Despite being an announcement of the end of gods, the message of the madman in Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche is ironically a message of biblical proportions and implications, for it sees the abyss in front of humanity’s march on the linear path paved by modernity. The blind flattening élan of modernity and its insane adherence to uniformity and unidimensional thinking is seen as a threat to the very basic things that makes human beings actually human.
Humans could only be able to distinguish themselves from the animal kingdom by freeing themselves from limitations of instinct. Foremost among the traits that humans present to distinguish themselves from animals is their faculty of thinking and rationality. It is through the rational faculty humans claim to transcend the boundaries and limitations imposed by instinct. When the humans overcome the boundaries of instinct, they have entered the domain of volition. It is due to volition that humans have succeeded to think in abstract terms and invent materially. With will, humans have been burdened with responsibility as well as irresponsibility. Hafiz Sherazi, in one of his famed ghazals, expresses the divine burden of responsibility tinged with an ecstatic/irrational element in humans in the following verses:
Dosh didam ki malaek dar-e-mai-khana zadand
Gil-e-adam ba-sarishtand-o-ba-paimana zadand
Asman bar-e-amanat na-tavanist kashid
Qura-e-fal ba-nam-e-man-e-divana zadand
(Last night I saw angels knocking on the door of a wine-house;
They kneaded Adam’s clay and struck it into/with a cup.
Heaven was not able to bear the weight of the Trust that was given to it;
They cast the dice of the work in the name of me, who am crazy)
One can clearly see the ingredients of ecstasy and irrationality incorporated into human nature by the angels while kneading the dough to make humans. Though the iota of madness and instinct remains within humans, they try to overcome these through reason and will. It is due to this reason and rationality that human beings deem and treat themselves as superior among the myriad entities in the world. Because of their claim for humanity, the humans have endowed themselves with epithets like viceregent, chosen one, saint, saviour, holy etc. However, Nietzsche disapproves of the kind of being created by reason: both in their theistic and atheistic forms. He is of the view that by absolving himself of animality in his being, the modern human has become more of a beast than human. In other words, we can say that humans have lost the faculties that make them sentient beings by becoming cogs of the machine called instrumental rationality. It is the demagification under the spell of modernity that has robbed modern human of a Dionysian spirit and made him subservient to an Apollonian spirit. He criticises modernity for the reason that it kills the creative élan in society.
According to Nietzsche, with the death of an all-encompassing divine power, the universe is faced is a great void within. It is as if there were an implosion of the universe from within. Similarly, an even deeper hole is created within human consciousness with the disappearance of God/gods. At the level of meaning, this event is equivalent to the cataclysms at a cosmic level. With the “death of God” and the demise of metaphysics and realisation of the inability of science to yield anything like absolute knowledge, Nietzsche prophesised the advent of a period of nihilism in modernity. The prospect of finding terra firma (solid ground) for being and uncertainty of absolute knowledge deeply worried him for s/he faces cosmic loneliness and meaninglessness. Human situation in an alienated and indifferent world is further aggravated by the fact that the attempts by humans to restore meaning yield nothing. The efforts of reenchanting society in a disenchanted world have failed because it’s not the question of replacing old values with new ones on the same ground, rather the challenge is that the very ground on which we try to erect an edifice of new values is no more there. Owing to the cataclysm in the realm of meaning, the very earth beneath our feet has moved from its very own place. In simple words, the very base that provide gravity for our being is no more there. It is this gravity that provided moral compass for going backward, forward, upward and downward. Now in the age of nihilism it is free fall as there is not direction for the lack of gravity.
Nietzsche was firmly convinced of the untenability of the divine hypothesis and associated religious interpretations of the world and our existence, and likewise of their metaphysical variants. Having also become persuaded of the fundamentally non-rational character of the world, life, and history, Nietzsche took the basic challenge of philosophy to be that of overcoming both these ways of thinking and the nihilism resulting from their abandonment. This led him to undertake the task of reinterpreting the self and the world along lines which would be more tenable and be more conducive for the flourishing and enhancement of life. Nietzsche was writing in an age that witnessed the emergence of nation states in Europe including German state. His concern was how might the dire condition of German culture in particular and European culture in general can be improved? His questioning of culture led to his only teleological message for us as it does not see purpose in the forward journey and its ultimate destination but at higher and qualitative level. In this connection he comments, ‘the goal of humanity cannot lie at the end of time, but only in its highest specimens.’ The highest specimen – Übermensch/overman- will fill the gap created by the death of God and save humanity from its aftermath in the shape of nihilism. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Only the most ambitious project can fill the void left by the death of God – the overman is the only possible justification left for us.
Nietzsche’s overman appears as a symbol of the repudiation of any conformity to a single norm: antithesis to mediocrity and stagnation. Overman and overcoming are inseparable. “the man who has overcome himself has become an overman.” Overcoming involves two forces – reason and impulses. These of two manifestations of one basic force called the will to power. Walter Arnold Kaufman thinks that “The human, superhuman” then refers to our true self, and the “superman” is the one who has transfigured his physis and acquire self-mastery.” A higher type of man is bridge to Übermensch/overman. Here lies the germs of his philosophy of authenticity and education. Nietzsche urges his readers to unlearn what they have learnt and forget history. The indifference to history and education will finally produce a genuinely vital culture: a freedom of spirit. Only in leaving our humanity behind can we embrace the overman. However, the real self of humans is in danger in modern age. Never in history has there been this level of threat to the individual as in modernity, for the reason that rationalization of society has colonialized the lifeworld of the individual. Because of the instrumental reason and instruments of control, the “I” is in the danger of merging with “them”. “I” lose his or her self when s/he becomes part of the crowd. The crowd does not have self. It is what its outward forms suggest and what it outwardly performs. That is why the crowd is declared inauthentic in existentialist philosophy.
Today our “I” is in danger of being swallowed up by the huge machines of modernity. The mechanisation of the human mind and life wipes out individuals, to turn them into masses. Against this massification and machinery of inauthenticity, Nietzsche proposes the idea of second innocence and the creation of second nature. It involves three stages of metamorphosis. The metamorphosis is basically a spiritual transformation that contributes to the flourishing of life. Nietzsche defines three stages of metamorphosis through the symbols of the camel, the lion and the child. We humans are born as innocent children. As we grow, the inhuman nurture of humans robs us of our innocence as the contours of our personality are formed by our respective nation, language, religion, state etc.
There is so much scribbling on our soul by external actors that our true self and authenticity is lost in the maze of writing and overwriting. To recover our self, it is important to unlearn what we have learned. Once we unlearn, we turn our soul into a clean slate like an innocent child. At this point we have to relearn. It is in this phase of relearning that we are able to write the script of our destiny by our own hand and soul. Thus, second innocence is our salvation because through this we can create our second nature. It is this innocence that make us to wonder at the world and the order of things in society. Today we have lost the capacity to wonder at the world. It is because of the loss of innocent wondering and sedentary state of the mind that we tend to produce knowledge in the mode of a technician. When knowledge gets settled, it locks itself in the specialised apartments of disciplines and departments of universities. Beauty in knowledge emerges when we learn to wonder in innocence and wander like a nomad in the realm of knowledge.
That is why Nietzsche is of the view that the ultimate destiny of civilization is to wonder like a child.