September 7, 2015

Nietzsche and Scientism

Filed under: Freedom, Nietzsche, Peak Oil, Scientism/Technocracy — Tags: — Russ @ 4:01 pm


(Sorry I haven’t been around lately. Lots going on including plenty more research and getting my thoughts in a row. I’ll be back. For now I wanted to repost something from way back in 2009 which I think is relevant to the project here. It traces Nietzsche’s view of science and scientism. This post gets the most hits of all. There’s a constant weekly trickle, and it’s always #1 on my year-end stats. But maybe some of my current readers haven’t seen it. It’s noncommittal on what the new ideas will have to be, but then that’s our work of today. I haven’t changed anything from the original post. Here’s to Labor Day.)
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.          


September 7, 2012

Food is Dead


When Nietzsche wrote “God is dead”, he didn’t mean that if you polled people they wouldn’t avow belief in god, or that they don’t consciously think they believe in god when it occurs to them at all.
He meant that in people’s regular lives, their day-to-day actions, their day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute thoughts, god and religion play no role. God is no longer a significant part of the lives of people in general, as a guide to action or as a feature of our inner lives. Modern Westerners live as atheists, they think as atheists, so they actually are atheists. The fact that upon request they’ll consciously “believe in god”, like a dog salivating when it hears a bell, doesn’t change that fact.
We have the same decadent* phenomenon with food. Where does food comes from? Does it come from healthy soil and a stable farming culture, organic within a healthy ecology and socioeconomic environment? Or does it come from the supermarket? Most people, if specifically asked, would consciously agree that food comes from farms. But that’s not what people really think and do. In people’s regular lives, their day-to-day actions, their day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute thoughts, farms play no role. The possible existence (or extinction) of farms is no longer a significant part of the lives of people in general, as a guide to action or as a feature of their inner lives. People think and act as if food comes from the supermarket. The imminent lifting of New York’s fracking moratorium is a perfect example. Forget the committed fascists like Cuomo and Bloomberg – for people in general to have any doubt about fracking’s evil is to demonstrate their disbelief in farms and their compensatory faith in supermarkets.
We should see supermarkets as cult shrines. At the moment they do indeed seem to produce food (at least for those who can afford it and can physically get there). But to believe, in direct defiance of all the evidence of physical energy and the environment, that these totem plots will continue to bring forth food once the farms hidden behind them perish, is a nadir of pseudo-religious compensation for people’s lost connection with the Earth.
Cults have often called upon their believers to relinquish all their earthly possessions and gather passively awaiting the end. In this case, we’re to relinquish all human responsibility for our very food, its production and distribution, our human right to the land, our very presence on the land, and gather passively awaiting our next feeding.
But while the promised end never came for other cults, the promised bounty of the supermarket cult will indeed come to a brutal end. The common thread is the failure of the cult promise. This is because food does not in fact come from the supermarket, or from the car, or from wars for oil, or from government, or from the corporate form, or from “property”, or from any of the other things people try to psychologically and spiritually substitute for the farm. I fear that many will have to learn this the hard way, since for Western humanity at large, Food is Dead.
That’s why the Food Sovereignty movement must be, in all ways, a completely new beginning.    
[*This blog’s not about religious matters, so for now I won’t elaborate on what I mean by religious decadence. I’ll just say that part of the human condition is a spiritual and cultural life, which has to be an organic part of a human community. The mass functional atheism characteristic of modernity is inhuman. We see how desperately people strive to fill the void, with everything from consumerism to pseudo-religious ideology.]


October 15, 2011

Post-Morality, New Mores

Filed under: Freedom, Neo-feudalism, Nietzsche — Tags: — Russ @ 9:00 am


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.

October 9, 2011

Political Free Will

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Nietzsche, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russ @ 6:00 am


