On Hedonism and Purpose: the Last Man

Continuing the reply to the points I raised on Mangan’s post on hedonism. Anyone confronting the question of purpose in modern times who does not believe in and govern his life by orthodox religion must confront the specter of Nietzsche. We can neglect his positive argument for the ubermensch for now, but hear his portrait of the last man. What sensible man today can not feel a chill at his words?

————

Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth…
What is the greatest experience you can have? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour when your happiness, too, arouses your disgust, and even your reason and your virtue.
The hour when you say, ‘What matters my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness ought to justify existence itself.’
The hour when you say, ‘What matters my reason? Does it crave knowledge as the lion his food? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.’
The hour when you say, ‘What matters my virtue? As yet it has not made me rage. How weary I am of my good and my evil! All that is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.’

“Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman–a rope over an abyss…
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under…
And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: “The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond man, and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to whir!
“I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
“Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.
“‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks.
“The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.
“‘We have invented happiness,’say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth…
“One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.
“No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.
“‘Formerly, all the world was mad,’ say the most refined, and they blink…
“One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.
“‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink.”

—————

Has the bow gone slack? Are we sated with life, and unable to despise ourselves? No, the West has not fallen so far; tho’ much is taken, much abides. The past century took a great toll on our civilization, and we reel both from that and from our own trespasses. There has been every temptation for us, the elementary particles of a dissolving society, to embrace dissolution, for Atlas to shrug and Sisyphus to cease in his labor, yet the men of the west abide, though no narrow frith we have to cross. For

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies.

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About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
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