“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer
5 things I learned from Arthur Schopenhauer
This week I revisited Studies in Pessimism by Arthur Schopenhauer. This is one of those rare books that I could go through a million times and still enjoy. Despite being written almost 200 years ago it’s still relevant and even feels edgy. A lot of modern authors and visionaries are just rehashing Schopenhauer’s content.
Virtually every original thinker from the late 19th through 20th Century owes something to Schopenhauer. Nietzsche, Freud, Tolstoy, Einstein, and Jung were all influenced and inspired by him.
Recently I’ve noticed a lot of controversial arguments about having children. There’s a popular, in my blogging world, book out called Confessions of an Antinatalist. A lot of guys have remarked that reading this book really changed their whole view on raising kids. In a world filled with human suffering and strife it seems a bit unfair to pump out some children so that you can satiate your own ego.
Obviously this causes a lot of conflict. Articles about antinatalism drum up all kinds of outrage from both men and women. And, from what I’ve seen, the topic is consider too edgy for any major news-source to comment on.
What makes this debate so funny is the fact that it isn’t anything new. Schopenhauer invented, and won, it back when he authored Studies in Pessimism:
“If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?”
2. The meaninglessness of debate
Long before message boards and comment sections existed, loudmouthed neckbeards were arguing over meaningless drivel. Twitter wars and Gawker articles are nothing new. People were trolling each other before the light bulb was invented. Schopenhauer mocked this in a little book titled The Art of Always Being Right. The book’s satire is still biting and potent:
“Become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular trick, because everyone is able to carry it into effect.”
3. Schopenhauer’s coin
This is actually a story I once heard. I don’t know if it’s actually true, but it is interesting:
Whenever Schopenhauer would go out to eat he would take a gold coin and set it on the table. At the end of the meal he would take the coin and put it back in his pocket.
This went on for years before someone finally asked him why he did it. Schopenhauer responded that it was a silent wager. If he could get through his meal without hearing anything about women, sports, or politics he’d leave the coin as a tip for the waitress. Since most men speak of petty things he never had to pay out.
Even if the story isn’t true there’s a good lesson to be had from it. Most people are concerned with mundane things. When you’re trying to surround yourself with successful people you need filter out gossips and do nothings. Additionally, if you ever want to massively insult someone you can do this trick with a hundred-dollar bill. It guarantees that you won’t be hearing any more garbage when you have to spend time with people you dislike.
4. The female mind
One thing that Schopenhauer gets mocked and dismissed for is his essay On Women. I don’t have a problem with the essay, but it wasn’t super mind-blowing to me. Like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer didn’t bother trying to sugarcoat the behavior of women.
My favorite part of this essay does an excellent job discussing a serious problem that I see a lot of guys making, letting their girlfriend run amok with credit cards:
“That the property which has cost men long years of toil and effort, and been won with so much difficulty, should afterwards come into the hands of women, who then, in their lack of reason, squander it in a short time, or otherwise fool it away, is a grievance and a wrong as serious as it common, which should be prevented by limiting the right of women to inherit.”
I’ve known several dudes who’ve lost their possessions and delayed their futures after they got into a relationship with a women who was financially irresponsible. Guys need to be more careful about their partner’s spending habits least they wake up to $30,000 in “surprise” debt someday.
5. The death of excitement
This might sound a little whiny, but I sometimes lament the fact that I’m ambitious. I can already tell you that my return to Iowa is going to be depressing and boring. I’ll be there for the holiday’s but it will still be unpleasant. When everyone else is getting excited about graduating college and moving to a “big” city (read Midwest town of less than 500,000), I’ll have to fake interest.
Growing up too fast makes you jaded at a young age. Things that should excite me have become routine. At 21 I’ve already gotten through most of the life-changing moments that other people spend 40 years trying to reach. As Schopenhauer noted:
“He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair, and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.”
The curse of success is alienation.
If you’ve never checked out any of Arthur Schopenhauer’s works you’re missing out. The man was truly a visionary and way ahead of his time. If you want to get a full appreciation for this great thinker, sang a copy of Studies in Pessimism.