After trying to read alternative philosophical perspectives apart from Friedrich Nietzsche, I have come to the sad conclusion that Nietzsche’s rather blunt and extreme opposition to Western schools of thought may have been entirely justified. Despite the unrepentant mockery and hatred that Nietzsche gets for highlighting existential crises, all he really did was point out the stupidity, repetitiveness, and deep misanthropy that permeates Western philosophy. I had wanted to do more book reviews regarding Western philosophy and the many psychology books that I’ve read but I keep noticing this ridiculousness and I wonder if the reviews would feel repetitive if I broached each individual book. So, I’ll tackle this issue here. Here we go.
Before Nietzsche’s time, this issue with Western philosophy was sadly apparent and thus why I’ve come to the conclusion that Western philosophy sucks. Schopenhauer’s conclusion on a good life was essentially closing oneself off from human society and pondering life. Never mind the lack of any realistic basis for such a stupid concept, as he clearly meant to live by entirely focusing on this and ignoring everything else in life beyond basic necessities, Schopenhauer’s justification was that Black Americans proved their intellectual inferiority to his ideal standard of how to live life, because Black American communities enjoyed community affairs of dancing. Keep in mind, this is before rap and hip-hop – yet, even in that context, his argument would be invalid – and he’s exclusively demonizing all Black Americans for choosing to have a strong community structure with a nightlife that is filled with romantic partners dancing to classical music. This is someone the West considers a profound thinker.
However, Schopenhauer has nothing on the stupidity and racism of Thomas Hobbes. The Hobbesian model of human nature, the idea that every man fights every man in a constant state of nature, is totally false since hunter-gatherer societies were egalitarian, men and women were equal, and the groups shared responsibility based upon who was the most capable in what field. The best hunter led the hunting party, the best preacher led the religious rites, the hunter-gatherers were monogamous (polygamy was a result of the creation of primitive countries where concepts of privilege became more pronounced as a result of changing social conditions and didn’t exist in hunter-gatherer societies), food was shared as a right among people, there were no slaves (they wouldn’t have been able to take care of slaves, much less subdue them in wandering hunter-gatherer tribes), they were very leisurely because lacking food one day meant hunting for it the next day, and they didn’t war. There are a few cases of murder, but those are large outliers and almost totally non-existent in hunter-gatherer societies. Hobbes would have you believe that they were all killing each other indiscriminately because humans are similar to animals. Animals don’t kill indiscriminately, and even animals have submissive tendencies among their pack in the wild to maintain social cohesion among themselves, and thus his thesis was entirely make-believe. But his justification was his own racist and fictitious notions about Native Americans. As typical of Western culture, the more Hobbes celebrated the idea of humans being intrinsically violent, genocidal, and human existence largely being a nihilistic war of all against all, the more this man was celebrated as a deep thinker. Misanthropy sanctified in holistic terms and celebrated as awe-inspiring.
Rousseau, probably regarded as the most humanistic of his time, evidently concluded that European nation-states could never form a European Union because they would all try to mercilessly war with each other for control and that there was no preventing such a problem because of human nature. In other words, no different from the nihilism and misanthropy of his contemporaries. Violence in Western society was deemed inevitable. People after Nietzsche, such as Albert Camus, just found their own nihilistic drivel like the concept of Absurdism. I’d like to believe the essence of all this is the religious idea of “nothing new under the sun” as taught by the Bible but it’s clear that this has existed before that during the time of Socrates. If anything, Socrates himself celebrated this nihilistic drivel by espousing that he knew nothing. No surprise that he put himself in the exact situation where the government of Athens would feel it was legally justified to kill him and he avoided all attempts at getting himself out of his own execution. The intrinsic belief permeating throughout Western culture that humans are defective and thus fated for failure seems to gain universal applause as thought-provoking throughout Western history. No matter what, humans are fated for tragedy, failure, and must constantly observe their own intrinsic negative essence to be closer to God or to accept that they’re too arrogant to be happy. Even with all the successes and might over the entire world, the people of the West can never find happiness and are constantly “reassured” of their negative bias that happiness is a hopeless quest. Please, don’t mistake this for disgust or hate, this is just a constant recurring theme that I’m observing throughout reading, listening, and watching Western culture. A culture that I was born into and raised in. I’m just now waking up to the fact there’s a pathological obsession with self-hate.
