An analysis of Nietzschean themes in HBO's Westworld , Arnold Is Fu*king Superman
The new episode has started and I want to make sure this is written somewhere incase there is some massive revelation during tonights show. Because I'm rushing to post it, I'll go back and add some edits for formatting and what not later on. It's going to
PART I: Eternal Recurrence, Amor Fati, and the Ubermensche.
Last week, while talking with a co-worker (about something other than dystopian science fiction) I was inadvertently reminded of a philosophical concept that I'd read about in school several years ago. There was a specific quote on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn't remember exactly how it went, nor could I remember who'd said it. All I knew, for a moment, is that it was eerily similar to themes in WW. I instantly began Googling every philosopher name I could remember, and after spending a couple of hours digging my way through a virtual rabbit hole, I emerged with an entirely new interpretation of this story.
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more. Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced such a tremendous moment that you would have answered him: You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine.? - Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche, of course. How had I not seen this before? This is not a story about religion, but a story about a world without it. This is a world in which God is dead, and morality doesn't yet exist. It's a world where people don't need a don't seek a higher power, because they don't know to question their origin, nor do they wonder about life after death.
Until now, that is.
Eternal Recurrence is a phenomenon in which one's life, and the events within, are perpetually repeated over and over again through out the rest of time. Nieztsche didn't actually argue that eternal recurrence was a fact, but rather considered it the most burdensome thought a man could have. He believed it to be the ultimate horror one could be faced with, and used the concept as a way to explain the way he thought humanity should live, or what he thought every person should strive for.
Most of Nietzsche's work involved denouncing the concepts of 'good' and 'evil' entirely as social constructions conditioned into our thought process from the time we're born. So striving to be a 'good' person, he believed, was essentially just surrendering oneself to what a particular religion (or 'herd) told you to do. Instead of spending all of our time trying to be good, he thought we should spend our time trying to overcome the ultimate fear of eternal recurrence.
"All lives have routine, and mine's no different. Still, I never cease to wonder at the thought that any day the course of my life could change with one chance encounter." - Dolores, E1
"My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it — all idealism is falseness in the face of necessity — , but to love it..." ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche believed that a great human being would be capable of loving their own life so much, that they could look at the idea of eternal recurrence with excitement. The ultimate goal would be able to look at every event in your life - even the most painful - and see the beauty in it - so much so that you'd be willing to do it over and over again. Amor Fati literally means 'love of fate', and suggests that some type of unconditional hope and anticipation for events to come would be the most valuable asset a person could have. He also believed that this is, in part, why humans have the ability (not weakness) to forget.
"Forgetfulness is not just a vis inertiae, as superficial people believe, but is rather an active ability to suppress, positive in the strongest sense of the word, to which we owe the fact that what we simply live through, experience, take in, no more enters our consciousness during digestion (one could call it spiritual ingestion) than does the thousand-fold process which takes place with our physical consumption of food, our so-called ingestion. To shut the doors and windows of consciousness for a while; not to be bothered by the noise and battle which our underworld of serviceable organs work with and against each other;a little peace, a little tabula rasa of consciousness to make room for something new, above all for the nobler functions and functionaries, for ruling, predicting, predetermining (our organism runs along oligarchic lines, you see) - that, as I said, is the benefit of active forgetfulness, like a doorkeeper or guardian of mental order, rest and etiquette: from which can immediately see how there could be no happiness, cheerfulness, hope, pride, immediacy, without forgetfulness." ― Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals/Ecce Homo
In one of his most famous works, Thus Spoke Zarathurstra, Nietzsche introduces his concept for the next 'generation' of humanity, or rather, the next phase of evolution. He points out how repetitive the concept of 'other worldliness' is through out almost any religion, and how that actually damages or reduces our quality of life. If one is always limiting oneself by rejecting desire, and placing such great value on the 'next' life (afterlife), it diminishes the value of the current life, which he sees as being the only absolute truth or the only life we actually KNOW that we will have.
Ubermensche literally means Superman, or - arguably - Overman. The Ubermensche would be a person who was willing to do anything, risk anything, to advance the human race. Nietzsche believed the overman would be able to change the future of humanity indefinitely. He would, in a way, live within every being in this new reality, and/or be the ideal model/example for this new way of life. This person would essentially be the bridge between man and the future state of man.
Note: The concept of the Ubermensche was adopted by Hitler, and therefore is often associated with a drive to rid the world of anyone who does not meet a certain framework, and/or someone seeking absolute power - and while that isn't necessarily untrue, Nietzsche did not develop or present the idea with Nazism in mind.
