Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope: Part 1 – Chapter 5

Hope Is Fucked

In the late nineteenth century, during a mild and glorious summer in the Swiss Alps, a hermetic philosopher, a self-anointed dynamite of mind and spirit, metaphorically came down off his mountaintop and, with his own money, published a book. The book was his gift to mankind, a gift that stood boldly upon the doorstep of the modern world and announced the words that would make the philosopher famous long after his death.

It announced, “God is dead!”—and more. It announced that the echoes of this death would be the harbinger of a new and dangerous age that would challenge us all.

The philosopher spoke these words as a warning. He spoke as a watchman. He spoke for us all.

Yet, the book sold fewer than forty copies.¹


Meta von Salis woke before dawn to light the fire to boil water for the philosopher’s tea. She fetched ice to cool the blankets for his achy joints. She gathered bones from yesterday’s dinner to begin stewing a broth that would settle his stomach. She hand-washed his soiled linens. And soon, he would need his hair cropped and his mustache trimmed, and she realized she had forgotten to fetch a new razor.

This was Meta’s third summer caring for Friedrich Nietzsche and probably, she figured, her last. She loved him—as a brother, that is. (When a mutual friend suggested they marry, they both laughed uproariously . . . and then became nauseated.) But Meta was approaching the limits of her charity.

She had met Nietzsche at a dinner party. She listened to him play piano and tell jokes and rambunctious stories of his antics with his old friend, composer Richard Wagner. Unlike in his writing, Nietzsche was polite and mild in person. He was an affectionate listener. He was a lover of poetry and could recite dozens of verses from memory. He’d sit and play word games for hours, sing songs and make puns.

Nietzsche was disarmingly brilliant. A mind so sharp he could slice a room open with only a few words. Aphorisms that would later become world famous seemed to spill out of him like fogged breath in cold air. “Talking too much about yourself can also be a means to conceal yourself,” he would spontaneously add, quickly silencing the room.²

Meta often found herself speechless in his presence, not because of any overwhelmed emotion, but merely because her mind felt as though it were constantly a few paces behind his and needed a moment to catch up.

Yet, Meta was no intellectual slouch. In fact, she was a badass of her time. Meta was the first woman ever to earn a PhD in Switzerland. She was also one of the world’s leading feminist writers and activists. She spoke four languages fluently and published articles all over Europe arguing for women’s rights, a radical idea at the time. She was well traveled, brilliant, and headstrong.³ And when she stumbled upon Nietzsche’s work, she felt she had finally found someone whose ideas could push women’s liberation out into the world.

Here was a man who argued for the empowerment of the individual, for radical personal responsibility. Here was a man who believed that individual aptitude mattered more than anything, that each human not only deserved expansion into his or her full potential but had the duty to exercise and push for that expansion. Nietzsche put into words, Meta believed, the core ideas and conceptual frameworks that would ultimately empower women and lead them out of their perpetual servitude.

But there was only one problem: Nietzsche wasn’t a feminist. In fact, he found the whole idea of women’s liberation ridiculous.

This didn’t deter Meta. He was a man of reason; he could be persuaded. He simply needed to recognize his own prejudice and be freed from it. She began visiting him regularly, and soon they became close friends and intellectual companions. They spent summers in Switzerland, winters in France and Italy, forays into Venice, quick trips doubling back to Germany and then Switzerland again.

As the years wore on, Meta discovered that behind Nietzsche’s penetrating eyes and gigantic mustache was a bundle of contradictions. He wrote obsessively of power while being himself frail and weak. He preached radical responsibility and self-reliance despite being wholly dependent on (mostly female) friends and family to take care of and support him. He cursed the fickle reviewers and academics who panned his work or refused to read it, while simultaneously boasting that his lack of popular success only proved his brilliance—as he once proclaimed, “My time has not come yet, some men are born posthumously.”⁴

Nietzsche was, in fact, everything he claimed to loathe: weak, dependent, and wholly captivated and reliant on powerful, independent women. Yet, in his work, he preached individual strength and self-reliance, and was a woeful misogynist. His lifelong dependence on the care of women seemed to blur his ability to see them clearly. It would be the glaring blind spot in the vision of an otherwise prophetic man.


