Volatility

July 7, 2011

The Nietzschean Ascent to Democracy (2 of 2)

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Nietzsche — Tags: , — Russ @ 4:19 am

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In part 1 I discussed Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power as it could be applied to political sublimation toward democracy, opposed to the currently prevailing gutter manifestation of this will in politics and the economy.
 
The highest human embodiment of this sublimated will to power would be what Nietzsche called the Ubermensch, often grandiloquently translated as “Superman”, although N’s translator Walter Kaufmann has explained why “Overman” is a better rendering. The Ubermensch has sublimated his will to power because he’s able to organize his inner energies and exert them toward a unified creative goal. The same can be true for peoples and for humanity as a whole.
 
The most concise description of the concept appears in “Zarathustra’s Prologue” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
 

I teach you the Overman. Man is something that shall be
overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
All beings so far have created something beyond themselves: and you
want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the
beast than surpass man?
What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just
the same shall man be to the Overman: a laughing-stock, a thing of
shame.
You have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is
still worm. Once you were apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than
any of the apes.
Even the wisest among you is only a conflict and a cross between plant
and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?
The Overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The
Overman shall be the meaning of the earth!
I conjure you, my friends, remain true to the earth, and don’t believe
those who speak unto you of otherworldly hopes!….

What is the greatest thing you can experience?
The hour when you say: “What good is my happiness? It is poverty
and pollution and wretched contentment. But my happiness should
justify existence itself.”
The hour when you say: “What good is my reason? Does it long for
knowledge as the lion for his food? It is poverty and pollution and
wretched contentment.”
The hour when you say: “What good is my virtue? As yet it hath not
made me rage. How weary I am of my good and my bad. It is all
poverty and pollution and wretched contentment.”…
Not your sin but your thrift that cries out to heaven.
Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the
frenzy with which you should be inoculated?
Lo, I teach you the Overman: he is that lightning, he is this
frenzy!….

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and Overman – a
rope over an abyss.
A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous
looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting…

It is time for man to set a goal. It is time for man to plant
the seed of his highest hope.
Still is his soil rich enough for it. But that soil will one day
be poor and exhausted, and no great tree will any longer be able to
grow from it.
Alas! there cometh the time when man will no longer launch the arrow
of his longing beyond man
I tell you: one must still have chaos in one to give birth to a
dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
(sections 3-5)

 
Humanity has reached a crossroads; we can transcend ourselves, or ebb and regress. Our concern with a narrow notion of “the soul” at the expense of the body has brought about a fetishism of shallow notions of happiness, reason, virtue, justice, pity. All these are comprehended in a narrow, doctrinaire, stultifying way. We need a new vision and a new sense of meaning.
 
At all times we’re a potential as well as something actual, suspended over a dangerous spiritual abyss, where our spirit is tested. This test is an existential reality, not some religious abstraction. When Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls”, he meant that in a very earthly way. We must fully exert all our capacities to meet the challenge of this trial. Our will to power decrees that we wish only to give, to release, to expend ourselves, to perish and be renewed.
 
We must set a goal, we must “plant the seed of our highest hope”. Time is critical. The present moment shall never be repeated. If we squander it, we shall squander our very humanity forever. Nietzsche’s term for the “Last Man” who willingly squanders his humanity is the Untermensch.
 
But if we could overcome our childishness, profligacy, idiotic dogmas, petty and self-hobbling resentments, if we could assume adult responsibilities and become more rational and scientific (but also recognize the limits of reason and science), we’d transcend ourselves. If we, passionate beings, could live a fuller life of passion controlled and mediated by reason, passion sublimated as spirit and creativity, we’d transcend ourselves. This fuller, richer, more intelligent, more creative human being would be an “Overman” compared to the flawed, childish, dogmatic person of today, vacillating between hating his passions and being their slave; between the nihilistic worship of science and reason and the nihilistic rejection of them.
 
Thus humanity strides a tightrope between beast and self-transcendence, self-overcoming.
 
Again, with Nietzsche such concepts are always to be taken primarily in a spiritual sense. The Overman is not pictured as a political or economic tyrant. He’s master of his own inner drives and energies. The Ubermensch, if he existed in perfect form, would probably be someone we’d never hear of. He’d be self-contained, self-sufficient, spiritually unified, all his energies self-organized into a symmetric whole. There would be no excess energy. As I discussed in the post on the will to power, the whole spectrum of externalized action, from animal violence to the most rarefied heights of art and philosophy, is the externalization of energy the organism wasn’t strong enough to organize within itself. Even the greatest artists and philosophers were imperfect, too weak not to achieve such things.
 
So the Overman wouldn’t have an exoteric being which compels public action, and of course he’d never strive for money or power. In this existing configuration of civilization (if it weren’t a kleptocracy, which I’ll get to in a moment), he might be a teacher, or a small farmer, or a craftsman/artist. He wouldn’t be a campus activist, or in agribusiness, and he wouldn’t be a “driven” creative artist (since he wouldn’t have that drive to externalize in the first place). In a different, Uber-civilization, he might be different. There he might be like an ancient Greek, a thinker strolling the marketplace.
 
So that’s the individual according to Nietzsche. He also applied the concept to history. We can look at it this way. Humanity experienced its childhood, which was characterized by a religious outlook. Then there was its adolescence of the secular faith in progress, reason and science, representative government, capitalism. Now the modern age has brought our knowledge and ideas to the point that humanity, to use a biological metaphor, has reached the age of adulthood, and we’re ready to assume adult responsibilities. For Nietzsche, since the spiritual and intellectual were always paramount for him, this meant dispensing with both religion and scientism to evolve a mature philosophy of controlled spirituality and passion and respect for reason as a tool but nothing more. This is what Nietzsche called the Dionysian. By contrast, those who still adhere to religion have the minds of children, while those who still cling to Enlightenment myths about society and science are arrested adolescents.
 
