Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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Knowledge of Distress.

Perhaps there is nothing by which men and periods are so much separated from one another, as by the different degrees of knowledge of distress which they possess; distress of the soul as well as of the body.  With respect to the latter, owing to lack of sufficient self experience, we men of the present day (in spite of our deficiencies and infirmities), are perhaps all of us blunderers and visionaries in compansor with the men of the age of fear -the longest of all ages, when the individual had to pro tect himself against violence, and for that purpose had to be a man of violence himself.  At that time a man went through a long schooling of corporeal tortures and privations, and found even in a certain kind of cruelty toward himself, in a voluntary use of pain, a necessary means for his preservation; at that time a person trained his environment the endurance of pain; at that time a person willingly inflicted pain, and saw the most fnghtfi things of this kind happen to others, withouthaving any other feeling than for his own security.  As regards the distress of the soul however, I now look at every man with respecl to whether he knows it by experience or by description; whether he still regards it as necessary to simulate this knowledge, perhaps as an indication of more refined culture; or whether, at the bottom of his heare, he does not at all believe in great sorrows of soul, and at the naming of them calls to mind a similar experience as at the naming of great corporeal sufferings, such as tooth aches, and stomach aches.  It is thus, however, that it seems to be with most people at present.  Owing to the universal inexperience of both kinds of pain, and the comparative rarity of the spectacle of a sufferer, an important consequence results: people now hate pain far more than earlier man did, and calumniate it worse than ever; indeed people nowadays can hardly endure the thought of pain, and make out of it an affair of conscience and a reproach to collective existence.  The appearance of pessimistic philosophies is not at all the sign of great and dreadful miseries; for these interrogative marks regarding the worth of life appear in periods when the refinement and alleviation of existence already deem the unavoidable gnat-stings of the soul and body as altogether too bloody and wicked; and in the poverty of actual experiences of pain, would now like to make painful general ideas appear as suffering of the worst kind.  There might indeed be a remedy for pessimistic philosophies and the excessive sensibility which seems to me the real "distress of the present": but perhaps this remedy already sounds too cruel, and would itself be reckoned among the symptoms owing to which people at present conclude that "existence is something evil."  Well!  the remedy for "the distress" is - distress.  
 

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