Reviewing familiar principles and maxims in the face of mortal illness, Christopher Hitchens has found one of them increasingly ridiculous: “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Oh, really? Take the case of the philosopher to whom that line is usually attributed, Friedrich Nietzsche, who lost his mind to what was probably syphilis. Or America’s homegrown philosopher Sidney Hook, who survived a stroke and wished he hadn’t. Or, indeed, the author, viciously weakened by the very medicine that is keeping him alive.
Or, as George Carlin said, much more succinctly:
Here’s more middlebrow bullshit philosophy. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” I’ve got something more realistic: “That which does not kill me may sever my spinal cord, crush my rib cage, cave in my skull and leave me helpless and paralyzed, soaking in a puddle of my own waste.” Put that in your T-shirt, touchy feely New Age asshole!
Yeah, it’s a bit of a shame that of all the things Nietzsche wrote, this should be possibly the bite-sized quotation that’s become part of the collective consciousness. He wrote much more profound stuff, really! But I think Hitchens is right in saying that all he really meant by it was to attempt to affirm the few periods of pain-free existence he had as he aged, in keeping with his thoughts on the eternal recurrence and all that. And the romantic in me can sympathize with the proud, defiant gesture of it. Like the eternal recurrence, treat it as a thought experiment rather than a factual statement, a brave attempt to hold on to all that gives your life meaning even when facing unbearable suffering, and I think it sounds a lot less facile.
…adding, this is just fucking stupid. Of course it’s not “true”. Is logical positivism suddenly back in vogue? What simpleton ever took the phrase literally in the first place? And what is this “atheist list” of maxims from which it must be scratched? We have our own official list of U.S.D.A. certified godless aphorisms now? Is it a list of sayings by atheists, for atheists, or both? What are the penalties for quoting unapproved sources?