To this we political animals can add the transcending of all belief in elites. Nietzsche’s call to reject the authority of priests and system philosophers has its parallel in the call to reject the fraudulent authority of politicians and capitalists. In the political and economic realm, reaching adulthood and assuming adult responsibilities means taking responsibility for our own rule, in our polities and economies. Here again, to slavishly follow a Leader is a symptom of retardation, while to still believe in “responsive” government and “accountable” elites indicates one’s adolescent mindset. Nietzsche himself didn’t care about economics and politics, but if we apply ideas like the Ubermensch, we discover its anarchist implications.
 
To give one specific example, capitalism means that an ever greater proportion of people are unable to survive independently. This is true in both the physical and intellectual senses (and usually in the spiritual as well). This includes families, communities, whole regions as well. It seeks to reduce us to the state of helpless children (where it will then abuse and starve us). So it follows that capitalism = infantilization, regression; while to overcome capitalism = to assume adult responsibilities. This overcoming simply means taking economic responsibility for oneself.
 
The same is true of representative government and the incapacity to take political responsibility for oneself.
 
Everything in history, if it evolves for long enough, evolves through a cycle of stages, from Discovery to the Progressive stage to the Decadent stage to the Malevolent stage. The Hebrew scriptures already knew this as written in their book of Ecclesiastes. This too is part of Nietzsche’s idea (though that way of phrasing it is my own). All aspects of elitism are long past any Progressive stage they may ever have had. Today elitism is Decadent at best (in the arts, philosophy, and all the things Nietzsche valued most), and in most cases Malevolent (in politics, the economy, science/technology, intellectuals insofar as they are political flunkeys).
 
Meanwhile democracy remained for thousands of years in the Discovery stage. It has endured these millennia of false starts, hijackings, diversions, misdirections. 1788 was a pivotal example. Only now is democracy ready to come into its own, to reach its full Progressive stage, which it can do only if we among humanity are ready to take up the torch and bear it ourselves.
 
I’ll close with another quote from Nietzsche, where he lays out what he considers the ethic of the Ubermensch, the gift-giving virtue.
 

It is your thirst to become sacrifices and gifts yourselves: and
therefore you have the thirst to pile up all riches in your soul.
Insatiably your soul strives for treasures and jewels, because your
virtue is insatiable in desiring to give.
You force all things to flow towards you and into you, so that
they shall flow back again out of your well as the gifts of your
love.
Verily, such a gift-giving love must approach all values like a robber;
but wholesome and holy I call this selfishness….

Remain true to the earth, my friends, with the power of your
virtue. Let your gift-giving love and your knowledge serve
the meaning of the earth…
Bring back to the earth the virtue which has flown away – back to the
body, back to life: that it may give to the earth its meaning, a human
meaning!…

And once again shall you become my friends and the children of
one hope: then I’ll be with you for the third time, to celebrate the
great noont with you.
And it is the great noon when man stands in the middle of his
way between beast and Overman and celebrates his way to the
evening as his highest hope: for it is the way to a new morning.
At such time will he who goes under bless himself for being one
who goes over and beyond; and the sun of his knowledge will stand
at high noon for him.
“Dead are all the Gods: now we want the Overman to live.”- On that
great noon, let this be our final will.

 
When we try to picture the basis of a truly democratic society, here’s one vision we can consider.

October 2, 2009

Robinson Jeffers: “Apology For Bad Dreams”

Filed under: Marx, Nietzsche — Tags: — Russ @ 6:47 pm
In my post on Nietzsche and Science I mentioned Robinson Jeffers’ poem “Apology For Bad Dreams”. In this post I want to offer some thoughts and impressions from this poem.
 
Jeffers was intimately familiar with the concept of the Dionysian, though I don’t recall his using that term for it. The Dionysian, as formulated by Nietzsche, is an idea, a vista, and a moral vision. It’s a union of philosophy and poetry which captures the beauty and terror of history in one philosophical moment. It’s the idea of affirming all that is terrible in life rather than denying it, rather than cursing the world on account of it. Of maintaining good will, integrity, and even good cheer as we fight our way through the troubles which beset us, not by having “faith” in some divine plan or justice which will set it all right, but by affirming the necessity of the whole.
 
This doesn’t mean failing to take the action we must take, it means seeing our action as well as one beauteous part of the logical whole, even if other parts seem ugly from our point of view.
 
Perhaps we need this today more than ever. Today is the age where “Nihilism stands at the door” (N, The Will to Power, section 1). God is dead, and ideology’s attempts to replace it have only accelerated the horror. Between mass religion and totalitarian science (with mass politics always some smothering combination of these) the human soul is crushed. All now serve the corporation, and underlying that the vicious monetizing filth.
 
Mass democracy has utterly failed, has been drowned in the poison of corporate totalitarianism.
 
Will the collapse of the pseudo-civilization based on fossil fuel and exponential debt offer any way toward redemption?
 
At any rate, the one idea which can offer hope to lead us through the conflagrations and the darknesses of our midnights is the Dionysian resolve. The humanism this always offers us is our will to creativity. This is what Nietzsche called sublimation.
 
N recalled that his very first “philosophical trifle”, written when he was around 13, tackled the ancient question of theodicy. Even at that age he went right for the jugular and gave the only answer integrity can possibly give: if god is omnipotent, then all evil is his own evil. And why would god want evil in the world? N revisited the question in Zarathustra, “On the Afterworldly”:
 
The work of a suffering and tortured god, the world then seemed to me. A dream the world then seemed to me, and the fiction of a god: colored smoke before the eyes of a dissatisfied deity. Good and evil and joy and pain and I and you – colored smoke before creative eyes. The creator wanted to look away from himself; so he created the world.
It’s drunken joy for the sufferer to look away from his suffering and to lose himself. Drunken joy and loss of self the world once seemed to me. This world, eternally imperfect, the image of an eternal contradiction, an imperfect image – a drunken joy for its imperfect creator: thus the world once appeared to me.
Thus I too once cast my delusion beyond man, like all the afterworldly.
 