What’s real political free will? It would seem to be a necessary element for democracy, but what kind of action proves it exists at all?
Part of Nietzsche’s disproof of “free will” in general (for example Beyond Good and Evil section 19) was how it’s really circular logic, a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a rule you only “will” action you already (more or less unconsciously) assumed was within the bounds of possibility. That’s quite a preordained circumscription of the will, isn’t it? Yet people then triumphantly proclaim, on the basis of success, that this was “my will”.
Sure, it would be idiotic to leap from a tall building in order to test whether or not you would bounce when you land because your legs are springs. But Nietzsche’s point was that we impose the same psychological limits upon ourselves in the spiritual, creative, intellectual, political realms, where it’s not at all truly clear what’s really possible and what’s not. But in most cases our vaunted free will operates only within brainwashed bounds.
The best and most critical example today is the alleged boundary of the politically possible. The notorious Overton Window is a familiar part of this, but the same issue presses everywhere, down to the deepest psychology. The call for the Occupation wave to be collapsed to circumscribed, particulate “demands” (which are, of course, all to remain well within the bounds of reformism, kinder-gentlerism, real “compassionate conservatism”, which is what liberalism actually calls for nowadays) isn’t just coming from pro-Dem astroturfers and the corporate media. It also arises from the ingrained fetish of “what’s possible”.
I think a criterion going forward, a movement value, is the recognition that history proves that, in the realm of the political, our legs often are springs, if we just have the guts to test them. So this is the real measure of political free will, the ability to break free of the tendentious, arbitrary bounds of the crackpot “possible”. Instead of accepting the frame that Wall Street has to exist at all, demand an answer to Why? If the answer is that we need the banksters to provide credit, although we can add that they’re not really doing that at all, the real reply is the same question, Why do we need bank credit? For 99% of humanity’s natural history we never needed it. Why do we need it now?
Do this, and I think you’ll find that it ends up being turtles all the way down for system brainwashing. Every answer begs the same question, because in the end there’s no moral or rational answer to the question to which all the others boil down: Why should organized crime be allowed to exist? In the end there’s no answer to that but might makes right.
The measure of democratic will, political free will, is to recognize this and transcend it. We reject all brainwashing on behalf of the kleptocratic structure because we reject the structure itself. As soon as a critical mass accepts that none of this is necessary or desirable, then it’ll be kleptocracy itself which becomes impossible. Possibility, on the other hand, shall ramify as far as imagination itself.

September 9, 2011

First Principles: Morality and Action


We need to get back to first principles. We need to purge all aspects of the elites’ own framework from our thought and expression. Here’s the example (from Derrick Jensen*) which spurred this post, though any regular day in the blogosphere provides similar examples:

For years I have been asking whether abusers believe their lies, and I’m finally comfortable with an answer.

This understanding came in great measure because I finally stopped focusing on the lies and their purveyors and I began to focus on the abusers’ actions. I realized, following Lundy Bancroft, that to try to answer the question of whether the abusers believe their lies is to remain under the abusers’ spell, to “look off in the wrong direction”, to allow myself to be distracted so I “won’t notice where the real action is”. To remain focused on that question is exactly what abusers want.

Endgame Volume II, “Abusers”

There’s been some progress with this in the blogosphere. We don’t see as much solemn rumination on whether e.g. Tim Geithner is corrupt or merely “captured”, and the last I saw when someone like Simon Johnson would continue to write in these terms he was getting more blowback among commenters saying “Who cares?” (I haven’t followed Baseline Scenario in awhile, so if anyone is still doing so and can provide an update, by all means do.) There’s less of this at Naked Capitalism as well.
“Captured or corrupt” has been replaced in some venues with the question “Stupid or evil?” This is a substantive improvement (less euphemistic, more truthful), and the fact that the question is increasingly being asked (and that the answer is usually “evil”) is an advance.
Still, we need to get beyond asking this question at all, since it still frames things according to the elites’ own framework of morality, where (their proven) intention is the most important thing.
Let’s stress immediately that in the class war no one’s intention really means anything. The elites want to plunder and enslave, and they do plunder and enslave. The only thing they care about where it comes to the non-rich is our compliant action. The state of our minds and souls is irrelevant.
But it is useful to them for us to sit around doing differently toward them from what they do toward us. We waste time and energy parsing an alleged nexus of their actions and their intentions, allegedly trying to puzzle out the morality of things, but likely just engaging in Peter Principle-type procrastination.
When are we going to reject the entire question and simply judge according to actions and results? When are we going to judge capitalism purely by its results? When are we going to judge representative government purely by its results? (This purely empirical evaluation of representative government, BTW, is a core part of the American Revolutionary philosophy.)
Most of all, when are we going to judge elitism as such, and this kleptocracy, purely by its actions and results?
(I’ll add here that the stupid/evil question can have practical application. It can be of strategic and tactical value to understand to what extent your opponents are inertial idiots, as opposed to intentionally brutal thugs, as opposed to intelligently evil. But this is only a practical matter, not a moral one. Given the ubiquity of available knowledge, it’s not possible to be innocently ignorant of the truth. One can only be willfully ignorant, which is just as morally culpable as to be a calculating evildoer.
To what extent we publicly say this is, of course, another tactical question. But we must fully digest it as an element of our philosophy.)
Nietzsche (for whom analysis of morality was the number one priority of his thinking) differentiated between what he called the pre-moral and moral stages of humanity’s natural history:

