Becoming the Overman: Nietzsche’s Path to Transformation

Nietzsche’s transformation includes three main stages: the camel stage of putting into traditional values into action; the lion stage of challenging and overcoming useless or obsolete values and replacing those with new values; and the child stage of living the new values. Those who are not already capable of effectively handling their daily lives cannot hope to transform themselves by these processes. Those who have fully developed and become competent individuals, though, can take on these processes of transformation to rise above the standard level of functioning and become creators. When a person is ready to take on such transformation, they are ready to enter the camel stage.

The camel stage is presumably called such because it is a long journey. When a person has developed into an adult, they may have already begun this process of taking on the values of their culture and society. In the camel stage, a person works towards perfecting their ability to live according to these values and take them on as a sort of second nature. Living deliberately and making informed, conscious decisions, as opposed to simply reacting and responding to the world thoughtlessly or carelessly, develops a person such that they are disciplined and able to apply themselves to life. When the person has learned to rely on self-discipline to live intentionally, they become ready to challenge their traditional values in the lion stage of development.

The lion is a fierce and wild animal capable of taking on opponents as fierce and dangerous. The lion challenges what Nietzsche calls the dragon, traditional values. Having lived by these values, the person can make decisions about what is practical and reasonable and what aids or inhibits their ability to live as they want to. This can be called the “free-spirit metamorphosis” because a self-sufficient person who has successfully embodied traditional values has reached a point at which they are able to view values critically and make informed choices about what should be valued. Persons who are not able to embody traditional values do not have a point of reference from which they can discern value. In the free-spirit metamorphosis, a person can revaluate, discarding values that are useless or obsolete and replacing those with values that serve the person’s drives more fully. When the person has parted with these useless values and created those that take him/her to where he/she wants to go, they are read to move on to the child stage.

The child stage is a time when the person is able to enjoy the fruit of their labor, so to speak. Having become disciplined and having created values that serve their higher purpose, the person can live by their values in a “lighthearted, carefree” way. The child is innocent and joyful and does not have to exert great effort to live by the values that have become second nature. The child is not concerned with social norms and is not reactive to the world around him/her, but rather acts on the world outside according to his/her values, embodying his/her virtue and following his/her own drives.

In order to make serious strides in my own character transformation, I believe that the most important tasks at hand include developing a mastery of traditional values and skills and gaining more extensive knowledge of the world around me and the people in it. I especially need to develop my skills in maintaining honest and open relations with my friends and acquaintances and my skills in fostering a sense of respect and compassion for the people around me. I also need to further my education, formal and otherwise, and further develop my level of self-discipline as it pertains to time management and the willingness to complete the tasks for which I am responsible.

My need to develop my skills in dealing with the people around me is apparent because I tend to withhold pertinent information about myself when dealing with my closest friends, specifically information about thoughts and feelings that bother me. In doing this, I fail to process my feelings, and those feelings eventually affect my attitude and my willingness to act reasonably towards the people and situations in my life. In most cases where I’ve acted on ideas that I’ve hidden from others, I’ve found undesirable consequences that might’ve been avoided if I’d have been willing to hear another perspective on the problems and proposed solutions. Similarly, failure to discuss my feelings with my friends leaves me with only my own perspective on the events and situations in my life, and gaining multiple perspectives usually inspires me to overcome pain. Finally, in being open and honest with my friends, I allow them to know me as I really am. Knowing me more fully, they are able to make better decisions regarding our friendship and be more effective as friends. My honesty and openness may also inspire them to be more open and honest about themselves, which would help me to know better how to treat them as friends. So far, in my relationships, I have become skilled in being very open and direct in my communications, but I still fall back on a failure to communicate at sensitive times, some of the times when I most need to discuss things. To this end, I could use improvement.

Another area of my personal relationships that could improve would be my willingness to treat the people in my life with respect and compassion. In most of my affairs, I am both able and willing to behave respectfully and compassionately, but this tends to fall apart in my relationships with members of the opposite sex. I view members of the opposite sex not by looking at who they are, but by looking at what they can do for me. I especially find myself interested in those who can provide relief from my emotional and physical intimacy needs. I am not, however, usually willing to put the effort into developing genuine emotional connections with my partners, though, and so I rely on physical intimacy to meet all of my intimacy needs. Coupled with my failure to meet emotional intimacy needs through friendship when I keep my friends at a distance, my reliance solely on physical intimacy with women would have me be something of a nymphomaniac, provided I could find a willing partner without all that effort of meeting and getting to know people. Essentially, I have reached a point at which I understand that my relation to the opposite sex is poorly founded, and I need to revaluate my approach to such relations with a greater emphasis on respect and appreciation and less emphasis on the needs that I have that I refuse to address myself. I also need to work on taking care of my own needs, wherever possible.

