Overcome and accept
The air-condition is raging as we try to escape the blazing heat driving down the E45. My girlfriend is behind the wheel and is trying to ignore her mother and me arguing. Really we have two discussions simultaneously. One conversation at a surface level which is quite trivial, another one beneath it that is much more substantial.
We are talking about confidence. Specifically my confidence. She thinks I should give myself more credit. I think I should be afraid of becoming arrogant. She does not like that I punish myself for being lazy. I think it is vital. She thinks that it is important that I see who I am clearly. I think it is more important to see what I could become clearly. We trace the argument back to first principles and find our fundamental disagreement.
She thinks life is about accepting yourself.
I think life is about overcoming yourself.
That is a very interesting difference. In retrospect, I think we are both right but of the wrong reasons. We saw a false dichotomy between two things that are not always in contrast. Sometimes overcoming yourself is acceptingyourself. I don’t think anyone did a better job of instilling this lesson then the German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche in his investigation of ancient Greek mythology.
Nietzsche talked a lot about the Dionysian and Apollonian aspects of being. The former being the primal, raw, uncontrollable, tragic parts of existence, the latter being the controllable and refined. Apollo the Greek god of art, music, and literature, is the personification of culture. Of what we create as man for man. Dionysus, the Greek god of intoxication on the other hand, is primordial desire. He is known to tear children into pieces and eating their raw flesh, but also to be the bringer of pleasure, inspiration; both the god of insanity and ecstasy.
Historical accounts reveals that the ancient Greeks revered both aspects as divine, and worshipped them equally by festivals and affirmation. They peered both into the height of cultural sophistication and primitive longing. Nietzsche himself referred to himself as a the ‘last disciple of Dionysus’, which he saw in opposition to renouncing. Nietzsche believed in rejecting nothing but to affirm every aspect of ourselves. To discipline ourselves to wholeness but embracing the Dionysian.
I certainly have no problem in accepting what makes improve, my difficulty is in relation to what degrades me. Nietzsche often refers to embracing your anger and malevolence – which I can get behind. Violence is movement. It is energy that can propel one forward. However, what about the aspects that are the antithesis to progress? What about sloth and procrastinating? If anger is fire, then laziness is quicksand that halts your progress and attempts to drown you.
It is unfortunate that my mother-in-law seemingly have Nietzsche and the ancient Greeks on her side. But then again, that is an unfair reading of both the Greek gods and Nietzsche. Discovering yourself is not a passive process. It is the procedure of tearing down the walls of culture, to be able to see yourself for who you really are. That is Nietzsche’s basic thesis in ‘The Antichrist’, where he discerns one such wall as morality.
That is not to say that Nietzsche did not believe that you should attempt to be moral. He did. He just added that morality is often confused with cowardice. In one of my favorite passages by Nietzsche, he sarcastically ask if the rabbit is moral because it never hurt anyone. Obviously, a rabbit cannot be ethical. It does not have a choice in not hurting you, because it is a rabbit – only dangerous to carrots and dandelions. A perquisite for morality is the option of acting otherwise. The wolf in the forest that lets you passage it’s coven unscathed made a decision when it did not tear out your throat. The domesticated poodle did not.
Culture often serves as a tool of domestication. It removes our teeth’s and fangs, and corrupting us by confusing’s us by making us believe that we were always this toothless. I think that laziness is Apollonian construct. The mindless watching of YouTube videos, the checking of social media, the grinding of videogames – none of this is me. It is the symptoms of a corrupting culture that monetizes attention. We did not evolve to be distracted, we evolved for rest, conversation and venturing forward.
In our brave new world, what needs to be overcoming is the influence of a corrupting culture. We have embraced the Apollonian to such a degree that we confuse it with the Dionysian. The craving for procrastination is no more natural then the craving for meth amphetamine. What needs acceptance is not these product of culture, what we need is to accept and pursue the self that remains when the walls are torn down.
To make a battlefield of the mind by destroying what is plastic to sort it from the granite. That is how we discipline ourselves to wholeness.
That is how we become who we are.