Throughout the lengthiest period of human history—we call it the prehistoric age—the value or the lack of value in an action was derived from its consequences. The action in itself was thus considered just as insignificant as its origin, but, in somewhat the same way as even today in China an honour or disgrace reaches back from the child to the parents, so then it was the backward working power of success or lack of success which taught people to consider an action good or bad. Let’s call this period the pre-moralistic period of humanity: the imperative “Know thyself!” was then still unknown.

In the last ten millennia, by contrast, in a few large regions of the earth people have come, step by step, a great distance in allowing the value of an action to be determined, no longer by its consequences, but by its origin. As a whole, this was a great event, a considerable improvement in vision and standards, the unconscious influence of the ruling power of aristocratic values and of faith in “origins,” the sign of a period which one can designate moralistic in a narrower sense: with it the first attempt at self- knowledge was undertaken. Instead of the consequences, the origin: what a reversal of perspective! And this reversal was surely attained only after lengthy battles and variations! Of course, in the process a disastrous new superstition, a peculiar narrowing of interpretation, gained control. People interpreted the origin of an action in the most particular sense as an origin from an intention. People became unanimous in believing that the value of an action lay in the value of the intention behind it. The intention as the entire origin and prehistory of an action: in accordance with this bias people on earth have, almost right up to the most recent times, given moral approval, criticized, judged, and also practised philosophy.

But today shouldn’t we have reached the point where we must once again make up our minds about a reversal and fundamental shift in values, thanks to a further inward contemplation and profundity in human beings? Are we not standing on the threshold of a period which we might at first designate negatively as beyond morality, today, when, at least among us immoralists, the suspicion stirs that the decisive value of an action may lie precisely in what is unintentional in it and that all its intentionality, everything which we can see in it, know, “become conscious of,” still belongs to its surface layer and skin,—which, like every skin, indicates something but conceals even more? In short, we believe that the intention is only a sign and a symptom, something which still needs interpretation, and furthermore a sign which carries too many meanings and, thus, by itself alone means almost nothing. We think that morality, in the earlier sense, that is, a morality based on intentions, has been a prejudice, something rash and perhaps provisional, something along the lines of astrology and alchemy, but, in any case, something that must be overcome. The overpowering of morality, in a certain sense even the self-conquering of morality: let that be the name for that long secret work which remains reserved for the finest and most honest, and also the most malicious, consciences nowadays, as the living touchstones of the soul.

Beyond Good and Evil, section 32

Nietzsche called these stages false in differing ways. Today we can recognize the “moral” stage as having devolved into a scam. Meanwhile, if humanity is ever to reach that extra-moral stage, it will be doing so in a more tortuous way than he envisioned. We’re not evolving to what Nietzsche called extra-morality, we’re returning to the pre-moral. (Indeed, we’re reverting to the original pre-debtor position he describes in On the Genealogy of Morals. What we must do, and what the criminals must try to prevent, is our restoration of pre-formalized community relations in place of formalized debt.
Here as everywhere else there are two strange attractors – the reactionary path of restored (but far more vicious) feudalism, and the renewal and redemption path of true democracy. Either way, whether imposed by the alien criminals or sprouting from the soil of our souls, we shall traverse the mental and spiritual path where nothing but action matters. It’s our choice whether these are to be slave actions or cooperative democratic actions.
This is part of how in all things we need to get back to first principles. All existing words, philosophies, institutions are beholden to the structures of kleptocracy and feudal capitalism. We need to look anew at everything from a purely democratic perspective. This is part of how we shall be born anew as true human citizens.
I hope this isn’t too vague right now. I’ll be developing the idea further. For now the first practical lesson is, to repeat, the only thing that matters is how any action affects the class war. Alleged dissonances between intention and result, where it comes to those in power, are morally meaningless. Jensen said the criminals want us to fail to notice where the real action is. The real action is nothing but the action itself.
[*Please, no arguments about Jensen’s own philosophy. I accept and reject parts of it the same way I rejected parts of it at the LATOC forum. Nevertheless, parts of the book are excellent, and this passage makes my point very well.] 