Finally, I need to further my education and master such disciplines as time-management and prioritization. My formal education is following a somewhat prescribed progression, but I can always pursue knowledge on my own time, as well. This would require better time management and prioritization, however. My natural tendency is toward entropy of the spirit. When I’m not at work or school, I usually spend my time “hanging out” with friends, “killing time.” It would do me well to work towards approaching work and school in such a way that I effectively manage my time in order to allow myself more of my own time. It would also do me well to strengthen my willingness to work towards personal goals of self-improvement in my own time rather than simply “killing time” until some entity outside of myself prompts me to work. By changing these things about myself, I would put myself in place to make a transition from Nietzsche’s camel stage of development into the lion stage, in which I could throw off those values that fail to serve my drive and create new values.

Two of the most significant obstacles to my own self-transformation include the fear of failure and established habits that lead in wrong directions. When I think of the ways that I could seek my highest love and the means to embody that in my life, I usually imagine that the process would require a lot of effort and a long-term commitment, so I become incredibly anxious about what a waste it would be to put a great deal of time and effort into the process only to fail. As I said in my answer to question two, I have a tendency to hang out with friends and kill time when I’m not at work or doing something for school. I often find that I want to simply “relax” when I’m not otherwise occupied, not devoting myself to my transformation when I have time of my own. The fact that I operate this way seems to have causes both in my laziness and in my ill-directed habits.

So my fear of failure is one of the most prominent obstacles in my self-transformation, but I believe that it draws force from other problems, as well. Part of my fear of failure includes the uncertainty of what exactly my highest drive is, or should be. I tend to fear that I will misinterpret my drives and make a significant investment of time and effort to something that doesn’t “pan out.” I also worry about whether or not I will properly understand the best ways to act on those drives such that I am actually moving in the right direction. There have been times in my past that I have felt that I was doing work to better incorporate my values into my living, only to discover later that I’d actually reinforced undesirable values. There have also been times when I felt as though certain values should be among my priorities, only to discover later that the values were void of some of the qualities I’d attributed to them. This seems to fit into the scheme of Nietzschian development, though, now that I think about it. I embraced values that I took from the society and culture around me and found them to be unfulfilling, and so had to replace them with something else. I do not claim to be a value-creator yet, but I’ve simply been searching so far, I suppose, for a set of traditional values that complement each other rather than work against each other. The idea that a failure to try is worse than an actual failure makes great sense and takes a lot of wind out of the “fear of failure” sail. There is much to be gained, I’m sure, in the processes of becoming and learning, regardless of whether or not I learn all that I hope to or become what I hope to be. If I learn nothing else, to learn that I do not want to become a certain type of person, or cannot become that person, will be valuable in narrowing my search for exactly whom I should become.

The other significant roadblock in my self-transformation is my set of established habits. As I said before, my natural tendency seems to be toward entropy of the spirit, and I often want to rest on my laurels and enjoy the fruits around me that seem fun. It’s a bit difficult to speak to this issue greatly in the midst of what is perhaps the busiest semester of my life, but in slower times I often find myself wasting time in front of a television or taking unnecessary naps. I smoke cigarettes and drink coffee excessively, and oftentimes both of those habits lend themselves well to doing nothing else other than sitting with friends, “talking shit.” I have established a very strong aversion to such pointless habits as drinking alcohol and engaging in other recreational drug use through membership in a 12-step fellowship. My involvement with that fellowship prompts me to work toward character development or self-transformation to a certain extent, but it only succeeds in doing so to the extent that I’m willing to allow it. One area in which I struggle to find willingness is the drive to enjoy meaningless relationships with members of the opposite sex. In times when I could be putting effort into doing the work that fulfills me, such as reading and writing or enjoying meaningful friendships, I find myself longing greatly to find “victims” or “volunteers” among the fairer sex. Though my exploits in this area are not so involved that I could consider myself promiscuous, the amount of time and energy that I devote are sufficient that I consider myself somewhat lecherous.

The solutions that I try to implement in these areas are very similar to those that I implemented in overcoming my willingness to subject myself to the pointlessness of drug use. I try to devote myself increasingly to meaningful endeavors, including school (15 semester hours), employment (~35 hours a week), 12-step recovery meeting attendance (at least 1 or 2 weekly), service to the recovery fellowship (positions such as Area Service Committee Vice Chair and Regional Service Conference Treasurer), sponsorship of newer members in the recovery community, building a website, writing poetry and stories, and, of course, seeking meaningful Platonic/Nietzschian friendships. Though being so busy helps greatly in my refrain from promiscuity, I have wondered about your suggestion of “Putting yourself in situations where you know those habits will lead to failure or pain is one way [to break a habit].” I wonder if I might be more willing to recognize the emptiness of sex without friendship if I were to engage in a streak of promiscuity that left me feeling hollow. The other solution that I’ve had in mind is to try to learn how to enjoy friendships with members of the opposite sex and intimate relationships that incorporate deep, honest communication. Whatever.

Designing a school for Nietzschian self-transformation would probably be somewhat costly. A great deal of effort would also be required to establish the institution, but the return on the initial investment would be great. Some of the main concerns of the institution would be recruitment, setting, educational programming, methods of instruction, and methods of evaluation.

