(Before you dismiss this as some esoteric philosophical post, I implore you to read through the first few lines, after which it will get relevant for most of us. It is going to be a bleak read, but a much needed one.)
‘So I will speak to them of what is most despicable: and that is the last human.’
And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, writes about a person, ‘the last human’ in his philosophical fiction Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is a bleak portrayal of humanity. In this vision, Nietzsche describes a society where individuals have become completely satisfied with their mundane, comfort-driven lives and have lost all sense of ambition, creativity, and drive. We are dangerously close to this place now.
I came across this concept when I was reading “On Moderation: Defending an ancient virtue in a modern world” - I wanted to read about moderation. When talking about personal moderation, the author Harry Clor talks about Nietzche’s ‘the last man’. It is too intriguing a concept to not write about.
Let’s go through the actual text from Thus Spoke Zarathustra to understand what he says, maybe we learn a thing or two, right?
“So I will speak to them of what is most despicable: and that is the last human.’ And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people.
Zarathustra, the protagonist of the book, starts taking about the Übermensch (Overman). Übermensch gives meaning to life on earth. He should be the goal for humans.
But the people listening do not understand the ‘Overman’, they laugh at Zarathustra, who now talks about the last human - he is the opposite of Übermensch - a despicable human, to get people to move towards Übermensch. Let’s see what he says about the last man.
‘For the earth has now become small, and upon it hops the last human, who makes everything small. Its race is as inexterminable as the ground-flea; the last human lives the longest.‘
That is a damning, depressing statement. The last man makes everything small. He is the one who raises the initial doubts before anything starts. He wants things to not start, be he can’t be explicit - he starts slow, but his intention is to limit anything - a trip, a company, an idea.
‘They have left the regions where the living was hard, for one needs the warmth. One still loves one’s neighbour and rubs up against him: for one needs the warmth.’
The last man is cozy with people - for just one reason - because he is dependent on people. He cannot do anything alone, he needs people. He cannot go to a new place, he goes only when he has neighbours. Once the neighbours leave, he leaves, since he needs the warmth. Lest you think the last man is at least good to people around him, know that he does not cross the ceiling he has for friendship, for it is too much work to be very friendly. He is close enough just for the warmth, not too close that it might get hot.
‘One continues to work, for work is entertainment. But one takes care lest the entertainment become a strain.”
The last man does work, be he does not cross his boundary there. He needs it to be just entertaining enough, he can’t take more than it. He cannot work too much, that is against his nature. He only works on what is expected from him. Once it is hit, he stops.
‘One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one honours good health.’
This is very weird and interesting - the last man takes good care of health, which is important for everyone. But the way he does it is different. He takes good care by just not doing anything even slightly cumbersome. The last man also does not get too happy, not too sad. He has his limits on all emotions, because too many emotions is a lot of work, something the last man despises. He does not get excited about things, because excitement is hard work. He does not have chaos in his mind, at all, and this is what Zarathustra says about chaos:
“I say to you: one must still have chaos within, in order to give birth to a dancing star. I say to you: you still have chaos within you.”
Chaos is good, chaos gets work done, chaos moves the wheels of time. This is antithetic to Hindu spirituality, one might think. Krishna goes on about Sthitaprajña (स्थितप्रज्ञ). He talks about contentment and being calm. Seems like we’ve got a problem, Nietzche doesn’t seem to agree with Bhagavad Geeta.
Let me try to explain.
बहूनां जन्मनामन्ते ज्ञानवान्मां प्रपद्यते ।
वासुदेव: सर्वमिति स महात्मा सुदुर्लभ: ।।
Meaning from vedabase.io
After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.
Krishna does not condemn chaos entirely, he approves chaos, in Him. He likes people who say - “वासुदेव: सर्वम्” - “Vasudeva is everything for me”. Such a person will have a very chaotic mind when thinking about Him. (If this is difficult to understand, think about something you really want, someone you are madly in love with - is your mind calm or chaotic?)
So Nietzche and our Bhagavad Gita approve chaos is good, it is needed. And the last man, sadly, has no chaos in his mind.
What am I supposed to get out of this long depressing article?
Don’t be the last man, don’t have last men around you. It is a new year, let’s start pushing boundaries and cautiously taking risks (Don’t play Russian Roulette). Do uncomfortable things that have a pay off. Do not settle.