“Little” lives – Johnson, Eliot, Chomsky vs that Nietzsche guy. #SocialMovements #SlaveMorality

So, have been thinking (for once) about failure, the meaning of it all etc

There’s that great essay by Samuel Johnson “What Have Ye Done?” which ends (spoilers, obvs)

From this mistaken notion of human greatness it proceeds, that many who pretend to have made great advances in wisdom so loudly declare that they despise themselves. If I had ever found any of the self-contemners much irritated or pained by the consciousness of their meanness, I should have given them consolation by observing, that a little more than nothing is as much as can be expected from a being, who, with respect to the multitudes about him, is himself little more than nothing. Every man is obliged by the Supreme Master of the universe to improve all the opportunities of good which are afforded him, and to keep in continual activity such abilities as are bestowed upon him. But he has no reason to repine, though his abilities are small and his opportunities few. He that has improved the virtue, or advanced the happiness of one fellow-creature, he that has ascertained a single moral proposition, or added one useful experiment to natural knowledge, may be contented with his own performance, and, with respect to mortals like himself, may demand, like Augustus, to be dismissed at his departure with applause.

Then there’s the end of Middlemarch (which I will re-read for the first time since, er, 1990). .Eliot writes of Dorothea

“Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had not great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive, for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

And finally, there’s that Chomsky quote about social movements I keep coming back to (actually there are two, almost saying the same thing)

The way things change is because lots of people are working all the time, and they’re working in their communities or their workplace or wherever they happen to be, and they’re building up the basis for popular movements. In the history books, there’s a couple of leaders, you know, George Washington or Martin Luther King, or whatever, and I don’t want to say that those people are unimportant. Martin Luther King was certainly important, but he was not the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King can appear in the history books ‘cause lots of people whose names you will never know, and whose names are all forgotten and who may have been killed and so on were working down in the South.

source

And Freddie Nietzsche? Freddie Nietzsche would scoff. “This is just slave morality. The soothing tales losers who didn’t try hard enough to win when they could tell themselves.”

Whatevs.

Footnotes

On Cyrus and environmental warfare

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