One of the main concerns that I would have with a small, private school would be the issue of recruitment. With a limited enrollment, which might prove to be optimal for the type of school, it would be very important to ensure that all of the students in attendance merit the right to attend. Student in this facility should be intelligent and skilled in a well-rounded manner. It would be imprudent to recruit students who might require disproportionate levels of instruction and guidance, and students in this institution should be able to walk themselves through the stages of development to ensure that they are being true to their own drives and passions. The students will likely have demonstrated in their performance in traditional education a high level of ability, but it is also important that their abilities and discipline extend beyond scholastic endeavors. They might be able to demonstrate through their achievements with some religion or personal accomplishments both a willingness to advance themselves and a certain sense of disillusionment or dissatisfaction with tradition. Self-motivation would be important, as it would be pointless to attempt to instruct students without a drive to “go under and overcome.” If applicants can demonstrate that they fit those requirements, they might make worthwhile candidates for attendance at this school.

If I had unlimited resources to create private college, I would definitely situate that institution somewhere in Montana. I think that there is something about the majestic nature of wide-open space and freedom from the abundance of industry and technology that helps to inspire human creativity and passion. Nietzsche illustrated the value of solitude in Thus Spoke Zarathustra through Zarathustra’s trips to the mountain. Not only would my students experience some seclusion from society outside of the school, they would have the opportunity to experience solitude from the other students in private, self-contained rooms. Should they find it necessary to isolate themselves in their rooms for indefinite periods of time, they would have the opportunity to do so. The rooms would be like small apartments, but they would also have a cafeteria available for social and practical purposes. Social relations between the students would be encouraged, and the students would be encouraged to approach these relations with a great deal of integrity andauthenticity so as to gain the most from their relations with other seekers. They would also be encouraged to take both group and solitary outings into the wilderness for camping and other recreation so as to cultivate a relationship with the natural world around them and gain an understanding of what they believe about the world and their existence in it. Instructors would be nearly indistinguishable from students in their presence at the institution, living in the same quarters and following the same general guidelines and suggestions. Instructors would likely continue to grow through continued transformation of their own in their roles as such.

Educational programming in this institution would vary greatly from traditional forms. Instructors would hold a variety of seminars and group discussions on topics of their own choosing and scheduled according to convenience during the days of the week. Students would be able to choose from a weekly agenda the various seminars and discussion groups they wish to attend, and they would be free to attend as many or as few as they wish. Among the topics of discussion and presentation would be issues of traditional values, philosophical and theological treatises, contemporary social issues, and various topics in psychology, sociology, and history. Students with an interest in preparing presentations of their own could do so under the auspices of willing instructors with their consent.

The issues of educational programming and methods of instruction blend together to a certain extent. The instructors in the institution would work personally with students, and each instructor’s “case-load” should be as small as possible, perhaps as many as two or three students. Instructors would work very closely with the students as mentors, counselors, and leaders-by-example. The instructors would work with their respective students to explore issues of innate values and personal development. Students would be encouraged to meet with their instructors at least once weekly for at least an hour, but could make arrangements with the instructor to meet as often as necessary. Students would be encouraged also to work closely with other students wherever possible or desirable in aiding each others’ progress through Nietzschian friendship.

The final issue is that of evaluation. Given that the each student’s instructor would have the greatest understanding of the student’s particular standing and development in terms of character, the instructor and the student should work closely together in determining what sorts of accomplishments should be made before the student can begin to consider the idea of requesting formal evaluation. Formal evaluations would not attempt to “grade” the students’ performance, but rather would attempt simply to gauge whether or not the student has made sufficient progress to “graduate.” The student and the instructor would work together to give a formal presentation to a committee of other instructors, and perhaps non-participatory student witnesses, and the committee would discuss the presentation with the student and instructor, propose questions and commentary, and finally come to a decision by way of secret ballot as to whether or not they believe the student has made sufficient progress to complete their role as a student. Students might be encouraged to venture out into the world for anywhere from one to five years to apply their transformation to practical living and then return to the school to become instructors. Because it would do much good for the graduates to return to the school as instructors, it’s likely that the employment span of any given instructor might be relatively brief, i.e. five or ten years, perhaps. Past instructors might retain a status on a sort of council or board to help the school with administrative and decision-making issues so that any person who has been a part of the institution would remain such for as long as is practical and fitting.

This school would not do a great deal to provide the capitalist machine with gears or axles, but it would do a great deal to provide humanity with worthwhile human beings. Though perhaps not an express purpose of this institution, it would be nice to think that by aiding people in overcoming themselves, this institution might instigate dramatic changes in the surrounding society and culture, taking power from the materialist, commercial forces that guide us and reminding people to be humans before they die. On the other hand, there’s the risk that this institution would result in the severe depression and disillusionment of its students who see what an ugly society we’ve created for ourselves thus far. No matter how hopeless the project of overthrowing social conventions might seem, though, Nietzsche (and Schroeder) seem to argue that failure is preferable than a failure to try, so if the institution prompts students to try to make serious changes, it will certainly be worthwhile to at least that end.

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