightful to walk the straight and narrow line where existential spillage is negligent. There is an abundance of metaphysics chiming in to plot the landscape to settle this path. Kant? Spinoza? Mill? Rand? Epictetus? Epicurus? Plato? Aristotle? Hobbes? Nietzsche? Sartre? de Beauvoir? Foucault? Levinas? Who shall we call upon? The Buddha? Christ? The Church Fathers? Zen Masters? No one; and everyone!
My way is often touted as nonconformist, counter-cultural, defiant, adversarial, non-compliant, dis-obedient; and yet, contrariety to commonplace, dominant paradigms is rarely received with such admiration when it is contrary, and indignantly contra your own! Yet, how one delights in the authenticating experience, shouting how often the debris leaves sufferers in the wake that seemingly aim to inauthenticate your existential expedition! Ach, my contrariety! My wake, my awaking, and ultimate demise! Nietzsche knew this. He also knew the process of ‘becoming who he really is’ involves shattering and shedding ambivalent suitors. In his case, Schopenhauer, Wagner, Montaigne, and without a doubt, Socrates. Nietzsche’s persistent love-hate relationship with Socrates may very well speak to pedagogic “ideals” as those that don’t simply, and narrowly inculcate contra-rational forms of living, or those that seek comportment in “self-mastery” or a self-legislating will, opening the flood-gates to the instincts, but to an unrest, dis-tranquilization of the spirit in resting too comfortably, whereby one’s concretized comportment gives way to that authorial chair of authority abstractly sitting overhead and delegating one’s will. It is, as Nietzsche has put it, “Those who do not wish to belong to the mass need only cease taking themselves easily (my italics); let them follow their conscience, which calls them: ‘Be yourself! All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring is not you yourself” (Untimely Meditations, III: I, I: 338). Giving style to one’s character involves not suppressing or dismissing (the instinct to) the rational, but recognizing the tyranny of reason as the supreme human instinct that would expunge, that would sooner castrate and de-aestheticized the human experience, than permit it loss to socio-political (and today industrialized) dictates. Socrates was a martyr of his time for his counter-establishment, counter-cultural method of turning the youth to those inherited moralized paradigms that tend to work in the service of extrinsic, political often, forms of oppression. But in Nietzsche’s view this was accomplished through idolizing reason, and demonizing the instincts. Though not in complete agreement with his rendering of Socrates, his life and method, the point is well taken. The stylistic process of becoming oneself is a process of “losing one’s way,” (insert Foucault) and with gaping mouth revert to unadulterated scripts that expunge the decadent, the toxic, but win no lottery of worth that is outwardly visible. Inwardly, epimeleia eautou (επιμέλεια εαυτού), is alarmingly settled! Finally, though not final.
So at the pub (yes, the pub! 😉 ) amidst Heavy Metal rockers dressed in ink, conversation almost always gets interesting. Why be happy when you’re not? Teasing superficialities of positivity speak to the simple American way, he announced. Ugh!!! We all have our stereotypes, and this is pretty much a constant. Anyway…. It’s the simplicity of the claim that irks me. I’m all for being positive, happy, pleasantly disposed, and whatever peripheral artillery this includes. What I’m opposed to, what my dialogical counterpart underscored, however impervious to self-criticism, is the naivety of the view. Sure we all want to be happy. I know I do. And it would seem that there are plenty of people that stack their chips with reason. Such is the plight of instrumental reasoning. You set your sights on some object and reason your way to the means of its acquisition, being careful to factor in along the way conditions for its realization, what might be lost in the process, and timelines. Timelines, schedules, planning, strategizing, and more timelines….again…repeat.
