January 16, 2019

Why We Need Humility

“WHAT IF KNOWLEDGE — the real, redeeming variety — is not power, but the opposite of it? If, for instance, to become properly human we need to run away from power as much as we can? Indeed, what if our highest accomplishment in this world came from radical self-effacement, the lowest existential station we could possibly reach?

If there is one trait that all forms of life share, it must be self-assertion. From the simplest to the most complex, all living entities seek to persist in their state and reproduce. And doing so requires pushing relentlessly against other entities, often to the point of annihilating them. That makes life a scene of cruelty of cosmic proportions. But “cruel” may be the wrong word, for it applies human judgment to something that, by definition, is anything but human. The process of life unfolds beyond any human concerns — spontaneously, blindly, tyrannically. Humans are caught up in it just like any other species. Far from having a say in the process, we are used and abused by it — brought into being, instrumentalized, and discarded. We think we fall in love, but that’s just one of the tricks life uses to reproduce itself; we devise some better tool and think ourselves smart, blissfully ignorant that we are just playing life’s game of self-assertion. We live in a comic farce and call it happiness.

When it reaches Homo sapiens self-assertion takes a specific form: power. Being especially sophisticated creatures, we are rarely content just to satisfy our primary needs and impulses. We also need others to submit to us; we know we’ve got power only when we can see it in the lowered eyes of the other. There are many ways to size up power, yet the best one is based on the extent of the other’s humiliation. A brutal epiphany of self-assertion, power is intrinsically erotic: it is nothing unless it’s manifested and felt, showed off and taken in. Power doesn’t truly exist until it leaves a mark on the minds and bodies of others.”

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