The essence of the Dionysian world view is to bring this artist’s affirmation and will back to the human, back to the worldly. We can still create, as thinkers, as artists, as activists, without denying this world in the process, whether it be as religious or as secular utopians, “drunken” either way. There’s a great German word, aufheben, beloved of German philosophers, which combines the meanings of do away with, carry along with you, and preserve. It means to acknowledge and remember even as you transcend and overcome.
 
So the Dionysian thinker and activist affirms this world even as he strives to change it. A similar concept is that of the renaissance, literally “rebirth”, which combines the best senses of restoration and revolution, while “revolution”, in its original 18th century political sense, meant a “revolving back” to restore the natural order of things. It did not mean to turn things upside down, but to set them back right side up. Marx’s philosophy was “revolutionary” in exactly this sense, seeking to turn the Hegelian philosophy, including its reactionary political end state, “right side up”.
 
Well, that was a short musing on some of the places we can go with this idea. But now to Robinson Jeffers. “Apology for Bad Dreams” is his most passionate statement of his artistic credo (his apologia, that is, explanation – “apology” here doesn’t mean saying “I’m sorry” for anything), his idea of art as a way to sublimate one’s own imperfections and deal with the horrors of the world. To try to combine one’s personal tragedy and the greater tragedies of existence into a contribution, however small, to the beauty of the universe.
 
(I couldn’t find this poem entire online; it’s not yet in the public domain, evidently. But any good pre-war anthology will have it. I’ll be reproducing much of it as I go along.)
 
I.
 
In the purple light, heavy with redwood, the slopes drop seaward,
Headlong convexities of forest, drawn in together to the steep ravine. Below, on the sea-cliff,
A lonely clearing; a little field of corn by the streamside; a roof under spared trees. Then the ocean
Like a great stone someone has cut to a sharp edge and polished to shining. Beyond it, the fountain
And furnace of incredible light shining up from the sunk sun….
 
The beauty and immensity, which includes the little cornfield and house. The people should be beautiful as well.
 
In the little clearing a woman
Is punishing a horse; she had tied the halter to a sapling at the edge of the wood, but when the great whip
Clung to the flanks the creature kicked so hard she feared he would snap the halter; she called from the house
The young man her son; who fetched a chain tie-rope, they working together
Noosed the small rusty links round the horse’s tongue
And tied him by the swollen tongue to the tree.
Seen from this height they are shrunk to insect size.
Out of all human relation….
….You can see the whip fall on the flanks,
The gesture of the arm. You cannot see the face of the woman.
 
They are the petty, the mean, the ugly. What’s far worse than true, stark evil, is everyday, swarming meanness and ugliness.
 
The enormous light beats up out of the west across the cloudbars of the trade-wind. The ocean
Darkens, the high clouds brighten, the hills darken together. Unbridled and unbelievable beauty
Covers the evening world…not covers, grows apparent out of it, as Venus down there grows out
From the lit sky. What said the prophet? “I create good: and I create evil: I am the Lord.”
 
It’s an image of petty human cruelty amid the vastness of uncivilization, indifferent, unconscious nature, the broken rocks and sea,  the grandeur, beauty, and immensity, Earth’s expression of infinity. The most radical contrast.
 
This is life, reality, but as related in a poem, also an image, a phantom. It offers the metaphor of “the Lord”. This is perhaps the idea of unconscious nature but also, as it becomes conscious, the poet himself. This tableau is a creation of the artist god, creating victims. This becomes more explicit later on.
 
II.
 
This coast crying out for tragedy like all beautiful places,
(The quiet ones ask for quieter suffering: but here the granite cliff the gaunt cypresses crown
Demands what victim? The dikes of red lava and black what Titan? The hills like pointed flames
Beyond Soberanes, the terrible peaks of the bare hills under the sun, what immolation?)
This coast crying out for tragedy like all beautiful places: and like the passionate spirit of humanity
Pain for its bread: God’s, many victims’, the painful deaths, the horrible transfigurements…
 
The cold, infinite beauty seems to imply the greatest pains, evils, tragedies. We sense historical infinity, what can metaphorically be called the demand for victims. With this anthropomorphic thought we confront ourselves amid nature. In this personified world beauty and tragedy go hand in hand, but is this an immutable condition of intelligent life? Of life in general? (Unless we’re mystics, we know there’s no such thing as “tragedy” except in our minds, so it’s a condition of intelligent life. But could we ever imagine a place, a universe, where life existed but this wasn’t so? Beauty without tragedy? Or, no beauty and therefore no tragedy? Some seem to want this.)
 
At any rate, this much is true of the human condition, it demands “pain for its bread”, it demands the tragedy itself. It’s redolent of Wagner’s Liebestod, love-through-death.
 
…I said in my heart,
“Better invent than suffer: imagine victims
Lest your own flesh be chosen the agonist, or you
Martyr some creature to the beauty of the place.” And I said,
“Burn sacrifices once a year to magic
Horror away from the house, this little house here
You have built over the ocean with your own hands
Beside the standing boulders: for what are we,
The beast that walks upright, with speaking lips
And little hair, to think that we should always be fed,
Sheltered, intact, and self-controlled? We sooner more liable
Than the other animals….”
 
But we can sublimate this demand, we can eat the bread of art. This is the sacrifice through sublimation. Most of all the creator of art sacrifices of himself in this way through creation rather than through destruction, of himself or others. (Too bad capitalistic “creative destruction” isn’t like this.)
 
That’s why humanity created art: not audience catharsis, but the sublimation of human greatness.
 
And Jeffers even wonder if perhaps (through what – some notion of karma?) this can help avoid victimization from without as well. At any rate, to help achieve freedom from fear, a psychological reality.
 
….Pain and terror, the insanities of desire; not accidents but essential,
And crowd up from the core:” I imagined victims for those wolves, I made them phantoms to follow,
They have hunted the phantoms and missed the house. It is not good to forget over what gulfs the spirit
Of the beauty of humanity, the petal of a lost flower blown seaward by the night-wind, floats to its quietness.
 