My pub mate did not consider this living. Jesus, he’d shout, these foreigners just don’t know how to live like a Greek! “We might not have as much money, or big houses, and closets of clothes to wear, but we have this, right here, right now.” I doubt he meant that Americans and Canadians (these happened to be the people he had on his mind) don’t go out to pubs and drink. In fact, they drink a great deal and certainly more than the average Greek. But they’d drink to get drunk, making sure to have had ample before heading out to assure success. Now though I have witnessed this for myself on frequent occasion, and often commented on how this is so foreign to my Greek propensities, I don’t think this is the point. It’s this visceral comportment that is distinctively Greek which knows no rhyme or reason. It has no agenda, and waits not for plans to opportune adventure. Life is not on a schedule, and throwing caution to the wind is not feigned in reaction to oppressive externalities, but is a simple way of being. Whether at a taverna, with modest decor, overlooking the Mediterranean eating Greek salad and saganaki cheese with local wine, or enjoying a meal at Lykavitos, it is the laissez-faire attitude which is both unrestrained and yet lacking in pretence that speaks to the Greek way. Perhaps this is what is seen with anticipated melancholy with Zorba the Greek, “the man I had sought so long in vain”, which is so beautifully captured in this dance. Opa!
Even amongst aretic thinkers as divergent as the Stoics and Epicureans, the linchpin to their philosophies is the pursuit of happiness. Where they differ is what happiness is, and hence the phronetic comportment to its achievement. Each in turn will speak to the virtues of the good life and their appropriation. Not at all unlike Nietzsche! Surprised? Well don’t get too excited before we knock down some artefacts of uncongenial thinking. Virtues are those of strength not humility, or weakness and the like, and the means of their appropriation are devised through a delicate but painful process of deconstruction, forcefully destructive, and aims not at happiness as any of these Greek philosophers imagined it. Instead the “happy life” is not one of “good sense”, but valorized, heroic conduct amidst all that is impenetrably unattainable. Wretched is that seductress ‘causality’ that would feign the life of happiness as one aimed to nullify externalities of no consequent or beyond our hailing hand. Such is it to confuse the cause with the effect, Nietzsche poignantly pointed out. It is not that a life, a good life, cannot withstand such annotations, but rather that having already been impoverished by the mechanization of life via nay sayers and the corruptors of life, that the virtues of humility and the like are adopted. The “original sin of reason” which is a case of the error of cause and effect is put to work to explain this phenomenon. Though this is the stranglehold of religious and moral paradigms, it is illustrated concisely in the example of Cornaro’s diet. Nietzsche says:
It is not the diet, as assumed by Readership of Cornaro’s illustration, that is the cause of good health, but rather an underlying condition that caused or, otherwise, gave rise to the success of this diet, and hence the longevity of this man. The parallel to morality runs the usual aretic formula to the ground, whereby tis not the virtues that are understood to lead (cause) to the good life, but rather a degenerate state of being – weak, compromised – that has caused, given rise to, the propagation of these virtues and hence the good life. Virtue is not the consequence of happiness, but ‘happiness’ the consequent of virtue. In his own words: “Instead, virtue [as it came to be construed] is itself that slowing down of the metabolism which among other things also brings a long life, numerous progeny, in short Cornarism in its wake.—The church and morality say: ‘a race, a people is destroyed by vice and extravagance.’ My restored reason says: if a people is destroyed, if it physiologically degenerates, then this is followed by vice and extravagance (i.e. the need for ever stronger and more frequent stimuli, familiar to every exhausted type). This young man grows prematurely pale and listless. His friends say: such and such an illness is to blame. I say: the fact that he fell ill, the fact that he could not withstand the illness, was already the consequence of an impoverished life, of hereditary exhaustion.” (Twilight of the Idols, The Four Great Errors – my italics).
In his Genealogy Nietzsche traces the origin of morality not in an attempt to get behind the contextual framework that is constitutive of all human understanding, but rather to identify those frameworks that have come to be constitutive of that very framework but which sneaked in, and were thereby ordained as the bestowers of life itself. They came to have a life of their own, not of the doing of humankind, but of some Omnipotent Power that deifies these; humankind is thereby tussled from her thrown and the Lord’s drones follow in her stead. It is now Goodness itself, or the verse of Nature herself, that define aspirations worthy of any man deserving of happiness.