If there were a Hall of Fame for “most pain tolerated by a single individual,” I would nominate Nietzsche as one of its first cornerstone inductees. He was continually sick as a child: Doctors applied leeches to his neck and ears and told him to spend hours without moving. He’d inherited a neurological disorder that brought about debilitating migraines throughout his life (and caused him to go mad in middle age). He was also incredibly sensitive to light, unable to go outside without thick blue-tinted glasses, and would be nearly blind by the age of thirty.

As a young man, he would join the military and serve briefly in the Franco-Prussian War. There, he would contract diphtheria and dysentery, which nearly killed him. The treatment at the time was acid enemas, which destroyed his digestive tract. For the rest of his life, he would struggle with acute digestive pain, was never able to eat large meals, and was incontinent for parts of his life. An injury from his cavalry days left parts of his body inflexible and, on his worst days, immovable. He often needed help standing up and would spend months at a time stuck alone in bed, unable to open his eyes due to the pain. In 1880, what he would later call “a bad year,” he was bedridden 260 out of 365 days. He spent most of his life migrating between the French coast in the winter and the Swiss Alps in the summer, as he required mild temperatures to keep his bones and joints from aching.

Meta quickly discovered that she wasn’t the only intellectual woman fascinated by this man. He had a parade of women coming by to take care of him for weeks or months at a time. Like Meta, these women were badasses of their time: They were professors and wealthy landowners and entrepreneurs. They were educated and multilingual and fiercely independent.

And they were feminists, the earliest feminists.

They, too, had seen the liberating message in Nietzsche’s work. He wrote of social structures crippling the individual; feminists argued that the social structures of the age imprisoned them. He denounced the Church for rewarding the weak and mediocre; feminists, too, denounced the Church, for forcing women into marriage and subservience to men. And he dared recast the story of human history not as mankind’s escape from and dominance over nature, but as mankind’s growing ignorance to its own nature. He argued that the individual must empower himself and access ever-higher levels of freedom and consciousness. These women saw feminism as the next step to that higher liberation.

Nietzsche filled them all with hope, and they took turns caring for this deteriorating, broken man, hopeful that the next book, the next essay, the next polemic, would be the one that broke open the floodgates.

But for most of his life, his work was almost universally ignored.

Then Nietzsche announced the death of God, and he went from failing university professor to pariah. He was unemployable and basically homeless. No one wanted anything to do with him: no university, no publisher, not even many of his friends. He scrounged together money to publish his work himself, borrowing from his mother and sister to survive. He relied on friends to manage his life for him. And even then, his books hardly sold a copy.

Yet, despite it all, these women stuck with him. They cleaned him and fed him and carried him. They believed there was something in this decrepit man that could potentially change history. And so, they waited.


A Brief History of the World, According to Nietzsche


Let’s say you drop a bunch of people onto a plot of land with limited resources and have them start a civilization from scratch. Here’s what happens:

Some people are naturally more gifted than others. Some are smarter. Some are bigger and stronger. Some are more charismatic. Some are friendly and get along easily with others. Some work harder and come up with better ideas.

The people with natural advantages will accumulate more resources than others. And because they have more resources, they will have a disproportionate amount of power within this new society. They will be able to use that power to garner more resources and more advantages, and so on—you know, the whole “rich get richer” thing. Run this through enough generations, and pretty soon you have a social hierarchy with a small number of elites at the top and a large number of people getting completely hosed at the bottom. Since the advent of agriculture, all human societies have exhibited this stratification, and all societies must deal with the tension that emerges between the advantaged elite and the disadvantaged masses.⁵

Nietzsche called the elite the “masters” of society, as they have almost complete control over wealth, production, and political power. He called the working masses the “slaves” of society because he saw little difference between a laborer working his whole life for a small sum and slavery itself.⁶

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Nietzsche argued that the masters of society would come to see their privilege as well deserved. That is, they would craft value narratives to justify their elite status. Why shouldn’t they be rewarded for it? It was good they were on top. They deserved it. They were the smartest and strongest and most talented. Therefore, they were the most righteous.

Nietzsche called this belief system, in which those who end up ahead do so because they deserve it, “master morality.” Master morality is the moral belief that people get what they deserve. It’s the moral belief that “might makes right,” that if you earned something through hard work or ingenuity, you deserve it. No one can take that from you; nor should they. You are the best, and because you’ve demonstrated superiority, you should be rewarded for it.

