The Devil Speaks That Which Cannot Be Spoken

I think everyone should read Mikhail Bolgakov’s The Master and Margarita — a Soviet-era Faust story. In chapter 1 an editor, Berlioz, and a poet, Bezdomny (the poet’s pseudonym, which is itself telling, since he is writing for an approved literary journal) are discussing the non-existence of Jesus when the Devil appears. The chapter is full of interesting things, but the thing I want to bring out in particular would seem to have nothing to do with theology, even if it starts off with a theological point– a point made immediately after a discussion of the weaknesses of the rational proofs of God’s existence.

The Devil/unknown man/stranger asks: “But this is the question that disturbs me—if there is no God, then who, one wonders, rules the life of man and keeps the world in order?”

‘Man rules himself,’ said Bezdomny angrily in answer to such an obviously absurd question.

‘I beg your pardon,’ retorted the stranger quietly, ‘but to rule one must have a precise plan worked out for some reasonable period ahead. Allow me to enquire how man can control his own affairs when he is not only incapable of compiling a plan for some laughably short term, such as, say, a thousand years, but cannot even predict what will happen to him tomorrow?’

‘In fact,’ here the stranger turned to Berlioz, ‘imagine what would happen if you, for instance, were to start organizing others and yourself, and you developed a taste for it—then suddenly you got . . . he, he . . .’ at this the foreigner smiled sweetly, as though the thought of a heart attack gave him pleasure. . . . ‘Yes, a heart attack,’ he repeated the word sonorously, grinning like a cat, ‘and that’s the end of you as an organizer! No one’s fate except your own interests you any longer. Your relations start lying to you. Sensing that something is amiss you rush to a specialist, then to a charlatan, and even perhaps to a fortune-teller. Each of them is as useless as the other, as you know perfectly well. And it all ends in tragedy: the man who thought he was in charge is suddenly reduced to lying prone and motionless in a wooden box and his fellow men, realising that there is no more sense to be had of him, incinerate him.

‘Sometimes it can be even worse: a man decides to go to Kislovodsk,’—here the stranger stared at Berlioz—‘a trivial matter you may think, but he cannot because for no good reason he suddenly jumps up and falls under a tram! You’re not going to tell me that he arranged to do that himself? Wouldn’t it be nearer the truth to say that someone quite different was directing his fate?’

In this seeming theological discussion of whether or not man is the master of his own fate — or if it is rather God directing all — we have the Devil arguing against the very possibility of economic planning. Note that the Devil specifically uses the terms “plan” and “organizer” — the very things socialists believed, at the time (1938), were possible. Note too that the argument isn’t about whether any particular person can rule him/herself, but rather whether or not man, as a collective, can rule, plan, and organize himself.

But the Devil points out something: in order to plan such that man rules man, man would have to be able to predict with perfect precision everything that will happen, including accidents. Mere accidents throw off the plan, meaning man cannot rule.

More than that, he points out that for all of the rhetoric about organizing for the collective good, all the altruistic organizer has to have happen is a heart attack for him to suddenly become quite concerned about his own personal well-being and to then ignore all of his efforts for his fellow man. More, under stress, the Devil points out that man will not only make rational choices — the doctor — but will even make increasingly irrational choices in order to save his own life. Thus, man is not ruled by reason alone — nor will he ever be. And no man will work for man as a collective when his own individual life is at stake. The fact of self-preservation belies the dream of self-sacrifice for the collective –or of the possibility of the pure rule of reason.

One can imagine the publishing atmosphere in the Soviet Union in 1938, when this novel was finished. Bulgakov had been publishing (not without controversy) for years, and he no doubt expected this novel to be published as well. He thus puts all approved and appropriate views into the mouths of Berlioz and Bezdomny, while criticizing the very foundations on which Soviet rule was made though the mouth of the Devil. The Devil, of course, is the most evil of all evil; the Devil doesn’t even exist, and is proof of the irrationality of man the Soviet Man was overcoming. To put these ideas into the mouth of the Devil was, therefore, safe. One could criticize the ideas on which Soviet central planning was based so long as that criticism was out of the mouth of an irrationally-based, nonexistent metaphor for evil. And more, the Devil is the adversary of God — and if the Adversary is enunciating anti-communist ideas, does that not make him the adversary of the communists? — and does that not suggest Communism has replaced/become God?

Ah, the wonders of literature! The wonders of metaphor — compact or extended! One can say so much, and say so many dangerous things, and pretend innocence of it all. Especially in satire. Just give the Devil the words, and you can communicate them with plausible deniability. If you see the Devil appear in a work of literature, be on the lookout for him to speak what cannot be spoken.

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Nietzsche and Truth

“Truth” for Nietzsche – the No and the Yes of truth – traced through “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” and beyond to that autobiography of a mind and a body — the two inseparable — that is Ecce Homo. Truth traced to understanding what Nietzsche meant by truth.

The No of truth:

The “senses nowhere lead to truth” (TL, 80) – how can they when our bodies deceive us about our own bodies, masking and thus making us forget about “the coils of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream, and the intricate quivering of the fibers!” (TL, 80)?

Does truth exist outside of man? No. Truth was invented so we can live together socially (TL, 81). Truth: “a uniformly valid and binding designation is invented for things, and this legislation of language likewise establishes the first laws of truth” (81).

Are words truth? No. “What is a word? It is the copy in sound of a nerve stimulus” (81). The designation of certain sounds to certain objects or, more accurately, concepts, is arbitrary (82), that is: “truth alone” is not “the deciding factor in the genesis of language” (81).

“With words, it is never a question of truth” (82).

“The thing in itself” — a Kantian concept — is this the truth? “The “thing in itself” (which is precisely what the pure truth, apart from any of its consequences, would be) is likewise something quite incomprehensible to the creator of language and something not in the least worth striving for” (82). Words, therefore, do not correspond to “the thing in itself,” and “the thing in itself” is itself a pointless pursuit – why pursue what, by definition, you cannot know? And what of the “would be”? Does not this “would be” require an “if”? If, perhaps, there were such a thing as “pure truth?” In any case, “pure truth” is something Nietzsche sees as “something not in the least worth striving for” since words do not correspond to pure truth, to “the thing in itself.” The “genesis of language” is “not derived from the essence of things” (83).

