by Eugenio Volpe
"I dislike him."—Why?—"I am not a match for him."—Did anyone ever answer so? -Friedrich Nietzsche
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche viewed ressentiment as the basis of all human ideals. It’s a French philosophical term describing the frustration and animosity one has towards a person perceived as the cause of their suffering and/or feelings of inferiority. Ressentiment is an assignment of blame. The ego creates an enemy as a way of eschewing guilt, as a way of disregarding individual shortcomings. Thus, one does not fail because of internal flaws but rather the evildoing of some external antagonist. When directly confronted with this superior force, the ego defends itself by formulating a value system or morality of rejection/justification. Jeter sucks because he always beats the Red Sox. Tom Brady is cocky because his wife is hotter than mine. My surf sessions are always lacking because Volpe is a wave hog.
For Nietzsche, modern society is in a state of moral ambiguity due to conflicting values, those of Greek and Roman masters and Judeo Christian slaves, or in surfing terms, rippers and kooks. Nietzsche defined this struggle as “master-slave morality.” The cultures of ancient Greece and Rome valued the moral characteristics of masters. They valued nobility and power, truthfulness and open-mindedness. The nobleman is strong-willed and views “goodness” as all that is helpful and useful to him. He views himself as the measurer of all things. The nobleman wills himself to power. He values creativity. He builds empires. He does not seek approval. He is not afraid to judge. Meekness and humility are deemed “bad.” In surfing terms, the ripper wills himself into position for the best waves. He is stronger. He has more stamina, more athleticism. He does not give waves to lesser surfers out of charity. He blatantly sprays you in the face with his mighty hack.
In contrast to master morality, Nietzsche defines slave morality as the Judeo Christian valuation of humility and skepticism, pity and charity. Whereas master morality originated from the strong, slave morality originated from the weak. The slave exerts his will through subversion not power. He revalues what the master values. He topples power instead of building his own. He villainizes the master. He does not seek to transcend his master but to make him a slave. Slave morality is the sentimental weakness of equality. For Nietzsche, the democratic movement is the heir of Christianity. It celebrates mediocrity and empowers the weak. The slave finds safety in the herd and gains power from it. The empires of Europe are torn down. Democratic governments are put in place serving the needs of the weak. The meek shall inherit your surf line-up! Maybe they already have, that pack of unskilled longboarders sitting on the peak, preventing the ripper from fulfilling his potential. But the kooks have a right to their share of waves too! Don’t they?
According to Nietzsche, we struggle ideologically between the values of the master and slave. With which morality do we most identify? We revere genius and physical prowess in this country. The American Dream is based on the idea of a person willing themselves to power. Oprah. Steve Jobs. Derek Jeter. We applaud their existential and monetary transcendence. We want them to do supernatural things. We want Kelly Slater to blow our minds, but we don’t want him making us feel too inferior. Our celebrity masters are allowed to be great, but their talents must serve and entertain us without shrinking our egos. They must act like our equal. They must not think themselves “better” than us. These expectations are absurd. They are the neurotic ressentiment of slaves.
In opposition to our celebration of athletes and CEOs, is our belief in humility and pity. Through subversion, the slaves have built a system of laws to protect themselves from the master. They have convinced him that slavery is evil. All men are viewed equally, regardless of how ugly or talentless one might be. In this way, democracy and Christianity promote mediocrity. Jesus taught self-sacrifice and humility. He did not will himself to power. He did not climb down from his cross and roundhouse kick Pontius Pilate. He allowed himself to be crucified. He took pity on his enemies and thus the shepherd of the meek led his herd to victory! The richest religion in the world gave birth to the most powerful country in the world where the majority always rules, regardless of how ignorant or bloodthirsty they might be. Upholding this utilitarian ideology has become more important than truth.
The master-slave morality also applies to surf line-ups. I’ve been noticing a certain amount of ressentiment amongst kooks these days in that they hardly hoot at an exceptional ride or maneuver. Even rippers seem hesitant to hoot at other rippers. It’s as if nobody wants to recognize the superior skills of another surfer. There are lots of delusional and hyper-sensitive egos bobbing around out there pretending not to see the shredding of others. Most guys won’t even turn to watch another surfer ride a wave. This has also become evident over the years in the NESURF forums. A member might post some average or below average photos of inferior surfing. Fellow message-boarders leave dozens of insulting and critical comments. In contrast, a member posts a thread of photos in which he is ripping the snot out of it and the message board goes crickets. Not a single praiseful response. Not a single cyber hoot.
The lack of hooting also applies to empty waves peeling perfectly across the impact zone. I’ll be paddling back out from a wave and an incredible set will approach. Nobody will hoot as this slab of perfection breaks and barrels across the impact zone. Everybody has become self-conscious and morose out in the water. The lineup has been quiet as a church as of late, the eggshell silence of fragile egos. Rhode Island guys in particular.
That said there’s nothing worse than a kook hooting for another kook amidst them doing something completely kooky. Hoots are like f-bombs. You can’t overuse them or else they lose their meaning and impact. Reserve them for tubes and big moves, not because your weekend warrior bro has managed to get to his feet on a shoulder high peak.
Never mind hooting, you’ve got to love the guy who won’t even watch your ride as you pump past him and throw a bucket of spray six feet over his head. He paddles over the back of the wave as if you’re not even there. He doesn’t want to see it. He doesn’t want to face the superior skillset. He resents your presence in the lineup. He paddles around, flashing stink eye, jockeying for set waves that he can’t adequately surf. This is what Nietzsche would describe as the man of ressentiment who “is neither upright nor honest and straightforward with himself…he loves hiding places, secret paths and back doors, everything covert entices him as his world, his security.” This description also sums up the angry local, but that is another article in the making.
I love watching surfers who are both better and worse than me. Unless I am duck-diving or surfing a wave myself, I watch every ride of a session. I want to see everything, if only so I can better it all, but mostly because it’s part of the overall experience. I’ll hoot for a surfer I hate if they do something worthy. I’ll hoot an annoying kook into a sick wave if they’re in position. Why not? My ego doesn’t need false securities. It doesn’t need to assign blame. I know that my tube riding skills are lacking, but whenever someone pulls into a barrel and draws a perfect line, I hoot at the top of my lungs for them. It’s a surfer’s duty to hoot at someone pulling off something rad. You’re a humungous kook if you don’t.
The surfer who won’t watch me rip is the blameful slave. He’d rather I ride my wave with humility. He’d rather me sacrifice my talent and abilities for the sake of his own ego. The surfer of ressentiment hates me for reminding him of his straight-legged turns. He and his friends will form a herd in the lineup. They will block the Jesus Christ Superstar from catching waves. They will prevent him from shredding. They want to see miraculous surfing but only from themselves or close friends. They’d rather everyone back on single fins, riding straight to the beach in their best crucifixion stance.
I can hear my detractors now. “I hate Volpe.”—Why—“Because he’s a better surfer than me.” Have any of them ever answered so?