It’s no joke, although civilization tries to make it so, or reduce it to a nuisance. Man’s unrest, the evils and pain, are essential to him. We must create victims, or else be murderers and cannibals. We’re always close to the edge, “pain and terror are essential”. The creator’s mission is most critical, for this grapples with the core of the human tragedy. The Dionysian mission, the exuberant will to face even the most evil, fearful truths with courage and affirmation, to transform all the tremblings of fear to vibrations of life.
 
III.
 
Verse three pictures primeval man amid the shoreline boulders, a creator of gods and art as he first generates the fire.
 
Here the granite flanks are scarred with ancient fire, the ghosts of the tribe
Crouch in the nights beside the ghost of a fire…..
….These have paid something for the future
Luck of the country, while we living keep old griefs in memory: though God’s
Envy is not a likely fountain of ruin, to forget evils calls down
Sudden reminders from the cloud: remembered deaths be our redeemers;
Imagined victims our salvation……
 
We must not “forget evils”, but rather “keep old griefs in memory” (but not necessarily as those griefs). The primeval tribesmen (we imagine them as ghosts, “by the ghost of a fire”) did their part, and we must remember in order to do our part.
 
Perhaps it’s all superstition. Perhaps, although our intellect and reason have grown, we’re still at our core immature and mystical, still on some level primeval, still the ghosts of the primal fire. The phantoms we create suspend the ghosts, are suspensions of the ghost, a living thread which connects us retrospectively with that primal night, circling the flame. 
 
This memory faculty and creative forgetting brings me back to Nietzsche and his second essay in Genealogy of Morals, and the posts I started writing about that essay. (A series I’ll be continuing soon.)
 
That’s the key to the kind of memory we need, the kind of debt we owe. Meanwhile Jeffers recalls his own tragic creation from an earlier poem, a small attempt of his to help redeem humanity, all we have suffered, through art.
 
….white as the half-moon at midnight
Someone flamelike passed me, saying, “I am Tamar Cauldwell, I have my desire,”
Then the voice of the sea returned, when she had gone by, the stars to their towers…..
 
IV.
 
Now we come to J’s theology and theodicy (meaning his Dionysian mythology).
 
He brays humanity in a mortar to bring the savor
From the bruised root: a man having bad dreams, who invents victims, is only the ape of that God.
He washes it out with tears and many waters, calcines it with fire in the red crucible,
Deforms it, makes it horrible to itself: the spirit flies out and stands naked, he sees the spirit,
He takes it in the naked ecstasy; it breaks in his hand, the atom is broken, the power that massed it
Cries to the power that moves the stars, “I have come home to myself, behold me.
I bruised myself in the flint mortar and burnt me
In the red shell, I tortured myself, I flew forth,
Stood naked of myself and broke me in fragments,
And here am I moving the stars that are me.”
 
Man’s creation of god, and through this god’s of man, and of the sublimation of the will to power, art, thought, invention, striving, dreaming, “bad dreaming”….
 
I have seen these ways of God: I know of no reason
For fire and change and torture and the old returnings.
He being sufficient might be still. I think they admit no reason; they are the ways of my love.
 
We can forget the Judeo-Christian moralizations. The idea of god is to give us an ideal to strive toward, and through whom to understand our ambitions and sufferings and tell them to ourselves. God as the reflection of man, god the ultimate artist, and god as man’s greatest work of art.
 
God as the artistic torturer of man: The most horrible and majestic thought of all, this be the key to theodicy. And man as the artist, and the creator of his own victims. This is the key to peace on earth.
 
Then we reach capitulation at the end, acknowledgement that humanity is a jumble of “power, passion, craft”. There’s nothing metaphysical inside, no god outside; our thoughts, our theology, our science, just “measures of phenomena” (description, not explanation), and our best measure of it all is simply aesthetic.
 
We only need sufficient understanding, just enough, and then the will to create a new world.
 
Unmeasured power, incredible passion, enormous craft: no thought apparent but burns darkly
Smothered with its own smoke in the human brain-vault: no thought outside: a certain measure in phenomena:
The fountains of the boiling stars, the flowers on the foreland, the ever-returning roses of dawn. 

September 5, 2009

Nietzsche and Science (Scientism 3 of 5)

Filed under: Nietzsche, Peak Oil, Scientism/Technocracy — Tags: , , , , — Russ @ 4:17 am
This post will trace the development of Nietzsche’s ideas on science and its relation to the human condition. I’m writing about this both because I think it’s intrinsically interesting (and helps me clarify my own ideas on both N and science) and because I believe that more than any other thinker N has analyzed our predicament and can help us find our way through the maze.
 
In particular for our purposes today, N was rare among great modern thinkers in considering science as such to be problematic. It was N’s way to be ambivalent toward almost everything important, and as we know today this ambivalence should have been modern man’s default from the outset. Instead, to our misfortune, the opposite – uncritical enthusiasm, triumphalism, progress dogma, political and technological conformism – has been the norm.
 
Now we confront the great resultant energetic, environmental, and spiritual crises which inevitably followed. To Peak Oil, resource depletion, climate change, biodiversity eradication, and land monopoly we can add spiritual desolation.
 
Whether or not humanity survives will depend in large part on reassessing all this.
 
Texts for the works cited in this piece can be found here, except for On the Genealogy of Morals which will be found here.
 
I’ll use the following abbreviations:
 
BT: The Birth of Tragedy, 1886 preface
HH: Human, All Too Human
GS: The Gay Science
Z: Thus Spoke Zarathustra
BGE: Beyond Good and Evil
GM: On the Genealogy of Morals
TI: Twilight of the Idols
WP: The Will to Power (posthumously edited notes)
 
1. The basic dilemma of science: As Nietzsche came to see it retrospectively, the questing intellect was his core concern right from his first book, BT (1872), even though in that book he wrote mostly about art.
 
