Robert asked:

Schopenhauer said that 5/6ths of people were ‘worthy of contempt’. Plato called them ‘beasts’. Einstein said ‘the stupid majority are invincible and always will be’. I feel pseudo-trapped in a kind of monkey dystopia full of stupid beasts worthy of contempt. They coat the land as far as the eye can see. All the gods have gone back to Olympus. Oracles are pariahs. What am I to do about this minor inconvenience?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

It depends in part on where you place yourself. If you happen to be among the 1/6th approved of by Schopenhauer, then the minor inconvenience should not be a problem for you. But another perspective on the matter is, that without the other 5/6th, you would be incognisant of your great merit. So there are benefits to being part of this immense blanket of jelly blubber on whom some optimist once bestowed the flattering title ‘homo sapiens’.

However, on the off chance that Schopenhauer, Plato or Einstein et al were inclined to toss you into the crowd of invincible stupidos, compensation is after all not very far away. The latter are the ones who grow the food, build the houses, deliver the mail, give you headache pills, entertain you with song and acting, issue driver’s licences and generally do their best to organise the country into a semblance of order. Einstein couldn’t tie his own shoelaces; he believed in God; and after 1915 never made another worthwhile contribution to science. Schopenhauer wrote his great book at age 26; after that his creative juices dried up and he became an eating and excreting machine like the rest of us. As for Plato, the nincompoops in Sicily who failed to grasp his political philosophy can be excused on the argument that the nourishment of the soul is secondary to the nourishment of your bones and muscles and reproductive equipment – as Brecht said, it is impossible to philosophise on an empty stomach, and this is something Plato had no experience of.

So these grandiose imprecations which seem to bother you are not really worth the bother. I’ve heard members of the 5/6th brigade make similar comments. Most people think they are smarter than they are. The real problem, the underlying problem, is quite different. The idea of the value of a human life is at stake. Einstein’s theory knows nothing of it; therefore it is dispensable. Schopenhauer reduced it to a mechanism he called ‘the will’, as a surrogate for the gods who retired to Olympus; while Plato confused the intellectual emaciation of his philosopher kings with the operation of a cosmic harmony to which, however, cobblers and coopers, bears and beans, fair and foul weather are equally important. All three were ignorant of ‘what life is’. It is a predicament many of us share with them; but this only means that an agenda exists which thus far only the religions have tackled, though they consistently grabbed the wrong end of the stick.

Let me put it into a dirty little nutshell and say my goodbye: The 1/6th has responsibility for the 5/6th; it is their only justification for inhabiting their select company. Contempt up there is contemptible; it presumes too much. For the measure of a life is not one book, one law nor one theory – it is three-score and ten. If the 5/6th are needed to applaud, adopt and understand (take note of the word ‘understand’!) Plato et al, then the situation is at least grossly exaggerated. Yes, we like to look up and aspire; but that does not license anyone to exploit the gaze directed upward at them for their own self-aggrandisement.