August 6, 2011

Time Banking and the Concept of Debt

Filed under: Nietzsche, Relocalization, Time Banking and Co-Production — Tags: — Russ @ 1:36 am


Time banking’s concept of debt emphasizes mutual exchange within a network. (Although I haven’t seen it written explicitly this way, an implication is that a time bank member, given finite time to give to others, should make fellow network members the top priority, especially if one’s account is “in the red”.)
It also emphasizes “indebtedness” (within the network, and within community relations in general) not as something to be viewed as a chore or drain, but as an opportunity and spur to one’s own giving.
Some people who are naturally prone to volunteerism and see themselves as givers are uneasy or even hostile to the formalized mutuality of a time bank. But the way they should look at it is that within a time bank network, their giving could help provide others with the opportunity to give. If you help to build up that network by being a member and regularly transacting within it, you help provide those opportunities for people whose normal experience may be more passive, who may want to give more but don’t see how to do so given the resources they have available, who may even be reluctant to accept help they need on account of this sense of being unable to reciprocate.
A time bank and the “debt” system it creates isn’t the final form of a cooperative society, but it can be a transitional form, for purposes of education, providing a temporary structural framework, and perhaps even as a politico-economic nucleus like I described in this post.
I used the term debt in this comment, but that term’s not frequently used in time bank literature, because the emphasis is always on actions of giving. A debt is just an opportunity to give. Obviously that’s not the nature of system debts, class war debts, the ones we’re most familiar with in a criminal system. Since co-production implies a kind of social contract, it follows that according to co-production principles the government and corporations of this system are illegitimate, and no one can actually owe debts to them. (That’s another implication the literature doesn’t make explicit so far as I’ve read. Well, it does now.)
Since history’s record proves that this illegitimacy is the normal state of power structures, we can induce a general debt principle: Debt can be meaningful and valid only among peers. All other contracts are by definition unconscionable contracts of adhesion. (That’s another anarchist idea which is implicit in Nietzsche, given his frequent contrast of peer relationships with relationships that involve some power differential. But he didn’t phrase it that way either.) 

July 24, 2011

The Movement Path Toward Positive Freedom


Our most precious assets are political self-confidence and self-respect. With these, we can attempt and achieve the impossible. Without them we can do nothing. There’s no in between. One must have total confidence in the future. We can’t achieve this confidence through rational deliberation, rational education, all the tropes of the Enlightenment Myth. The movement must first speak to our souls in the language of goodness and right, and then in the language of our critical need.
And then it must present a plan, which to be sure partakes of reason, but which most of all inspires the will to fight and win. With this will, anything can be accomplished. Without it, nothing. In our case, reason and science are on our side, so we can enlist them as well. But in the end this is a political and spiritual war, and it will be fought and won on those battlefields. So all our efforts, all our words, all our actions, all our thoughts, must focus first of all on those fronts. This is an essential part of the movement discipline we must build.
As we understand the moral, rational, and practical truth of everything we know and do, the path in front of us shall become wider, straighter, better illuminated. Our fatigue shall evaporate, our pain shall flee, our desire to stop and rest shall transform to an impatience to keep going, faster. We shall feel ourselves walking the path of necessity. This is the paradoxical essence of the individual or cooperative group which discovers itself, its true mission, and the way to carry out that mission, under conditions of positive freedom. Indeed this is the essence of positive freedom itself – the more one achieves this freedom, the more one moves with unfailing certainty, in accord with the prerogative of necessity, every step clearly laid out before one.
Nietzsche was eloquent on this point:

[E]verything there is or has been on earth to do with freedom, refinement, boldness, dance, and masterly certainty, whether it is in thinking itself, or in governing, or in speaking and persuading, in arts just as much as in morals, developed only thanks to the “tyranny of such arbitrary laws,” and in all seriousness, the probability is not insignificant that this is “nature” and “natural”—and not that laisser aller! Every artist knows how far from the feeling of letting himself go his “most natural” condition is, the free ordering, setting, disposing, shaping in moments of “inspiration”—and how strictly and subtly he obeys at that very moment the thousand-fold laws which make fun of all conceptual formulations precisely because of their hardness and decisiveness (even the firmest idea, by comparison, contains something fluctuating, multiple, ambiguous—). The essential thing “in heaven and on earth,” so it appears, is, to make the point again, that there is obedience for a long time and in one direction: in the process there comes and always has come eventually something for whose sake living on earth is worthwhile, for example, virtue, art, virtue, music, dance, reason, spirituality—something or other transfiguring, subtle, amazing, and divine….

