Ressentiment: Frustration and Flourishing

Ressentiment refers to the “sentiment of resent” towards one’s frustrations, whether they resulting from natural or social phenomenon. This resent causes man to transcend himself, to delve deeper into his reflective consciousness, and create new valuations, a new system of morality that allows him to perceive and therefore interact with the world in a more advantageous way, a way that is reflective of and suited for his intentions, his interests.

Ressentiment is a good thing. It indicates struggle. Struggle provides the fertile ground necessary for all flourishing, for all growth. Without struggle, without challenge, there is no development, no adaptation, no transcendence of mind and circumstance.

Resentment is a manifestation of conflict. Its byproduct is struggle and frustration. Paramount to realizing the value of ressentiment is the inability to escape, whether this is a physical or social or psychological consequence. If one escapes the conflict, there is no struggle, and therefore no opportunity to create and transcend and ultimately actualize private intentions and valuations. Oppression, notably slavery, is the typifying situation that breeds ressentiment. In every culture is it revolution that describes the overthrowing of impeding structures, paradigms, values, and modes of thought. Slavery to a single man or a single system makes no difference, whether it is a political dictator or a prevailing system of scientific process.

Philosophy is a product of this conflict. It epitomizes struggle through its process of resolution through inquiry, meditation, dialogue, and dialectical method. Its very nature seeks to reconcile paradoxical and contradictory themes, ideas, values,  and modes. Kant describes philosophy as Kampf, or struggle.

Ressentiment is a deep, invidious, ruminating state of being that possesses an individual’s mind. It manifests as the conscious mind, exhausted and taxed with futile attempts to overcome an obstacle interfering with its intention, retreats inwardly to seek self-generated solutions, to create alternative worlds of ulterior values. It calls upon the wisdom of the divine, the daemon or genius, to synthesize a deviant psychology for overcoming the conflict. It is a purely creative act, a purely spiritual enterprise that taps into the mental faculties embodying the holistic condition of man as a spatial and temporal creature, a product of historical conditions situated in a present context.

They say, familiarity breeds contempt. I would posit, more aptly, that familiarity breeds ressentiment. Familiarity is none other than an indicator of security, the status quo. The phenomenon of familiarity is an index of malignant stagnation, a threat to life, to change, to evolution and adaptation.

The will to power, as Nietzsche believed, was the mechanism of overcoming this ressentiment and, when exercised freely, a healthy manifestation of man’s ability to adapt, overcome, and dominate impeding obstacles, challenges, and forces that trap, stifle, and oppress man’s natural physical and mental propensities to flourish.

How do we leverage the power of ressentiment towards human flourishing? Push back on the world. Harbor a bitterness that rejects that familiar, a resentment for anything static and unchanging and unevolving. Take disparate domains of thought and force them together, insist that they occupy the same place, the same context, however foreign the landscapes of their genesis may appear. Never mind the revolting perversity this produces in you. Embrace the tendency to reject the revulsion as a healthy indicator, a mark in the nascent production of wisdom, of progressing latent understanding and perspective into actuality. What is revolting is good. Use the visceral revulsion, the revolt, to produce a revolution within you: a revolution that transcends present being.

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