“Mankind does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
In the episode of the Middle Ground Podcast, A Return To Meaning, I discussed the quandary of modern humans and their shortsighted tendency to prioritize happiness over meaning. What’s intriguing about this topic is that Nietzsche, one of the West’s most influential philosophers, is sadly only know for his statement, “God is dead”. But even in this it is most telling that in an age of truncated statements, most of those who cheer Nietzsche’s statement do so without having read what his commentary on the statement was, namely that once religion/belief in God was removed, mankind would spiral off into despair, a result of meaning no longer being a pursuit1. Where once a believer could contrast his life on earth to a life in the Here-After, now we are left with contrasting our lives with objects: How we possess them (always needing the latest gadget, for example) and how many of them we possess. In a further turn of irony, Nietzsche, an atheist, turned to his “Übermensch” theory as a way for modern man to make his own values to establish meaning. The problem with Nietzsche’s Übermensch was that he felt it was out of reach; it was in a way a kind of utopia, the place which literally “does not exist”. In many ways Nietzsche, in his attempt to resolve the gaze of abyss2, created a perspective that drew upon a religious cosmology. There seems to be no escaping religion — even if only in the realm of imagination — for the atheist.
Nietzsche’s prescient insight into the challenges we face today should leave modern Muslims with much to contemplate. As I mentioned in the podcast, some of this can be seen in how increasing numbers of Muslims are prioritizing emotions (chiefly, happiness) over meaning, leading many to feel a loss of faith. For the one who pursue happiness, they may find themselves incessantly departing but never arriving. For according to Nietzsche, meaning is what we really long for.
1. Hendricks, Scotty. “‘God is Dead’: What Nietzsche Really Meant”. Big Think, 12 Aug. 2016, http://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-meant-by-god-is-dead.
2. Aphorism #146. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Ian Johnston. Beyond Good And Evil: Prelude To A Philosophy Of The Future. Arlington, Richer Resources Publications, 2009.