…that genuine philosophical association of a bold, exuberant spirituality, which speeds along presto, with a dialectical strictness and necessity which takes no false steps are unknown to most thinkers and scholars from their own experience, and hence, if someone wishes to talk about it in front of them, they find it implausible. They take the view that every necessity is a need, an awkward requirement to follow and to be compelled, and for them thinking itself is considered something slow, hesitant, almost labourious, and often enough “worth the sweat of the noble”—but under no circumstances something light, divine, closely related to dancing and high spirits! “Thinking” and “taking an issue seriously,” “considering it gravely”—among them these belong together: that’s the only way they have “experienced” thinking.—In such matters artists may have a more subtle sense of smell. They know only too well that at the very moment when they no longer create “arbitrarily” and make everything by necessity, their sense of freedom, refinement, authority, of creative setting up, disposing, and shaping is at its height—in short, that necessity and the “freedom of the will” are then one thing for them.

Beyond Good and Evil, sections 188 and 213.
Our movement philosophy, to resume and redeem the American Revolution: Positive democracy, the full opportunity for political participation in a dedicated common space, full management of economic production and distribution by the working people; food sovereignty in its fullest form; a full dispensation of useful possession/usufruct; anti-corporatism, anti-statism, anti-propertarianism; general relocalization; all this founded upon the values of community, of valuing oneself, one’s friends, family, community, and democracy above material greed; and upon values of cooperation, caring, integrity, and justice.
Can this philosophy stir the souls of humanity to the point that we achieve the full consciousness of positive freedom? I think it can, and the ideas are necessary and beautiful enough that it’s worth the attempt. One thing’s for sure, whether these ideas are true or not – there’s no truth left outside them. Everything outside them is wickedness, falsehood, stagnation, and blockage.
The regular possible, the pseudo-possible, what “progressives” call “pragmatic”, is in fact impossible, and is repulsive to our human dignity. It offers no way out. We reach agreement with the great theologians – only a miracle can bring salvation, so we believe in the miracle, and in that way produce it.
But our “miracle” is secular and rational as well, literally grounded in the soil. Our work awaits us. It won’t perform itself, but it will be both the catalyst and the productive vector of our self-respect and self-confidence, on the political and human level. By now these are synonyms. That’s how we’ll create these most precious assets, and that’s how we’ll use them, first to liberate ourselves, and then to build true freedom.

July 7, 2011

The Nietzschean Ascent to Democracy (2 of 2)

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


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
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

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
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

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.

June 26, 2011

The Nietzschean Ascent to Democracy (1 of 2)


One of Nietzsche’s core ideas, and one of his most misunderstood, is the will to power. Expressed most simply, this refers to an organism’s imperative to organize and exert its energy in such a way as to maximize the attainment of its goals. (Nietzsche actually expanded the idea to non-living phenomena as well, but for our purposes we’ll stick with life.) Essential to the idea is that the successful exertion is a value in itself, at least as important as the actual content of the goal. (We see already the affinity with anarchism, which always has the dual goal of living as democratically as possible, as a way of life which is a value in itself, at the same time one seeks to create a truly democratic society.)
In particular, the will to power in its grand form is no picayune struggle for survival, but an affirmative will to create something new beyond oneself as the totem of one’s overflowing existence. This is the true exertion of one’s power.
Here’s a few quotes which express the idea, by way of refuting Darwin’s thesis of a “struggle for existence” as the main phenomenon of life.

Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power. Self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.(Beyond Good and Evil, section 13)


As for the famous “struggle for existence”, so far it seems to me to be asserted rather than proven. It occurs, but as an exception; the total appearance of life is not the extremity, not starvation, but rather riches, profusion, even absurd squandering – and where there is struggle, it is a struggle for power. One should not mistake Malthus for nature.
(Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes” section 14)


The wish to preserve oneself is the result of a condition of distress, of the limitation of the fundamental instinct of life which aims at the expansion of power and frequently runs risks and even sacrifices self-preservation. It should be considered symptomatic when some philosophers – for example, Spinoza who was consumptive – considered the instinct of self-preservation decisive and had to see it that way; for they were individuals in conditions of distress.