The overman is someone who would rise above the herd mentality of the human race, and seek not an afterlife or pre-existing "other world", but actually create a new reality, new standards, and new ideals by taking action. I'm not sure I need to get into all the parallells here. But I think Arnold is our Ubermensche. He looked beyond the limitations of logic and science, and created the next state of humanity. He didn't fear the advancement of technology, or what Ford told him could be accomplished in terms of 'conscious'. He decided these new beings were going to be real.
Dolorous is special because she is the embodiment of Amor Fati. Even when she's told that she will repeat the same life over and over again, she talks about it as though it's the best thing she's ever heard. She looks at pain as something beautiful. Something to learn from.
I think Ford has caught on to Arnold's success in creating the next phase of humanity, and is now the Adversary working against him, trying to stop his progress. I think he's establishing religeon to stunt the growth of this new world. He's giving them certain memories, painful memories, trying to break these beings of Amor Fati. He's trying to kill their greatness.
I'm second guessing this prediction.
I wanted to add a little bit about Nietzsche's concept of "The Last Man" here. Thanks, user/prob_lem for mentioning this in your comment!*
The Last Man
The Man in Black seems to personify "The Last Man" who Nietzsche described as the ultimate counterpart, or adversary, to the Ubermensche. The last man is someone who lives their life according to the expectations of others. They perceive events as good or evil based on the way they've been conditioned to think. They take no risks, and keep seeking some greater purpose or meaning to life rather than focusing on bettering themselves.
The Last Man takes life for granted, or even resents it. He is tired, lazy, and sees almost nothing good in his own world. He seeks meaning rather than creating it.
MiB appears like a thrill seeker, but is he really? Rather than seek meaning in "his" world, he retreats to another where he hunts for answers that have nothing to do with him. He chooses to "live" in a safe place where he can't be hurt. It might as well be a drug or a religion for him - something he uses to escape from reality.
West World seems like some type of Nietzschean experiment. Dolores/Arnold actually seems to embody everything Nietzsche believed someone would need to be to move humanity forward, and a establish a new reality. The man in black, in contrast, seems to be portraying "The Last Man".
Part 2 - Slave Morality and The Will to PowerSlave Morality
To say that Nietzsche had issues with the origin of modern "values" would be an understatement. He saw Christianity, and other similar institutions, as a coping mechanism established to relieve the agony of life events and/or or the ultimate burden of truth (that this life is the only life we are certain we will have). He suggested that values born of religion or any socially constructed belief system were symptoms of something he called 'Slave Morality'.
Nietzsche proposed that there were two types of morality, and that the two were constantly battling just beneath the surface of society. Slave Morality, which placed great value on things like kindness and generosity, was actually a reaction to Master Morality, which valued strength and power above all else.
To put it very simply…
- A strong person interprets an event that increases their riches as "Good".
- A strong person interprets an event that decreases their riches as "Bad".
- A weak person interprets an event that makes a strong person less wealthy as "Good".
- A weak person interprets an event that makes a strong person more wealthy as "Evil".
One might only view events in his/her life as good or bad, until the point they are made aware of someone more powerful than themselves. At that point they could do one of two things, 1) interpret it as being unfair and fight to shift the power the other direction, or 2) use it as motivation fight to grow and become more powerful themselves. A weak person would behave one way, a strong person would behave another.
Nietzsche uses the concept of 'the herd' a lot in his work, and a similar sentiment keeps showing up in the show. Dolores sees the wild horses as amazing creatures, free to roam and live as they please. She acknowledges that they have a routine - coming to the same place every day - but they don't do so because they are forced to. On the other hand, she describes to Teddy the way a herd of cattle blindly follow a leader. Interestingly, William pitties Dolores for being part of a 'herd'. He sees her as being weak, unable to make her own choices. I think it will be interesting to see what kind of impact his pity could have on her. Nietzsche saw pity as toxic.
In West World, we're seeing two specific (host) characters realize the power structure of their world. Dolorous is told that her World was created to please it's guests, and she starts to remember horrible things that've happened to her. Yet she continues to push forward, seeking to discover herself, and learning how to use her painful experiences to her advantage without seeking to tear down the guests or her creators. In contrast, Maeve is made aware of her "masters" through painful memories, and the mistake that not only allowed her to wake up and see them, but also left evidence of their existence in her body. Rather than trying to make the most of her own life, she adopts a --Nihilistic-- 'none of this matters' stance, and (it would appear based on more recent events) will seek to change the balance of power.
