Why Schopenhauer died poor and unpopular
and why there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of him in spite of his academically-acclaimed brilliance
People desperately want to lie to themselves. Like an amorphous mess of hopeless addicts, we seek our drug of choice: comforting, undemanding, pat-me-on-the-back-and-tell-me-how-special-I-am lies.
Over-saturated with `HOW TO FIND HAPPINESS NOW WITHOUT ANY REAL EFFORT JUST READ THIS` titles to the point of psychosis, the Internet is a manic-depressive mirror of our collective consciousness. And it’s looking pretty damn delusional. A bed of comfortable fantasies we resort to in order to survive our 9-to-5s for yet another year spent dreading aspects of our lives we do absolutely nothing to change.
It’s no mere coincidence of fate that Schopenhauer lived and died in poverty and tragic lack of recognition, bearing the weight of a genius he’d see ridiculed throughout his lifetime. He sought to tell the world uncomfortable, painful, undeniable truths; the world wanted to hear nothing of it. We covered our collective ears with our hands and loudly sang the song of denial for a good 100 years, drowning out his voice in our hastily crafted lies.
It matters little to Schopenhauer now, but his genius did eventually see recognition, though his popularity is to forever remain far behind that of more `hip`, less harsh philosophers the Internet’s constantly quoting.
Stripped brutally of the better part of any actual context and plastered all over the Great Web, the equally severe Nietzsche has managed to attain Internet fame by appealing to the egomaniac inside all of us. Strongly eager to follow in the footsteps of his egotistic discourse while giving little regard to attaining any of his self-disciplined logic, we quote shit we don’t understand or care to, and move on to our Excel spreadsheets feeling like complex, superior human beings. Failing to make any claim to our egos or to speak to our vanity, Schopenhauer and his abrasive truths remain obscure — dug out of oblivion by a niche of depressing, depressive, pale, caffeine-abusing nerds who are desperately seeking belonging, in a world they perceive as bordering on the absurd.
People desperately want to lie to themselves. Just look at the most popular Medium titles discussing life and meaning, to get a quick feel of what I’m talking about: riddled with titles claiming to teach you how to find happiness, self-love, the dream job, and the one true god — all via a 6 minute read — it’s a regular brainwash-ashram over here, and everyone’s a believer.
Daring to voice anything attacking the one true religion of comforting platitudes is akin to social suicide. Instantly deemed pariahs — the happiness-hating trolls diseasing our world with their pessimism — dissidents often resign to silently trying to shake the feeling that this is all glitter-covered bullshit we’re collectively feasting on. Everyone’s special; you can be anything you want to be; you can achieve anything you can envision; everyone’s beautiful; you can be happy now with zero effort just read this. Nice, cozy-with-Netflix-under-the-blanket lies and regurgitated shiny, substance-lacking bullshit.
Bullshit is in high-demand, and there’s no shortage of bullshit artists willing to join the Deepak Chopra band-wagon and shower us all in memorably-phrased lies about our television-worthy happiness being just around the corner. When the happiness that’s made to seem so attainable and so near eludes us in spite of the many lightyears of Osho-aspiring bullshit we’ve read, we become confused: who’s to blame for our unhappiness, for the excitement-killing 9-to-5 we still endure, for the passion-starved marriage, for the self-hatred and shame we still can’t help but feel every time we step on the scale, for the elusive peace of mind or our complete failure to meditate? Is it me, am I doing it wrong, am I choosing to be unhappy, am I not good enough for self-love, why can’t I earn a comfortable living working remotely from Belize like that dude who writes articles on how to earn a comfortable living working remotely from Belize, what am I lacking? Maybe I read the wrong motivational bullshit? Maybe the key to effortless, thoughtless, comfortable success is in the next comfortable page of lies an overnight-guru showers us with. Maybe I’m broken beyond repair.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was all just bullshit all along.