…[I]n nature it is not conditions of distress which are dominant but overflow and squandering, even to the point of absurdity. The struggle for existence is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the will to life. The great and small struggle always revolves around superiority, around growth and expansion, around power – in accordance with the will to power which is the will to life.
(The Joyful Science, section 349)

(Compare, for example, the evident decadence and exhaustion of the “progressives”, who think only in terms of survival. Or the AARP’s recent parroting of the progressives, admitting it’s been degraded to the point that its only goal is a “seat at the table”.)
As always, any normative content Nietzsche had for this was meant to be taken in a sublimated sense. It referred to one’s spiritual power, one’s intellectual and artistic power. The “growth and expansion” are to take place in the soul and in our cooperation, not in a temporal sense. That’s the highest form of the will to power, which also unfortunately manifests itself at the base animal level of power-seeking, money-grubbing, violence, war, shallow and vicious materialism, all the traits which are subhuman where we let them dominate us. It’s at this gutter that the idea is most often hijacked, distorted, slandered. But N never meant to exalt such psychopathy. He wanted to inspire us to exert our energies toward making ourselves ever more human. This is his idea of the Ubermensch, often called the “superman”, which I’ll discuss in part 2 of this post.
This debased form of the will to power is actually apropos for the critique of capitalism, since capitalism has the same character as the misconception of evolution described in those quotes. Capitalist economic theories lie when they claim to be all about scarcity and the struggle to allocate scarce resources. Capitalism is really about material plenty and how to monopolize as much of the plenitude as possible, thereby artificially generating scarcity which then justifies the fraudulent theory, is the basis of economic power imbalances, and enables the monopolist to extract even more from what little the worker and consumer still have. Peak Oil is also a scarcity gambit of capitalism, because only capitalism demands growth. So it’s not “growth demands oil”, but “capitalism demands oil”. We know for example that we can organize food production such that we can feed everyone using vastly less fossil fuels. But that would require the overthrow of corporate agriculture.
This is the “will to power” indeed, but at its lowest, ugliest, most vulgar, most destructive level.
So in the same way that Nietzsche criticized Darwinism for promoting a tendentious interpretation of nature which emphasized struggle and scarcity over nature’s real profligacy, we can criticize capitalist ideology for its lies about economic scarcity. (Although Darwin himself rejected Spencer’s social Darwinist ideology, this socioeconomic interpretation was actually implicit in Darwin’s interpretation of nature. And although N didn’t care about economics, nevertheless his description of the will to power and his accompanying criticism of Darwinism are easily transposed to the critique of politics and economics. At least I hope I’m accomplishing that in this post.)
Let’s briefly apply the lesson to food:
1. The goal of capitalism is to generate artificial scarcity out of natural and worker-made plenty. It’s the exact opposite of the Big Lie of economics, all the nonsense about allocating scarce resources.
2. In this case, even though the world produces far more than enough food for everyone to eat a basically good diet, capitalism strives to generate mass scarcity and therefore mass hunger. This was always a key goal of globalization, for example in the way the IMF targeted for eradication public agricultural investment in developing countries.
3. Similarly, food markets are naturally local/regional. Food commodification is naturally a small appendage of the market. To put it another way, a “free market” in food would be overwhelmingly local/regional.
But corporations and governments have systematically forced all food markets into the artificial strait jacket of commodification. This has artificially rendered food prices volatile and susceptible to non-linear jumps from relatively small inputs. The ethanol onslaught (another massive government intervention) has aggravated the whole effect.
Food commodification and its effect on all food markets is the tail wagging the dog, just as the finance sector has done with the real economy.
4. So this sector’s food speculation is the tip of the tail wagging the whole thing. It’s the most pure distillation of the logic of food commodification in general.
To put it in Nietzschean terms, the corporatists exercise their malevolent, debased form of the will to power in the form of political and economic aggression. Part of this will to overpower is the structure of lies they propagate, about how disappearing jobs, skyrocketing prices, ever-diminishing opportunities and freedom, and ever-tighter strangulation are all the result of some natural “scarcity”. That is, to serve their own aggrandizing will to power, they propagate the lie about our struggles really representing some “struggle for existence”, rather than the struggle for power which it really is. They want us to see our world as naturally caving in around us, rather than how we’re actually under artificial attack. They want us to struggle among ourselves for the few crumbs they toss to us, rather than comprehend how their class war has hoarded a vast bounty, all of it produced by us, all of it available to us for our prosperity, for our true exercise of power, the moment we realize what’s happening and choose to take back what’s ours.
There’s one sense in which the Darwinistic paradigm applies. Where a species is under assault by a homicidal parasite, it either fights back to destroy that parasite (including relinquishing old adaptations which have become maladaptive; I’ve discussed such political forms as representative government and ideologies like progressivism), or it perishes.
If we want to survive as a people, if we want democracy and freedom to survive, we must adapt to the new circumstances. So for example to smash the banksters would be Darwinism at its finest. That’s because under the corporate tyranny freedom, democracy, justice, morality, humanity are all being selected out.
Of course those most enamored of competition metaphors want this competition to occur only among the parasites themselves. The victims are never supposed to be allowed to “compete” back. It’s the standard “egoism for me, altruism for you”; “capitalism for me, anarchism for you”.
We’re currently mired among one of the “exceptions” Nietzsche described in the quotes above; we are struggling for existence. But this struggle is self-inflicted; it prevails because we choose to set our sights so low and accept the lies we’re told about the limits to our possible action. The moment we choose to disbelieve in these limits, they will no longer exist. The moment we stop begging for crumbs and demand the entire Earth, we shall have it.
We must perform a Darwinist turning of the tables and fight back against the enemies of humanity with all the ferocity nature can muster. Now that would be the people finally finding our true will to power.

