Nietzsche on being comfortable with the discomfort of being an individual

“The better the state is established, the fainter is humanity. To make the individual uncomfortable, that is my task.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Source: Nietzsche, Friedrich (1977-01-27). The Portable Nietzsche (Portable Library) (p. 50). Penguin Publishing Group.

Why, I wonder, would Nietzsche want to make the individual uncomfortable? Maybe he understood that comfort in certain contexts can be dangerous, can lead to a mindset of apathy and indifference where we easily become complacent. And when we are in that space, it is really easy to be taken advantage of, to hand our power over to the state (the crowd, the people) to make our decisions for us. And many such decisions are indeed inhumane end up hurting thousands, if not millions in some cases.

To me, this state or governing body represents the idea of the crowd, an entity that functions, makes decisions, using group-think and considers highest virtue the ability of its individual parts to conform. And to conform is a way to create comfort. It’s what we humans do and I do not at all suggest it is wrong. How could I? Conformity is a human survival instinct. One need only flip through the pages of human history to see what tragedies have befallen us as a result of our non-conformity. To step out of line, to not conform to the precepts of the crowd, the state, or other governing body, has proven dangerous over and over and over again. Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, …

So yes, Nietzsche lived much of his life pushing buttons, making the individual feel uncomfortable. And, why did he choose to use the word individual over the word people in this quote? Why not instead make people uncomfortable? Why does he appeal to the individual over the people? Because frankly, people do not listen to those who do not subscribe to their points of view. Nietzsche himself was the definitive individual. He knew that it always takes one single individual as opposed to any group of people to initiate change by being the first to challenge the doctines of the people. To clarify, I consider there to be a major difference between being an individual and being one of the people (a person). The group that is the people is composed of persons, who in this context all share the same ideals and perspectives. Sameness is key if you are to be one of the people. However, an individual is one who has individuated himself away from personhood, away from the people. His truths are ultimately determined not by the people, but by himself, as a result of searching his own soul to discover those truths that suit his own needs.

Am I espousing the individual way of being over that of personhood? Yes, shamelessly. But admittedly, maintaining an individual perspective requires strenuous daily effort. We all move from personhood to individual and back throughout our lives. Once an individual does not suggest always an individual. For instance, we may feel what the people are doing in one case is right because every person around us seems comfortable with it, but then later, when we have time to ourselves to stop and actually think, to individuate, to step away from the comfort that is the people – we may come to see that no, that particular policy needs some serious work. This is the movement from personhood to individual that happens all the time. For me, the quest is to increase the time I spend as an individual thinker and to be able to sooner realize those times when I am merely going along with the crowd simply because it feels comfortable. In other words, I’m trying my best to find comfort with the discomfort Nietzsche wants us to feel so that humanity becomes no less faint than it already is.

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