Specifically, Nietzsche says of the Stoics, in Beyond Good and Evil:
Taking a hammer to this paradigm of thinking, Nietzsche identifies the basic tenet of Stoicism in a longing to cement the good life in living according to Nature, as if there is a determined way and reliable manner in which to ascertain that way. Nietzsche rejects both the naturalism and the rationalism of the Stoics, as I have sketched above. He calls them ‘self-deluders” because they read their philosophy into an understanding of nature allowing themselves to be tyrannized through the oppression of the otherwise natural proclivity for power, by tailoring the passions for a life free of anything “unnecessarily” disquieting. Of course, the general accusation applies to all moralized paradigms which, he says, ‘as soon as ever a philosophy comes to believe in itself, it always creates the world in its own image’. Allowing oneself to rest content with any perspective of the world involves, in some shape or form, the deification or the objectification or ossification of that perspective as if it were to speak now and for always for all things! And yet, this is only to delude oneself that the world is how it has been shaped by the mind; and though everything is interpretation (beware those who sit in smug assurances of their perspective! 🙂 ) and hence there is no getting behind or before it, one can adopt an attitude of the diagnostician (for some reason “House” comes to mind both in his method and demeanour – “everybody lies” mostly, delusionally to themselves – looking at all perspectives, from multiple angles – psychological, symptomatic/physiological, social) who looks unnervingly, and unrelentingly from multiple perspectives searching for motives that huddle over pre-conceived perspectives, hammering away at assumptions, presuppositions, and everything that might cunningly conceal these from view (language, habits, fears, desires). The process is itself a state of unrest, of taraxia, that requires courage for ‘in all desire for knowledge there is a drop of cruelty’.
So you say, “unhinge me”, Pirocacos! Stoics might retort that I have misconstrued and misrepresented the philosophy of their forefathers in that living a eudaimonic life free from unnecessary and irrational preoccupations does not speak to indifference, a rather inhumane attitude to invest in after all. It is rather in acknowledging the causal workings of the universe through attentive rational scrutiny that one is well positioned to deal with unrealized goals, negotiate misfortunes, and endure ensuing suffering. The point is that there is a rational order to the unfolding of Nature that one is well advised to address when engaged in the practice of living life. After all we do live in this natural world and it is constitutive of laws of nature (you wouldn’t cajole someone to jump from the 6th floor because it is the fastest route to the College cafe because you know that he’d meet with his death!) and causal forces that one can with varying degree of probability determine in order to better secure the ends. Of course, as I hope I have in outline already made clear, this is to miss the point.
So though the process of deconstruction may appear neurotic and outwardly in disarray, in fact, it is only so perceived by the ill-tempered with a mind to what is apprehended by ageless paradigms and/or those that one holds dear to their heart!
So here I am already 4 days late attending to Epictetus’s Enchiridion and Nietzsche’s The Twilight of the Idols. Strangely I find solace in both these authors despite the contrariety of their underlying philosophies. Happiness, said Socrates, is the end of all human activity; no one would, as it were, ever pursue her own unhappiness. Indeed, this is what set him on his track to that all-too-unfortunate qua Nietzsche triadic arrangement: virtue=knowledge=happiness. For if Socrates is astute in this aforementioned assertion, then engaging in actions, and/or adopting beliefs, that run the pursuit of happiness aground cannot be performed in full cognizance. Knowing that causing harm to others inadvertently harms oneself and hence jeopardizes one’s own happiness, one would not betray, deceive, humiliate, rob, demoralize, exploit others. So members of the 30 Tyrants must assuredly have acted from ignorance, or at the very least involuntarily. A life of happiness would then be a life epistemically charged. Everything is riding on acquiring knowledge. But knowledge of what exactly? Well, knowledge of what it is to live a virtuous life dummie! 😉 Stoic philosophy would have no qualms embracing this general position. But in my estimation it is here that they part ways, for Socraticism (dare I call it that!) makes good use of the role of reason but to my knowledge this rests not in any attribution to the workings of the world or the natural order of things. Indeed, despite Nietzsche’s ad hominem attack on the man in The Problem of Socrates, his ambivalence, noted as early as Walter Kaufman’s 1974 seminal work Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton University Press 1974), suggests at least the possibility of other features at work in this text. (FYI: In my book The Pedagogic Mission: An Engagement With Ancient Greek Philosophical Practices, much is said to distance Socrates from that monochromatic view of rational deliberative inquiry. Link here: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739126530/The-Pedagogic-Mission-An-Engagement-with-Ancient-Greek-Philosophical-Practices) I would submit that Nietzsche acknowledges in Socrates the spirit of the overman, albeit trapped by an unfortunate state of circumstance that would have him riding in on his white horse flagging reason as the great emancipator from the elusive hegemonic trail of false idols.