Why?

“We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things – metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities” (83).

What is a metaphor? Saying one thing is another. Words, therefore, themselves are metaphors. What are words for? Particulars? No. Words are for concepts. We cannot name each particular, unique object. Therefore, words “correspond in no way to the original entities.” More: “a word becomes a concept insofar as it simultaneously has to fit countless more or less similar cases” (83). And what is a concept? “We obtain a concept, as we do the form, by overlooking what is individual and actual; whereas nature is acquainted with no forms and no concepts” (83).

Concepts are created in the human mind: “our contrast between individual and species is something anthropomorphic and does not originate in the essence of things” (83). “Concepts, forms, etc. is based upon” “an equation between things that are unequal” (94). There is no perfect “original model” of things, like leaves “according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, colored, curled, and painted” (83), presumably be a deity –- the only thing capable of such weaving, sketching, etc. This is a truth that does not need a god. This is a truth found only in the mind of man. The “essence of things” does not appear “in the empirical world,” (86), but only in the mind of man, since artists “reveal more about the essence of things than does the empirical world” (87). It is we who bring “truth” into existence (87-88), “truth” as “the essence of things.”

So, “What then is truth?” (84). What, indeed, is the Yes of truth? Truth is:

A moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions we have forgotten are illusions; they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are not considered as metal and no longer as coins (TL, 84)

That is: “to be truthful means to employ the usual metaphors” (84), which means that it “is the duty to lie according to fixed convention” (84). We have forgotten that these are lies, and that is how we have arrived at our “sense of truth” (84). Truth means using things “in the designated manner” (85).

Truth, therefore, is mere convention – the way things have been done. Truth, therefore, is not permanent. “New truths” are possible – new truths are merely new ways to do things. But these are all”anthropomorphic truths,” which means we have designated concepts with words, and then act surprised when we find something else that fits that category, and so declare the concept we originally created as “truth” (85).

Is all truth anthropomorphic? What about the “true in itself”? Is there something “really and universally valid apart from man” (85)? By forgetting metaphors and being particular – “this sun, this window, this table” – do we come to “truth in itself” (86). Knowing “truth in itself” is knowing the world as a place, not of concepts and forms, but as a place of unique particularities.

So, can we get away from anthropomorphic truths and get at the “true in itself”? “The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive” (88), and the mind “seeks a new realm and another channel for its activity, and it finds this in myth and in art generally” (89). Indeed, “it is only by means of the rigid and regular web of concepts that the waking man clearly sees that he is awake; and it is precisely because of this that he sometimes thinks that he must be dreaming when this web of concepts is torn apart by art” (89).

We prefer our anthropomorphic truths to the “true in itself,” they create comfort, convince us we are awake. It reflects the regular, the rational – and it is in fact the rational man who wants to use the usual metaphors. But it is the intuitive man, the “liberated intellect” who creates new concepts and shatters (by dividing up) old ones (90). This is the artist, the creator of new metaphors, the creators of untruths, without which “there can be neither society nor culture” (92).

“His nose wrinkled into a prune” creates a new concept – one that includes human noses and prunes – and therefore creates a new truth. It is also a particular – a particular nose, “his,” that is associated with this thing, “prune,” to make his nose have a particular look – thus making it unique and, therefore, a “truth in itself” as well as a “new truth.” The new metaphor creates a new concept (new grouping of objects) that results in a “new truth” in the anthropomorphic sense, while bringing us closer to “truth in itself” by unveiling the particularity of the wrinkled object.

How does it do this? Because art admits it is a lie: “Artistic pleasure is the greatest kind of pleasure, because it speaks the truth quite generally in the form of lies” (96), and therefore comes closest to revealing itself as truth. “Art works through deception – yet one which does not deceive us” (96). Why? Because “art treats illusion as illusion; therefore it does not wish to deceive; it is true” (96). “His nose wrinkled into a prune” – an artistic statement, and therefore closer to truth than anything else in this protokoll. Why? “Truth cannot be recognized. Everything which is knowable is illusion. The significance of art as truthful illusion” (97). A redundant statement: “truthful illusion”: since truth is identified by Nietzsche as “illusion” (93). Thus art is an “illusionful illusion,” and, as such, like love and religion, one of “the truest things in this world” (95).

This then leads us to Ecce Homo, to the autobiography of an intellect. In keeping with the theme of truth, I thought we should see how Nietzsche’s ideas on truth have evolved. A lifetime of philosophizing has passed, and this immoralist, this Anti-Christ, has come to proclaim that “Overthrowing idols (my word for “ideals”) –- that come closer to being part of my craft (EH, 218, 4). (I give first the pg. of the Kaufmann translation, then the Hollingdale) And what are ideals (idols)? “What is called idol on the title page is simply what has been called truth so far. Twilight of the Idols – that is: the old truth is approaching its end” (EH, 314, 86).

He shows the old truths –- the anthropomorphic truths –- are what have been called “ideals.” He reiterates that the world of ideals, what he is now calling the “true world,” or what philosophers past have considered the true world, is really the invented world (218, 4), the world invented by man, through concepts. Only Nietzsche’s words have now become stronger: “The lie of the ideal has so far been the curse of reality” (218, 4). And not only this. “Error (-belief in the ideal-) is not blindness, error is cowardice . . . Every acquisition, every step forward in knowledge is the result of courage, of severity towards oneself, of cleanliness with respect to oneself . . . I do not refute ideals, I merely draw on gloves in their presence . . .” (218, 4).

So, error is “belief in the ideal,” and, not only that, but cowardice as well. Naturally, courage is the opposite of cowardice, meaning courage is disbelief in the ideal. For Nietzsche, only those who do not believe the lie of the ages – truth, ideals, “the thing in itself” – are courageous. He sees this “truthfulness as the highest virtue; this means the opposite of the cowardice of the “idealist” who flees from reality” (328, 98). “Cowardice in face or reality” is “cowardice in face of truth” (320, 91).