This cultural self-hate exists in Western media: from music, to television shows, to documentaries, to film, and much more. Even modern philosophers like the seemingly happy-go-lucky Alain de Botton isn’t immune, he did an entire film on “status anxiety” and concluded that being closer to death was the solution. Sam Harris’s book, Waking Up, tries to teach people to calm down during stress and implicitly accepts that pleasures and happiness are an illusion. I’ve just about had it trying to research and read more in-depth about Western philosophy from past to present and finding this utter drivel. It’s everywhere in Western society. For that matter, the West is only satisfied in incorporating the most negative aspects of Buddhism to reassure itself that all religious faiths think desire and ego are evil and that every culture ubiquitously “understands” the “truth” of human nature’s “flaws” because it’s apparently unavoidable. I’m beginning to wonder if Western philosophy was just “progressed” by the most extreme self-hating idiots to secretly try to convince people to kill themselves because human existence is virtually perceived as either a disease or intrinsically and unavoidably worthless throughout much of these famed writings.
This self-loathing persists to the point where many psychology books written by experts with M.D,’s in psychology almost unanimously wrote about a chapter to reaffirm that seeking happiness is a hopeless endeavor and argue following only your desires is arrogant and evil. Evidently, to be regarded as “serious” in any way, shape, or form by Western audiences, you must either elaborate upon why humans are intrinsically violent/evil/narcissistic or you must maintain that your work is “serious” by insisting that seeking happiness is hopeless and naive. If you challenge this basic assumption, you’re automatically branded a naive idiot or from a primitive culture. Now, do humans suck? How about it depends upon the human being and we shouldn’t label everyone as capable of the actions of Hitler based upon examples like Hitler. To be perfectly frank, this intrinsic and often implicit assumption about the negativity of human nature has very real consequences. Consider the atomic bombings of Japan, Western culture has US citizens believe that atomic bomb droppings were merciful because US soldiers wouldn’t have to come in and continue a war campaign. Now, whether or not you agree with the military aspect of the action is an entirely different subject. The point is that US citizens are led to believe that atomic bombings were an act of mercy based on a choice between continuous war campaigns or two nuclear bombs slaughtering innocents. Neither choice is merciful and to call it merciful is so stupid and dangerous.
Please, before you judge that statement, just think about this thought experiment, okay? Consider a Middle Eastern country with a nuclear weapon bombing a Western country or your country (assuming you don’t live in the West). You see on the news every day as nuclear radiation leaks into your water system and the images of hundreds of men, women, and children suffering and dying from nuclear radiation. The Middle Eastern country’s justification is that they didn’t have conduct an extended war campaign and kill more of your people. They celebrate their actions as an act of mercy. How do you feel? Do you think anything about their justification makes any rational sense? What would you desire to do to that country? Is the violence and justification committed by this act any different from the Boston bombings or 9/11? Now, regardless of who started the war, what do you think the Japanese thought about the nuclear weapons and felt about them? Do you really believe racism didn’t play a factor considering the Japanese encampment during World War 2?
Most importantly, this obsession with human nature being synonymous with evil or negative personal traits seems to be a rash self-justification by people to feel more comfortable with human violence and especially in instances where their country is committing the human violence upon a foreign country. I’ll admit that the majority of Western philosophy seems adept at trying to convince people to kill themselves, but I don’t really see any value beyond that anymore after trying so hard to be objective when reading and watching various material by Western philosophers. It’s no wonder Nietzsche went crazy when trying to create a philosophy about life-affirmation for Europe.
Here’s the most recent example that I’ve come across from a psychology book that tries to delve into philosophy. This specific book. Flow, was so patronizing and redundant in its multiple expositions on hatred for human happiness that I just couldn’t bother to patiently read through most of it after trying to take it seriously. I see this so often in Western literature that it’s completely ridiculous but this specific anecdote is truly disgusting.
It’s a depressing account of what war did to a person from the book Flow. The author intended for some supposedly deep spiritual lesson in the human ability for high concentration referred to as “flow” in conscious experience, but this is exactly the nihilistic self-reverence that Western philosophy consistently tries to celebrate as meaningful when there is nothing meaningful to be gained. In other words: the greater the misanthropy, the more celebrated the so-called deep thinker.
