Nothing is true/Everything is beautiful

In On the Genealogy of Morals,¬†Friedrich Nietzsche recounts the so-called assassins creed – the secret motto of “that unconquered Order of Assassins, that free-spirited order par excellence.”

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

“Well now,” Nietzsche writes, “That was spiritual freedom. With that the very belief in truth was cancelled.”

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

One might find cause to worry at those words – even if the phrase weren’t attributed to a secret order of assassins, a group of men whose morals almost certainly fall outside my own.

“Nothing is true,” is nearly damning in itself, but the haunting corollary “Everything is permitted,” seems a dreadful fate. It invokes, perhaps, a world of chaos and anarchy. Where men do as they please and where “as they please” is almost never pleasant.

Everything is permitted allows the worst of humanity the freedom to reign.

Perhaps.

In Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut offers what feels like the next breath in the thought:

Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.

As far as I know, these two lines have never appeared together, yet they fit for me like two lines from the same stanza.

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.

Vonnegut’s words appear on a tombstone, indicating, perhaps, the freedom of non-existence which comes with death. Oblivion, it seems, is not all that bad. It comes, at least, with a release from pain and an awe-inspiring awareness of the beauty of mere existence.

Profoundly tragic and sublime, Vonnegut’s vision of the void seems to offer…peace, if that rough word can do this idea justice.

But what does this have to do with a world where all is permitted? Where men run wild and loose their will upon the world?…

It is commonly assumed that a dissolution of truth will necessarily descend into despair. That men would go mad should they stare into the void, that all would be lost if they dare believe for a moment that nothing is true and everything is permitted.

Perhaps, like a number of townspeople in Albert Camus’ The Plague, they would spend their days boozing, whoring, or simply doing nothing…unable to face the death that seemed certain to destroy them. Or perhaps, like Rieux, Tarrou, or Grand, they would find new meaning through their lives in the doomed town of Oran.

Everything is beautiful.

There is beauty in the void. There is something positive, hopeful, numinous – none of our English words seem to do it justice. But that awe is there.

Nothing is true is not synonymous with all is lost. It’s an expression of freedom.

Everything is beautiful.

Everything is permitted is not an entitlement to carte blanche,¬†it’s a commitment of profound responsibility.

And nothing hurt.

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