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On Hard Mode
Exitus acta probat
To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. – Friedrich Nietzsche
One should avoid going through life on easy mode. Easy mode is for finite games, hard mode is for infinite games. Life is full of infinite games and the infinite games are the only ones worth playing. To gamers hard mode is not a novel concept, many games allow players to start in easy mode while they learn the game. Yet, once players are ready to play the “real” game they switch to hard mode. Hard mode is when stakes are of the highest order and where the true rewards lie. This concept applies to both the game world and the real world. Welcome to the metaverse.
Living life on hard mode is a conscious decision, a decision that not many choose. One can choose easy mode and breeze through life without much failure, but failure is fundamental to a good life. One that chooses hard mode faces stress and failure head on because they know that hard things reap glorious rewards. Rewards in hard mode are not immediate, in fact, in hard mode the rewards may never manifest themselves. Hard mode isn’t about tangible rewards - it’s about the adventure, the wisdom gained, and the enemies conquered. This is the master morality in action which is in opposition to the slave morality. Ah, we now turn to a beautiful Nietzschean dichotomy.
Nietzsche is a radical thinker, and perhaps the master-slave morality is his most radical theory. It's the most radical because it's the most far-reaching. It forces one to fundamentally rethink value. Deep thinking is hard mode.
Master-morality values power, nobility, and independence: it stands “beyond good and evil.”
Slave-morality values sympathy, kindness, and humility and is regarded by Nietzsche as “herd-morality.” Slave morality is what is left when God dies and society no longer follows structured religion. Sound familiar?
The history of society, Nietzsche believes, is the conflict between these two perspectives: the herd attempts to impose its values universally, but the noble master transcends their “mediocrity.” Mediocrity is easy mode. It’s the path that most follow because it pursues pleasure over perseverance.
The substratum of the master morality:
A deep love of oneself and the desire to go on adventures to reaffirm one's greatness.
The substratum of the slave morality:
A deep hatred of the other, and redefining great actions - that it’s incapable of as evil.
This redefinition is, for Nietzsche, slave morality's CREATIVE act. The slave moralist's spiritual motor is his "resentment" - what Nietzsche calls "the vengefulness of the impotent." From a physiological standpoint, the slave needs external stimuli in order to act at all.
Happiness as action vs Happiness as narcotic. The noble person knows that happiness shouldn't be sundered from action". For the slave, happiness means the opposite: the "slackening of tension & relaxing of limbs". The slave finds his happiness in rest; the master in adventure.
The slave despises his enemies, the master reveres - almost loves - his enemies. The noble person wants an enemy "in whom there is much to honor". The noble person wants a great enemy so he can prove himself to be greater.
The slave has "poisonous feelings" towards his enemy. The noble spirit is fundamentally unserious. For Nietzsche, one who is "incapable of taking one's enemies, one's accidents; even one's misdeeds seriously for very long" EMBODIES the master morality.
On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow. – Friedrich Nietzsche
The master is forgetful, the slave knows "how not to forget." How slaves become cleverer over time. Divorced from action, the slave morality plots elaborate revenge fantasies and over time, becomes "cleverer." To survive despite their weakness, they need to strategize, put on masks, and "be provisionally...humble."
Nobility, on the other hand, holds cleverness to be beneath courage. Navigating reality is more important than navigating mental maps or verbal arguments. Here is where Machiavelli and Nietzsche meet. Taking the theoretical and applying it to reality.
How noble souls recognize one another - Noble souls recognize each other through their "enthusiastic impulsiveness in anger, love, reverence, gratitude," and through "a bold recklessness in the face of danger."
The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything. – Friedrich Nietzsche
The noble person is "unable to forgive simply because he - forgets." On the other hand, one with slave morality maintains a scrupulous record of his victimhood. Nietzsche exhorts us to embrace the recklessness of nobility and leave cowardly resentment behind. This leads us to living life in Hard Mode.
Ice baths, sauna treatments, AP classes, jiu jitsu, stairs, fasting, sprints, startups, weight training, meditation, digital fasting, marriage, and children. These are all conscious decisions to live life on hard mode. If one doesn’t switch to hard mode by 25, life switches to impossible mode by 35. Impossible mode is purgatory, where one becomes crystallized in stagnation and nihilism. This is the mediocre masses, the incels, the losers. Start young - find love in one’s teens, switch to hard mode in one’s twenties, and live adventurously in one’s thirties.