Will to Power
It is the business of the very few to be independent; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it, even with the best right, but without being obliged to do so, proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring beyond measure. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousand-fold the dangers which life in itself already brings with it; not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes isolated, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience. Supposing such a one comes to grief, it is so far from the comprehension of men that they neither feel it, nor sympathize with it. And he cannot any longer go back! He cannot even go back again to the sympathy of men!” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
The concept of "Will to Power" is what Nietzsche believed to be the driving force of human nature. While his peers were citing a natural drive for self preservation or happiness, he argued that both were unrealistic, and skewed by morality. In his eyes, people are driven by the desire for power. Because 'Power' to him meant independence or the ability to choose, the most powerful moment of life is when someone discovers who they really are.
Above, Nieztsche talks about the journey to becoming oneself as a labyrinth. Some people will lose hope, stop trying, become distracted by a desire for something else, or try to escape. But the strongest will proceed, unwavering, until they have discovered themselves, and once they do they'll be the most powerful they can be.
Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength--life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
So again, we see Dolores rising above her peers. I think this season is a 'race' of sorts. If Ford's interventions (introducing religion, making hosts aware of the past, etc) are 'successful', Slave Morality will prevail, and the others will presumably follow Maeve in revolt - which could lead to the destruction of humanity. If Arnold and/or Dolores prevail in their efforts of self-discovery, they will likely succeed in moving mankind further into the future, and avoid the collapse of their world.
Part 3 - Apollo and Dionysus
... all life rests on appearance, art, illusion, optics, the need for perspective and for error.. ― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
Nietzsche cited artistic creation as the highest, most invaluable form of self-expression, but he didn't necessarily believe all 'works of art' were worthy of that label. The creation of all great art, he thought, relied upon the presence of, and tension between, two distinct artistic impulses: the Apollonian and the Dionysian.
The Apollonian, which makes reference to the Greek god of light and logic (Apollo), is a creative force that exerts a certain degree of restraint and a dominant sense of self. He is, to an extent, detached from emotion, and obsessed with physical or visual perfection.
Dionysus, by contrast, was the Greek god of wine and passion. The Dionysian force is a purely irrational one. Nietzsche describes this impulse as chronically self-forgetting, surrendering all instincts to that of nature. The Dionysian feels deeply, and reacts instinctively. It is chaos.
Nietzsche believed that neither impulse could create anything of value without the other. Without the discipline and precision of the Apollonian, the Dionysian would never produce anything other than artistic mayhem. And without the Dionysian's passion and emotional connection to all things, the Apollonian would only create dull, drab structures. He claimed that the rise of the Apollonian mindset had lead to the death of the purest art form - the tragedy.
In this state one enriches everything out of one's own fullness: whatever one sees, whatever wills is seen swelled, taut, strong, overloaded with strength. A man in this state transforms things until they mirror his power—until they are reflections of his perfection. This having to transform into perfection is—art. - Friedrich Nietzsche
It seems apparent to me that Dr. Ford represents the Apollonian impulse. He is obsessed with the imagery and detail of this world above all else, and sees the beauty of the creatures in West World as no more than skin deep. He is calculating, and measured in all that he does - constantly reminding others that the hosts are 'not real'. He's not emotionally invested in the beings he's created, but rather seems to see the world as a possession he must control.
Ford has made it pretty clear for us that Arnold was quite different. He notes that Arnold's life was plagued by tragedy, and that he was compulsive, emotional, and overly invested in the liveliness of the hosts. His obsession became so overpowering that he eventually lost himself, or his life, within the park.
I don't think there is anyone watching the show who takes the "Arnold died" story at face value. We all know there's something else going on here, but as recently as today I'm beginning to change my mind about what that is, exactly. At this point I'm tossing around two possibilities:
Predictions / Additional Thoughts
Thought 1:Arnold and Ford were partners, but the Ford's Apollonian influence became too much for Dionysian, Arnold, who eventually fled (after faking his death) before Ford had the chance to end his work. His work involved creating a 'maze' that would, through out the course of time, reveal itself to each host in various ways. This maze, I think is probably just the journey to self-realization, and the discovery of free will. Eventually his 'followers' (those who found themselves within the maze) will be strong enough to assist him in taking back the park/world from the control-hungry Ford. In this prediction, William isn't important because she cares about him, he's actually a pawn in Arnold's long game.
Thought 2: I also think it's possible that Arnold is just a representation of Ford's Dionysian impulses. I'm not talking split-personality theory, just that Ford had an advanced sense of self awareness, and was able to isolate those instincts, and perhaps relieve himself of them. In that scenario, he may have needed to preserve them somehow in order to maintain his creative capacity. Or perhaps we will see what "creating" means for Ford without his counterpart.