But Nietzsche here, as in “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” refuses to be dogmatic -– that has not changed. This is why, despite his saying those who do not believe in ideals have courage, Nietzsche says “I do not refute ideals, I merely draw on gloves in their presence . . .” Why gloves? He does not want to be soiled by the filth of “ideals.” This, despite his acknowledgment that “ideals” had been “the real fatality in my life, the superfluous and stupid in it, something out of which there is no compensation, no counter-reckoning” (241, 25) –- ideals have been difficult for Nietzsche himself to rid himself of –- they are “the fundamental irrationality of my life” (242, 26).

Looking back, Nietzsche realizes that it is difficult to shed ones life of the lies one is raised with. “We all fear truth” (246, 29), undoubtedly because we fear change – and we fear the world unmasked of truth. At best, ideals have been frozen by Nietzsche, if not truly refuted (284, 60). He hopes he has gotten us to see, as he has, that “all idealism is untruthfulness in the face of necessity” (258, 38), while acknowledging that most are not capable of seeing: “‘where you see ideal things, I see -– human, alas all too human things!’” (281, 59). Truths remain mobile. There are “my truths” (259, 39), and Zarathustra “creates truth” (307, 76). And if truths can be created, they are impermanent, changeable, “a moving army of metaphors.”

While the “true in itself” comes “upon every image (metaphor),” while “words and wordchests of all existence spring open to you; all existence here wants to become words” (301, 73) because words, concepts, are more comforting than “truth in itself.” Only when we realize that “Nothing that is can be subtracted, nothing is dispensable” will we be able to realize that “precisely by this measure of strength does one approach truth” (272, 50) –- again, it is the particular that is the “true in itself,” not words, not concepts, which require that something be subtracted in order to be conceptualized, in order to be given a sound tag –- that is, a word to represent it. And the more conceptual –- the further from reality -– something is, while claiming to be truth (unlike art, which admits to being a lie), “Those things which mankind has hitherto pondered seriously are not even realities, merely imaginings, more strictly speaking lies from the bad instincts of the sick, in the profoundest sense injurious natures –- all the concepts ‘God,’ ‘soul,’ ‘virtue,’ ‘sin,’ ‘the Beyond,’ ‘truth,’ ‘eternal life’” (256, 36).

Why do we do this? “The concept of the “beyond,” the “true world” [was] invented in order to devalue the only world there is –- in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality” (334, 103). In fact, “Twice, at precisely the moment when with tremendous courage and self-overcoming an honest, an unambiguous, a completely scientific mode of thinking had been attained, the Germans have known how to discover secret paths to the old ‘ideal’, reconciliations between truth and ‘ideal’, at bottom formulas to a right to reject science, for a right to lie” (320, 91).

So now science, in addition to art, is a path toward the truth, since the “right to reject science” is seen here as the “right to lie.” The “true in itself” now seen as achievable through both art and science, through the breaking apart of the old metaphors and the realization of the particularity of the world, that the world is first perceived, then conceived, and not vice versa. This is now Nietzsche “was the first to discover the truth by being the first to experience lies as lies” (326, 96). This is how Nietzsche can say ” –- the truth speaks out of me. –- But my truth is terrible; for so far one has called lies truth” (326, 96), and he has shown us the lies we live by.

Ridiculous

When someone is laughing at us, it seems cruel –- if we take ourselves seriously. But people who laugh at themselves cannot hate others. Hatred of others come more from taking ourselves seriously as children take themselves seriously than from anything else. There is no one more serious than a child –- and no one is more easily hurt by others.

Mature people know not to take much seriously, and that not all things should be taken equally seriously at all times. Adults know that not every action done by others involves them or that, if an action turns out to be harmful or hurtful to them, that the person doing it did not necessarily always mean it that way. Adults are aware that not everything is meaningful, and that not everything is as it may at first appear. In other words, adults are aware of irony. Only children do not understand irony. And those who find meaning in everything are of a totalitarian spirit.

People who laugh with each other about each other do not want to kill each other. They do not even want to hate each other. Laughter dissolves meaning in a meaningful way, so we do not take each other so seriously we see each other as a threat. And when people do not take us seriously this way, we should not be offended –- they are learning to love us through laughter. But only if we laugh along with them. If we choose to get offended when people laugh at us we in turn show them that we are contemptible, that we do not or can not have a sense of humor. If we are perceived not to have a sense of humor, we will be taken seriously –- and if we are taken seriously, we are in danger of being hated.

However, we want people to laugh with us, not at us. All laughter is aimed at folly –- when we are acting good, we cannot be laughed at. Self-deprecating humor fits here too: people laugh with us as we laugh at our own shortcomings. Good people see the world as serious, but funny (as Aristotle says, serious people don’t take much seriously –- and know when to take something seriously). Good people laugh the most. Beware of the humorless -– even they know they are not good people.

Let me make a serious suggestion. How do we recognize a bad law? Can it be laughed at? Can we make a joke about it? If so, it is a bad law. Who jokes about the laws against murder, theft, or rape? You cannot vilify the good. You can only ridicule the ridiculous.

Interdisciplinary Education for an Interdisciplinary World

Part of the problem with education is students do not know what relevance many topics they study have for them.

I remember throughout grade and high school that I thought math to be utterly unimportant and irrelevant to anything I was ever going to do. And throughout most of my early years I had wanted to be a scientist. How could teachers have allowed me to think that math was not important? I did not really learn math was important until I took chemistry in high school. It was only then that I truly understood fractions for the first time.

And, even though I loved to read, I thought literature pointless (it did not help that in high schools they seem to go out of their way to find the most boring literature available –- I learned how wonderful literature was in college, when we were made to read books and stories that were actually interesting). Literature had nothing to do with biology, after all, and that was what I was going to go into. This attitude is not unique to me or to high school –- it prevails in most students, and through college.