The question, as reframed in his 1886 preface, was Why should the ancient Greeks, the most healthy and vibrant people ever, have “needed tragedy” [BT 1]? Greek tragedy expressed the ruthless will to look fate directly in the eye, without flinching from all of its most frightening and horrible aspects. It was something which could induce pessimism. Why should the exuberant Greeks have embraced something so pessimistic? Could it have been precisely the “overfullness” of their spirit, a surplus of health and exuberance, which drove them to confront and affirm even the most terrible aspects of life? Was this a “pessimism of strength”? This is the core of what by 1886 N called the Dionysian. (In the 1872 BT the term “Dionysian” was used differently, to signify tempestuous, chaotic release of passion, while “Apollonian” meant calm, restrained spiritual expression; N’s eventual concept of the Dionysian was a synthesis of the two, passion under control, and was counterpoised to “the Crucified”, the Christian drive to eradicate passion completely.)
 
By contrast, what must have changed in the Greeks that they lost their strong, pessimistic will to confront the tragic, and instead embraced anodyne Socratic equations of rationality with virtue and happiness? Why did this new rational outlook accompany an ever more attenuated spiritual and artistic life? Was this a symptom of spiritual exhaustion, of decadence? The pessimism of strength seemed dead and replaced by a picayune urge to comfort oneself. And what was the significance of the development of science in all this?
 
That of which tragedy died, the Socratism of morality, the dialectics, frugality, and cheerfulness of the theoretical man – might not this very Socratism be a sign of decline, of weariness, of infection, of an anarchical dissolution of the instincts? And the “Greek cheerfulness” of the later Greeks – merely the afterglow of the sunset? The Epicureans’ resolve against pessimism – a mere precaution of the afflicted? And science itself, our science – what is the significance of all science, viewed as a symptom of life? For what – worse yet, toward what - all science? Is the resolve to be so scientific about everything perhaps a fear of, an escape from, pessimism? A subtle last resort against – truth? Morally speaking, a sort of cowardice and falseness? Amorally speaking, a ruse? [BT 1]
 
So we have the question posed. Has scientism been a symptom of man’s spiritual decadence, as he lost the will to the pessimism of strength, the vibrant outlook of tragic pessimism? This question became more pressing with the twin and interlinked developments of modern times: the total erosion of Western religious faith, and the domination of technology. Today science really can make a bid to supersede religion and become the new religion.
 
At the end of this post I’ll return with N to the hopes for a revitalization of the pessimism of strength. First we have to explore the downward paths of anodyne rationalism and its paradoxical culmination in the abnegation of Christian morality.
 
Before this we confront a pivotal question: can science and reason justify themselves?
 
2. In post 1 I explored Nietzsche’s flirtation with the self-justification of science in HH. As I said there, he kept exploring this issue, eventually rejecting the bootstraps position and, in GS 344 (1885), giving his definitive answer:
 
To make it possible for this discipline to begin, must there not be some prior conviction – even one that is so commanding and unconditional that it sacrifices all other convictons to itself? We see that science also rests on a faith. The question whether truth is needed must not only have been affirmed in advance, but affirmed to such a degree that the principle, the faith, the conviction finds expression: “Nothing is needed more than truth.”
 
The root of this is not even the utilitarian will not to let oneself be deceived, since we cannot know the practical extent to which truth is more useful than deception. No, the root is the moral will against deception, of others or of ourselves.
 
Thus the question “Why science” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are “not moral”? Those who are truthful in the ultimate sense that is presupposed by the faith in science thus affirm another world than the world of life, nature, and history; and insofar as they affirm this “other world” – must they not by that same token negate this world, our world?..
It is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests – even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire from the flame that was lit by a faith thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. – But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine anymore unless it were error, blindness, the lie – if God himself were to prove to be our most enduring lie?
 
This is the underlying, true justification for science, a moral justification, the idealization of “truth”, which originated in Christian theology. The will to truth means the will to another world. “Will to truth” has the same source as belief in god. And now that god is dead, what about will to truth?
 
Thus we see the religious basis of the “moral” faith in science, the faith always cited by apologists for the real-world corporate activity of technicians.
 
(And in turn, scientism seeks to extend this faith and this apologia to the instrumentalist corporate practice itself. Science in the abstract, “pure science”, is morally justified. Then “applied science”, science as the sociopathic tool of corporate power, and the practice of technicians as a self-driving nihilistic process, are piggybacked on this original truth morality. Thus we have the ideology of scientism.)
 
N continued to explore this question for the rest of his life but did not change his answer. His assessment in GM essay III, section 24 (1887) is the same. These “men of knowledge”, these “philosophers and scholars”, the “last idealists of knowledge in whom alone the intellectual conscience dwells and is incarnate today…They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth.
 
N regarded this as a manifestation of the “ascetic ideal”, the will to negation of diversity in experience and passion, again an outgrowth of religiosity. The idealists are not free spirits because they remain bound by faith in truth. They are fanatics about it.
 
That which constrains these men, this unconditional will to truth, is faith in the ascetic ideal itself, even as an unconscious imperative – it is the faith in a metaphysical value, the absolute value of truth, sanctioned and guaranteed by this ideal alone (it stands or falls with this ideal)…. 
….A philosophy, a “faith”, must always be there first of all, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a right to exist. 
Science itself henceforth requires justification (which is not to say there is any such justification). Consider on this question both the earliest and most recent philosophers: they are all oblivious of how much the will to truth itself first requires justification; here there is a lacuna in every philosophy – how did this come about? Because the ascetic ideal has hitherto dominated all philosophy, because the truth was posited as being, as God, as the highest court of appeal – because truth was not permitted to be a problem at all. Is this “permitted” understood? – From the moment faith in the God of the ascetic ideal is denied, a new problem arises: that of the value of truth.
The will to truth requires a critique – let us thus define our own task – the value of truth must for once be experimentally called into question. 
 
Just as the Judeo-Christian morality, as an absolute, taken for granted, stands or falls with belief in the Judeo-Christian god, so does the value of truth, and the pursuit which stems from it, science.
 
Scientism has attempted to elide this “lacuna” and substitute itself for the missing god. But in the same way that the fossil fuel civilization cannot continue to run as it has without cheap, plentiful fossil fuels, and no cornucopian technological dreams will change that, so the Christian civilization, including its scientistic/technocratic manifestation, cannot continue as it has without the religious faith which built it, and no synthesized cult of scientism/technocracy can change that.
 