Conversely, Nietzsche argued, the “slaves” of society would generate a moral code of their own. Whereas the masters believed they were righteous and virtuous because of their strength, the slaves of society came to believe that they were righteous and virtuous because of their weakness. Slave morality believes that people who have suffered the most, those who are the most disadvantaged and exploited, deserve the best treatment because of that suffering. Slave morality believes that it’s the poorest and most unfortunate who deserve the most sympathy and the most respect.

Whereas master morality believes in the virtue of strength and dominance, slave morality believes in the virtue of sacrifice and submission. While master morality believes in the necessity of hierarchy, slave morality believes in the necessity of equality. While master morality is generally represented by right-wing political beliefs, slave morality is usually found in left-wing political beliefs.⁷

We all contain both these moralities within us. Imagine you’re in a class at school and you study your ass off and get the highest test score. And because you got the highest test score, you’re awarded benefits due to your success. You feel morally justified having those benefits; after all, you worked hard and earned them. You are a “good” student and a “good” person for being a good student. This is master morality.

Now imagine that you have a classmate. This classmate has eighteen siblings, all being raised by a single mother. This classmate works multiple part-time jobs and is never able to study because she is literally putting food on the table for her brothers and sisters. She fails the same exam that you passed with flying colors. Is that fair? No, it’s not. You would probably feel that she deserves some sort of special exception due to her situation—maybe a chance to retake the test or to take it at a later date, when she has time to study for it. She deserves this because she is a “good” person for her sacrifices and disadvantages. This is slave morality.

In Newtonian terms, master morality is the intrinsic desire to create a moral separation between ourselves and the world around us. It is the desire to create moral gaps with us on top. Slave morality is, then, an intrinsic desire to equalize, to close the moral gap and alleviate suffering. Both are fundamental components of our Feeling Brain’s operating system. Both generate and perpetuate strong emotions. And both give us hope.

Nietzsche argued that the cultures of the ancient world (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Indian, and so on) were master morality cultures. They were structured to celebrate strength and excellence even at the expense of millions of slaves and subjects. They were warrior civilizations; they celebrated guts, glory, and bloodshed. Nietzsche also argued that the Judeo-Christian ethic of charity, pity, and compassion ushered slave morality to prominence, and continued to dominate Western civilization up through his own time. For Nietzsche, these two value hierarchies were in constant tension and opposition. They were, he believed, at the root of all political and social conflict throughout history.

And, he warned, that conflict was about to get much worse.


Each religion is a faith-based attempt to explain reality in such a way that it gives people a steady stream of hope. In a kind of Darwinian competition, those religions that mobilize, coordinate, and inspire their believers the most are those that win out and spread throughout the world.⁸

In the ancient world, pagan religions built on master morality justified the existence of emperors and warrior-kings who swept across the planet, expanding and consolidating territory and people. Then, about two thousand years ago, slave morality religions emerged and slowly began to take their place. These new religions were (usually) monotheistic and were not limited to one nation, race, or ethnic group. They preached their message to everyone because their message was one of equality: all people were either born good and later corrupted or were born sinners and had to be saved. Either way, the result was the same. Everyone, regardless of nation, race, or creed, had to be converted in the name of the One True God.⁹

Then, in the seventeenth century, a new religion began to emerge in Europe, a religion that would unleash forces more powerful than anything seen in human history.

Every religion runs into the sticky problem of evidence. You can tell people all this great stuff about God and spirits and angels and whatnot, but if the entire town burns down and your kid loses an arm in a fishing accident, well, then . . . oops. Where was God?

Throughout history, authorities have expended a lot of effort to hide the lack of evidence supporting their religion and/or to punish anyone who dared question the validity of their faith-based values. It’s for this reason that, like most atheists, Nietzsche loathed spiritual religions.

Natural philosophers, as scientists were called in Isaac Newton’s time, decided that the most reliable faith-based beliefs were those that had the most evidence supporting them. Evidence became the God Value, and any belief that was no longer supported by evidence had to be altered to account for the new observed reality. This produced a new religion: science.

Science is arguably the most effective religion because it is the first religion that is able to evolve and improve upon itself. It is open to anybody and everybody. It is not moored to a single book or creed. It is not beholden to some ancient land or people. It is not tethered to a supernatural spirit whose existence cannot be proven or disproven. It is an ongoing, ever-changing body of evidence-based beliefs, one that is free to mutate, grow, and shift as the evidence dictates.

