Sentimentality and Compassion, or Fire in the Belly

Those who can breathe the air of my writings know that it is an air of the heights, a strong air…. Philosophy, as I have so far understood and lived it, means voluntarily living among ice and high mountains… How much truth does a spirit endure, how much does it dare? More and more that became for me the real measure of value. Error (faith in the ideal) is not blindness, error is cowardice…. Every attainment, any step forward in knowledge, follows from courage, from hardness against oneself, from cleanliness in relation to oneself…. What one has forbidden so far as a matter of principle is–has always been–truth alone.

–Nietzsche, Ecce Homo (cited in Luc Ferry, What is the Good Life?)

The big error Nietzsche alludes to–a metaphysical error involving positing a Beyond outside of the real world we inhabit–is not a mistake in judgment, not a mistake in reasoning, not an illusory perception but an instance of cowardice. Truth is attached to courage as the consequence that follows from an act.

Courage is no mere idle concept, either, not something to be talked over or written nauseatingly about. It is the fire of fire people! It is choosing to dwell ‘among ice and high mountains.’ It means enduring, indeed cultivating a spirit that endures the nastiest shit of existence. It is hardness against oneself, a ruthless hygiene, a brutal self-accounting. All these, of course, are metaphors for the development of my power to the point of self-mastery, that, as Ferry argues, requires taking conflicting active and reactive forces and, without fighting against them or pitting them in conflict with each other, allows them to express themselves in a ‘grand style’ with an overall sense of harmony. Self-mastery is power expressed as grace, as quietness, as command.

When I master myself, I quietly command. I find a way to express beautifully the fire in my belly.

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