It was only later, after I had decided to pursue literature and especially after I started working on my Ph.D. that I began to see how interconnected everything was. For my dissertation, I was able to use my biology (after all, I wrote a dissertation titled Evolutionary Aesthetics), and I further discovered that it would have been a much, much, much better dissertation if I had known a great deal more math (fractal geometry and statistics in particular) and had learned to program (I actually needed to learn how to program much, much earlier than my Ph.D. dissertation, for my first attempt at grad school, but after I dropped out of my Master’s in biology, I didn’t think I needed to learn the programming I had needed to learn to finish my Master’s thesis–wrong again!).

I learned as I progressed through grad school that I actually needed many more tools from many more disciplines to do the work I wanted to do. For my dissertation, I needed to know social psychology, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, economics, linguistics, neurobiology, molecular biology, mathematics, chaos theory and fractal geometry, programming, literature, and philosophy. And I didn’t know the math or programming I needed. I found a programmer, fortunately, but even then it would have been much better if I could have done it, and I couldn’t do the math I needed to do certain analyses to more definitively prove my thesis.

The disciplinary approach to teaching is breaking down. Students are siphoned into what they enjoy, and these same students then ignore everything else, complaining about anything that intrudes on the one thing they want to learn. This kind of hyper-specialized education is fine if all you want to produce is worker bees. But if you want creative thinkers, those who can come up with new things –- the kind of people who will make more wealth and produce more value in and for the world –- then disciplinary-only educations will not work.

What we need is a truly interdisciplinary education. We need interdisciplinary thinking, interdisciplinary classes, and interdisciplinary education. Only an interdisciplinary education will allow students to see how disciplines are interrelated. Only an interdisciplinary education will create interdisciplinary thinkers who can create more value in and for the world. We need chemists who love Bach, biologists who love Goethe, businessmen who love Aristotle. We need philosophers who love biology and business and artists who love physics and economics. Only with an interdisciplinary education will we have people who think this way, across the disciplines, through the disciplines, complexifying their thought so new things can be thought. What would the world be like if our politicians actually knew and understood the economics of Ludwig von Mises, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the plays of Sophocles, the linguistics of Chomsky and Pinker, the novels of Kafka, chaos theory, systems theory, evolutionary theory, the poetry of William Blake, and ancient Greek history? Could interdisciplinary thinking finally give the country great statesmen instead of demagogues? Could an interdisciplinary education create more ethical businessmen, since they would understand that there is not a conflict between ethical action and profit? Imagine a businessman who knew the value of a dollar, of his workers, and of a van Gogh. Imagine what an interdisciplinary education would do for teachers. Wouldn’t it make them – teachers? How can teachers teach when they know nothing? Teachers more than anyone should be interdisciplinary. They should know and understand the reason for having an interdisciplinary education, to understand and know the connections between the disciplines, and be able to help their students understand the importance of all the disciplines for understanding any one of the disciplines.

What is interdisciplinarity? It is not multidisciplinarity, where we have just a hodgepodge. It is not having students doing writing exercises in math class, or quadratic equations in literature class. That does not show students how the disciplines are interrelated. To have an interdisciplinary education, students need to know the value of each of the disciplines, how they relate to each other, the history of the disciplines. Students do not know how modern science arose out of natural philosophy and religion. Misunderstandings of ideas such as entropy make people reject evolution on the argument that more complexity could not arise in an entropic universe, where everything is becoming more random (this is, incidentally, not quite what entropy is about). We need to teach students about systems and complexity and information, so they can see how all disciplines relate to one another. This will give students an interdisciplinary education. And they will need an interdisciplinary education if they want to have an edge in this increasingly interdisciplinary world.

Fear and Injustice

How often do we fail to do something because of fear? How often do we allow injustices to continue because of fear?

Think about all of the people being accused of sexual harassment. Think about how many of them preyed on others for decades because their victims wouldn’t say something out of fear. Fear of what? Fear of losing a job, fear of not getting a job, fear of what people would think of them.

Of course, much of the time the people who are most aware of the problems in society are aware of those problems precisely because of the jobs they have. If they were to let people know about the underlying corruption, the way people actually behave, the way money is wasted, the way people are treated, they would be fired–and likely find themselves unable to get another job in that fields. Or, sometimes, in any field (you don’t want to be known as the person who roots out corruption in a society permeated with corruption).

If you want to know the degree to which public education is corrupt, ask a public school teacher. Actually, that won’t do you any good, because they won’t say anything because they are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. Better, ask a former school teacher, who has no intention of ever working in public education again.

The laws “protecting” whistle-blowers are useless. Government whistle-blowers just get accused of being traitors. When that whistle-blower is a police officer reporting on the corruption among the police, he can find himself an unfortunate victim of an unsolvable crime. When that whistle-blower is an employee of a corporation, that person had better be independently wealthy, as they will have a very hard time getting a new job. Our prisons are full of such whistle-blowers, who suddenly find they violated some piece of legislation that primarily exists to protect business and government from whistle-blowers.

And just try to report something to the EEOC or some similar government entity supposedly designed to protect workers. How often is something not found, when you know the business was screwing you over?

This then gets into something other than fear. This gets into the fact that bureaucracies make you feel helpless. If you overcome your fear, you will find yourself essentially helpless in the face of the bureaucracies that are supposed to be helping you.

To return to the issue of fear, there are also a number of social issues we simply cannot deal with because of the fear of political correctness. It is impossible to criticize certain people for certain things for fear of being labeled a sexist or a racist or a homophobe or such. If you criticize something–say, a lack of trust–that is found primarily in a certain group–say, among the poor–you will likely find yourself accused of racism because of your accuser’s perception that the poor are mostly minorities (which isn’t actually true). You will likely be accused of saying all the poor are untrusting or even untrustworthy (although you didn’t), or of saying that this or that minority group is inherently untrusting or untrustworthy (although you didn’t). As a result, people learn not to even make cultural or subcultural criticisms because you’ll find people overapplying what you said to make you look bad. From fear, we won’t criticize anyone’s ethics or morals.

Of course, if you cannot say anything out of fear, fear is preventing you from changing the world. Is this, perhaps, the point? We are allowing injustices to continue because of fear. We fear what people will say, what people will think; we fear losing our jobs, or being unable to get a new one. We live in a culture of fear–and we’re deathly afraid to say so.