The scientific revolution changed the world more than anything before or since.¹⁰ It has reshaped the planet, lifted billions out of disease and poverty, and improved every aspect of life.¹¹ It is not an exaggeration to suggest that science may be the only demonstrably good thing humanity has ever done for itself. (Thank you, Francis Bacon, thank you, Isaac Newton, you fucking titans.) Science is singularly responsible for all the greatest inventions and advances in human history, from medicine and agriculture to education and commerce.

But science did something else even more spectacular: it introduced to the world the concept of growth. For most of human history, “growth” wasn’t a thing. Change occurred so slowly that everyone died in pretty much the same economic condition they were born in. The average human from two thousand years ago experienced about as much economic growth in his lifetime as we experience in six months today.¹² People would live their entire lives, and nothing changed—no new developments, inventions, or technologies. People would live and die on the same land, among the same people, using the same tools, and nothing ever got better. In fact, things like plagues and famine and war and dickhead rulers with large armies often made everything worse. It was a slow, grueling, miserable existence.

And with no prospect for change or a better life in this lifetime, people drew their hope from spiritual promises of a better life in the next lifetime. Spiritual religions flourished, and dominated daily life. Everything revolved around the Church (or synagogue or temple or mosque or whatever). Priests and holy men were the arbiters of social life because they were the arbiters of hope. They were the only ones who could tell you what God wanted, and God was the only one who could promise any salvation or a better future. Therefore, these holy men dictated everything that was of value in society.

Then science happened, and shit got cray-cray. Microscopes and printing presses and internal combustion engines and cotton gins and thermometers and, finally, some goddamn medicine that actually worked. Suddenly, life got better. More important, you could see life getting better. People used better tools, had access to more food, were healthier, and made more money. Finally, you could look back ten years and say, “Whoa! Can you believe we used to live like that?”

And that ability to look back and see progress, see growth happen, changed how people viewed the future. It changed how they viewed themselves. Forever.

Now, you didn’t have to wait until death to improve your lot. You could improve it here and now. And this implied all sorts of wonderful things. Freedom, for one: How were you going to choose to grow today? But also responsibility: because you could now control your own destiny, you had to take responsibility for that destiny. And of course, equality: because if a big patriarchal God isn’t dictating who deserves what, that must mean that either no one deserves anything or everyone deserves everything.

These were concepts that had never been voiced before. With the prospect of so much growth and change in this life, people no longer relied on spiritual beliefs about the next life to give them hope. Instead, they began to invent and rely upon the ideological religions of their time.

This changed everything. Church doctrines softened. People stayed home on Sundays. Monarchs conceded power to their subjects. Philosophers began to openly question God—and somehow weren’t burned alive for doing so. It was a golden age for human thought and progress. And incredibly, the progress begun in that age has only accelerated and continues to accelerate to this day.


The scientific revolution eroded the dominance of spiritual religions and made way for the dominance of ideological religions. And this is what concerned Nietzsche. Because for all of the progress and wealth and tangible benefits that ideological religions produce, they lack something that spiritual religions do not: infallibility.

Once believed in, a supernatural deity is impervious to worldly affairs. Your town could burn down. Your mother could make a million dollars and then lose it all again. You could watch wars and diseases come and go. None of these experiences directly contradicts a belief in a deity, because supernatural entities are evidence-proof. And while atheists see this as a bug, it can also be a feature. The robustness of spiritual religions means that the shit could hit the proverbial fan, and your psychological stability would remain intact. Hope can be preserved because God is always preserved.¹³

Not so with ideologies. If you spend a decade of your life lobbying for certain governmental reform, and then that reform leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, that’s on you. That piece of hope that sustained you for years is shattered. Your identity, destroyed. Hello darkness, my old friend.

Ideologies, because they’re constantly challenged, changed, proven, and then disproven, offer scant psychological stability upon which to build one’s hope. And when the ideological foundation of our belief systems and value hierarchies is shaken, it throws us into the maw of the Uncomfortable Truth.

Nietzsche was on top of this before anybody else. He warned of the coming existential malaise that technological growth would bring upon the world. In fact, this was the whole point of his “God is dead” proclamation.

“God is dead” was not some obnoxious atheistic gloating, as it is usually interpreted today. No. It was a lament, a warning, a cry for help. Who are we to determine the meaning and significance of our own existence? Who are we to decide what is good and right in the world? How can we bear this burden?

