A column about little things that are deceptively similar, yet decisively different. Read & be prepared.
Yesterday I went fishing. Actually, my family were the ones hoping to catch a fish. I was sitting on a deck chair reading Nietzche's Beyond Good and Evil. Ever since I overheard one of my students at Rhodes telling a friend that he thought he might have found Nietzche's best ever quote, I have wanted to spend a few quiet hours working out exactly what this controversial 19th century philosopher really stood for. So here, 10 years later, was my chance. You couldn't really call it reading, as such, because for every one of Nietzche's sentences you need about 10 minutes of deep thinking to work out what he was trying to convey, and longer to work out what he might not have meant to say. Anyway I came across this passage: “From now on all my writings are fish hooks … If nothing got caught I am not to blame. There were no fish!”
Notwithstanding my surprise to find that he had likened philosophy to fishing, the metaphor seemed strangely apt, considering we'd been at it (fishing, that is) for two hours without so much as a hint of catching any fish, despite seemingly going through all the right motions. For a moment I wondered whether fishing is only fishing if you actually catch one. Just then, along came a bunch of teenagers who impolitely (not on purpose, of course, since they didn't actually give the impression that they might know the meaning of politeness) took up residence next to us. One male had a fishing rod and two female hangers-on. The other two males carried a cardboard case of beer, which they proceeded to tear open and duly set out to hastily devour. They were speaking an English of sorts, although their adjectives were repetitive and not listed in a dictionary, if you know what I mean. Unlike us they had no intention of catching fish, or reading philosophy. They were simply being Aussie – It's Sunday afternoon, after all, so why not drink and be merry?
Being in a pensive mood, thanks to the enigmatic Nietzche's ramblings, I allowed my mind to drift to the topic of what makes someone an Aussie. It is, of course, the ultimate problem for every ex-South African who now calls Australia home, or wishes to. And it is a deeply philosophical issue, for which there is unlikely to be a single answer. I have tried many times to define some specific qualities that we ex-South Africans could or should adopt to become accepted members of our adopted society, but the formula remains elusive. This time my thoughts were interrupted by a glance at our neighbours, who continued going about their afternoon without a care in the world and quite oblivious to us. I consoled myself with this conclusion: When you are something, you just are, that's it – no justification, no excuses, no apologies.
On returning to my book, I was to discover, quite coincidentally, Nietzche's own explanation of common sense – “shared understanding arising from frequently occurring similar experiences among people”. And he goes on to say that “the more similar, more ordinary human beings have most success in achieving commonness”. What did he mean, or not mean?
We decided to call it a day and left without a fish. Not our fault. The Aussies left too, also fishless, and beer-less; though not quite motherless. I had to admit that it felt, for a moment, like we had something in common. Perhaps we all got a little closer to an understanding of good and evil, each in our own way, of course.
Dr Dave Robinson is Dean of Business at Imagine College, lecturing professor at Central Queensland University and an entrepreneur, consultant, author, surfer, musician and poet. See www.sabona.com.au/daverobinson