Socrates ennobilzed reason and thereby made a tyrant of her. She stepped in as if to nullify the power of the instincts that threaten to unhinge everything at its joints! What chaos! What disorder! What disharmony! What vicious self-annihilating force is this?! For once unleashed there is no limit to what the human spirit might discover!! Decadence everywhere! HA! Did the Socrateses and Platos think that they could just trot in and deliver humankind from herself and not thereby lose humanity in the process?!
“Happiness equals instinct”!? And yet everything we seem to now “know” of the Greeks – from Socrates to Plato, Plato to Aristotle, Aristotle to the Stoics – aims to expunge the instincts, and with reason as our guide, arrive at a proper understanding of “things” and a will unhampered by the seductiveness of the passions to frame that eudaimonic life we all aspire to!
Nietzsche, the agitator of reason, was not also unreasonable, nor irrational as such. He resented Socrates, or perhaps this ill-framed variety of Socraticism (which he too in part is responsible for popularizing), for exaggeration. For Nietzsche defamed Socrates not only for his aesthetic profanity (so ugly was he, that he was an insult to the good taste of the gods! :)) but for levelling humankind in the service of that counter-tyrant, reason. He says of Socrates:
My Twitter handle is no accident – gignolatry – and hence my opposition to ontolatry is real ( 😉 ). In Reason in Philosophy, Nietzsche is emphatic and decorative in his descriptors of ontolatries. He says:
‘Being is that empty fiction’, which even Heraclitus, knew too well was the imposition of the mind on what was evinced rawly by the senses. The fable of the essentialists comes in four basic propositions. Now I won’t be able to elaborate these here, for each requires special attention to distinct parts of his philosophy, but enough can be said to counter the Epictetean position with which I began. So what are these propositions? Here they are from the man himself:
Plato with utmost clarity (well maybe not that clear!) has distinguished the Sensible World from the Intelligible World, and though numerous arguments are offered, a couple are well known and clearly on Nietzsche’s mind. The sensible world is one with which we are acquainted through our senses, and since the objects of this world are changing and ephemeral, it stands to reason ( 😉 ) that these appearances cannot tell us how it is to truly be a chair, or doorknob or anything else. After all, the colour, distinct markings, spatial-temporal locale, are particular to a “thing” but not to its kind. Hence, it follows, that these items do not speak to how things themselves are, but only to accidental occurrences or contingencies. But it is equally true that sensory perception is prone to run wildly off course given the attachment of the ear, of the eyes, of touch to circumstance, to the particular, itself also unshielded from common error (e.g. an item seen from afar looks small until seen up close). So what happens to the world of things upon exit? Plato (and others) would contend evaporation! Poof, they disappear! Quite literally, the “characteristics that have been given to the true Being of things are of non-Being”. Namely, these characteristics don’t exist, are not to be found anywhere, and hence essentially ( 😉 ) are concocted from the imagination of man! A fable worth telling again and again for care of human endeavors that might cash in on aspiring to live for a world uninhibited by ephemeral preoccupations and fleeting (HA!) objects of hedonic value.
A world concocted is a world that simply does not exist, and tis a fable told to suppress and contain the human spirit unadulterated by confusions interspersed by impositions of the mind. And yet, Nietzsche, often misunderstood, does not address the instincts as wildly out of control, drawn indiscriminately in any direction as a dog is to a bitch in heat! NO! Nietzsche speaks to how one might “spiritualize, beautify, deify a desire”. Though this is a complex notion, it is at least clear that Nietzsche equates the castration of the passions with nay-sayers of life, and the beatification of the passions with the affirmation of life. For Nietzsche says:
Nietzsche does not take sides with crude displays of affection, or aggression (as he is often criticized for), but favours the beautification of the passions! This comes not from the objects themselves, of course. Recall, there are no facts, things out there to be apprehended in themselves! It is rather in the delicate nurturing, inter-personalized engagement with, and invested concern for the passions that beauty is brought forth so that in screams of contained rapture one can appreciate, say, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in silent discourse.
