The Psychology of Overcoming

Perhaps to paraphrase Willy Nelson “I’m Looking for Ideas In All the Wrong Places”. However, I read somewhat widely. I’m also fascinated by philosophers and psychologists whose ideas passed on to those who would misuse them and thus earn them a bad reputation among proper Westerners.

I was captured by a thought and a line of argument from Karl Marx, for example, that I would have done well to explore to the completion of my masters (even though the university closed the graduate department while I was there). He explored how humans had become alienated from their labor due to industrialization–the demise of craftsman and the rise of workers. As fate would have it, I’m a writer and analyst specifically on industrialization. But Marx was driven by his passions–how else to explain ignoring his wife and many children while burying himself in the London library researching how businessmen and capitalist economics (then somewhat new) oppressed workers. His followers–even more passion.

But I came today to talk about Nietzsche. Talk about your screwed up guy–he was a preacher’s kid raised by his mother and her two sisters. Need I say more?

I spotted this essay by Scotty Hendricks in my daily dose of a site called Big Think about the psychology of Nietzsche. Many scholars believe that Freud and Jung both began their investigations because of him.

Hendricks says:

He also understood that outside influences could have major effects on the of psyches of individuals. He explains in Human All Too Human that “Direct self-observation is not nearly sufficient for us to know ourselves: we need history, for the past flows on within us in a hundred waves.” Hinting that he understands that our deeper selves are influenced by many more factors than meets the eye. He lists among those factors culture and history, alongside our upbringings and a multitude of drives.

That we still have animal drives is a fact we often try to suppress. But one that Nietzsche saw as a mere fact and one to be dealt with. Dubbed “The Beast Within” by Zarathustra, these drives towards sex and aggression were being suppressed by an archaic morality which saw them as wicked. Nietzsche saw this repression as causing potential energy to go to waste. He argued that it was much better to understand that we have these primal drives and that’s alright, so long as they can be subdued and harnessed.

I think we ignore these basic ideas at our peril. If you read ancient Christian writers, for example John Climacus one of my favorites, you pick up some similar basic ideas.

We have these drives and emotions. We are living in a time of wallowing in our emotions–just check out your social media stream if you dare. The shouting and division that occurs daily changes only due to the topic of the day.

We ignore at the peril of our spiritual health and development that little phrase, “so long as they can be subdued and harnessed.” Climacus wrote “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” analyzing each of the drives and emotions and how to overcome them with spiritual formation some 1,500 years before Nietzsche. Someone should do another one for modern people. Living in the spirit is not for the faint-hearted.

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