Monday, December 04, 2006

A Young Person's Guide to Misanthropic Pessimism

If you’re a young person just getting started in life, why not consider a career in the never burgeoning nor expanding, joy-resistant field of misanthropy, nihilism and pessimism? Misanthropes have always been with us, ever since the first misanthropes somehow escaped the range of the other human’s stones. If you’re looking for a good steady career with no hopes for advancement, nor any illusions about them, nor your fellow man and the worst case scenario seems like a party where you expect we’re all invited, then consider becoming a pessimistic misanthrope: like it really matters anyway.

What is a Pessimistic or Nihilistic Misanthrope?

A misanthrope is someone who hates, mistrust and despises the human race. A pessimistic or nihilistic misanthrope goes on to apply this salutary hate, mistrust and spite not merely to humans, but to life and perhaps existence in general. Indeed, for one’s critique to have any force at all, one really must include oneself in the class of despised things. Misanthropes are incomplete if they do not include themselves; these are more commonly known as “jerks.”


In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche writes that the pessimism expressed by Greek Tragedy is a sign of the relative health of the culture; this is the sort of thing you consider when your best friend is Wagner. True nihilism or pessimism, for Nietzsche, was expressed by later formations that professed an ostensible sunny cheery optimism that belied their true sickness; if you have ever known anyone who put up motivational posters or inspirational post-it pads for themselves ("god please give me the strength to accept what i cannot change and stay away from bruce"), you can immediately see that Nietzsche was right.

Whereas Nietzsche was basically a lonely man who wanted to love life, despite having no reasonable personal grounds or experiences for doing so, the greatest pessimistic misanthrope would be to be Arnold Schopenhauer, whose systematic pessimism is to great to be examined in detail here and to who these remarks could be easily dedicated. It is enough to say here that the work of Schopenhauer can be compared to some of the cheery
Lieder of Schubert’s Winterreisse without the music or encouraging words.

Misanthropy and Philanthropy

Some misanthropes' constant criticism, nagging and general unpleasantness is done with a secret hubristic idea of somehow improving humanity, much like many hectoring, belittling spouses, or child-abusing parents: all these efforts have met with roughly the same degree of success and just renown.

True philanthropes are, not at all paradoxically, often seen in the company of misanthropes -they may even be responsible for bringing them their soup or warm used clothes. This is approximately for the same reason that masochists are often seen in the company of sadists. This is, as Hegel reminds us, the sort of struggle that can only end with death, much like the time that Schopenhauer decided he was going to schedule his lecture opposite Hegel’s or the time you dated that girl who wrote notes to her dog.

The Many Advantages of Misanthropic Pessimism

Misanthropic pessimism is not a very difficult schtick: material is easy to come by. Indeed great moments of humanity (Christmas, disaster relief, free cable) only throw misanthropy into sharp relief, into a fervent and peculiar kind of ecstasy, while humanity’s many low points (wars, genocide, basic cable) are only mildly palliative and at most provide for a bitter self-satisfied chuckle that at most demoralizes normal people and moves the phlegm around.

For human life is inevitably full of disappointment: misanthropy allows you to make the most of them; indeed, every failure and setback becomes a triumph of one’s world view. Indeed, once you have truly mastered misanthropy, you will never lose an argument because no one will talk to you. At this point, you now never need worry about becoming bitter or cynical.

As a perspective on humanity, a pessimistic and misanthropic view has the virtue of being trivially and incontrovertibly true: it is unlikely that the human species will always exist. As Keynes observed, in the long run we will all be dead, but you will be among that smug minority to have the foresight and mindset to enjoy this fact. Indeed some physicists speak of a weak misanthropic principle to explain why some features of the universe are the way they are: to bust their balls.

Whereas the life of the species is almost certainly finite, the individual lifetime of the misanthrope is often extended: many misanthropes are comparatively long lived (Schopenhauer, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Samuel Beckett). The reason for the extended lifetime of the misanthrope is obvious: loving people and having hope takes enormous effort, as they are subject to disappointment and death. The misanthrope is able to conserve their energy and so goes on to a long life of sucking on its gums and and yelling at kids to get off its lawn. There are notable cases of superannuated misanthropes of superior advanced age, demonstrating that hatred of life is not at all incompatible with craven fear of death.

How to Get Started

As a young person you may well wonder “how can I get started on this miserable path of
schadenfreude and general hatred of my fellow man when I am still so young and full of such optimism and hope?” It is this very optimism and hope, as Plato observes in the Phaedo that is the starting point for all misanthropy: set your expectations for people, for yourself and life in general impossibly high. Be open and trusting and think the best of people. All you must do now is not fail to note when friendship turns to betrayal, anticipation to disappointment and hopes into failure. Be sure never to get over things, but instead let these small emotional wounds fester inside you, remembering how unfair and unjustly you have been treated, nursing fantasies of revenge until a general sepsis overtakes your character. Also, listen to a lot of Metal.

Finally, whereas loving humanity despite all its faults and injuries requires bravery, patience, faith, empathy, imagination, intelligence and kindness -all perhaps above the ordinary, misanthropy requires nothing of the sort. It asks less than the average. It asks only that we never forgive, that we hold our grudges to our hearts dearly and that we reserve what little love we have for ourselves in the form of self-pity. Like gluttony and sloth, it asks only that we give into ourselves gracelessly and surrender to our basest instincts. As such, it is enlightened.

TURN #91: WEEK 77; WORDS: 86,327