As N said, truly free human beings must experimentally call it all into question. Peak Oil shall afford this opportunity.
 
Some other sections pertinent on this point:
 
BT 2: We must confront “the problem of science itself, science considered for the first time as problematic, as questionable….to look at science in the perspective of the artist, but at art in that of life.”
 
TI (1888)”The Problem of Socrates” 10: “When one finds it necessary to turn reason into a tyrant, the danger cannot be slight that something else will play the tyrant.”
 
WP: 424 (on forms of scientific hypocrisy, denying the underlying presumptions), 440 (on how scientific training can either help one resist sloppy faith concepts, or on the contrary render one more susceptible)
 
Here we stand at the inherent nature of science/rationalism/scholarship. We have the highest respect for it in itself. But where does it lead? There can be no question: the pursuit of knowledge leads to our trying to fabricate something beyond knowledge. As human beings we cannot do any differently. The question is whether this fabrication is decadent or sublimatory.
 
We’ll first have to head further downward before we can ascend.
 
3. Science, which is supposed to embody not just technical but spiritual progress, has perhaps on the contrary been one of humanity’s refuges from life, once the pessimism of strength began to erode. Perhaps “progress” itself, the progress cult, far from representing a greater capacity to grapple with the knots of being, has instead really been an escapist cult.
 
In GM III:23 Nietzsche asked, has science been able to posit its own goal to replace the ascetic ideal?
 
They tell me it is not lacking, it has not merely waged a long and successful fight against this ideal, it has already conquered this ideal in all important respects: all of modern science is supposed to bear witness to that – modern science which, as a genuine philosophy of reality, clearly believes in itself alone, clearly possesses the courage for itself and the will to itself, and has up to now survived well enough without God, the beyond, and the virtues of denial. Such noisy agitators’ chatter, however, does not impress me…..the abyss of the scientific conscience does not speak through them – for today the scientific conscience is an abyss – the word “science” in the mouths of such trumpeters is simply an indecency and a piece of impudence. The truth is the opposite of what is asserted here: science today has no belief in itself, let alone an ideal above it – and where it still inspires passion, love, ardor, and suffering at all, it is not the opposite of the ascetic ideal but rather the latest and noblest form of it.
 
Contrary to the pretensions of scientism, science has not imposed itself upon civilization as a self-generated, confident ideal, but has only furtively recycled the dregs of the old religious faith, albeit on a nobler intellectual level.
 
And for many of its practitioners it does not even do that: 
 
..But that one works rigorously in the sciences and that there are contented workers does not prove that science as a whole possesses a goal, a will, an ideal, or the passion of a great faith. The opposite is the case, to repeat: where it is not the latest expression of the ascetic ideal – and the exceptions [those who truly do find a self-justifying creative ideal in science itself] are too rare, noble, and atypical to refute the general proposition – science today is a hiding place for every kind of discontent, disbelief, gnawing worm, bad conscience – it is the unrest of the lack of ideals, the suffering from the lack of any great love, the discontent in the face of involuntary contentment.
Oh, what does science not conceal today? How much, at any rate, is it meant to conceal! The proficiency of our finest scholars, their heedless industry, their heads smoking day and night, their very craftsmanship – how often the real meaning of all this lies in the desire to keep something hidden from oneself! Science as a means of self-narcosis: do you have experience of that?
…sufferers who refuse to admit to themselves what they are, drugged and heedless men who fear only one thing: regaining consciousness.
 
This kind of cubicle-dweller is familiar enough nowadays, though like so much else of Nietzsche’s prescience, it wasn’t understood in his own time.
 
But the technocratic ideology allows those cubicle-dwellers and rat-racers and treadmill-walkers in the “sciences” to comfort themselves that they work on behalf of some grand ideal rather than as the same old corporate cog.
 
BGE (1886) 204-208 provides a more detailed dossier on the modern scholar, “solid man of science”, specialist, “scientific average man”, “objective spirit”, “ideal scholar”, “selfless man”, the weak and degenerate form of skeptic, the weakling interpretation of Hamlet; these are all contrasted with the true creative philosopher, the stronger, harder skepticism, the pessimism of strength. (I’ll get to this contrast at the end of this post.)
 
204: The scientist affects superiority over the philosopher – either because philosophy hasn’t found the final answers yet, or out of disillusionment with some particular philosopher, or because often philosophy itself has abdicated. (Transposed to conformity vs. activism, these are all familiar in the politics of today.)
 
206: The scientist is not self-reliant or noble, spiritually or intellectually. (We can add, economically.) We see the “Jesuitism of mediocrity…which seeks to break every bent bow or, preferably, to unbend it.”
Bent bow – the uncommon man, the free spirit.
Break it – what religion or totalitarianism would seek to do.
“Unbend” it – “reason”, liberalism, scientism.
 
207: “Objective spirit” – weak, threadbare, may have good will but the flesh is weak. Today’s scholars are like this.
 
208: Same for today’s “skeptics”, for example the celebrity atheists. To still believe in something, to still possess the will to power, is terrifying to them. This spiritual sickness goes hand in hand with overcivilization, while it diminishes where original “barbarism” peeks through once again.
 
Some other sections:
 
Z Book IV (1884) “The Leech” presents as one of its characters the “conscientious in spirit”, the nook scholar seeking security, a fanatic about puny truths. He believes in science (“On Science”, book IV) as sublimated fear. (He’s not being referred to as a leech; rather when Zarathustra comes upon him he finds the man contemplating a leech on his arm. The leech is a metaphor for his obsession with blood-sucking petty truths.) 
 
TI “Problem of Socrates” 9: Socrates was the “synthetic product”, the extreme version, of Athens’ spiritual malaise. The instincts were in anarchy. Hyper-rationalism was the escape.
10: Hyper-rationalism: the only defense. One is too weak for one’s own instincts.
11: The cure was really another form of the disease. “To have to fight the instincts is the formula of decadence: as long as life is ascending, happiness equals instinct.”
 
