A post in honor of Nietzsche’s birthday.
In Genealogy of Morals Essay II Nietzsche describes the alleged progress of primalism to achieve modern morality. He claims that humanity underwent thousands of years, often under conditions of extreme physical and spiritual cruelty, developing what he calls the morality of mores (Kaufmann’s rendering of die Sittlichkeit der Sitte; Hollingdale calls it the morality of custom), with what we now call “morality” being the culmination. This includes a capacity to incur debt, something not natural but by now branded into us.
David Graeber, in his seminal book Debt: The First 5000 Years, rightly places this in the category of one’s reading back bourgeois morality into prehistory, and then picturing this morality of mores period as having some implicitly “intentional” progress toward this same morality. Typical bourgeois self-servingness. I’ll add that here Nietzsche would be exhibiting the same historically fraudulent propensity he castigated in other commentators, historians and sociologists and such. I agree with Graeber that Nietzsche probably realized the mendacity of his procedure here, and that he was really presenting a more honest (i.e. brutal) depiction of bourgeois society’s own foundation story. This would fit with N’s predilection for using the enemy’s tropes against him. Thus for example he loved to use militaristic metaphors to discuss spiritual and intellectual matters in ways subversive of the statism and nationalism of the time.
Meanwhile we know, from the work of Graeber and other real anthropologists, that the “festival of cruelty” Nietzsche describes is actually a recent, ahistorical development. The true morality of mores had a radically different nature. It was mostly cooperative, peaceful, materially modest, focused on seeking health and happiness. This is the human path we so disastrously forsook, starting a few thousand years ago and plunging into the ultimate depths of subhumanity during the fossil fuel binge. Our human task is now to find our way back to the primal human path.
But now that we recognize the fraudulence of this “moral” age and all its institutions, what shall be the nature of the new morality of mores we must now enter? Will Nietzsche’s savage depictions have to come true in this transition?
I already offered a more optimistic commentary and aspiration in these two posts on Nietzsche’s essay. Now two years later I’m revisiting the question in greater depth, and I want to still find reasons for optimism. This will depend primarily on our democratic will and our determination to build a movement out of it. I fear that just trying to wing it won’t do. Without the built movement our likely result will be permanent enslavement or total collapse and starvation.
But with a movement vision based on positive democracy and relocalized organic food production, incorporating all the knowledge we’ve attained, we can steer between the twin perils of terminal debt enslavement and some kind of harsh, universally violent alternative.