We wanted to believe it. We needed to. It gave us hope, it made it all seem easy, and for a second there while you were in the car heading into hour 2 of your daily commute listening to that audiobook on success-hacking, for a second there it all seemed possible. For a moment, you could see yourself doing it all, you weren’t too tired, you weren’t feeling hopeless or lost, you weren’t scared, you believed in yourself. That fantasy helped you get through yet another commute, to yet another day of unfulfilling work, through yet another day of insignificance and smallness set adrift in an uncontrollable life.
But the epiphany never came. Stubbornly unfazed by the comforting empty words, our lives remain profoundly un-cinematic, dominated by hazard, failure, cellulite we hate, and a painful longing for a meaning that no external force can actually provide. Instead of resigning to the fact that there’s no quick fix and that trying your hardest could still result in unhappiness and failure, like the addicts that we are, we seek our next easy fix of lies. Our usual dealer, the Internet, is eager to oblige. Deepak Chopra gains 5 more dollars and yet another sad LinkedIn follower who’s stuck in a dead-end job, and the impassible Universe goes on to move another tiny bit closer to absolute entropy.
We despise Schopenhauer for his merciless logic and deem it pessimistic, because it’s easier than dealing with the inherent absurdity and insignificance of our hazard-enslaved existence. It’s easier to try and chew on prefabricated meaning than to work on and risk failing repeatedly at creating our own.
We want to believe that clarity and confidence over our happiness and peace of mind could be just one 6 minute read away — it’s easier than to face the possibility that we might never find them. Bullshit and the masters of its crafting thrive, making a living off of our cowardliness in the face of heavy truths; immutable and callous, the truth doesn’t go anywhere, strive as we may to bury it. The truth remains hidden in plain sight, waiting to take revenge on our collective ignorance by plaguing our moments of depression, sadness, despair and heartache with its unsympathetic consequences. Like the addicts that we are, we’ve bought ourselves one more day of bitter bliss by injecting ourselves with one more page of pretty bullshit.
What you might fail to take into account as you’re doing this, is that while the truth will not make you happy, it will set you free. As you sit in your self-constructed prison of addiction to lies, trying to ignore the truth because it doesn’t sound easy, neat, or nice, you deny yourself the opportunity to venture somewhere scary, and come back hardened and better equipped to make real decisions — the unglamorous type with unforeseeable consequences and chances of hard failure.
Facts lack the beautiful, satisfying, orderly feel of prefabricated bullshit, but accepting them for what they are will set you free.
Maybe you’re not special at all, average in every way from fashion choices to life expectations — and that’s ok; loving your average self for real takes more than lying to yourself that you’re special, special just like everyone else. Maybe you’re not conventionally attractive — and that’s really so much more ok than you might imagine, there are so many people out there with unconventional preferences, some of which you might like; working honestly with what you have, learning to love it and surrounding yourself with people who feel the same will not be found in SJW platitudes about how everyone’s beautiful regardless of conventions — the truth is conventions exist, and accepting that will set you free from the need to measure your self-worth against them. Maybe you’re chronically depressed or have genuine reason to be sad, and self-help articles about the morning routines successful people swear by will not help any of that in the slightest — if anything, it will make you feel worse for failing to wake up at 7am on weekends to drink green tea while you listen to zen music.
I don’t know the secret to success nor happiness. Neither did Schopenhauer, though granted today he ranks way better at both of those than I do. I dare say that there is no one-size-fits-all secret to happiness and/or success. But what I do know for sure (and so did Schopenhauer) is that lying to yourself will lead to neither of those in the long run, just like a lifetime supply of heroin won’t fix a heroin addict’s long-term problems.
The truth — realistic, bare-skin, and blunt — is immensely painful at times. Stop compulsively running from that pain. Just beyond it, there is freedom. Slim as they may be, your chances at happiness and success will be real, stripped of the illusions that are tying you down. Life is not better necessarily, at least not at first, but it’s definitely more rewarding without that bullshit-monkey on your back, constantly calling for its bullshit fix.
If you like my rambling, please consider telling others about obscure-me by clicking that heart. Remember kids, every time you support an atheist, your god converts a religious extremist to the light of reason.