This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Europe. We are also witnessing the return of fascist expressions that undermine democracy from within. That is why we must defend universal values and oppose their instrumentalization for the most abject ends. To fight this era and nobility of spirit are two books that are useful for these purposes. Their author, Dutch writer and philosopher Rob Riemen, works to clarify concepts and to call for a new strategy to combat the enemies of freedom. Interview.
José Zepeda: Eighth century B.C. Oracle of Delphi. Before entering to consult the Pythia there was an inscription:
“I warn you, whoever you are, Oh! You who wish to probe the arcana of Nature, that if you do not find within yourself that which you seek, you will not be able to find it outside either.
If you ignore the virtues of your own house, how do you intend to find other virtues? In you the treasure of treasures is hidden.
Oh, man, know yourself and you will know the universe and the Gods.
Is this, in a way, one of the pillars of your book Nobility of Spirit?
Rob Riemen: Yes, it is a short and concise overview of an idea, that of the nobility of spirit, which is explained in the book through narratives. The idea is indeed based – as you have summarized very well – on that Greek inscription which in fact has echoed throughout history.
We know the famous anecdote of Petrarch who climbed Mount Ventoux to admire the beautiful sunrise and took out of his pocket the small book Confessions of St. Augustine where he wrote: people go out to admire the landscapes and forget themselves.
In fact, he says the same thing. At that moment Petrarch thinks “I have to look inside, to explore my own soul.”
Nobility of spirit is based on the fundamental idea that life is a quest, that we are beings who cannot live without having a notion of ‘what is the meaning of my life’. It is inherent to existence, to human consciousness. We all ask ourselves sometime: who am I?; what should I do?; why do these things happen?; why does it happen to me?
I insist. These are the questions that are most dear to us. Every being seeks a certain meaning. It was Nietzsche who said: take away from human beings all sense of their existence and they go mad. Human beings can’t stand it. They cannot be confronted with total emptiness.
How to find answers to questions such as: What is the meaning of my life? What is of sufficient value to me to continue existing? All these concepts can be summed up in the capacity to ennoble your spirit. It’s not about belonging to the nobility or being part of a certain privileged social position. It is about a fundamental democratic ideal, which every human being can appropriate: to consider life as a never-ending quest.
Shortly after Delphi, Socrates – who was well aware that one must know oneself – says in his Apology: all knowledge begins with the examination of oneself. Life is a search for meaning, constantly renewed, and never ending. For this we need what he called Paideia. For Germans this is the ‘Bildung’. We can call it spiritual growth. These are all elements related to the ennoblement of the human spirit.
JZ: The most famous word in journalism, but… don’t you think this ideal is only for a few? In other words, that it is almost never achievable?
BR: And why not?
JZ: Because people are busy with other things and not with their own self.
BR: That’s a choice. They’re parallel things. Everyone is free to let go of things and go in search of the meaning of existence. Free to let his life be dominated by the lust for entertainment. Or other forms of escapism. Free to think that the most important thing in life is to be rich and famous. Unfortunately, we have created a culture where we believe that celebrities, the famous and the rich live the most enviable lives. They don’t. But these are choices that people can make in a free society.
JZ: And the elite, have they made that choice?
BR: We have to think about the meaning of the words. What do we mean by elite? I think you mean the people who currently hold certain positions of power.
JZ: In two ways. Indeed, the positions of power, the decision makers. That is, the economy and the State. And on the other hand, the intellectuals.
BR: In principle, to ennoble your spirit you don’t need much money, no particular social position is necessary, no religion. You might have one, but it’s not necessary. Everyone is free to do so. And not to do so. But everything has consequences. If you consider the society in which we live today, it is indeed a reality dominated by a certain type of thinking. This is the result of those people who have a strong influence on us. It is always there, in the world of politics and in the world of business, in the world of entertainment and in the world of education, and in the world of the media. It is certainly not a world that supports the ideal of nobility of spirit. I describe it as a world that is, in fact, dominated by kitsch. It pretends to offer something important, but it is a lot of pretty things that lack content.
Let’s go to the consequences. Considering a country that loves numbers the most, the United States of America, the figures are not made up, they are the facts – 175 people die of an overdose every day. Imagine a terrorist attack in which 17 people die. The world explodes. But, 175 people die from an overdose. Suicide rates are rising. Antidepressant consumption increases. Every year 50,000 people die as a result of armed violence.Print