Geniuses and their followers

friedrich-wanderer

Wisdom about the challenge of learning from a great genius and then finding one’s own path. Here is Zarathustra:

“Now I go alone, my disciples, You too, go now, alone. Thus I want it. Go away from me and resist Zarathustra! And even better: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he deceived you. The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies, he must be able to hate his friends. One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a student. And why do you not want to pluck at my wreath? You revere me; but what if your reverence tumbles one day? Beware lest a statue slay you. You say that you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra? You are my believers—but what matter all believers? You have not yet sought yourselves; and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to so little. Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.”

(Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The image is Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” [circa 1818].)

3 thoughts on “Geniuses and their followers

  • March 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm
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    This quote from Zarathustra is a powerful message and warning to those who cannot break free from hero-worship to become fully themselves and who become instead obsequious defenders and apologists for their chosen leader’s ideological creed. This is particularly tragic when the very nature of that creed is to demand independence of thought, personal dedication to ‘the passionate search for passionless truth’ (to quote Ayn Rand). For any ideology worth our worship must demand first our worship of TRUTH before (and as a precondition for) our worship of its ideology. The worst form of ideology is that which arrogantly declares that to seek truth is identical with the embracing of that ideology. Independence of thought and dedication to truth against all pressures from friends, enemies, lovers and teachers, demands the greatest and most profound courage and integrity. I remember one of my favorite lines from the movie “Race for the Double Helix,” where Dr. Rosalind Franklin tells her research assistant: “Raymond, do you know why I love my work?… Because you can love what you find or hate it. It doesn’t matter. You just look and say ‘So that’s how it is.'” That is the true spirit of a great scientist and a great intellect.

  • March 19, 2012 at 7:46 am
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    Warning might also be given about the pseudo-independent man: the individual who — to prove his “independence” — deliberately moves away from wisdom learned initially from another individual, or even undermines that wiser individual at a personal level.

  • March 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm
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    I certainly agree that pseudo-independence is irrational (if not neurotic). The essential issue is that of standing foremost for truth, even if this means changing your opinion on specific issues held by those whom you admire, especially if that person whom you admire is a champion of independent thought. Indeed, such a champion would welcome your disagreement, assuming that it is well-reasoned and authentic.

    There are, of course, pseudo-worshipers, indeed if we try to list all of the ‘pseudo-x’s’ we will be compiling a list of how many ways one can be dishonest at some level. But let us be very careful about accusing any one of false devotion to or false rejection of any ideology or cause. Such accusations can easily collapse into psychologizing, i.e., the irrational attribution of psychological motives to our enemies.

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