One of my favorite quotes from Nietzsche is a passage from The Gay Science where he attacks the those with complacently unquestioning ways of thinking:
“But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors [discordant concord of things] and of this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning, without at least hating the person who questions, perhaps even finding him faintly amusing—that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human being has this feeling, simply because he is human. This is my type of injustice.” (trans. Walter Kaufmann)
Nowhere is this more true than in Qinghai, where complacency, ignorance, a combination thereof or a feigning of either is the invariable modus operandi. Take the torturous process of getting a visa for the teacher who will join me in Rebgong next year. Our waiban (head of foreign affairs), though extremely friendly, has been remarkably accepting and unquestioning about the vagaries of the process. When he travels to Xining to meet with the bureau of foreign affairs, he doesn’t ask when the visa might be done, or if we could help in any way, or if the headmaster could do anything. He simply accepts the fact that it will be done “sometime soon” – and, with that ultimate assurance, decides that his curiosity is satisfied.
But why is the visa taking so long? When can we expect it to be finished? What needs to be done? Is it partially due to the broader crackdown on foreigners in China? Or is it because we live in a sensitive area? Or do we need to (metaphorically) massage certain aspects of the process (e.g. egos, wallets) to make it come to a conclusion satisfactory for all involved?
One of the most difficult things about living in Qinghai is to refrain from asking “why?”, to resist the nearconstant urge to question everything around you, to sometimes simply be satisfied with an internal questioning or simply a because it is so. No water? Random people dropping their pants in the middle of the street? Thursday class on Sunday? Electricity and internet out? No why, teacher. Because.
And this is the aspect of life in Qinghai that one must learn or get used to, else it crushes and demoralizes you. Accepting complete illogic and utter randomness in daily life can be difficult initially. But I’ve grown to accept this as – not to get too grandiose – the underlying (dis)order of the universe. I sometimes think that Nietzsche, who demands that we always continue to question ourselves – our surroundings, our morality, our assumptions – would be supremely frustrated living in Rebgong. But at other times, I think that Nietzsche the skeptical immoralist, the part-time relativist and full-time anti-nihilist life-affirmer – would be in his element. Though explicable causes for the things that happen here are not forthcoming, that does not mean an end to the questioning. What he would see in Qinghai would be an ultimate confusion of expected actions, beliefs, thoughts, morality; a maelstrom of life that would force one, through its sheer complexity and seeming lack of cohesion, to reexamine more closely that which one previously held dear – those things once thought of as familiar. The event which occurs here doesn’t force us to question itself; it forces us to analyze and question ourselves.
Switzerland, his preferred escape, was too embedded in the familiar; Nietzsche should have vacationed in Qinghai.