Reyad is a thirty-three-year-old Egyptian who currently sleeps in the parks of Milan, eats in charity kitchens, and occasionally washes dishes for restaurants whenever he needs some cash. When during the interview he was read a description of the flow experience, and was asked if this ever happened to him, he answered:
“Yes. It describes my entire life from 1967 up to now. After the War of 1967 I decided to leave Egypt and start hitchhiking toward Europe. Ever since I have been living with my mind concentrated within myself. It has not been just a trip, it has been a search for identity. Every man has something to discover within himself. The people in my town were sure I was crazy when I decided to start walking to Europe. But the best thing in life is to know oneself…. My idea from 1967 on has remained the same: to find myself. I had to struggle against many things. I passed through Lebanon and its war, through Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Yugoslavia, before getting here. I had to confront all sorts of natural disasters; I slept in ditches near the road in thunderstorms, I was involved in accidents, I have seen friends die next to me, but my concentration has never flagged…. It has been an adventure that so far has lasted twenty years, but it will keep going on for the rest of my life…. Through these experiences I have come to see that the world is not worth much. The only thing that counts for me now, first and last, is God. I am most concentrated when I pray with my prayer beads. Then I am able to put my feelings to sleep, to calm myself and avoid becoming crazy. I believe that destiny rules life, and it makes no sense to struggle too hard…. During my journey I have seen hunger, war, death, and poverty. Now through prayer I have begun to hear myself, I have returned toward my center, I have achieved concentration and I have understood that the world has no value. Man was born to be tested on this earth. Cars, television sets, clothes are secondary. The main thing is that we were born to praise the Lord.
Everyone has his own fate, and we should be like the lion in the proverb. The lion, when he runs after a pack of gazelles, can only catch them one at a time. I try to be like that, and not like Westerners who go crazy working even though they cannot eat more than their daily bread…. If I am to live twenty more years, I will try to live enjoying each moment, instead of killing myself to get more…. If I am to live like a free man who does not depend on anyone, I can afford to go slowly; if I don’t earn anything today, it does not matter. It means that this happens to be my fate. Next day I may earn 100 million— or get a terminal illness. Like Jesus Christ said, What does it benefit to man if he gains the entire world, but loses himself? I have tried first to conquer myself; I don’t care if I lose the world. I set out on this journey like a baby bird hatching from its egg; ever since I have been walking in freedom. Every man should get to know himself and experience life in all its forms. I could have gone on sleeping soundly in my bed, and found work in my town, because a job was ready for me, but I decided to sleep with the poor, because one must suffer to become a man. One does not get to be a man by getting married, by having sex: to be a man means to be responsible, to know when it is time to speak, to know what has to be said, to know when one must stay silent.”
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) (p. 197). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
This is a man who is very clearly suffering the harrowing effects of war trauma but because he’s said life has no value and is totally meaningless, this Western college professor decided that – instead of actually trying to find this man some measure of treatment for his horrible condition – the professor decided to celebrate the man as “profound” and “deep” because . . . the man no longer sees any value in life itself. Does anyone but me see the problem here? Does anyone else see the pernicious nature of this fundamental hatred for life in Western philosophy? Also, consider this, if this man had kept living in Egypt, he would have been regarded with disdain by Westerners and seen as a result of a backwards culture. But because this man moved and made a very meager living in a European country, he’s viewed as a profound thinker instead of a man suffering from mental trauma from prolonged exposure to war. Alain de Botton did similar in his interview with lower-income and jobless Americans in the United States. I recall one particular instance of an old white woman begging on the streets for money to feed her family, the only people who gave her money were Hispanic and white women who felt empathy for her. Men, of all backgrounds, simply drove past her as if she was invisible. De Botton’s conclusion being that people should feel closer to death to avoid status anxiety.
With all of that being said, and as I now regard only Eastern philosophy with any degree of seriousness, here’s some Eastern philosophical writings for those interested. Here is why I liked reading and learning from them better than anything from Western philosophy outside of Nietzsche. That isn’t to say that Eastern philosophy doesn’t have problems; it’s just as broad as Western philosophy but more diverse based on my experience.
I’ll let the philosophical underpinnings speak for themselves:
“Guidance is creative, efficacy develops, people give shape, implements complete. That is why all people honor guidance and value efficacy. The nobility of guidance and the value of efficacy are not granted by anyone, but naturally so of themselves. Guidance creates, nurtures, develops, matures, brings to fruition, nourishes, sustains, and shelters. It is creative without possessiveness, constructive without conceit, develops without coercion; this is called unobtrusive efficacy.”
