The figure of Zarathustra is from Nietzsche’s best-known work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which was published between 1883 and 1885. Zarathustra is Nietzsche’s spokesperson who teaches that decadent Western values can only be restored by a new superhero, the Ubermensch or Superman. The literal translation from German is Overman. Zarathustra makes the announcement that the Ubermensch is what man is to become in the future if mankind is to have meaning in their lives. For Nietzsche, the Overman embodies the fulfillment of the human search for meaning and he knows it will be some time in the future before this occurs.
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra says one must first grasp life and the true nature of living.
Nature says that whatever lives, obeys; that is, obeys the necessity that governs all reality. He who cannot obey himself is commanded. That is the nature of living. Obeying oneself is harder than being commanded by others. Life is nothing but a “will to power;” That is, the will to self-mastery. Self-mastery for Zarathustra is not a means to an end but is an end in itself.
Opposition is essential for self-mastery, according to Zarathustra, but this opposition is not a competition. There is no winner or loser in the quest for self-mastery outside of ourselves. The Ubermensch is never identified by victory or domination over others—only over himself. Here is Nietzsche from his book, The Gay Science:
I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor Fati (love of fate): let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole; someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.
What a sublime thought about the will to power. The will to power is ultimately the power to say “yes” to the beauty of reality as it must be; Amor Fati, of what is necessary, of what must be because that is the way reality is, that’s the way reality works.
The Overman is Nietzsche’s ideal towards which human civilization should consciously be striving towards. Nietzsche has a much higher vision of mankind that goes way beyond the limitations of human nature. Perhaps even becoming Godlike—dare I say that. Nietzsche admits that he is not an Ubermensch. The closest that he ever comes to declare someone of this status is Goethe, whom I discuss in more detail in chapter 21.
He saw in Goethe a person who lived life at a different level than the rest of mankind. He was truly a renaissance man that excelled at everything he did in the sciences and literary field of endeavor. Goethe was not one who would try to keep up with the Jones’. He had artistic integrity for its sake, and would never sacrifice that integrity to be popular or accepted by the masses. Being an Overman would not give Goethe a license to defy the conventions of the time however.
There is a story that I find quite amusing about Goethe and Beethoven. One day while they were in each other’s company, they decided to go out for a walk. Picture in your mind’s eye, the two greatest geniuses of their time, walking down the street together, engaged in deep conversation. As they were approached by a group of noblemen, Goethe steps aside courteously and acknowledges their nobility as they passed. Meanwhile, Beethoven who is hard of hearing and has continued his conversation with Goethe, turns around to find that Goethe has stepped aside for these noblemen and is reported to have said in his Beethovenian way, “Come on, there are thousands of them, there are only two of us.”
Beethoven was right but the Overman label means more than being unconventional. It was Goethe’s integrity, not anything that is superficial; it’s what was inside of Goethe’s being that Nietzsche was referring to when he used the term Ubermensch. It was Goethe’s spirit that was capable of rising up to a level that the masses never aspire towards.
It is my belief that Nietzsche’s Superman was his way of describing man’s capability of eternally progressing from an ordinary natural man to something approaching the Gods. Nietzsche hated putting limits on anything. His vision of a Superman was not like our current day movie version that flies around catching criminals. No, his version of a Superman was one who has complete control over their mind as well as their passions because they have chosen to be that way, not because it is the easy way out.
For Nietzsche the Ubermensch recognizes that life is nothing but passing over and through life towards death to a new life. This brings us to his thought experiment called eternal recurrence. Let me quote again from, The Gay Science:
What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you, “This life as you now live it and have lived it you’ll have to live once more an innumerably 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 will have to return to you all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, even this moment and I 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 I never have heard anything more divine.” If this thought gains possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and everything, “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 confirmation and seal?
This is what it means to be a “Yes-sayer;” to be ready to say yes to reality exactly as it must occur so that you would wish nothing more than for the exact sequence of things as they had been to recur again and again and again.
Referring back to my very first paragraph of this chapter—We can see how entirely this concept of the eternal recurrence is meant to repudiate the whole spirit and dynamism of the Enlightenment which was built on the hope and confident belief that things would continue to change for the better for everyone and each new day would be get better and better. Nietzsche says no. The affirmation of life requires this discipline of mind that says yes to the present moment, as it is, as the only way to find meaning in life.
I would like to add one bit of admonition to the principle of eternal recurrence—act right now as if you are about to make the same mistake a second time, that you made the first time you were in this same situation. If you accept this counsel you cannot use the excuse that you are not responsible for your decisions because fate had power over your agency to choose.
In summary, the Ubermensch is someone who is in control of his emotions and passions. He is self-directed and is not swayed by public opinion. He is his own person and accepts responsibility for his actions and does not live a life of resentment or regret.
Nietzsche developed this “thought experiment” as the ultimate test of how you feel about your life and how you are living right now in the present moment. Nietzsche asks, “Are you capable of affirming your life in such a way that you would repeat it exactly as it is an infinite number of times?”
There is a movie called Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray, that used this theme of eternal recurrence except it wasn’t a whole life, it was just one day. At first his predicament was used for self-indulgence. This was followed up with boredom and several attempts to commit suicide. Eventually, the main character decided to live his life in such a way that he could live it an innumerable number of times. He made lots of mistakes but in the end he found not only happiness but also the girl of his dreams.
If you find yourself in the midst of having a serious Scottsdale AZ IRS problem, becoming a Ubermench or Superman as defined by Nietzsche may be the best way to deal with the situation. Nietzsche is saying that it is wrong to fight against what has happened and the only real way out of your predicament is to accept that it has happened to the point that you would be able to do it all over again. Not because it was right to get in trouble but because that is reality and dealing with reality is what life is all about.
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