So what is his meaning and how does this set the record straight with Epictetus? Another timeout for Pirocacos as she gets her unhinged self together….to be continued…I promise!
*Alas I am convinced that philosophy, the variety I engage (for there are many forms), is an art form, itself best transcribed literarily, musically, poetically!
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Motherhood: the single most fulfilling and accomplished part of my life. I will make no apologies to feminists for how beholden I am to my children – Thomas & Kalianna – who have made me richer by far. There is no time in my life as precious as those days from early infancy spent with you two. Still today women find themselves, perhaps in some ways more so than before, in that impossible position where they must choose between a career, great love, financial independence and motherhood. Often the factical will not bend to compromise, and it is as dramatic as choosing either/or and not both/and! Hands down I have always, despite painful loss, unhesitatingly chosen these two treasures. As I have said elsewhere: my children are feisty, strong-willed, and spirited, but they are also distinctively amazing young adults who each in their own way have evolved into caring, passionately driven by fortitude to fulfill their aretic virtues. I am blessed. But there are others who have been wonderful, committed, loving and supportive mothers and things have nonetheless gone tragically wrong. Gibran’s words speak mightily to all parents: our children are not our children! We are beings-alongside our children and in early life care-givers but never are we, nor should we aspire to be, care-takers. Alas they must forge their way through life on their own ultimate initiative and all we can do is pray that they will not run afar from their own happiness (eudaimonia).
It’s my birthday today. 52 years! Last year I composed a list of 51 virtues; but this year I’m interested in becoming wise to one virtue: self-disclosure. It’s been quite a journey. Nothing terribly bad, mind you. But it has been a life quite turbulent even when everything seemed quite still.
A lapse in time.
A forgettable state. And then just like that time arrives as the world awakens beneath my feet and I can walk again. The ground, my ground, was never complacent. Grumbling sounds could also be heard, almost like thunder far off in the distance, only its below me, under me. I’m reminded: I’m here! Cause everything is here with me. I’m not alone. Think and magically appear! But where’d everything go?! (God damn, Descartes!) There! There stillness waits for me…again. And again, I’d disappear.
I hear those grumbling sounds again, but they’re not coming from underneath me, but reside inside me. I should have known! HA! But over the years I discovered a cure: one long swig of kykeon and unsettle everything. As with Sartre’s Roquentin, the disturbing stillness of all that surrounds left me feeling detached and very much a spectator of a life, only it was my life. The world often felt like a row of Platonic forms, quite inert, separate, but nonetheless imposing. Awakening, or being awoken by this ubiquitous grumbling amidst all of this only intensified my angst. Alas, nothing really is as it is; as it presents itself. I took solace in this, in the realization that those darned chestnut roots aren’t just defiantly as they are. So I took to invading the world; decomposing ( 😉 ) anything that presented as itself. Disquietude pervaded my life. But it was all I could do to keep from disappearing. Life choices rarely spoke to the phronetic, and so as I survey my life today, a double narrative appears. Bored and disturbed by constancy, stability, regularity, invariability, and routine, irregularity, unreliability, instability, and the erratic always found me. With gushing reverence I’d collide and abide with unyielding loyalty – but this was no Aristotelean virtue. We speak of being loyal to friends, lovers, family, but also to country, as well as, beliefs, and ideologies. Bonds intimately tied up in the realization of self with and amidst such relations is what cements these. These are relations of mutuality, and are characteristically exclusionist. Aha! The unreliable, the erratic is friend to no one, for there are no abiding standards to cement and bond such a union. Desirous of the ephemeral and irregular, existential crises were inevitable.
Self-disclosure is a psychically arduous task. Happy birthday, Elly mou.