Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence and the Affirmation of life

The eternal recurrence is most heavily referred to by Friedrich Nietzsche in his 1883 Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it serves primarily as a thought experiment proposed by the title character (Zarathustra) that is meant to designate a supreme achievement of human development; the ascension to a higher type of consciousness in man.

In Zarathustra, Nietzsche conceives of a cyclical universe, where every event is ever recurring, across an infinite stretch of time, forever. Nietzsche’s intent is to focus the mind of his readers on a possible reality in which every action they had committed (all faults, setbacks, mistakes, and wrongdoings) was bound to be repeated by them, an infinite amount of time. Where they would be forced to endure their shame and grief over and over again, unable to change or improve on any past misdeeds, for all eternity. And then to ask the question: “Would you be willing to bear such a reality?” Would a person be able to cope with knowing that s/he will have to helplessly live through all the pains, heartbreaks, bad decisions, and grief that s/he has already struggled through once in life? And would this person, aware of this eternal recurrent, still manage to affirm a will to live?

Nietzsche believed that most people alive would decisively shriek a unanimous “No!” to such a proposition, because it would seem too bleak and fatalistic a fate to have to eternally return to one’s life’s errors, infinitely doomed to recommit one’s sins (for lack of a better term). Nietzsche saw this as a reflection of the destitute modern man has surrendered himself to; the wanting denial of one’s true existence. He contrasted this with what he called amor fati (Lat. love of fate):

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it (Ecce Homo, “Why I am So Clever,” section 10).

To be able to look at the compilation of one’s life, with all one’s mistakes and regrets, and still unashamedly proclaim one’s desire to relive it all as is (with no intent to alter one’s past actions), is according to Nietzsche the ultimate affirmation of life—a full embrace of one’s existence, a testament to the arrival of the overman (Ger. Übermensch).

Although the eternal recurrence was a central theme in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche seemed to have somewhat abandoned the thought experiment in much of his later work (he makes no mention of it in either Beyond Good and Evil or On the Genealogy of Morals). However, this appears to be a hasty conclusion, since Nietzsche does make continuous references to the basic sentiment found in his 1883 philosophical novel, and seems to be expanding on the same core concepts in his later writings.

This eternal return, and its importance in signifying the coming of the overman, is Nietzsche’s attempt to offer a possible redemption narrative for humanity. A means by which man can take the fatalistic nature of life, and surpass its dire implications by ascending beyond them into a realm of complete oneness with all the facts and events that come together to compose one’s life story. Yet, this redemption is not inevitable, for man (or “modern man,” as Nietzsche would say) is in a constant state of rejecting amor fati, and moving away from self-acceptance, in favor of finding acceptance with “higher” ideals, that are imagined to dwell exterior and superior to oneself. This is the fate of what Zarathustra called the “last man”—the alternate fate of mankind—the final descend of mankind to a sheepish, complacent shell of what he once was, living in fear of his own existence.

How to be a good worker: A Machiavellian approach

The greatest myth surrounding the notion of a good worker rests on the misconception everyone has regarding what constitutes having a good work ethic in the first place. The definitions employers have in mind when thinking of a good worker involves a somewhat contradictory set of characteristics: be assertive, yet obedient; innovative, but reserved; simultaneously equal parts independent-minded, and conformist.

The reason why these sort of schizoid expectations exist among the management class of the workforce is due to the fluid nature of the definitions they work with. The only thing of importance to employers is whether or not the worker is maximizing gains and profits for them, and the proper adjectives believed to have been necessary to accomplish this goal will follow from there (always after the fact), and will be adjusted as situations call for them to be; regardless of whether the call of the current situation contradicts the call of the previous.

Employees, on their end, hold to an equally self-deluded (and self-defeating) model of what it means to be a good worker. Putting aside sheepish mindsets that essentially boil down to tautologies like “good workers do work that please their bosses,” the popular notion of being a good worker for most people is showing dedication to one’s job, and putting in the hard work to prove it. And legions of hard working, dedicated members of the workforce will follow this line of thinking from their first days of employment, up to their retirements, without so much as a decent pension to their names when it’s all said and done.