Middle-class privilege + middle intelligence + mediocre strategic thinking = incentives that are heavily loaded in favor of getting addicted to playing in easy mode by the time one is a teenager. Why do anything hard when life can be pretty good in most places by simply doing just enough?
Hard mode is gamer lingo, but the default examples in mind are:
Seeing the path to easy straight A’s/4.0 gpa, but taking the hard subjects that are actually interesting and getting B’s/C’s
Studying the subject with enough interest that one doesn’t have to study for the test
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. - James P. Carse
Many adult life decisions have the same choice architecture — basically bucking the Lebowski theorem, but for humans. The Lebowski theorem: No super-intelligent AI is going to bother with a task that is harder than hacking its reward function. For humans, like AI, bothering with a task that’s harder than hacking the reward function attached to it seems inefficient. Yet, consciously choosing not to hack even though one is capable of it is hard mode. It is discipline imposed on oneself to unlock the best version of oneself.
Wealth, relationships, fame, politics, status, publications, awards - all the way up - there’s a reward function one can hack. Hard mode is when by default one chooses not to, but it has to be a choice. Not having or understanding the option is befuddled mode.
Consider playing chess in a club. One must choose whether to play in Hard Mode. If one does, one will fail a lot. One will play the same moves over and over again. Tricks that rely on there only being so many pieces, or going at a relaxed pace, collapse. Eventually, one learns new techniques. One gets better. One plays on expert, ones hand moves swiftly and one grins as moves are traded.
However, hard mode is not pain-seeking or ritual ascetic discipline mode either. If someone else creates it, it’s not hard mode but a kind of unquestioned religion mode. Hard mode isn’t so much a choreographed structure of soul-purifying difficulty as it is a way of seeing and doing.
It’s akin to noticing the hacks in life but rarely using them, and positioning oneself so one doesn’t get played by the people who do use them. It’s an understanding of the rules one plays within during life. Failure to do so, leaves one befuddled, behind, and broken. Yet, one who avoids using hacks not out of any misplaced sense of honor or fair play, but because life gets nihilistically dull if one does. Strive to know the rules of life, so that they can be broken when needed.
An example of this occurred when buying a suit for my best friends wedding. My friend (the groom) wanted to wear a tie with a tux, but the tailor said that doing so is taboo and that usually one should not do so. However, my friend is a highly disagreeable person (a great trait - one should try being more disagreeable). Luckily, the tailor was willing to consider the hard mode alternative and come along for the adventure. So, upon further introspection, the tailor agreed with my friend that he should wear the tie with the tux. The decision came to light when the tailor shouted “I know the rules, if I didn’t know the rules (tie and tux is a no no), and I wore a tie with a tux, I’d be an idiot, but I know the rules and I am going to break them”. So, my friend is wearing a tie with a tux for his wedding. Hard mode in action - paying a high end tailor to learn the rules, look amazing, and buck the normal conventions. Remember that hard mode originates in thought and terminates in action.
Fitness is perhaps the clearest example of hard mode. There is no point “cheating” ones way to records/awards or target weights etc. And the impossible mode that kicks in if one neglects health is what leads to an irreversible slide into middle-aged chronic ill-health, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, sleep apnea etc. This is where the average person finds themselves at age 35. Easy mode leads to maladies and misery.
Hard mode is harder. The reason to live in Hard Mode is because it is the only known way to become stronger, and to defend against Goodhart’s Law - When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure – Goodhart’s law
Ignoring the temptations of Goodhart’s law systematically. Which means one has to learn to see them reliably first. Temptations are not readily evident, thus one needs to refine the ability to spot them and act accordingly. Strategies that work in Easy Mode won’t work in Hard Mode.
Easy mode is actually very hard if one has a low tolerance for arbitrary nonsense because that’s what one has to get good at. This is why one should strive to more disagreeable. Most agreeable types are on easy mode. They are safe and squarely unspectacular.
There are some similarities with “do the work” but that’s usually about righteously pursuing a specific goal with a Noble Heart and True Spirit. Hard mode is less directed, and has no particular spiritual prescription attached. One consciously chooses what is hard in order to later reap the rewards. Hard mode is not for the faint of heart. Rather it is a trait that is cultivated early in life and doesn’t immediately bare fruit. One has something to prove to oneself and show other people what to do by example.