Thursday, January 06, 2011

Willing the Void

"Man would rather will the void than be void of will." That's what Nietsche wrote for the final sentence of The Genealogy of Morals. As usual, Friedrich spotlights an uncomfortable human quality.

Some parents of adolescents notice how often their children will do something self-destructive of their own choice rather than take the healthier action proposed by a parent or other authority figure. Like the terrible twos, adolescence is another period when human beings feel the compulsion to exercise their will for good or ill.

Of course some people never get over the need to overuse their will. I continue to be surprised in life when I run into people who insist on making decisions even about things they know little about. The urge to have an opinion, however poorly formed or misguided, and to impose it on others is irresistable to each of us from time to time - and to some people far too often. Some people would rather be wrong and suffer terrible consequences than let others decide for them - or even let others decide for themselves.

This compulsion is not as widely recognized as it ought to be because it makes so little sense, is so difficult to reconcile with our popular conceptions of human nature. Why would people do this if we are reasonable or spiritual beings?

Likewise, that some people suffer from this affliction (or more accurately inflict it on everyone around them) while others rarely behave this way is yet another example that refutes the idea that we're all the same. There are crucial patterns of differences among people, mental subspecies of the human species, and the unrecognized conflicts among these nongenetic subspecies cause untold suffering in the world.

Reasonable people can usually sympathize with the occasional frustrated cry of "Let me drive," but when the same people always insists on being in charge (and often with an aggrieved air), patience wears thin. Anyone who has served on committees or attended panel discussions is familiar with the type, the one who can't share control.

The Greeks noted that democracy only works when you have a demos (people) fit to kratein (rule). Among the requirements of being fit to rule is knowing when to let other people make decisions - which should be most of the time in any properly functioning democracy. True democracy in this more sophisticated Athenian sense rquires more than elections and polls, requires more than everyone getting a say. It also requires that people lead where they have expertise and needs but follow when they don't.

Whether in democracy, aristocracy, or tyranny, to be an effective ruler requires that we create the conditions in which we are not usually the one making the decisions. To rule effectively requires the ability and propensity to follow as well as to lead.


Anonymous said...

It's funny how many people intuitively grasp this principle as it applies to private relationships like friendship or marriage but can't manage it in more public contexts like business, religion, or politics. Maybe we can share only when our need to be loved overwhelms our need to be the boss.

Rick Saling said...

Check out the Zapatista slogan "mandar obedeciendo": it expresses their unusual concept of leadership (you can Google it).