"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Really?
Sometimes what doesn't kill us makes us weaker.
Born and raised in New York City, Nick studies philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, specializing in Mathematical Logic and in the crossroads of free will, determinism, and personhood. His particular interests are: Logic, Philosophy, Motorsports, Kurt Vonnegut, Bertrand Russell, 20th Century American Literature, The Automotive Industry, and Debate.
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
Nietzsche, history's greatest angsty teenage boy, blithely asserted this whopper of an untruth in his 1888 book Twilight of the Idols.
My first thought in response to the quote is simply: "No it doesn't," or "Tell that to a tetraplegic."
I have been accused by some commenters, though, of missing the point of phrases by taking them too literally, or of not understanding the motivation and reasoning behind the things I am taking down.
In deference to that, let me say that I recognize the thought behind this quote. It is often taken to mean something along the lines of the great Oscar Wilde line that "Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes." It is meant to inspire an attitude of resilience and determination. The idea is that with the proper understanding and attitude, a man can stand up to anything at all and still progress in his life.
I chose those pronouns for a reason. My objection to this saying is about its relationship with conventional masculine idolatry.
In short, I think it serves to back up the sort of "default" understanding of what it means to be a man, by which I mean the ideal man associated with figures like Nietzsche and Hemingway. The lonesome, resilient, self-sufficient, cowboy adventurer.
I'll admit that it's an attractive idea, this ideal man. I love Death in the Afternoon. But it's a poisonous idea and aspiring to it is flat out dangerous on the grand scale.
I simply fail to see how the cardinal virtue, or any virtue at all, could be the ability to proudly stand up to the the onslaught of life, to weather the storm.
I know that this advice has been addressed to women too, and I'm not excluding them from its scope. In fact, this "ideal man" is such an infectious cultural value that women are, to a degree, expected to hold to it as well.
The Modern Ideal Man, who can just as well be a woman, needs to know that we are not virtuous in light of things like "death" and of "strength".
All we need to do to know that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger is to look around.
Nietzsche's struggle with Syphilis at the end of his life did not make him stronger. It weakened his body and mind, to the degree that his work was later able to be twisted into Nazi propaganda (while I find Nietzsche to be a childish philosopher and possessed of a silly and repulsive worldview, I must note that this really was twisting. I deny his complicity in the crimes of the Nazis).
While the attitude of resilience of nice, dealing with everything as though it makes you stronger if it doesn't kill you is simply unrealistic. In other words, believing Nietzsche's advice might involve some unintentionally ironic foreshadowing. It might actually get you killed.
Getting old or injured or defeated is painful and difficult and weakening and embarrassing. Everybody goes through this. No matter your attitude, something is going to knock you down from which you won't fully recover.
Consider the death of singer Enrico Caruso: recovering from several major surgeries and injuries and illness, he chose anyway to continue on a grueling concert tour and recording schedule. He exercised his resilient masculinity because he thought he could stand up to anything.
It killed him.
The fact is that sometimes what doesn't kill us makes us weaker. By rejecting Nietzsche immature advice, we open ourselves up to the understanding that the greatest strength is knowing that it's alright to be weak.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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