WESTERN PHILOSOPHY: “SCHOPENHAUER: Being Alone (How to Deal With Society)” / Weltgeist ☮

“To be self-sufficient, to be all in all to oneself, to want for nothing, to be able to say omnia mea mecum porto [everything I have, I carry with me]—that is assuredly the chief qualification for happiness.”

In order to live and to function in society, we must make sacrifices. This is inevitable. We must get along with other people to get what we want. We must be cooperative and generally be pleasant to be around. Above all, we must be able to relate to the common man.

For the intelligent person, and especially the man of genius, this is a big burden to carry. For the genius, it’s hard to relate to the common man. He will inevitably feel alone.

Therefore, it’s for the best if he learns to enjoy solitude. But why is society so dull in the first place? Schopenhauer’s answer is elitist: because most people are dull. And it’s exactly because most people are dull, that they are driven to interaction with others. It’s as if the average person is not a full person by himself, and needs others to complete him.

The intelligent mind can occupy itself and does not need distractions or empty activity. But for the average person, this kind of activity, literally just passing the time, becomes necessary.

However, Schopenhauer also concedes that the need for solitude is directly related to age. The younger you are, the more need you have for socializing. This is also because your mind is not yet fully developed: the younger we are, the more we are like others.

The essay closes with a word of warning. Seclusion, being alone, has its drawbacks. For example, Schopenhauer notes that we become more irritable by being alone. We are more easily annoyed by minor things because we aren’t accustomed to the turmoils of regular life.

A small rock, thrown into a still lake, causes a notable disturbance. The same rock thrown into a stormy sea, not nearly as much. But this is a small price to pay for peace of mind, which we attain by removing ourselves from the stormy seas of society.

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