Sunday, 8 January 2017

Self-Overcoming in the modern age


“The capitalist and consumerist ethics are two sides of the same coin, a merger of two commandments. The supreme commandment of the rich is ‘Invest!’ The supreme commandment of the rest of us is ‘Buy!’ The capitalist–consumerist ethic is revolutionary in another respect. Most previous ethical systems presented people with a pretty tough deal. They were promised paradise, but only if they cultivated compassion and tolerance, overcame craving and anger, and restrained their selfish interests. This was too tough for most. The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum. In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist–consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money and that the masses give free reign to their cravings and passions and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How though do we know that we'll really get paradise in return? We've seen it on television.”
Yuval Noah Harari

The Capitalist/Consumerist ideal can be followed by people because it doesn't require followers to overcome any of their instinctual drives, lusts and motivators.  Religion has always had a requirement that man keep himself in check, restrain his behaviour and be able to control and overcome his passions.  In the modern age, this is interpreted as self-denial and prudishness, and calls for abstinence and restraint are always seen as a method of control from without.  Liberalism fails to see the value of such control coming from within.  In rebelling against the dictates and requirements of a religion claiming to represent a God that doesn't exist, it has also unwittingly rejected the value of such ascetic exercises.

The modern decadent culture requires us to submit and be controlled by these forces.  Greed is good.  Hedonistic desires exist to be fulfilled.  Consume and then consume some more.  Personal development is seen as little more than a means to fulfil these goals with greater capacity.  There is little value in self-development which doesn't result in greater earning capacity, and therefore greater consumption.  While we proclaim ourselves to be free, we are spiritually shackled.  These goals are not ours, but are goals set by marketing executives, by advertising agencies, by the necessities of the markets, by the state, by conventional social morals, by culture and by the need for others to grow their wealth.  We subjugate ourselves to a goal external to ourselves, and live according to our basest instincts to achieve those goals.  This is what Yuvul Noah Harai is writing about.  A system which sets a goal for all of us, and achievement of that goal is best achieved by living according to our most base, reptilian desires.  This is why it's so easy, so effortless.

Nietzsche saw the need for self-overcoming, for turning that competitive instinct and drive for control and aggression against others inwards, to improve ourselves so that we can set and achieve loftier goals for ourselves.  The freedom to trade is a low freedom.  It isn't a lofty goal for humanity to set itself, if anything, it is more the action of the Last Man.  The Last Man seeks only comfort and contentedness.  The Last Man works for the drives which sustain their existence but not for those which can give it meaning.  The Last Man works "in the service of the continuation of his individual life", but there is little individual will.  Nietzsche also saw pain and discomfort as necessary for personal development.  Rather than seek to avoid it, we must learn to accept its place within our lives, to learn to overcome pain and see it more objectively.

So our system offers us all it can to avoid pain and to seek pleasure, and in return we demand from it no more than that.  We base our morals on this systems requirements and allow it through our primitive desires to pull our strings.  We become unauthentic beings.  We become Homo economicus.  We become elements which act 'predictably' and 'rationally' according to democratic and market rationality.  We not only accept and understand this, but base our own values on this and adopt this morality as our own.

Our liberation I believe comes from being able to overcome this.  Go without a fulfilling a desire for a period of time.  Whether it is sexual abstinence or abstaining from food for a few days, or a hobby, drink, drugs, vice, shopping, making money, go without.  One doesn't need to take it to the level of making it a permanent state of denial, but in doing so for limited periods of time, one can demonstrate to oneself that these don't ultimately have mastery over you.  This may involve discomfort, but in doing so you prove that your inner will remains master.  It is not the person who makes money and can't stop who is an evolved person, it is the person who makes money and can give it up.  I respect those that can dedicate their life to building a business, and then just stop, retire, move on to something else.  These people dedicated themselves to a goal and achieved it, but they did not become their goal.  It is in the promotion of complete abstinence from vice that religion has been in error.  Once shouldn't succumb to hedonism, nor abstain completely, but develop the strength to engage in hedonism and keep mastery over it, that is, more accurately put, an Epicurean lifestyle.

Those who can do this become more adaptable.  They can rewrite their life as they want and will be less in life that can destroy them.

We are becoming economically and politically more and more dis-empowered because we elevate the impulses which drive democracy and markets above all else.  I deferring social outcomes to "the market" or "democracy" we deny ourselves further evolution, because we shut out the possibility of self-overcoming whereby we can gain greater control our our actions and will, thereby allowing humankind to set higher goals than are otherwise possible.

1 comment:

  1. Assembly Line, first time I have ever been here. This is a really great site though! And you have some stuff on the Alt Left! And you are very dismayed with Trump for the same reasons I am. You are the perfect reader for my site.

    Thing is I had to ban you because you did not donate. Unless you have donated before, you have to donate $10 minimum to keep commenting. If that's a hardship, email me and we can talk.

    Anyway, hate to delete your comments and hope to see you back on the site. Believe it or not, you are one of my favorite commenters on there. Sometimes I think you are one of the closest to my real Alt Left.

    Anyway, hope to hear from you.

    ReplyDelete

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