March 20, 2011


Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Nietzsche, Tower of Babel — Russ @ 3:22 am


Today’s this blog’s second birthday, and I’m feeling good about the new Spring. I think I’ve largely completed my work in laying out the basic ideas, as I see them, regarding where we are, how we got here, and what we’re up against. While there’s still some arranging and polishing to be done there, from here on most of what I write’s going to be about where we need to go and how to get there. I’ve laid out my basic ideas there as well. Now it’s time to organize it all and flesh it out in detail.
The road to our transformation will likely be long and hard. But we can have confidence in humanity’s eventual triumph, because:
1. This system is physically and fiscally untenable, a Tower of Babel, which is caving in upon itself and must soon topple once and for all.
2. Every tyranny, the more intense it becomes, generates an ever more intense resistance against itself. This gathering resistance, which may for a long time remain clamped under the lid of a bulging pressure cooker, or may exhibit itself in what seem as first like disconnected outbursts, accelerates the process of the tyranny’s self-destruction.
This dialectic of revolution also evinces in the growing pains of the democratic movement, as it finds its historical way. It reminds me of what Nietzsche wrote about self-overcoming.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “On Self-Overcoming”, Nietzsche wrote of the inner conflicts as an individual or movement evolves from one wellspring of action to a higher one.

But that you may understand my word of good and evil, for that
purpose will I tell you my word of life, and of the nature of all
living things.
The living thing did I follow; I walked in the broadest and
narrowest paths to learn its nature.
With a hundred-faced mirror did I catch its glance when its mouth
was shut, so that its eye might speak unto me. And its eye spoke
unto me.
But wherever I found living things, there heard I also the
language of obedience. Whatever lives, obeys.
And this heard I secondly: Whatever cannot obey itself, is
commanded. Such is the nature of living things.

This transcendence often involves a rising but still subconscious force having to enlist the conscious ego as a taskmaster against the inertia of the superannuated habits and thoughts of the old force. In this case, in N’s description (“On War and Warriors”), through the device of the ego one is commanding oneself in a consciously top-down sense, rather than obeying oneself from the soil of one’s being.

Recalcitrance – that is the distinction of the slave. Let your
distinction be obedience. Let your commanding itself be obeying!
To the good warrior “thou shalt” sounds more pleasant than “I
will.” And all that is dear unto you, you shall have it commanded
unto you.