Nietzsche, understanding that existence is inherently chaotic and unknowable, believed that we were not psychologically equipped to handle the task of explaining our cosmic significance. He saw the spate of ideological religions that spewed forth in the Enlightenment’s wake (democracy, nationalism, communism, socialism, colonialism, etc.) as merely postponing the inevitable existential crisis of mankind. And he hated them all. He found democracy to be naïve, nationalism stupid, communism appalling, colonialism offensive.¹⁴

Because, in a kind of backward Buddhist way, Nietzsche believed that any worldly attachment—to gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, or history—was a mirage, a make-believe faith-based construct designed to suspend us high over the chasm of the Uncomfortable Truth by a thin rope of meaning. And ultimately, he believed that all these constructs were destined to conflict with one another and cause far more violence than they solved.¹⁵

Nietzsche predicted coming conflicts between the ideologies built on master and slave moralities.¹⁶ He believed that these conflicts would wreak greater destruction upon the world than anything else seen in human history. He predicted that this destruction would not be limited to national borders or different ethnic groups. It would transcend all borders; it would transcend country and people. Because these conflicts, these wars, would not be for God. They would be between gods.

And the gods would be us.


Pandora’s Box


In Greek mythology, the world started out with only men.¹⁷ Everyone drank a lot and didn’t do any work. It was one big, everlasting frat party. The ancient Greeks called this “paradise.” But if you ask me, it sounds like a special kind of hell.

The gods, recognizing that this was a fairly boring state of affairs, decided to spice up the situation a bit. They wanted to create a companion for mankind, someone who would command the men’s attention, someone who would introduce complication and uncertainty to the easy life of shotgunning beer cans and playing foosball all night.

So, they decided to create the first woman.

For this project, every one of the major gods helped out. Aphrodite gave her beauty. Athena gave her wisdom. Hera gave her the ability to create a family. Hermes gave her charismatic speech. On and on, the gods installed gifts and talents and intrigues into woman like apps in a new iPhone.

The result was Pandora.

The gods sent Pandora to earth to introduce competition and sex and babies and arguments about the toilet seat. But the gods did something else, too: they sent her with a box. It was a beautiful box, embossed in gold and covered in intricate and delicate designs. The gods told Pandora to give the box to men, but also instructed her that it could never be opened.

Spoiler alert: people suck. Somebody opened Pandora’s box—surprise, surprise, the men would all blame the woman for it—and out flew all the evils into the world: death, disease, hatred, envy, and Twitter. The bucolic sausage party was no more. Now men could kill each other. And, more important, now men had something to kill each other for: women, and the resources that attracted women. Thus, began the stupid dick-measuring contest also known as human history.

Wars started. Kingdoms and rivalries arose. Slavery happened. Emperors started conquering one another, leaving hundreds of thousands slaughtered in their wake. Entire cities were built and then destroyed. Meanwhile, women were treated as property, traded and bartered among the men like fancy goats or something.¹⁸

Basically, humans started being humans.

Everything appeared to be fucked. But in the bottom of that box there remained something shiny and beautiful.

There remained hope.


There are many interpretations of the Pandora’s box myth, the most common being that while the gods punished us with all the evils of the world, they also equipped us with the one antidote to those evils: hope. Think of it as the yin and the yang of mankind’s eternal struggle: everything is always fucked, but the more fucked things become, the more we must mobilize hope to sustain and overcome the world’s fuckedness. This is why heroes such as Witold Pilecki inspire us: their ability to muster enough hope to resist evil reminds us that all of us are capable of resisting evil.

The sickness may spread, but so does the cure, because hope is contagious. Hope is what saves the world.

But here’s another, less popular interpretation of the Pandora’s box myth: What if hope is not the antidote to evil? What if hope is just another form of evil? What if hope just got left in the box?¹⁹

Because hope didn’t just inspire Pilecki’s heroics. Hope also inspired the Communist revolutions and the Nazi genocides. Hitler hoped to exterminate the Jews to bring about an evolutionarily superior human race. The Soviets hoped to instigate a global revolution to unite the world in true equality under communism. And let’s be honest, most of the atrocities committed by the Western, capitalist societies over the past one hundred years were done in the name of hope: hope for greater global economic freedom and wealth.