No Regrets

Aphorism 341 — from Nietzsche’s “The Joyful Wisdom”

The greatest weight. — What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life you will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question is each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

* * * * *
When I first encountered this aphorism, it was in R. J. Hollingdale’s introduction to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it became associated forever in my mind with part of part 10 of “The Intoxicated Song”:

Did you ever say Yes to one joy? O my friends, then you said Yes to all woes as well. All things are chained and entwined together, all things are in love;
if ever you wanted one moment twice, if ever you said: ‘You please me, happiness, instant, moment!’ then you wanted everything to return!
you wanted everything anew, everything eternal, everything chained, entwined together, everything in love, O that is how you loved the world,
you everlasting men, loved it eternally and for all time: and you say even to woe: ‘Go, but return!’ For all joy wants – eternity!

The typical scholar would first point out that the aphorism from The Gay Science is a response to Schopenhauer’s view that no rational person would wish to relive their lives over exactly as it was (World as Will and Representation, 324), and that the section from Thus Spoke Zarathustra was in response to Goethe’s Faust, and Faust’s inability to want one moment twice. But these things are not what I want to focus on. At least, not right away. I wish instead to discuss how these two passages came together for me, to affect me as they did.
* * * * *
While aphorism 341 gives us the demon’s offer, it is the section from Thus Spoke Zarathustra that gave me the reason why I should accept it. I was reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra in 1995, in the summer after I had finished the classes for my Master’s degree in biology. All I had to do was do the research for my thesis, and write and defend my thesis. Instead, I moved an hour and a half away from the campus to live with my parents. While living with them, a friend of mine got me a job as a security guard, which I thought was a great idea, because it would give me the time to read and write – I was starting to become increasingly interested in writing fiction and reading philosophy. Nietzsche in particular. Thus I read Thus Spoke Zarathustra while guarding a coal mine entrance. And it is here that I encountered this question: was I living my life in such a way that I would want to live it over and over? And further: Was I living such a life that I would want the moment I was living in to eternally return to me? Was I so happy with my life, with who I was, that I would want to become the person I was at that moment? In other words, did I have any regrets? And was I living my life at that moment in such a way that I would want to relive it, to come back to that moment? And what of other moments, future moments? Every decision I would make, every action I would take, were they going to be decisions and actions I would want to repeat? I was working as a security guard at a coal mine, and I had finished two years of graduate classes in molecular biology, a field I had grown bored with. Was I living a life I would want to live over again?

The thought crushed me. Under the weight of such a thought, I collapsed – not once, but twice. I had two nervous breakdowns – one in the summer, the other in the winter, almost six months later. The first while I was working as a security guard, the second after they fired me for applying for another job. I could not take the weight of this thought, that I should be living life in such a way that I would want to relive that life. I would not want to relive the life I was living at the time. It was a terrible life, filled with psychological pain I would not talk to anybody about – and I was getting a degree in a field that I enjoyed learning new things in, but did not actually like doing, and I was working at a job that I felt at the time to be degrading. I had a college degree in recombinant gene technology! How could I be working as a security guard at a coal mine in rural Kentucky? I had to make a change. The first change I made was to get a job as a substitute teacher, so I could at least do something with my education. And that caused me to get fired from the job I felt to be degrading. My world was out of control. And then my grandfather and my uncle both had strokes. There was nothing I could do. The world was out of my control.

One of the things Nietzsche is trying to do with aphorism 341 is get us to affirm the possibility that the world is completely determined, that everything that will happen will happen in a predetermined way, because of the way Newtonian physics saw the world. The world was determined because of its past. If that was the case (we now know, through chaos theory, that it is not – the past is postdictable, but the future is not predictable any further out than the weather is), we could either despair, or we could affirm it and find joy in it. The demon’s offer is an offering of a completely determined world. Your life would turn out the same way over and over, for eternity. And there was nothing you could do about it. If you came to realize that you lived in a world that you could not control, that would turn out the way it would turn out, no matter what you did – that, in fact, everything you did was itself determined, and would turn out the way it would turn out, no matter what – how would you react? One could argue that you would react the way you were determined to act, but this is a thought experiment. And history has shown us how people have reacted to this idea. The Romantics and the Existentialists both rebelled against the idea, and tried to assert human freedom despite our living in a deterministic world. The German philosopher Kant even went so far as to say that there were two worlds: one of Newtonian determinism, the other of human freedom. Nietzsche chose instead to affirm the Newtonian world. If that was the way the world was, we should rejoice in it, not despair. What, after all, could we do about it? So why not rejoice in the world as it is?

As it turns out, the world is not how Newton, the Romantics, Kant, and the Existentialists thought it was. Chaos theory shows us that the world is both determined and free, simultaneously. Thus, freedom of choice is real. But that does not negate the fact that we do live in a world full of things that happen that are outside of our ability to affect or change. If my grandfather and my uncle both have strokes, what can I do about it? Nothing. No more than a doctor could directly do anything about their having strokes. And I was not even a doctor. But at the time, I could not see that. I raged against the universe: Why couldn’t I do something? How dare the universe present me with anything that I could not affect! But dare it did, and there was nothing I could do about it. The world around me was doing what it was going to do, and there was little I could do to change it. The world was crushing me every bit as much as the greatest weight.

After the school year was over, I decided to put my life back into my own hands. At the same time, I came to realize that I could not control everything. And I became reconciled to that thought. Most of the world was outside of my direct control. And that was okay. What was in my control was how I would react to the world, and what I did with my own life. So I moved back to Bowling Green, lived with some friends, worked odd jobs over the summer, realized as I was working on two novel manuscripts that I wanted to write fiction for the rest of my life, looked into English graduate programs, realized I needed at least a minor in English, and signed up for a full load of English classes that Fall, deciding at the same time that I was not going to finish my thesis for my master’s in biology. And I made all of these decisions knowing I would not ever regret having made a single one of them.
* * * * *
To affirm your life as it is, you have to live it without regrets. To regret something is to say that you wish what happened had happened differently than it did. And that means that you wish that everything that had happened subsequent to that action had happened differently. Take a look again at the section from Thus Spoke Zarathustra. To will your greatest moments, you have to have willed everything that happened up to that point. To reach the point you are now at, everything that happened to you had to have happened to you exactly the way it did, at the time it did, with all of the ramifications, or else you would not be at the point you are at now. To say that you regret any part of your life is to say that you wish that your life were other than what it is. To regret any part of your past is to admit to self-hatred, to self-loathing. So you need to ask yourself what I asked myself: is your life one that you would want to relive it, so that you could come back to the present moment, or even some moment from your past? And are you living life in such a way that you would want to relive it? Or are you one of those people that Schopenhauer said would not wish to relive their lives?