Tzu, Lao (2012-05-11). The Original Tao Te Ching (Kindle Locations 104-110). . Kindle Edition.
“The Self desires only what is real, thinks nothing but what is true. Here people do what they are told, becoming dependent on their country, or their piece of land, or the desires of another, so their desires are not fulfilled and their works come to nothing, both in this world and in the next. Those who depart from this world without knowing who they are or what they truly desire have no freedom here or hereafter.”
Easwaran, Eknath (2009-06-01). The Upanishads (Classic of Indian Spirituality) (p. 142). Nilgiri Press. Kindle Edition.
“165. By oneself the evil is done, by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone, by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity belong to oneself, no one can purify another.”
Buddha, Gautama (2013-04-22). The Dhammapada (pp. 26-27). Start Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition.
And here is one from Nietzsche, in case anyone is interested in him:
Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the good and just. Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the believers in the orthodox belief. Behold the good and just! Whom do they hate most? Him who breaketh up their tables of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker:–he, however, is the creator. Behold the believers of all beliefs! Whom do they hate most? Him who breaketh up their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker–he, however, is the creator. Companions, the creator seeketh, not corpses–and not herds or believers either. Fellow-creators the creator seeketh–those who grave new values on new tables. Companions, the creator seeketh, and fellow-reapers: for everything is ripe for the harvest with him. But he lacketh the hundred sickles: so he plucketh the ears of corn and is vexed. Companions, the creator seeketh, and such as know how to whet their sickles. Destroyers, will they be called, and despisers of good and evil. But they are the reapers and rejoicers. Fellow-creators, Zarathustra seeketh; fellow-reapers and fellow-rejoicers, Zarathustra seeketh: what hath he to do with herds and herdsmen and corpses! And thou, my first companion, rest in peace! Well have I buried thee in thy hollow tree; well have I hid thee from the wolves. But I part from thee; the time hath arrived. ‘Twixt rosy dawn and rosy dawn there came unto me a new truth. I am not to be a herdsman, I am not to be a grave-digger. Not any more will I discourse unto the people; for the last time have I spoken unto the dead. With the creators, the reapers, and the rejoicers will I associate: the rainbow will I show them, and all the stairs to the Superman. To the lone-dwellers will I sing my song, and to the twain-dwellers; and unto him who hath still ears for the unheard, will I make the heart heavy with my happiness. I make for my goal, I follow my course; over the loitering and tardy will I leap. Thus let my on-going be their down-going!
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2009-08-16). Works of Friedrich Nietzsche (8 books) (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 10819-10841). . Kindle Edition.
8 thoughts on “Western Philosophy Sucks”
My chief point isn’t that humans don’t suck, it’s that the Western philosophical schools use this as a central basis for virtually every single shred of human affairs. There is this psychotic obsession with a fundamental hatred for life. It’s ridiculous and is itself entirely unrealistic from any scientific, anthropological, psychological, and sociological research. Yet, instead of following the evidence, the Western world has tried to conform everything into a confirmation bias that humans will always be unhappy, mass murderers. It’s psychotic and I can’t take it seriously anymore.
What if the western philosophical response is the only genuine response that can be given to the grave situation of the (technological) development of the world? Especially at this point, we find ourselves thrown into a situation with nightmare level features, e.g. a history of numerous atrocities committed to even make it to our current level of progress, with countless others occurring as we type. Without a diminishment of scope, up to the point of myopia, it seems difficult to give an affirmative response. I sympathize with your comportment to the situation, it is overwhelming, but it seems to be the primary mode for western philosophy, either by some irrevocable inner process, or arising from protracted contact with its subject matter (e.g. the state of the world). An attempt to move away from the tone of the response would, most likely, overlook many features of the world, or turn into politics, as it tried to present ways to alter the world or alleviate its problems.