Like a surgeon’s scalpel, hope can save a life, and hope can take a life. It can uplift us, and it can destroy us. Just as there are healthy and damaging forms of confidence, and healthy and damaging forms of love, there are also healthy and damaging forms of hope. And the difference between the two is not always clear.


So far, I’ve argued that hope is fundamental to our psychology, that we need to (a) have something to look forward to, (b) believe ourselves in control of our fate enough to achieve that something, and (c) find a community to achieve it with us. When we lack one or all of these for too long, we lose hope and spiral into the void of the Uncomfortable Truth.

Experiences generate emotions. Emotions generate values. Values generate narratives of meaning. And people who share similar narratives of meaning come together to generate religions. The more effective (or affective) a religion, the more industrious and disciplined the adherents. And the more industrious and disciplined the adherents, the more likely the religion is to spread to other people, to give them a sense of self-control and a feeling of hope. These religions grow and expand and eventually define in-groups versus out-groups, create rituals and taboos, and spur conflict between groups with opposing values. These conflicts must exist because they maintain the meaning and purpose for people within the group.

Therefore, it is the conflict that maintains the hope.

So, we’ve got it backward: everything being fucked doesn’t require hope; hope requires everything being fucked.

The sources of hope that give our lives a sense of meaning are the same sources of division and hate. The hope that brings the most joy to our lives is the same hope that brings the greatest danger. The hope that brings people closest together is often the same hope that tears them apart.

Hope is, therefore, destructive. Hope depends on the rejection of what currently is.

Because hope requires that something be broken. Hope requires that we renounce a part of ourselves and/or a part of the world. It requires us to be anti-something.

This paints an unbelievably bleak picture of the human condition. It means that our psychological makeup is such that our only choices in life are either perpetual conflict or nihilism—tribalism or isolation, religious war or the Uncomfortable Truth.


Nietzsche believed that none of the ideologies generated by the scientific revolution would hold up in the long run. He believed that, one by one, they would slowly kill each other off and/or collapse from within. Then, after a couple of centuries, the real existential crisis would begin. Master morality would have been corrupted. Slave morality would have imploded. We would have failed ourselves. For human frailties are such that everything we produce must be impermanent and unreliable.

Nietzsche instead believed that we must look beyond hope. We must look beyond values. We must evolve into something “beyond good and evil.” For him, this morality of the future had to begin with something he called amor fati, or “love of one’s fate”: “My formula for greatness in a human being,” he wrote, “is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.”²⁰

Amor fati, for Nietzsche, meant the unconditional acceptance of all life and experience: the highs and the lows, the meaning and the meaninglessness. It meant loving one’s pain, embracing one’s suffering. It meant closing the separation between one’s desires and reality not by striving for more desires, but by simply desiring reality.

It basically meant: hope for nothing. Hope for what already is—because hope is ultimately empty. Anything your mind can conceptualize is fundamentally flawed and limited and therefore damaging if worshipped unconditionally. Don’t hope for more happiness. Don’t hope for less suffering. Don’t hope to improve your character. Don’t hope to eliminate your flaws.

Hope for this. Hope for the infinite opportunity and oppression present in every single moment. Hope for the suffering that comes with freedom. For the pain that comes from happiness. For the wisdom that comes from ignorance. For the power that comes from surrender.

And then act despite it.

This is our challenge, our calling: To act without hope. To not hope for better. To be better. In this moment and the next. And the next. And the next.

Everything is fucked. And hope is both the cause and the effect of that fuckedness.

This is hard to swallow, because weaning ourselves off the sweet nectar of hope is like pulling a bottle away from a drunk. Without it, we believe we’ll fall back into the void and be swallowed by the abyss. The Uncomfortable Truth frightens us, and so we spin stories and values and narratives and myths and legends about ourselves and the world to keep that truth at bay.

But the only thing that frees us is that truth: You and I and everyone we know will die, and little to nothing that we do will ever matter on a cosmic scale. And while some people fear that this truth will liberate them from all responsibility, that they’ll go snort an eight ball of cocaine and play in traffic, the reality is that this truth scares them because it liberates them to responsibility. It means that there’s no reason to not love ourselves and one another. That there’s no reason to not treat ourselves and our planet with respect. That there’s no reason to not live every moment of our lives as though it were to be lived in eternal recurrence.²¹


The second half of this book is an attempt to understand what a life without hope might look like. The first thing I’ll say is that it’s not as bad as you think. In fact, I believe it is better than the alternative.