I made my decision. I wanted to live a life I would want to repeat. I wanted to live such a life that the very thought of reliving it brought me joy. I wanted moments that I would want to repeat forever into eternity. I could not imagine working in a molecular biology lab forever into eternity. Lab work bored me, and the thought of being bored forever was much too great a weight. But I was doing something that I could imagine doing over and over, for all of eternity. I was writing. I loved writing – the very process of writing, the creation of characters and the weaving of stories, developing pictures and ideas in words. And when I finished my first novel manuscript, it brought me such joy and clarity as to what it was I should be doing with my life that there was little question as to what I should be doing with the rest of my life. I should be writing. I have loved reading from a very young age – whether it be science or literature. I had loved nature so much, science seemed an obvious choice. But now it became clear that I love the word even more. I loved reading fiction, reading philosophy, reading everything. I still loved reading about molecular biology, but that was all. I had been told that I was good at explaining complex ideas in simple ways – and I brought that to my writing. I was taking creative writing classes to help me with my fiction, and I was applying to graduate schools in creative writing so further help me with my fiction. And I had, in one of my undergraduate short story writing classes written a short story that I was immensely proud of. It was a story I knew was the best thing I had ever written, and, as I continued to write, it became clear that it was a benchmark I would need to work on reaching again. That story was one of those moments of joy – it was a moment of creation I wanted to relive. And each new short story was an attempt to repeat what I had experienced in creating that story. It did not matter that it was several years before I could write another story that good. And it did not matter if I ever wrote another one that good. I had done it once, and that moment made it worth repeating my life. It was at that moment that I regretted nothing in my life – nothing that had ever happened to me, good and bad, nothing that I had ever done, thought, or had not done. Everything was affirmed in that one moment of creation.
* * * * *
To say that I do not regret anything in my life, anything that ever happened to me, is not to say that I live my life without learning from it. To refuse to regret anything from one’s life is different from recognizing that one has made poor decisions in the past that one can then learn from, and not repeat in the future. What this does prevent one from doing is worrying over something that happened in the past. There are no more “I wish I’d never done that.” Instead, there is “Well, I did it, and I have seen the repercussions from it, and I don’t want to do that again in the future.” The first one is negative, the second one is positive. The first one denies the value of the experience. The second one affirms the value of the experience – and properly treats it as a learning experience.

Yet, when I have told people that I regret nothing from my life, I have gotten looks of terror. I do not exaggerate. People have looked at me as if I were some terrible, terrifying monster. How could you not have any regrets? Do you not have a conscience? Of course I have a conscience. This is not an issue of conscience. This is an issue of what attitude one has toward one’s life – which is to say that it is an issue of what attitude one has toward life. Do you affirm or deny life? Your life? Do you live a life of “quiet desperation” as Thoreau would have it? Or do you live a life of quiet joy? I choose joy over desperation. When faced with such a person, how would you expect them to react? I am no monster, but having once been the person they now are, I can understand why they may misunderstand and think that someone who lives a life with no regrets could be a monster. People are filled with awe at both the awesome and the awful. I claim to be neither, but I do understand how someone who does not know me can think of me as being potentially awful for living a life of no regrets.
* * * * *
There is a correlation to having no personal regrets, and that is not regretting another person’s past. My decision to drop out of graduate school in molecular biology to pursue graduate programs in English and in Arts and Humanities is one of the best decisions I made in my entire life. My decision to major in recombinant gene technology and minor in chemistry and do two years of graduate classes in molecular biology is equally important and positive. I could not have done any of the things I have done, thought the things I have thought, done the scholarship I have done, or written the stories or poems I have written if it were not for the education I have received in biology and chemistry. Every decision I have made in regards to my education have been good decisions, they have been exactly what I needed to make me who I have become. How do I know this? Because I did have this education, and I have become the person I have become. Had I made any change – any change – I would not now be the person I am right now. And I would not want that. However, my own father cannot see this.

I have had several discussions with my father about this issue. He has asked me if I regretted not getting my Master’s in molecular biology. And I have told him that I do not. He has claimed that I wasted my time doing biology when I could have been concentrating on what I am now doing. Which is ridiculous on the face of it. I could not have decided to go into the arts and humanities until the crisis that led me to start writing as much as I was. Further, the first novel manuscript was based on an idea I developed in molecular biology – so I would not have even started, let alone finished (and, later, destroyed) the manuscript that put me on the path to writing fiction in the first place. Everything had to happen exactly as it happened in order for me to be in the exact place I am at the present time. For him to say that I should have done something different is the same as him saying that he wishes that I was a different person than I am. To object to someone doing something in the past is to object to who that person is. Remember that the next time you say that someone should have done this or that different. You are objecting to that person being who they are. What we should do instead is discuss past episodes as learning experiences. We should only criticize those we love for not learning from their past mistakes (though in my case, I reject the idea that what I did was even a mistake). If that person has clearly learned from what they did, then there should be no criticism. In my case, it would be just to criticize my dropping out of graduate school the first time if I repeated that pattern in getting my MA in English, or if it seemed as though I were going to not finish my dissertation for my PhD. It is ridiculous to criticize someone for dropping out of graduate school seven years before when they have 323 pages of a dissertation sitting on a dresser in the house. The product is there to look at. How can you wonder if what is clearly almost done will get finished? And there are several more reasons why this is a ridiculous complaint, aside from my having already finished a Master’s thesis before: I am a completely different person now than I was seven years ago, and I am doing a completely different kind of project for my dissertation, in a completely different field of study. In other words, there is almost nothing similar to compare.

