Remaining bitter is easy. Getting better is difficult. Disposition is key, but how do we get to a place where we’re finally able to use the key effectively? How do we achieve a state of awareness where, instead of the key ineffectively turning our emotions despite us, we’re able to turn the key despite fate?
In order to really get down to it, our disposition itself must be dissected. Our disposition is our outlook, our root nature, our essential character, our general temperament, and our basic personality. And you simply cannot discuss such things without touching on the concept of morality. And perhaps nobody in history has broken down the concept of morality as ruthlessly as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche dared go “beyond good and evil” with his concept of “master morality” which weighs actions on a scale of good or bad consequences (strong, courageous, proactive, and powerful), unlike “slave morality” which weighs actions on a scale of good or evil intentions (weak, cowardly, timid and petty). The problem, of course, is that “power tends to corrupt,” so even the master morality, although much preferred to slave morality, must itself be checked somehow, lest “power corrupt absolutely.”
Nietzsche inadvertently went beyond even the good and bad of master-morality with his idea of the Übermensch and his idea of self-overcoming. And if we take his idea one step further, we get a morality of self-overcoming that goes beyond both good and evil (slave) and good and bad (master). This type of morality seems inevitably to lead to existential resilience, and what I call recycled mastery.
Here’s the thing: If we are covertly (unconsciously, blindly) moral, there’s the tendency to fall victim to a slave morality: that is to say, a mentality of re-sentiment to whatever the current ideal of mastery is. And if we are overtly (consciously, willfully) moral, we run the risk of becoming overly prideful and self-serious with both our direct and our indirect power which, even with the best intentions, could inadvertently lead to covert immorality through unforeseen corruption.
But there is a third option: Rise above the linear mastery of the slave-master morality dynamic and embrace the cyclical mastery of a self-overcoming, amoral existentialist wielding recycled mastery. Let’s break it down…
Get (remain) bitter: nihilistic defeatism and linear mastery
“Real compassion kicks butt and takes names and is not pleasant on certain days. If you are not ready for this FIRE, then find a new-age, sweetness and light, perpetually smiling teacher and learn to relabel your ego with spiritual sounding terms. But, stay away from those who practice REAL COMPASSION, because they will fry your ass, my friend.” ~ Ken Wilber
Bitterness, in all manner of things, derives from a negative disposition toward reality. Life is usually not what we expected, but bitterness leaves us drowning in those unmet expectations, and clinging to what “should” have been. Whether we’re jaded about unrequited love or devastated by heartbreak or just nihilistic in our general disposition, bitterness can creep in and before we know it our lives become puppets to apathy and the mere playthings of ennui. As Osho warned, “Mind: a beautiful servant, a dangerous master.”
And so if we’re not careful, the nihilistic defeatism of slave morality sinks its invisible claws into our souls. Such defeatism is characterized by pessimism and cynicism. This defeatist disposition keeps us in a state of despondency where we’re just trying to get through the day, indifferent to the current state of affairs, and blindly tolerable to whoever is in charge (the masters), no matter how ridiculous or immoral their rules are. No matter how outdated their laws are. No matter how much ecocide is committed by the machinery of their so called mastery.
In such a state of nihilistic defeatism, our indifference leads to apathy, and our apathy keeps us painfully unable to experience empathy. And when we cannot experience empathy, we cannot even fathom anything beyond the slave-master dynamic. We inadvertently kowtow to the slave-master cultural ideal of linear mastery, not realizing that such a cultural ideal keeps the majority of us in rusted chains and the “lucky” minority of us in gilded chains, but chained nonetheless. We break these bitter chains by realizing that true mastery is not mastering others, but mastering the self.
A huge step in getting better is training our mind to become our servant rather than our master. When our mind becomes our servant, we’re less likely to become a victim of linear mastery. We’re less likely to become bitter. We’re less likely to become nihilistic and defeatist.
And we’re more likely to question things, to be flexible in our disposition, to be empathetic to the interconnectedness of all things, and to recycle our mastery with a self-overcoming morality rather than remain victims to the linearity of slave-master morality. As Sarah Lewis said in The Rise, “Masters are not masters because they take a subject to its conceptual end. They are masters because they realize that there isn’t one. On utterly smooth ground, the path from aim to attainment is in the permanent future.”
Get (become) better: existential resilience and recycled mastery
“You don’t become completely free by just avoiding being a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.” ~ Naseem Nicholas Taleb
True mastery is not mastering others, but mastering our former self. We break the chains of linear mastery by embracing a self-overcoming morality. Self-overcoming morality is a flavor of morality that perpetuates itself to go beyond notions of good and evil or right and wrong, and to embrace the immediate interconnected notion of healthy and unhealthy.
It’s being moral despite what the slave-master dynamic claims to be moral. It’s rising above slave-master morality and embracing morality with an interdependent stance, rather than with a dependent, codependent, or even independent stance. Such a stance nixes unhealthy, self-defeating nihilism and brings about a healthy state of existential resiliency.
“Existentialism,” according to Herbert Read, “is eliminating all systems of idealism, all theories of life or being that subordinate man to an idea, to an abstraction of some sort. It is also eliminating all systems of materialism that subordinate man to the operation of physical and economic laws. It is saying that man is the reality – not even man in the abstract, but the human person, you and I; and that everything else – freedom, love, reason, God – is a contingency depending on the will of the individual. In this respect, existentialism has much in common with Max Stirner’s anarchy.”
Here’s the thing: self-seriousness all too often leads to certainty, which all too often leads to a rigid mindset (whether nihilistic or pietistic). Existential resilience pokes holes in certainty and mocks seriousness so as to avoid the tautology of self-seriousness and the dogmatism of self-certainty. Indeed. Better to shoot yourself in the foot avoiding a rigid mindset, than to be seemingly sure-footed and succumb to one.
Existential resilience helps us reach the best of times by getting us through the worst of times by using trial and error as fuel to continue our journey. As Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen said, “The real struggle of the heroic individual is not solely to liberate himself from conflict with society, but rather to use the conflict within himself as a source for self-regeneration.” The result of such self-regeneration is a state of self-overcoming which leads to a state of recycled mastery.
Recycling the mastery is a kind of intellectual catharsis. It is the means by which the repressed or undigested slave-master morality of linear mastery is metabolized and the inactive nutrients held up within the repression is recycled back into the individual self-overcoming process. When we recycle the mastery we are free to challenge the slave morality, the master morality, and the illusion of power that fluctuates between. We allow it all to decay through our own catharsis so as to be reabsorbed into a flexible disposition. We free ourselves to, as Eliezer Yudkowsky said, “become more ethical than the society we grew up in.”
Through recycled mastery we’re free to stand on the shoulders of giants, to wear the masks of the gods, and to turn the tables on the powers that be by getting power over power.
As Mark Caine said, “The first step toward mastery is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.” The environment in which we find ourselves is one of slave-master linearity. Let’s refuse to be captives of it. Let’s courageously evolve. Let’s reveal our hidden existential resilience. Let’s recycle the mastery.