But as the new wellspring surges and the old one runs dry, the organism completes its psychic movement, and the new stage of the movement becomes the bottom-up imperative, upon which ego only floats as a passenger.
To make it more clear what he meant, I’ll give two examples from my personal life. Years ago, after years of failing to exercise, I started running again. At first it was a chore to nag myself into going out each day, especially if the weather sucked. But as I got used to it and felt stronger, and as I realized that running wasn’t a necessary chore I was doing for the sake of getting back in physical shape, but a symptom of an evolutionary spiritual change, it felt more and more natural and effortless. By now I’ve long been at the point where not only is it not a psychological chore to persuade myself to get going, but if for whatever reason I miss a run that’s what causes me to feel weird. The chore is failing to act.
To put it in Nietzschean terms, at first my ego commanded my body, now my body commands. It’s the same with writing this blog. When I finally broke my years of silence/lethargy, it was often a chore to write or even to figure out what to write. At first the ego was commanding me to write, commanding me to feel my way toward what I was really going to try to say. Now my body commands.
This is the key to everything. Keep struggling, however much psychological drag you feel, until you feel yourself driven by necessity. This is when we attain the fullest positive freedom.
It’s not just a subjective concern. Everywhere we see uncertainty and hesitation in the face of fear. But this mass feeling can be overcome only by each of us forcing ourselves to assert ourselves democratically and fight for our freedom until it becomes our massing, coursing life blood. 
Nietzsche wrote primarily about the evolution of the individual. But the description is just as true of the movements of history. The democratic movement must now overcome itself, outgrow what is superannuated. Specifically, democracy must forever renounce all compromises with elitism – political, economic, spiritual. We know now that elitism is inherently totalitarian and can never be compromised with, never appeased. This is true of centralized government power, and it’s true of corporatism. It’s the final conflict between these and democracy. One force, the human or the criminal, must win absolutely. This will decide the fate of humanity, to triumph or perish.
This means the democratic movement, still cluttered with every kind of halfway measure and regression, must achieve self-discipline. In Beyond Good and Evil (section 188) Nietzsche described how artists and thinkers face the same need to discover necessity in freedom.

In every people how much trouble poets and orators have made for themselves!—not excepting some contemporary prose writers in whose ears a relentless conscience dwells—“for the sake of some foolishness,” as utilitarian fools say, who think that makes them clever, —“out of obsequiousness to arbitrary laws,” as the anarchists say, who think that makes them “free,” even free spirited. The strange fact, however, is that everything there is or has been on earth to do with freedom, refinement, boldness, dance, and masterly certainty, whether it is in thinking itself, or in governing, or in speaking and persuading, in arts just as much as in morals, developed only thanks to the “tyranny of such arbitrary laws,” and in all seriousness, the probability is not insignificant that this is “nature” and “natural”—and not that laisser aller! Every artist knows how far from the feeling of letting himself go his “most natural” condition is, the free ordering, setting, disposing, shaping in moments of “inspiration”—and how strictly and subtly he obeys at that very moment the thousand-fold laws which make fun of all conceptual formulations precisely because of their hardness and decisiveness (even the firmest idea, by comparison, contains something fluctuating, multiple, ambiguous—).

It’s ironic that he chose that passage for one of his ignorant jabs at anarchism (a term he understood only in the dumbest MSM sense), since on the contrary this description of the body’s command of itself has always been the ideal toward which anarchism strives through all forms of direct action. We seek freedom in necessity. This is the dialectic of democratic self-organization and self-discipline.
I’ll close with one more quote (section 213) describing this freedom/necessity dialectic:

And so, for example, that genuine philosophical association of a bold, exuberant spirituality, which speeds along presto, with a dialectical strictness and necessity which takes no false steps, is unknown to most thinkers and scholars from their own experience, and hence, if someone wishes to talk about it in front of them, they find it implausible. They take the view that every necessity is a need, an awkward requirement to follow and to be compelled, and for them thinking itself is considered something slow, hesitant, almost labourious, and often enough “worth the sweat of the noble”—but under no circumstances something light, divine, closely related to dancing and high spirits! “Thinking” and “taking an issue seriously,” “considering it gravely”—among them these belong together: that’s the only way they have “experienced” thinking.—In such matters artists may have a more subtle sense of smell. They know only too well that at the very moment when they no longer create “arbitrarily” and make everything by necessity, their sense of freedom, refinement, authority, of creative setting up, disposing, and shaping is at its height—in short, that necessity and the “freedom of the will” are then one thing for them.

This is synonymous with the dialectic of direct democracy and self-discipline. Elitists have always been wrong in thinking that only superior (generally meaning, financially rich) individuals and organizations could allegedly discipline themselves this way. Soon humanity in the mass shall prove its own self-organizational skills and spirit, far beyond the dreams of any technocrat. This shall be the self-overcoming of democracy, and the redemption of humanity.
I’m going to be taking a partial Internet break for a week or so, but I’ll be around to respond to comments.
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