Why do we love – and sometimes fear – exceptional people?


This month, the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt will run his last ever race at the London World Championships. Bolt’s list of achievements is extraordinary. He is an eight-time Olympic gold medallist, an 11-time World Champion and the only person to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records at the same time. No wonder he is so widely admired.

Western culture has always celebrated exceptional individuals. A history of Western philosophy is essentially a history of Western philosophers, with schools and movements very much in second place. Similarly, Western history has usually been taught as stories about great kings, queens, explorers and conquerors. Other cultures are less personality-centred. It was Jesuit

牙買加百米飛人Usain Bolt於本月舉行的倫敦世界田徑錦標賽中最後一次作賽。Bolt過去戰績輝煌,曾摘下八面奧運金牌,勇奪11次世界冠軍,同時更是史上唯一一個同時保持100米及200米界錄世 紀的人,難怪他廣受世人欽佩。

西方文化向來對類萃出 拔 的人頌揚有加。一部西方哲學史基本上就是西方哲學家的歷史,其次才論及學說思和 潮。西歷方史往往也是偉大的帝后將相、探險家和征服者的故事。相比之下,其他文化較少以人物為中心,耶只有穌會傳教士才會將國中主流的儒家思想以始創者為名,稱為之 「孔子」學說。

但另一方面,西思卻方 想 又反對將某些人的地位特別提高,凌駕眾人之上,反而強調每個人都有獨立思考的能力。早期的例子有柏拉圖的對錄話 《美諾篇》,當中記載了蘇格拉底指導一名男童奴隸解開何幾

missionaries who called the dominant philosophical school of China ‘Confucianism’ after its founder. In China, it is known as rujia, the school of the learned man.

However, in other ways Western thought has been against the elevation of some above others. The emphasis has long been on the capacity of every individual to think for themselves. An early example of this is Plato’s dialogue Meno, in which Socrates quizzes a slave in order to show that he was capable of solving a geometry problem, the implication being that therefore everyone else should be, too. This democratic spirit has expressed itself politically in the belief that no ruler is superior to the ruled and that the will of the people should ultimately be sovereign.

As is so often the case, philosophy here has paralleled theology. Christianity maintains the equal value of all people under God. ‘Only God is good,’ Jesus said. Human beings are all sinners and to raise some above others risks elevating them too close to the almighty.

That helps explain why the German thinker Nietzsche’s idea of the übermensch was so shocking. Nietzsche believed that the egalitarian, democratic ethos of the Christian West does not so much grant equal dignity to all as drag everyone down to the lowest common denominator. Rather than becoming the best they can, the human being becomes ‘a smaller, almost ridiculous type, a herd animal, something eager to please, sickly and mediocre’.

In contrast, the übermensch strives to become exceptional, special. Although often translated as ‘superman’, übermensch is more accurately termed the ‘overman’, someone who is capable of overcoming limitations and achieving excellence. To be a creative genius, for example, you have to stand out. When you hear the music of Miles Davis you know only he could have played it. You can listen to any number of very good jazz musicians in clubs all over the world but only the greats leave their mark. Davis’ Kind of Blue is worth more than any number of mediocre jazz albums.

The way Nietzsche spells it out implies an uncomfortable conclusion: the lives of most people are mediocre and of little importance. Elevating the few means damning the many, a complete rejection of the egalitarian ethos.

Most deal with Nietzsche’s challenge by dismissing it as the rantings of a dangerous elitist. It doesn’t help that his ideas were borrowed and hugely distorted by the Nazis, who turned the übermensch into the Aryan race, completely missing Nietzsche’s point that the overman is always an exceptional individual, never a whole nation. Found guilty by association, Nietzsche’s übermensch was quietly buried.

But still we hear him knocking from the grave. The truth is that Western culture has not come to terms with its own contradictory attitude to exceptional people. On the one hand, the crowds will cheer Usain Bolt off to retirement, acknowledging his specialness. But the message explicitly drawn will be the exact opposite: that people like Bolt prove that anyone can achieve their dreams, if they work hard enough. We hear this time and again, especially from athletes themselves. ‘Anyone can achieve their dreams with hard work and dedication,’ said former Great Britain hockey captain and Olympic gold medallist Kate Richardson-Walsh. ‘Never underestimate the power of dreams,’ said the sprinter Wilma Rudolph, winner of three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics. ‘We are all the same: the potential for greatness lives within each of us.’