Except the Western world itself is failing to account for it’s own progress in that matter. The majority of mass deaths occurred in the 1800s usually because Imperialists didn’t care about the human rights of the disadvantaged, the West is ignoring its own progress from the industrial era to now in which workers went from being grossly abused to having a decent standard of living, and wars have substantially decreased after the genocidal era of the 1800s and the world wars of the 1900s. The world is becoming more peaceful but the West is obsessed with only categorizing the negative effects as relevant and that ignores all research – conducted by the Western world itself – that runs contrary to this nihilistic frame of reference. It’s as if Westerners simply don’t want to be happy to stay consistent with this inner self-loathing about human nature being evil. No matter what humans do, it’s always labeling everything as evil. This is fundamentally irrational but Western values give you the expectation that being utterly nihilistic is the rational outcome. That is how ridiculous these ideas are. People are obsessed with being unhappy by constantly exaggerating the negatives.
This depends on your stance on the question concerning technology, which to a large extent is concomitant with Nietzsche’s death of god, which he saw, in lieu of the Übermensch, or a revaluation of all values, as having very negative consequences on society as a whole.
Many of the abuses of workers that have been alleviated, have only been alleviated in the developed world, yet, from food to iPads, the developed world depends on the slave labor of developing nations. Likewise, we have seen a shift in many forms of traditional warfare to continuous, asynchronous fourth generation and network-centric warfare, replete with its civilian influencing psychological apparatus, the mass media. There is a continual merging of economics and warfare.
There is plenty of western analytic philosophy that is more optimistic about the technological changes we are currently facing. (Though, in the Nietzschean sense, I would say their tacit assumptions, and final agenda are indeed nihilistic.)
Also the examples of eastern philosophy you have selected are related to spiritual texts, most of which were written BCE. I think it quite possible that there is a selection bias in what philosophers will write about versus what spiritualists will write about, especially when there are thousands of years separating the texts. Schopenhauer, Hobbes, and Rousseau are all relatively modern compared to those spiritual texts, which Nietzsche (like William Blake) tried to approximate in some of his writings.
Believe it or not, the slave labor is substantially less worse than during the imperial era. The West continues to obfuscate the true depth of their mass genocides across the world. A classic case is India, in which Great Britain committed four mass genocides by controlling the grain prices and often exporting the grain thus creating an artificial famine. The death toll was approximately 30 million people. And what was India’s response? Gandhi and seeking peace.
Most of the problems with child labor has decreased thanks to human rights campaigns. Factory workers are still, at the very least, being paid for their work and it’s actually become a problem for the Western world’s future because corporations no longer need to give jobs to Westerners when cheaper options are available in foreign countries. Also, billionaires are now sharing more wealth than ever, with infant mortality decreasing significantly across the world as a result.
Mass media is currently in crisis because it can no longer unilaterally control the narrative of a country anymore, technological warfare – although it presents serious human rights problems and has resulted in a horrendous death count – is still less damaging than the 1800s and 1900s. Wars themselves are still declining for the most part.
I don’t think it’s necessarily selection bias rather than adopting Abrahamic norms and placing their significance upon every aspect of life to the point that people expect unhappiness as the norm.
Also, an unfortunate truth is that the Western world did everything possible to destroy Eastern traditions during the imperial era. They closed down schools, forced people to work in internment camps until disease killed masses of people, and destroyed their civil and cultural livelihood. So, I think we should give the East a pass, in regards to that issue.
That’s fair, I concede that the statistics are in favor of globalization. I have doubts that considerations concerning global statistical well being are in fact Nietzschean, such considerations (looking after the herd, perhaps?) might be closer to bringing about his ‘Last Man’, though I am only mentioning this, not attacking on these grounds.
Still, if we are to be fair to the East, in terms of imperialism, I am not sure what the outcome of globalization is. Some would argue that it is a form of imperialism (though not on utilitarian grounds). I’m not sure I agree, though I can see how it can uproot and undermine culture. What do you think?
It depends on how each developing country adapts capitalism. India and China’s different social circumstances seem to be creating very different outcomes, as an example. While yes, factories are blowing up in all of these countries and people are being paid very poorly, its still better than the 1800s style of imperialism and the foreign leaders are using it to advance their own nation-state’s overall power. According to Samuel P. Huntington, the West is doomed to fail because Western culture’s hegemony was a unique and out of character event in terms of human history as a result of expanded technology, but those days are over. Although, in China’s case, it’s leading to the importation and conversion of Christianity due to feeling their country is lacking in moral scruples as a result of systemic corruption and lack of impact of peaceful protests across the country.