What is the actual truth of the matter? It’s simply: When it comes to being a good worker, a dedicated employee, an asset to the company, your actual work ethic is irrelevant—it is only the perception of your work ethic that matters. In work, like in most sectors of life, perception is the reality of every situation, be it an accurate representation of the facts or not. If you are seen and referred to as the company wunderkind, despite the fact that your only solid idea/contribution was a halfway decent suggestion over a decade ago (which someone higher up than you on the totem pole mistakenly credits you for) you will be seen and treated as what you are believed to be, not as you are. Likewise, if you have a reputation as the company screw-up on account of one misstep years ago, it won’t matter that you’ve been consistently contributing 100% of backbreaking labor to every project since then; you will forever occupy the lowliest peg of the company ladder, because it’s easier for people to continue to see you as what they believe you to be, than to have to put in the effort to update their faulty perception.

Is this an unfair system? It is human nature, and by virtue of being human you cannot escape from it.

Setting the record straight on a few things, first:

Before trying to define themselves as good workers, the obvious question people ask is what sort of career should I enter to give me the greatest return for my laboring investment? And if you gave your education some forethought, the answer may be as obvious as the question. However, the truth is that most job skills are largely interchangeable, and most educations are merely a formality necessary to be better positioned to get a job in the first place. Hence, you should approach any occupational endeavor armed with the correct understanding of what it means to be perceived as a good worker in said line of work, rather than waste time actually trying to become one.

Having said all that, do not insult either your intelligence, or mine, by asking if this means that one can be a lazy, incompetent worker and still get ahead. The sorts of people who immediately jump to this brainless conclusion are the sort looking to find anything to negate the truth of their wasted lives’ efforts. You understand perfectly well that what’s meant is not an excuse for laziness, but a strategic manipulation of a flawed system in your favor. Which in summary just means that it is simply pointless to waste time on things that serve no greater purpose for your benefit.

 Who moved your cheese? I DID, now do something about it!

A key part of this drive to not to waste time is the fact that you should never settle for a job that offers no advancement. While you have to incorporate niceties and diplomacy in your social interactions, your work life will be one area in which a self-serving attitude will be easily mistaken for a healthy dose of ambition. Yes, you will still need to be perceived as affable and likeable from various cliques that make up your fellow workforce, but you will also be rewarded for looking out for yourself first.

Of course, you will never be able to speak of what you are doing in such open terms, but the higher-ups that will enable your professional advancement will recognize it and respond appropriately. The reason being that many of those in such positions are as self-interested as you; meaning that they can and will serve your bottom line, at least for as long as both of your bottom lines align. It’s also why you should feel no remorse at undermining even these actors who at one point helped you, because in reality they were merely using you to help themselves. This last bit is perfectly acceptable, as long as you recognize it and manage to stay one step ahead of them.

This is the core of the topic at hand, though it is easier asked than explained. Many of your breakthroughs in this endeavor will come from the work you put in at the beginning of your career’s journey. It is never too early to reason out who within the structure will be an asset to your professional advancement, and who will be a hindrance, and to map out your interactions accordingly.

Most of the people you see around you will be of no use whatsoever—either towards your benefit, or your detriment—so do not waste time thinking about the sheep meandering about complacently in their lowly positions. The people who are most of benefit to you will be the ones ranked above you. Having said that, keep in mind that while endearing yourself to supervisors and managers is fine, it is also too roundabout of an approach for a long-term strategy. There will always be one boss, or at most a handful of bosses, and this group is the one your sights need to be on from day one, because it is their ranks you aim to join (and, if need be, displace) one day soon.

Dropping the Deadweight:

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There is another group of people you need to identify from the get-go of your career: the deadweight. They aren’t always easy to spot, but every job has them, and by the time you do realize which ones they are, the last thing you want is to have tied yourself to them in any way whatsoever. You have to be cognizant of the fact that certain employees are simply not meant to rise anywhere beyond the position they currently occupy, and because association is shorthand all humans use to judge the characters of those around them, you will be perceived as occupying an equally lowly position in the hierarchy if you associate with these kind of people (and, remember, perception is the key to everything here). That doesn’t mean to ignore them, or speak down to them, especially since you may still need their collective support to buttress your own rise upward, but it does mean that you need to draw clear boundaries between yourself and them. If you want to move up, you cannot waste any time on those who serve no purpose other than to keep you down.

