The Predominance of Softness

I am trying to investigate the prevalence of softness and the rarity of toughness because I believe that we have learned to be soft when it is time to get, and be, tough.

Can we find another way into the predominance of softness? It has often been observed that ours is an Age of Anxiety or, more recently, a time of terror. Plainly, one sees this in the Seattle earthquake story from The New Yorker and in various tweets and replies to the possibility that an earthquake could, within the next 100 years, utterly decimate Seattle. Respondents stressed how scared, terrified, and nervous they were or remarked upon how scared, trepidatious, and anxious Seattle residents should be.

Fear is hinted at, spoken of, and often exacerbated when it comes to almost everything, including child-raising, city dwelling, terrorist attacks, flying, health, the precarity of work, academic pursuits, love, the death of others, doing most anything unconventional. People speak of “being safe,” of wanting to find “safe spaces,” of being “vulnerable,” of being “uncomfortable” or at the edge of discomfort, of always being “stressed out,” “overwhelmed,” or “freaking out.” Disgrace is terrifying, humiliation is terrifying, public speaking terrifying, any sensitive subject terrifying, offending someone terrifying, knowing the truth about yourself absolutely terrifying…

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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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