WP 68, 71, 95 (middle part), 424 (false objectivity)
 
So we have the scientific mindset and practice as a symptom of decadence. And this can be leading down to the doldrum.
 
4. At BT 5 Nietzsche asks, “What, seen in the perspective of life, is the significance of morality?” In the original BT he wrote that art is the truly meaningful activity of life and is opposed to the moral world view. The pessimism of strength is something beyond good and evil. Morality is demoted to the realm of aesthetics – not just appearance as such, but as lies. Christianity, the radical opposite of this, would moralize everything including aesthetics.
 
Where does science stand in this perspective (in spite of its claims to stand outside)? As we have seen, science arises out of the moral world view. It carries the same water that religion used to, but is better at concealing this so it appears, not even as appearance let alone a lie, but as self-evident and self-supporting truth, when in fact it had surreptitiously asserted the “will to truth” as moral dogma.
 
If scientism could achieve the domination it seeks, it would place an immobilizing clamp upon freedom of the spirit as religion once sought to do and often succeeded. This is because any moral dogma, from the most irrational theology to the most allegedly rational will to truth, is a smothering of the soul. All dogma must be critiqued, questioned, the subject of irreverence. This is the proper task for philosophy which, in its most intrepid, most creative form, is the quintessentially human activity, the daily hunting ground for the free spirit.
 
This is what N came to believe, as he overcame his original worship of art. He came to realize that both art, as an aspect of the world of appearance, and science, an aspect of morality and appearance, are only among the imperfect modes of spiritual expression. Science still conceals its moral basis. Art is extramoral, but still dogmatizes about appearance. Both viewpoints are incomplete at best.
 
Can all of this lead us somewhere better?
 
Cf. also WP 442-443
 
5. I mentioned earlier how the moral need underlying the quest for knowledge leads us inevitably to seek to create something beyond knowledge. This has been the source of religions and ideologies and has contributed to art.
 
In BT 6 Nietzsche describes his own misguided attempt in the 1872 text to find a new ideal and goal precisely in the wallowing decadence of 19th century romantic pessimism, as exemplified in Schopenhauer and Wagner, when these in fact represented the antithesis of the pessimism of strength, what he later came to call the Dionysian.
 
Nor shall we find it in science:
 
No! Don’t come to me with science when I ask for the natural antagonist of the ascetic ideal, when I demand: “where is the opposing will expressing the opposing ideal?” Science is not nearly self-reliant enough to be that; it first requires in every respect an ideal of value, a value-creating power, in the service of which it could believe in itself – it never creates values. Its relation to the ascetic ideal is by no means essentially antagonistic; it might even be said to represent the driving force in the latter’s inner development. It opposes and fights, on closer inspection, not the ideal itself but only its exteriors, its guise and masquerade, its temporary dogmatic hardening and stiffening, and by denying what is exoteric in this ideal, it liberates what life is in it. This pair, science and the ascetic ideal, both rest on the same foundation – I have already indicated it: on the same overestimation of truth (more exactly: on the same belief that truth is inestimable and cannot be criticized). Therefore they are necessarily allies, so that if they are to be fought they can only be fought and called in question together. A depreciation of the ascetic ideal unavoidably involves a depreciation of science: one must keep one’s eyes and ears open to this fact. [GM III:25]
 
Science cannot create values, but can only serve as a pre-existing value, or else serve instrumentalism and nihilism. As ascetic ideals, science and religion both are based on the fanatical belief in “truth”. To fight one you must fight all.
 
The section goes on to say that physiologically, science and reason are exalted where life and the will to power are in decline. That science has destroyed man’s theologically-derived sense of self-importance has not at all harmed the ascetic ideal. On the contrary, the will to truth as ascetic ideal in the form of rationalism and scientism has thrived. Channeled into nihilism, and with Kant’s delineations of the limits of knowledge, transcendentalists everywhere have been liberated again. Knowing the limits of knowledge, they now feel free to start making stuff up wherever knowledge ends.
 
Since Copernicus, man seems to have gotten himself onto an inclined plane – now he is slipping faster and faster away from the center into – what? Into nothingness? Into a penetrating sense of his nothingness? Very well! Hasn’t this been the straightest route to – the old ideal?
 
All science has the effect of “dissuading man from his former respect for himself”, his religious certainty. But does it modestly remain content with this diminution, an admission of the unknown? No – it seeks a new transcendentalism precisely here:
 
Who could hold it against the agnostics if, as votaries of the unknown and mysterious as such, they now worship the question mark itself as God? Presuming that everything man “knows” does not merely fail to satisfy his desires but rather contradicts them and produces a sense of horror, what a divine way out to have the right to seek the responsibility for this not in “desire” but in “knowledge”!
“There is no knowledge: consequently – there is a God”: what an elegant syllogism! What a triumph for the ascetic ideal!
 
We should remember this when scientists, politicians, and corporatists try to “philosophize” about the spiritual justifications for spending billions on particle colliders or space travel. To the extent that anyone believes the exalted but hazy rhetoric, it is precisely this worship of the question mark, and the billions are spent to construct a temple to it.
 
But haven’t we really had enough of monumental religion by now?
 
A more artistic personification of the fabrication-beyond-knowledge occurs in Z book IV in the character of the Magician, who sings a song of conscious deception, of the “ascetic of the spirit”, the disillusioned seeker after truth as an ideal, as a way to greatness, who finally succumbs to nihilism. (Earlier Zarathustra had predicted the coming of the ascetics of the spirit, arising out of the disillusioned poets. Here with the Magician we see a devolution of poet -> ape of the poet ideal (failed poet). Soon -> commissar. Thus we see the downside risk of art as well in our spiritual crisis.)
 
Two supplementary sections are WP 95 (the latter part on Kant) and 457 (truth as a weapon; martyrdom; science becomes fanatical).
 
And then I already discussed N’s own proto-scientism at HH 22, 24, 25 (1878) in part one of these science posts.
 