What my father cannot seem to understand is that I am a completely different person now than I was when I dropped out of a graduate program in molecular biology, and he cannot understand the fact that I do not regret any of the decisions that I made, and that I would make those same exact decisions over again if I could somehow go back in time and change them. Of course, to say that I have no regrets and that I would not go back in time to change anything is to say exactly the same thing.
* * * * *
In aphorism 341 of The Joyful Wisdom (also known as The Gay Science), Nietzsche gives us in the demon’s offer a chance to affirm life as such through affirming our lives in particular. In other words, he asks us how we would react if a demon should offer us eternal recurrence. How would you respond? Would you be crushed by the idea? Would you curse the demon? Or has there ever been something in your life so wonderful that you would want to repeat your life in every detail so you could relive that moment – and become the person you are at the moment of the offering – over and over again? For those who would reject the offer – thus accepting Schopenhauer’s view that no rational person would wish to relive their lives over exactly as it was (World as Will and Representation, 324) – Nietzsche has nothing more to say. But for those who would accept it, Nietzsche offers, “Incipit tragoedia” and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the further development of the tragic, recursive geometry of time introduced in the demon’s offer – an offer which Oedipus accepted at the end of “Oedipus tyrannus,” providing the model for the tragic view of time. Only those who can say “Yes” to the offer are ready to hear what is to follow – Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera shows the consequences of this Schopenhauerean rejection, with the fictional example of Mirek (the individual) and the nonfiction example of communist Czechoslovakia (the country/society/culture) of attempting to erase their pasts – the most active rejection of Nietzsche’s demon’s offer one can undertake. Mirek thought he could control his destiny by erasing (forgetting) his past – just as the Communists thought they could do the same for the destiny of Communism. He wanted to “destroy his own hated youth” just as the people of Bohemia “rebelled against their own youth” (18), resulting in Prague Spring, which, as a “bad memory” is not even remembered, having been “carefully erased from the country’s memory” (19).

By attempting to erase people “from the country’s memory,” the Communists showed us how dangerous is the desire to forge, to erase our memory and our youth. But this is only a natural response, as Schopenhauer recognized, when he said “perhaps at the end of his life, no man, if he be sincere and at the same time in possession of his faculties, will ever wish to go through it again,” since “everything excellent or admirable is always only an exception,” and “as regards the life of the individual, every life-history is a history of suffering, for, as a rule, every life is a continual series of mishaps great and small” (WWPI, 324). But, natural as this response may be, we can see that it is also a tragic response, resulting in people being imprisoned or killed and erased from photographs and history books. Those who would refuse to go through it again are saying No to their lives – and if they are in power, this No-saying can turn deadly.

Unless we affirm our lives, whether that be our own individual lives, or the life (history) of a nation or a people, the consequences can be tragic. This is, in one sense, ironic, considering that Oedipus’ life is precisely terrible and, therefore, tragic, because Oedipus, in the end, would have accepted the demon’s offer, knowing full well what that would entail. This is what makes Oedipus both wonderful and terrible, truly awe-ful. But at the same time, this is what makes one’s life beautiful, this affirmation, as it now gains a certain depth – of time. Since it is unlikely one is going to actually encounter such a demon, one can take this idea metaphorically, and chose memory over forgetting. Of course, this too is tragic, though perhaps a considerably less bloody tragedy, at least for people other than oneself, as we see with Hölderlin’s idea of tragedy being connected to memory, with memory’s failure over time. As Dennis Schmidt points out in On Germans and Other Greeks, in discussing Hölderlin’s novel Hyperion for Hölderlin, “A separation in time cannot be overcome . . . since such a separation is the province only of the past. . . . Separation in time can only be suffered” (131).

The problem with forgetting is that it is “absolute injustice and absolute solace at the same time” (Kundera, The Art of the Novel, 130) – and often the former is used in hopes it will lead to the latter. But both of these point to precisely why forgetting is tragic – it is an attempt by a finite creature to attain infinity (the absolute). In attempting to forget, we attempt to overstep our bounds, as defined by physis (we are a remembering being, and as such, we overstep out bounds by trying to make ourselves forget – we try to make ourselves other than human). The attempt to deny the past is the attempt to deny tragedy. And it is the attempt to deny ourselves.
* * * * *
Heraclitus says that “to God all things are beautiful and good and just, though men suppose that some are just and others unjust.” Do you understand what this means? The affirmation of your life also means the affirmation of all of life – of everything that ever happened in the world. If your life as it is could not be where it now is without everything that happened in it, then this is equally true of everything in the world – even of the universe. Think about it: everything had to have happened exactly as it did in the world in order for you to have even been born. Thus, to affirm your own existence, you have to – to take an extreme example – affirm the existence of Hitler and the extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust. That does not mean you have to like, approve, or promote such behavior – but it does mean you have to recognize that the world as a whole – all things – are beautiful and good and just. If you have ever had a great moment you would want to experience once more, then you have affirmed the existence of Hitler. And rather than denying what he did, or pretending that what he did was another generation’s fault or problem, we have to come to terms with what happened, and learn from it, and learn how to avoid something like it happening again. We have to also come to recognize all the good that came out of what happened. Good? you ask? If you cannot see the good, you are refusing to look hard enough – and you are negating your very existence, and the beauty of life itself. In other words, we have to do something eminently Christian: we have to forgive Hitler. That’s right, we have to forgive him. For only in forgiving him can we heal ourselves. Only in forgiving him can we affirm our lives, our existence, and life itself.
* * * * *
In an odd sort of way, many will find it easier to forgive Hitler than to forgive those closest to them – those we have to forgive the most. Our lives are full of resentment toward others – and the easier our lives have been, it seems the more resentment we build up against others. Especially those closest to us. People just barely surviving do not have the luxury of resentment — they actually have to live physically. Resentment is a luxury. It comes from idleness and boredom. And there is nothing more destructive to ourselves than resentment. With it we separate ourselves from others, especially those closest to us, and barricade ourselves not just from them, but from others. We sever social bonds, and in severing such bonds, we sever ourselves from much happiness. We are a social species, and our bonds of family and friends are so very important to us for us to live healthy lives. Resentment cuts those bonds. Resentment only makes us bleed – it does little if any harm to those we resent. Resentment is the knife we use to cut ourselves, to watch ourselves bleed. It fogs our sight as the blood runs in our eyes. We stumble and fall, and then blame those we resent.