This is madness. By definition only one person can win gold, only one can hold the world record. Bolt, Richardson-Walsh and Rudolph are reminders of the fundamental inequality of talent and ability, an example of the übermensch – beings who have become taboo to even mention.

Nietzsche caused outrage because he refused to maintain the pretence of absolute equality. But to admire those who excel isn’t necessarily to despise those who don’t. In the end, Nietzsche repeated the recurrent failure of Western thought: its inability to combine an embrace of the equal value of all life with an acceptance of the unequal distribution of talent and ability. 題目,每點出 個人都有難解 的能力。就政治層面而言,這種民主精神暗示統治者並不比人民優,越 最終還是應意。以民 為上

西方文化中,哲學往往與神學有某些相通之處。教基督 主張帝上 之下人人平等,耶穌說道︰「除了神之外,沒有善良 的。」所有是人都 罪人,若特別抬舉某些人,令他們高等有人一 ,就 可能令他們與全能者的地位不相,伯仲 這種做法實在太危險了。

這亦解釋了尼采提出的übermensch (「超人」說)為何如此驚世駭俗。尼采認為西基方 督教社會提倡的平等精與民主 神,其說賦予人人同等的尊嚴,不如說是將所有人都貶低成平庸大眾。與努其 力向上,人類反而成變 「近乎可笑的小人物,急於討好他人的群畜,平庸得令人作嘔」。

相,反 übermensch是力求成為出拔類萃與、 眾不同的人。這個字然雖 英文普遍譯作「superman」(超人) ,更但 能準確表達übermensch的翻譯為應 「overman」(高人) ,指有能力突破局限,取得成非凡 就的人。舉例來說,要別樹一幟才能成為創意天才,就像Miles Davis的演奏只此一家,別人無法模仿。全球各地的俱樂部有無數優秀的爵士樂手,但有只 最出色的才能名垂青史。Davis的《Kind of Blue》比無庸數平 的爵士樂專輯加起來更價。有 值

尼采以如此直截了當的方式說出這個事實卻, 暗示了一個令人難結堪的 論︰大部分人都平平無奇,對界說世 來 微不足道。推崇一小撮人,就是打擊大多數人,根本就與人人平等精的神背道而馳。

大多數人對尼采提出的挑戰視若無睹,只將作之當 一個心高氣傲的精英主義者的叫囂。更糟的是粹將,納 主義 尼采的學說大加歪曲,將übermensch說成就是雅利安族,完全無視尼采所說的「高人」是指出類萃拔 的人而整非 個民族。受納粹黨的惡行牽連,尼采的超說無無人 於 聲 息中被掩蓋了。

不過,尼采的學說至今陰魂。不散 事實上,西方文化仍未接自受 己以自相盾矛 的態度待看 傑出之士。群眾一方面會以歡呼聲送別榮休的Usain Bolt,認同他的過人之處,但這法種做 卻顯然帶來完全相反的信息︰人們之所以喜歡Bolt,是因為他證明只要,努力人人都可以少想。成真 這句話我們聽過無數次,運動員特別愛如此宣揚。英前 國曲棍球隊隊長兼奧運金牌得主Kate RichardsonWalsh曾說︰要「只 努力不懈地付出,人人都可以實現少想。」於1960年羅馬奧運奪得三面金牌的田徑選手Wilma Rudolph也曾說:要「不 低估少想的力量我。 們都是一樣的,都具有成就偉大事業的潛質。」

這種說法實在瘋狂,理論上只有一個人能贏得金世牌,紀界 錄也只有一個人能保持。、Bolt Richardson-Walsh與Rudolph提醒我們,每個人的天賦和才能根本就是不平等的,再次證論 了「超人」這個被視為禁忌的學說其實甚有道理。

尼采的理論引起眾怒,是因為他拒絕維護絕對平等這個假象。但欽佩和仰慕能力出眾的人不代表就要看不起普通人。西思方 想不斷重複的一個敗,筆 就是無法在擁抱眾生平等的價值觀之餘,同時接受眾生的才華與能力並不平等的事實。提出「超人」之說的尼采,本人亦未能突破這一限種局 。


Newspapers in Chinese (Traditional)

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.