So in these ways N described the ineradicable urge to go beyond knowledge, the ways of abdication of intellectual integrity, of spiritual decadence.
 
But is there a fabrication which leads upward? What is the upside risk of art and science, as we mingle them in order to begin our quest to create new values?
 
6. WP 466: “It is not the victory of science that distinguishes our nineteenth century, but the victory of the scientific method over science.”
 
Art, in which precisely the lie is sanctified and the will to deception has a good conscience, is much more fundamentally opposed to the ascetic ideal than is science: this was instinctively sensed by Plato, the greatest enemy of art Europe has yet produced. Plato versus Homer: that is the complete, the genuine antagonism – there the sincerest advocate of the “beyond”, the great slanderer of life; here the instinctive deifier, the golden nature. To place himself in the service of the ascetic ideal is therefore the most distinctive corruption of an artist that is at all possible. [GM III:25]
 
With all these conceptions the steady and laborious process of science, which will one day celebrate its greatest triumph with a history of the genesis of thought, will in the end decisively have done; for the outcome of this history may well be the conclusion: That which we now call the world is the outcome of a host of errors and fantasies which have gradually arisen and grown entwined with one another in the course of the overall evolution of the organic being, and are now inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of the entire past – as treasure, for the value of our humanity depends upon it. Rigorous science is capable of detaching us from this ideational world only to a limited extent – and more is certainly not to be desired – as it is incapable of making any essential inroad into the power of habits of feeling acquired in primeval times: but it can, gradually and step by step, illuminate the history of the genesis of this world as idea – and, for brief periods at any rate, lift us up out of the entire proceeding. Perhaps we shall then realize that the ding an sich [thing in itself] is worthy of Homeric laughter: that it appeared to be so much, indeed everything, and is actually empty, that is to say empty of significance. [HH 16]
 
While that last selection is from the proto-scientistic part 1 of HH, except for the “limited extent” and the “brief periods”, where he would later deny any such extent or period, that’s vintage Nietzsche.
 
7. And now at long last we come to the best part, the hope for spiritual renaissance and ascent from the great crisis of the age. We began our visit with Nietzsche (BT 1) by witnessing the confrontation of the Dionysian pessimism of strength as embodied in the ancient Greeks and Greek tragedy, with the Socratism of the instincts, hyper-rationality, science itself, the escape from pessimism, and from there to scientism, technophilia, and the cult of technology-will-save-us.
 
To be lifted out of the labyrinth we need a new value. If we are to use the world-historical opportunity offered by Peak Oil, our business must be to create new values. Nothing less than this is the mission of the free, creative human spirit. From here all of N’s philosophy opens up in a spectacular vista, and there are an infinite variety of paths we can take.
 
But to finish up for today I’ll conclude the thread of the pessimism of strength.
 
BT 4 presents us with the essence of the Dionysian:
 
The question of the Greek’s relation to pain, his degree of sensitivity, is basic: did this relation remain constant? Or did it change radically? The question is whether his ever stronger craving for beauty, for festivals, pleasures, new cults was rooted in some deficiency, melancholy, privation, pain? Supposing this was true – and Pericles (or Thucydides) suggests as much in the great funeral oration – how should we then have to explain the origin of the opposite craving, which developed earlier in time, the craving for the ugly; the good, severe will of the older Greeks to pessimism, to the tragic myth, to the image of everything underlying existence that is frightful, evil, a riddle, destructive, fatal? What, then, would be the origin of tragedy? Perhaps joy, strength, overflowing health, overgreat fullness? And what, then is the significance, physiologically speaking, of that madness out of which tragic and comic art developed – the Dionysian madness? Is madness perhaps not necessarily the symptom of degeneration, decline, and the final stage of culture? Are there perhaps – a question for psychiatrists – neuroses of health? of the youth and youthfulness of a people?…
Should the Greeks, precisely in the abundance of their youth, have had the will to the tragic and have been pessimists?
 
This may sound remote from our concerns of today, even irresponsible. But the age seethes with energy which has nowhere to go, and it will, one way or another, find a way to strike as lightning.
 
Just as Peak Oilers, deep environmentalists, and other reformers who appreciate the critical pivot of these years strive to frame the options of meeting the challenge in a rational, ordered way, or driving off a cliff, so we who concern ourselves with the spirit must ponder the same stark option.
 
Robinson Jeffers, my favorite poet, a tragic pessimist with the first-hand acquaintance of the 20th century nightmare which Nietzsche, happily for him, could only forecast as the weatherman he was, wrote a poem on the subject, Apology For Bad Dreams, which better explains what I’m getting at here. I’ll soon write a post discussing this poem.
 
Earlier I referred to BGE 208, its description of the feckless type of modern “skeptic”, who is really a skeptic simply because he is too weak and cowardly to believe in anything and fight for it. I referred to the misinterpretation, all too common, of Hamlet as such a weakling.
 
But a counter example is at hand. In the very next section, BGE 209, N offers up a description of Frederick the Great: a stronger, virile skepticism, a real life embodiment of the true Hamlet as he was and would have been had he lived, the pessimism of strength incarnate. (Note how the description has everything to do with Frederick’s character and nothing to do with his military achievements. It also describes Frederick as exemplary of the 18th century “German spirit and its critical and historical mistrust.” We’re talking about the intellect and scholarship. That’s how it always was with N, though he’s often slandered as having been some sort of militarist. No; as this typical example shows, Nietzsche cared about character, mind, and spirit, never temporal moving and shaking.)
 
Meanwhile there grew up in his son that more dangerous and harder new type of skepticism…This skepticism despises and nevertheless seizes; it undermines and takes possession; it does not believe but does not lose itself in the process; it gives the spirit dangerous freedom, but it is severe on the heart….a new concept of the German spirit crystallized gradually in spite of all romanticism in music and philosophy, and the inclination to virile skepticism became a decisive trait, now, for example, as an intrepid eye, now as the courage of hardness and analysis, as the tough will to undertake dangerous journeys of exploration and spiritualized North Pole expeditions under desolate and dangerous skies.          

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