You will also encounter those who start out as assets, but then become deadweight as the tide turns against them. This is why it is never wise to place all bets on one game and hope it works out in the end. Humans—being only human—make missteps, and can fall from the favorable positions they once held. And you do not want to be standing too close to anybody when their fall becomes inevitable. This is yet another point where perception comes into play.

Welcome to Backstabberville! Population: You

Give the impression of being on everyone’s side while being on no one’s other than your own. It’s a talent of manipulation that takes considerable skill to carry out successfully, but only because so many people lack the resolve to keep with the script and never get comfortable in any one place, allied to any one person. The best way to accomplish this is to never reveal too much about yourself, while learning as much as possible about the person you are interacting with.

When people disclose information about themselves, no matter how seemingly mundane and trivial, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to you, because they will associate you as someone who knows them—the true them—and will therefore recognize you as someone who they will need to appease out of fear of being exposed. You will never need to say anything about it, or even hint at it; this feeling will naturally overcome them as they realize how much they’ve confided in you. You will suffer from no such handicap, since you will have offered no valuable details about your person to them. And they will not bother to ask for any, because everyone prefers to talk about themselves, while paying no mind to the consequences of their narcissistic solipsism until it’s already too late. This flaw in human reasoning will serve your desires well, if you take care to use it to your advantage.

The best way to ensure that you are taking full advantage of it is by keeping yourself guarded from others. However, care also needs to be taken not to come across as a total outcast, lest you risk leaving yourself exposed during pivotal moments when a consolidation of powers is required.

Go to the company outings, mingle at the happy hour, and overall endear yourself to everyone enough to give off the impression of a well-adjusted person. Although your real goal in doing this is to get a chance to develop a personal rapport with those in the company that can aid your advancement, but by making a habit to attend most of these social events with your coworkers, it will establish you as someone for whom socializing comes easy, setting up a positive reputation around you where no eyebrows will be raised when you do get the opportunity to strike up a conversation with the boss of the company, and charm him or her over to your good graces.

Beware though of the fact that nobody likes an ass-kisser, including the people whose asses are getting routinely kissed. Your goal is not to give the impression that you are subservient to the boss, but a potential equal. When the chance arises, always give constructive feedback, and do it confidently. A good rule of thumb by which to manage office interactions is to speak in exact statements when you want something done, and speak in questions when you want someone else to do something for you.

When an occasion calls for a more passive approach, phrasing your wants as simple questions goes a long way in ensuring that you’ll get your way in the end. Saying something as innocuous as, “Are we still doing it by way of xyz?” is covertly powerful because it plants the idea in the listeners heads that this is the way it must have always been done, whether they were aware of it or not, and will cause them to update their thinking on how they’ve been doing it up to that point out of fear that they have been doing it wrong all along. Even if someone replies to the question in the negative, and goes so far as to insist that you are wrong, people’s innate desire to avoid conflict and confrontation will force them to accept it as nothing more than an innocent question on your part. It might even work to increase your favorability rating with them, since you appear to be someone trying to get to the bottom of how things ought to be handled, as well as someone who welcomes corrections when faced with them.

Another easy way to get your way is to ask, “Are you still going to have that assignment/project ready by this Friday?” since it implication that this is something that they should have been working on all along, and to not accept it now would be to admit to a lack of capability to complete the task—and nobody wants to appear to be incompetent (even if all evidence points to the truth of just that). Overall, this passive form of manipulation to get your way by way of asking strategic questions is admittedly best utilized against those occupying a lower rank or expertise than you in the company. When it comes to dealing with higher-ups a more assertive tone is necessary

When the boss asks for your input regarding something the rest of the team hasn’t made up their minds about, always have a readymade reply on hand for any situation. This means staying on top of the trends of the industry you happen to be working in, as well as understanding just basic Management 101 talking points that are freely available literally everywhere. Once you throw an idea on the table you assert an aura of authority on your person. Because you are the one that got the ball rolling it will be easy for you to claim ownership of everything that gets added on to whatever it is you proposed, even if the final contribution sounds completely different from what you said. No matter if it’s better than what you initially said, and no matter whom it was that improved on your idea, do not let up the impression that the entirety of the brainstorming session gets credited to you. The best way to maintain this impression in this situation is to speak in firm statements, and to never allow the talk to end without asserting a quick summary on what was just discussed, while adding your endorsement to the plan.

