“Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming,” Friedrich Nietzsche warned in 1885′s Also sprach Zarathustra, “he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man:”
‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks.
The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.
‘We have invented happiness,’say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth…
One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.
No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.
‘Formerly, all the world was mad,’ say the most refined, and they blink…
One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.
‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink.”
We are less than seven years away from the anniversary of the end of World War I, and the last surviving combat veteran of the war died this year. There might be young people unaware of the dire historical facts and the unspeakable human toll of that war, but for almost everyone else, the sheer scale of the losses and nightmarish reality of the trenches, repeated in refrain for almost a century, has dulled us to the staggering truth of it all. Which is probably why Spielberg and the creators of War Horse have seen fit to transfer our sympathy from a mere human caught in that carnage to a horse, enlisting it to re-awake our sense of pathos in the form of that most noble and graceful of animals, into whose big, dark, anxious eyes Spielberg invests so much human emotion. It’s a remarkable feat, to be sure, but some part of me can’t help but be saddened that we’ve had to transfer to an animal what we can no longer comprehend in men.
Or as a headline at the London Telegraph noted yesterday, “BBC criticised for naming panda as a woman of the year.”