I’m personally not a massive fan of Nietzsche. I find the philosophy of the Ubermensch and the idea that we can and should create new values of a positive nature that will affirm human life to be both impossible and repellent. Nietzsche’s recommendation that we crush any feelings of compassion and sympathy within ourselves for the weak and helpless is also repugnant to me. (We’re all weak; we’re all helpless). Furthermore, the fact that Nietzsche is latched on to by academics as a macho-man philosopher through whom they can live vicariously while simultaneously enjoying their well-remunerated, sheltered lives also sickens me. (To be fair to Nietzsche himself, he did walk the walk by leaving a sparkling academic career in order to live the life of an itinerant philosopher-outsider. Full marks to him for that.)
One of Nietzsche’s best-known ideas is that of the Eternal Return. In essence, it postulates that we’re fated to relive our lives over and over again, unchangingly and eternally. The purpose of this hypothesis is to test your macho instincts. If you can make yourself find this idea attractive and are ready to give your assent, then somehow this demonstrates that you’re one of those ready to be an Ubermensch, happily accepting the trials and tribulations of your life repeatedly for......well, for what exactly is never made quite clear.
It occurred to me that a far more revealing thought-experiment would be to broaden the focus of the camera. Forget about having to only live your own life over and over again. If you could press the button that would restart the entire world and everything that has ever happened would you do it? Would you crank up the mindless machine that gave us slavery, the Colosseum, the Inquisition, endless war, poverty, famine, plague, two World Wars, nuclear weapons, Vietnam, Iraq and whatever else is to come? Not to mention all of the private, innumerable miseries that have blighted the planet since the get-go: rape, poverty, hunger, misery, loneliness and so on and so on. Could you really shamefacedly start the carnival again? I don’t need to reflect for an instant to know what my answer would be. Maybe the yea-sayers would do well to reflect on such a hypothesis.
On a related issue, I was also reflecting on the familiar “If life is so bad, why don’t you kill yourself?” line. What annoys and angers me about this retort is the arrogant and smug assumption that the questioner could never end up in a position where they might contemplate taking their own life. Such people, from my observations, appear to lead quite safe and self-satisfied lives, and good for them, but I think that they assume that this is how things will always be, a potentially very dangerous belief. Yet the simple truth is that a million people a year commit suicide and I’m pretty sure that only a few of those have ever even heard the word antinatalism. Pro-lifers, anti-lifers, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Capitalists, Socialists, people with no convictions whatsoever and so on can all end up in a position where suicide becomes a real possibility. So again, a bit more humility and recognition of the contingency of good fortune would be welcome from the yea-sayers.