Resentment is the world’s greatest poison. A slow poison eating away at our lives, at our selves, killing us slowly. Do you think that your slow dying will harm those you resent? Why hurt yourself to harm others? But if you are not big enough to avoid resentment, you are not big enough to refuse to harm others, you are certainly not big enough to forgive. And thus your life is poisoned, and the lives of everyone around you is poisoned. Almost every sin against others comes directly from the sin of resentment. Hatred, including self-hatred, and all the self-destructive things that come with it, and racism, theft, lying, true sadism, true masochism – all of these have their sources in resentment. Let go of your resentment – affirm life – these are the same things, the same things that will make life not just worth living, but a true joy.

The Father of Lies and His Minions

If the devil is the father of lies, then a few observations need to be made.

1. It is not lying per se that is forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but “bearing false witness.” This is a legal term, and means that you cannot lie to either harm an innocent or to help a guilty person. In other words, you cannot tell the kinds of likes that harm society. Thus, fictional stories are not covered by this commandment, as fictional stories not only do not harm society, but in fact benefit them by showing the truth and giving moral examples. It is for this reason that bans on works of fiction, especially novels, are often called for –- because the people who call for such bans are afraid of the truth, and are acting immorally. Nietzsche says that “Art tells the truth in the general form of a lie.” And Aristotle prefers fiction to history precisely because history says what did happen, while fiction says what could and ought to have happened.

2. God—Jesus—Satan form a legal system. God is the judge. “Satan” means “adversary” in Hebrew, and an adversary is the person who brings charges against the accused. In the Old Testament, this was the entire system, and we see this system at work in Job. The Adversary brings charges against Job, and God subsequently tries Job. Job is left with no recourse but to bear what happens to him, and even to challenge to God himself the justice of what God is doing. Job gets chastised by God because the error Job makes in questioning God is not in realizing, as Heraclitus did, that “to man some things are just, some unjust. But to God all things are just, good, and beautiful.” Job also did not have the advantage of having a Defender –- which is the role of Jesus, and why he came to earth. Now, when the Adversary brings charges, Jesus defends us.

3. If you support lies, or use lies, then you are in league with the devil –- the father of lies. This puts most churches, especially in the United States, in league with the devil, as most churches preach and support lies of various kinds. It has been said that the greatest trick the devil ever performed was to convince the world he didn’t exist. I disagree. The greatest trick the devil ever performed was to convince people to believe in the “literal interpretation” of the Bible. He must have had a good belly laugh when people accepted this oxymoron. All texts require interpretation –- and all texts have several interpretations. Scientific texts may be written so that they can have very few interpretations –- but even this statement is not entirely accurate, since scientists often argue over the interpretation of data. But most other texts have many more interpretations –- as many as there are people, and readings by each of those people. Which is not to say that those interpretations should not be in context or not have a family resemblance to each other, because they should (or else they will be bad readings). You know you have a bad reading of something if you have to ignore some other part of the overall text for that reading to work.

4. The word “myth” has taken on a negative meaning since the ascension of science as “the” way of knowing about the world. But science can only tell us about the world below the human level of reality. Myth, poetry, art, religion –- these all speak of things above and including the human. We need to stop thinking that a “myth” does not have the same value as science –- this is a prejudice of modern-day scientific thinking. Too many people think science is the only way of knowing about things –- meaning, for them, if the Bible is of any value, it must be scientific as well. But science as we currently understand and use it was developed 1500 years after the last book of the Bible was written. And scientific history (history as we now understand and practice it) was developed at the same time. So, the Bible has been falsely attributed to being a work of science and history in the modern sense. But this takes away from the value and truth of the Bible, as we see from Aristotle’s distinction (Aristotle actually uses the word “myth” in his definition, not fiction –- I too have been guilty here of modernizing things and causing confusion, since fiction too is a modern idea in the era of scientific thinking). Basically, we need to do away with our modern-day prejudices against ways of knowing about the world other than science. And equally, we need to stop using modern-day usages and understandings of words and ideas for texts outside that time-context. The Bible is not science, nor is it history in the modern sense of the term –- though it certainly is history in the ancient sense, as well as mythology in the best sense of the term, meaning it is a source of truth. To Christians the source of the profoundest truths. But truth is different from scientific fact.

5. I am concerned with the lie of the Bible being science and history in the modern sense precisely because this lie has alienated more people from Christianity than anything else. And it is a lie perpetuated and preached from pulpits everywhere. Anyone with the scientific evidence before them will realize that as a work of science, the Bible is one of the least accurate texts ever written. Now, if the Bible is scientifically unfactual (untrue), then its truth must be questioned in other areas –- if scientific truth is how we measure all things. And many people do indeed do this, which is why they end up rejecting the Bible –- and Christianity. And it does not help when defenders of the scientific facticity of the Bible use outright lies to support their position (like saying fossil ages are determined by the geological level they are in, and that geological levels’ ages are determined by the fossils they have –- which is an outright lie). Those who knowingly use lies to support their positions both know their position is weak, and are bearing false witness. They are of the devil’s party, and are helping to drive more people from Christianity.

But if the Bible is myth, it is true –- and it is also not at all in conflict with science, or the truths science uncovers. The devil trembles when I say this, for fear you might understand: there is no conflict between the truth of the Bible and the fact that the universe is 15 billions years old, born in a big bang that gave rise to an earth 4.5 billion years ago, on which life arose 3.5 billion years ago, and which evolved into all the living forms, including humans, through entirely natural means. The meaning and truth of the Bible is not lost if we reject the lies of the sciences of creationism or intelligent design, and accept rather the truth of evolution. In fact, too many people have already been lost to the truth of the Bible because of the lie of creationism. The proponents of creationism and intelligent design are very much of the devil’s party –- perpetuating lies that drive people from the Bible’s truth and meaning. Their master would be proud.