You might be thinking now, “What if it ends up being a bad idea? I don’t want to get the blame for something that wasn’t even really my idea.” But this is myopic thinking. How often does your boss have a lousy idea, only to never have to deal with the repercussion personally? If we’re being honest, probably quite a lot. The same logic must apply to your reasoning, if you are in fact doing everything to climb the ranks of the company. That conversation in which you took ownership of the new path forward for the company is not the last and final word you will have about the topic. Once everything starts coming together on the project, stay alert to the trajectories that are at play, and keep your interactions with the people who matter in accordance to whatever the numbers tell you. This means that if everything is going well, continue to speak of the project as “my project”; if the numbers look like they aren’t working out as well as expected, dilute the responsibility away from you personally by shifting your language to the “team’s project.” Once again, perception will come into play, and whatever is most repeated will become the fact of the matter.

The important thing to keep in mind in all this is that every move you make, and every word you speak, is by design a power play, and power plays come with some amount of risk. Your goal is to reap the benefits when the risk pays off, and minimize the fallout against yourself if it goes bad.

Oh, and one final thing: always be sure to read the tone between the lines of what’s in front on you, and to always be on lookout for subtle clues of what’s really being presented, and the underlying theme that being highlighted. Or, to put it plainly:

Warning. May contain traces of sarcasm. | Funny quotes, Sarcasm, Quotes

Dexter Morgan: Character Portrayal in Books vs. TV

File:Dexter Logo.svg - Wikimedia Commons

It’s been several years now since Dexter aired it’s series finale on Showtime. Along with most of the viewership, I feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction with how the show decided to end things (more on that later), but at the time it also left me wondering how the story might have progressed if a set of creative forces had taken its reins and run with it. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wonder too much, as there existed a whole series of books that had inspired the TV show just waiting for me to explore, and contrast with its small screen counterpart.

Fair warning for those still binging on Netflix, there are bound to be spoilers below, and now that you’ve been alerted of it [in bold font, no less!], please don’t send me emails complaining about it. Cool? Cool.

If you’ve watched all eight seasons of the Dexter TV show, and then read all 8 books in the Dexter crime thriller series by Jeff Lindsay, you’ll have noticed some key differences in how the two mediums portray the personality and life events of its eponymous main character, Dexter Morgan.

I’m someone who happens to believe that changes to characters and narratives should not be reflexively dismissed as a negative. It is simply a fact that certain means by which a story can be structured within the confines of a book, does not always translate well onto the screen, and vice versa. Writers often have to make adjustments to allow for pacing, as well as the diverse means by which audiences consume either medium, in order to weave together a consistent and coherent plot. To put it simply: sometimes what reads well on paper, doesn’t always work too great when watched on a TV set (or any other screen). And audiences need to be mindful of this when comparing the differences between the two.

With that aside, these are the major difference that jumped out at me between Dexter, as portrayed in the pages of the books, and the TV series inspired by it, as well as the impact these differences hold for the overall narratives for either medium:

  • In the TV show, Dexter goes through a clear character arc where we see his psychopathic nature soften as he starts to identify with the individuals in his life, and humanizes as a result of his interactions with them (at least when comparing Season 1 Dexter, with Season 8 Dexter). In the books, no such arc happens. His outlook is the same in the last book (Dexter is Dead) as it is in the first book (Darkly Dreaming Dexter), that is to say, book Dexter remains as narcissistic and egocentric as he always was through every major life event. Personally, I think this difference works best for each medium. When it comes to books, you can still sympathize with a psychopathic protagonist if the story is written from his point of view, and he’s charmingly humorous about his monstrous behavior to boot. We’re just more forgiving because we experience the first-person account with him from inside his head, and had fun doing it, no matter how “bad” of a person he objectively is. Without a doubt, this wouldn’t work the same on a TV Show, or would be very tricky to pull off properly. Viewers want to know that the story they’re watching is progressing forward, and obvious character growth is a key way to portray that progression, otherwise you risk leaving the audience feeling cheated at getting invested in a character who seemingly has remained unaffected by anything that’s happened to them in the course of all major plot points you spent with them [I’m looking at you, Season 8 Jaime Lannister].
  • In the TV show, the Dark Passenger is just a metaphor Dexter uses to personify his homicidal urges, and in no way supernatural; in contrast, the books take a whole different angle on this whole concept. Book 3 of the series (Dexter in the Dark), makes it clear that the source of all psychopathic tendencies in the world has a supernatural origin, and descends from an ancient sacrificial deity named Moloch. Rather than being a manifestation of his darker urges, Dexter’s Dark Passenger is explained to be an entity existing separate from his own psyche, and is in no ambiguous terms presented as stemming from this supernatural source. It was a weak and nonsensical plot device that divided the fan base when Book 3 first came out, and for that reason gets downplayed in subsequent books. Nevertheless, it’s still there in the subtext and remains weak and nonsensical all throughout the book series’ run, whenever it is referenced again. For those wondering if there is an element of the story the TV show handles better than the books, I would say its interpretation of the Dark Passenger is an obvious winner in that regard. Not only is it more consistent with the tone of the greater narrative at play, it also serves as a better overall characterization of Dexter’s character, as the ultimate responsibility of his nature is still understood to be him at its core, and not the results of some convoluted spiritual influence at the hands of some ancient deity craving for a regular dose of human blood, or whatever.
  • Finally, the finale conclusions are very different. The last book in the series is titled Dexter is Dead, and although a bit of a spoiler in name alone, I found it to be a satisfying enough finish to the character, and recommend it as an overall entertaining read (though you do need to have also read at least the preceding book to understand many of the circumstances and references made throughout the narrative). In contrast, when it comes to the show’s finale, I defy anybody to defend that horrible last episode to me. I won’t go into too much of the details for those who can handle any and all spoilers except ones regarding a series’ closing scenes, but I’ll give a warning that I personally found the show’s finale to be an incoherent mess that spits in the face of all logic and any viewers who stuck around with it to the end (no, I’m not bitter–you’re bitter!). The final book in comparison is a much more fitting conclusion to the narrative, and has no stupid lumberjacks in sight.

I’m sure there are many other differences one could choose to go over, especially regarding secondary character developments (let’s just say, the books are not too kind with how they treat Detective James Doakes; I mean, he survives throughout the run of the books, but it sure ain’t a good life), but I wanted to primarily keep the focus on the character of Dexter himself. Also, maybe low-key intrigue some of the people I know reading this to read up on a few of the books, so I can finally have someone to discuss them with. Hey, a self-centered, narcissistic bookwork can dream, right?

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What if you’re left-leaning politically, but don’t like Joe Biden as a candidate? – A final appeal

Never in the history of the United States have we had a sitting President refuse to give a clear answer to the question of whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of powers were he to lose the election. Donald Trump has repeatedly, and unambiguously made reference to the fact that any outcome in the election which does not declare him the victor should be considered illegitimate, simply because he cannot accept the possibility of him losing the final vote count. This is not normal, acceptable behavior for someone occupying the highest office in the land.

Come next week, it will either be President Biden or President Trump who will be declared the President of the United Stated for the next 4 years. We can cry about our lackluster options all we want, but there is no legitimate third option to choose from in our current election system, and this fact won’t change within the next few days. Anyone who identifies politically with the left (to whatever degree), who thinks that another 4 years of Trump is preferable or equal to a Biden presidency, because of some ideological purity test about needing your political agenda realized all at once or not all, is someone who gives zero shits about actually affecting positive progressive change in this country, or the people they purport to be advocating for in the first place.

With Biden, progressives and left-wingers will still need to work hard to enact reforms and bring about the sociopolitical change we want to see, but at least we have a chance to put political pressure on him and fight for a seat at the table. With Trump, not only is there no seat for us, there isn’t even a damn table! There’s only a podium serving as a bully pulpit from which rights keep getting threatened that have already been fought for and won.

If you lean even slightly to the left, and haven’t voted yet, I implore you to do so this coming Tuesday. Before any reform to the system can be implemented, some sense of normalcy and sanity has to be restored first, and readily handing the presidency over to a man who openly boasts that only election results favorable to him are acceptable, who repeatedly demonizes half the population who happens to politically disagree with him, who had shown careless disregard for public health, and can’t help himself but incite hate and spread misinformation on the topic (and just about every other topic he speaks on), is the worse evil of the choices given that should not be enabled, even passively.