The second half of this book is also an honest look at the modern world and everything that is fucked with it. It’s an evaluation done in the hope not of fixing it, but of coming to love it.

Because we must break out of our cycle of religious conflict. We must emerge from our ideological cocoons. We must let the Feeling Brain feel, but deny it the stories of meaning and value that it so desperately craves. We must stretch beyond our conception of good and evil. We must learn to love what is.


Amor Fati


It was Meta’s last day in Sils Maria, Switzerland, and she planned to spend as much of it as she could outdoors.

Friedrich’s favorite walk was around the east bank of Lake Silvaplana, half a kilometer from town. The lake was a shimmering, crystalline thing this time of year, wreathed by the mountains on a horizon pulverized by white peaks. It was on walks around this lake that he and Meta had first bonded four summers ago. This was how she wanted to spend her last day with him. This was how she wanted to remember him.

They left shortly after breakfast. The sun was perfect, and the air was silky. She led, and he hobbled along behind her with his walking stick. They passed barns and fields of cattle and a small sugar beet farm. Friedrich joked that the cows would be his most intellectual companions once Meta left. The two laughed and sang and picked walnuts as they went.

They stopped and ate around noon, beneath a larch tree. It was then that Meta began to worry. They had come far in their excitement. Much farther than she had anticipated. And now she could see that Friedrich was struggling, both physically and mentally, to keep it together.

The walk back was arduous for him. He dragged noticeably now. And the reality of her leaving the next morning fell over them like an ominous moon, a pall upon their words.

He had grown grumpy, and achy. The stops were frequent. And he began muttering to himself.

Not like this, Meta thought. She didn’t want to leave him like this, but she must.

It was late afternoon by the time they approached the village. The sun was waning, and the air was now a burden. Friedrich lagged by a good twenty meters, yet Meta knew the only way to get him all the way home was by not stopping for him.

They passed the same sugar beet farm, the same barn and the same cattle, his new companions.

“What was that?” Friedrich shouted. “Where has God gone, you say?”

Meta turned around and knew what she would find before she even saw it: Friedrich, walking stick waving in the air, shouting maniacally at a small group of cows chewing in front of him.

“I shall tell you,” he said, breathing heavily. He raised his stick and gestured to the mountains around. “We have killed him—you and I! We are his murderers. But how have we done this?”

The cows chewed placidly. One swatted a fly with its tail.

“How were we able to drink up the seas? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Are we not perpetually falling in all directions? Are we not straying as though through some Infinite nothing?”²²

“Friedrich, this is silly,” Meta said, trying to grab his sleeve and pull him along. But he yanked his arm away; there was madness in his eyes.²³

“Where is God? God is Dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him,” he declared.

“Please, stop this nonsense, Friedrich. Come on, let’s go to the house.”

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?”

Meta shook her head. It was no use. This was it. This was how it would end. She began to walk away.

“What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Silence. A moo rang out in the distance.

“Man is a rope, tied between beast and Superman—a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture [to something greater.]”²⁴

The words struck her. She turned and locked her gaze on his. It was this idea of man being an overture to something greater that had drawn her to Nietzsche so many years ago. It was this thought that had intellectually seduced her, because, for her, feminism and women’s liberation (her ideological religion) were that “something greater.” But, she realized, to Nietzsche, it was simply another construct, another conceit, another human failure, another dead god.

Meta would go on and do great things. In Germany and Austria, she would organize marches for women’s suffrage—and achieve it. She would inspire thousands of women worldwide to stand up for their own god projects, for their own redemption, their own liberation. She would quietly, anonymously, change the world. She would liberate and free more human beings than Nietzsche and most other “great” men, yet she would do this from the shadows, from the backstage of history. Indeed, today, she is known mostly for being the friend of Friedrich Nietzsche—not as a star of women’s liberation, but as a supporting character in a play about a man who correctly prophesized a hundred years of ideological destruction. Like a hidden thread, she would hold the world together, despite being barely seen and quickly forgotten.

She would go on, though. She knew she would. She must go on and attempt to cross the abyss, as we all must do; to live for others despite still not knowing how to live for herself.

“Meta,” Nietzsche said.


“I love those who do not know how to live,” he said. “For they are the ones who cross over.”


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