A Good Idea from ... Nietzsche
Botton, Alain de, The Independent (London, England)
THERE SEEMS no more widespread desire than to be happy and free of inner turmoil. But for Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher with the legendary walrus moustache (1844-1900), the wish to be happy was one of the greatest follies to have afflicted mankind. It was not by being happy that people achieved anything of value, which is why, though Nietzsche was always scrupulous about sending his best wishes to the many friends he corresponded with, his deepest longing was for their lives to take an extraordinary turn for the worse: "To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities - I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with self- contempt, self- mistrust and the wretchedness of the vanquished."
It was really not what he wished for his friends: primarily, he wanted them to enjoy health, self-love and victory. It was just that he believed one could not reach these fine things without first passing through negative opposites. At the core of Nietzsche's philosophy lay a belief that pain was a necessary stage on the road to anything good. For instance, acquiring knowledge required an initial painful sense of ignorance, writing a great poem required despair at the first draft, success required envy at others' achievements. By refusing to endure suffering, people cut themselves off from the rich fertiliser of difficulty. There was a polemical edge to his argument. Nietzsche was writing in the late 1870s, when many smugly believed that science would one day be able to bring universal happiness. …