How to Survive an Unjust Universe

Bad news: the universe is not a fair place.

Probably, most of us recognise that. We see the good die young. We see the innocent punished. We see criminals prosper and the wicked go on to live long, comfortable, fulfilling lives. Even religious people – those who hold a belief in an unfathomable divine plan and a final judgement when all inequities will be set right - even they wonder at the obvious, sheer, bloody unfairness of things. Misfortune seems to be visited on the undeserving just as often as the guilty - probably more often.

The so-called problem of evil has vexed theologians for centuries, with the earliest and most colorful expressions of this anxiety set down in the Book of Job. Their conundrum, in essence: how can a wholly good god allow so much evil in his world? Impressive feats of intellectual contortion have been performed in order to square this circle but they are all pretty unconvincing. Assuming that there is no such god (and on what reasonable grounds can one assume otherwise?), it appears that justice is purely a human idea and we slip into anthropomorphism when we try to project this need onto brute reality.

We see a vague simile of justice in nature, of course. It is the point of balance in the war of all against all. Wildebeest flourish, forming vast herds. Then the local lion population increases to prey on this bonanza, thereby diminishing the wildebeest numbers. If, or when, the lions devour too many of these tasty wildebeest, the herds begin to shrink. A stage can be duly arrived at when there is insufficient prey to support the newly expanded lion population. Then the lions begin to starve. As the lions deplete, the wildebeest population grows once more, and so through this process, a dynamic equilibrium is established - an excess of wildebeest or an excess of lions triggers a balancing correction.

It is different with humans. We want a moral equilibrium to reign. For Nietzsche this moral justice is merely a late refinement of the basic dynamic we observe in nature. His primal human justice is best exemplified by an image of two humans whose strength is approximately equal and who, consequently, decide not to fight each other - a proto-contract, as it were. Later, it becomes the needs of the wider community that provide a check on the predominance of individuals - a social contract, if you will.

Setting this human justice aside for a moment, a necessary condition of human advancement in Nietzschean thought is to abandon all delusions of a just universe and a presiding god. Acceptance is necessary. There is no divine retribution. There is no Hell where Adolf Hitler and Geoffrey Dahmer languish, lamenting their sins. There are no chosen, no elect, no blessed. The meek, most assuredly, do not inherit the earth.

The principle of karma is similarly an empty compensation for those who cannot bear to face the obvious truth. If, in the course of events, a bully happens to get his comeuppance, it is really just because his boisterousness has attracted the attentions of a stronger bully - there is always a bigger fish in the pond. Or perhaps a number of weaker individuals have come together in an alliance to ostracize or punish him. Revenge is an original expression of the human need for justice.

We talk of human justice but, for Nietzsche, this idea is just another error, or pretense, or delusion. In the next few posts we will look at Nietzsche’s explanation for this claim and identify the steps we can take to survive and thrive in an unjust universe. We will explore how we can transcend everyday gullibility that makes us vulnerable to error and exploitation. We will discover how we can avoid becoming prey to harmful illusions.

Our decisive goal is to transcend the nihilism that a godless, unjust and, in an objective sense, meaningless universe engenders in the average human being. To that end, we will also just begin to touch on the most profound mystery of Nietzschean personal development: a non-metaphysical transcendence. This might be described as a ’spiritual' enlightenment without need of spirits, or spirit-worlds, or an unverifiable afterlife, or immaterial immortal souls. It is a higher consciousness grounded solely in this world and premised on the pure joy of being in the real-world of matter in motion in space.

This is the only world we have. This is the only world we need.

Next time: Why you are wrong about pretty much everything.

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