Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obstacles to Higher Culture

In the first volume of Human, All Too Human (HH) Nietzsche establishes a foundation for questioning traditional moral values, for the place and importance of art, and for self-mastery in a godless world. The work idealistically advocates the necessity of certain “cultivated” human beings to bring about an as yet rather nebulously defined “higher culture.” Separate sections on “Man in Society”, “Woman and Child”, “A Glance at the State”, and, lastly, “Man Alone with Himself” broaden the range of the work into Fritz’s often times rather na├»ve understandings of human fellowship and intimate experience.

In that regard, HH reflects Fritz’s limitations as a person. His passages on women, friendships, and family life, for example, reveal how truly unsophisticated his experiences were compared to his expert fascination with the workings of humanity as a whole and as an individual within that whole. There is a lot in the work I personally think is poorly developed and just a blatant opinion, if an interesting one. But, it is precisely through these bold and forceful opinions that we get to know Nietzsche’s mind on a more intimate level.

Of course, Nietzsche is fundamentally disruptive to things we take for granted. Much of what we value, he proclaims, is based upon passionate mistakes.

From Aphorism 9 -
“We behold all things through the human head and cannot cut off this head; while the question nonetheless remains what of the world would still be there if one had cut it off. This is a purely scientific problem and one not very well calculated to bother people overmuch; but all that has hitherto made metaphysical assumptions valuable, terrible, delightful to them, all that has begotten these assumptions, is passion, error and self-deception; the worst of all methods of acquiring knowledge, not the best of all, have taught belief in them.”

Despite his limitations with intimacy, Nietzsche understands that only by accentuating the private aspects of our public interactions can we accomplish the difficult work of growing and developing as individuals.

From Aphorism 95 – “To make oneself a complete person…”
“We all of us, to be sure, still suffer from the all-too little regard paid to the personal in us, it has been badly cultivated – let us admit to ourselves that our minds have, rather, been drawn forcibly away from it and offered as a sacrifice to the state, to science, to those in need, as though what would have to be sacrificed was in any case what was bad. Even now let us work for our fellow man, but only to the extent that we discover our own highest advantage in this work: no more, no less. All that remains is what it is one understands by one’s advantage; precisely the immature, undeveloped, crude individual will understand it most crudely.”

Religion is an inherently crude way of valuing things and is the foundation for many errors in human understanding. This is an example of how Nietzsche favors “intellectual structure” over “religious sensations.” A basic prejudice of his.

From Aphorism 110 –
“For every religion was born out of fear and need, it has crept into existence along paths of aberrations of reason; once, perhaps, when imperiled by science, it lyingly introduced some philosophical teaching or other into its system, so that later it could be discovered there: but this is a theologian’s artifice from the time when a religion is already doubting itself. It is these artifices of theology – which in Christianity, as the religion of a scholarly age saturated with philosophy, were, to be sure, already being practiced very early – that have led to that superstition of a sensus allegoricus, but it has been even more the habit of philosophers (especially those half-creatures the poetizing philosophers and philosophizing artists) of treating all sensations they discovered in themselves as fundamental qualities of mankind in general and therewith to permit their own religious sensations too to exert significant influence on the intellectual structure of their systems.”

Nietzsche's attacks on religion, and Christianity particularly, will be relentless as his life's work progresses. But this does not imply the he advocated an “anything goes” posture toward living. To the contrary, a certain discipline is essential to form the basis of a higher culture. Again, Nietzsche favors (self) "knowledge" over feeling or emotion.

From Aphorism 195 –
“The higher level of culture that places itself under the domination (if not indeed under the tyranny) of knowledge has need of a great sobriety of feeling and a strong concentration of all words; in which the Greeks in the age of Demosthenes have preceded us. All modern writing is characterized by exaggeratedness; and even when it is written simply the words it contains are felt too eccentrically. Rigorous reflection, terseness, coldness, simplicity, deliberately pursued even to their limit, self-containment of the feelings and silence in general – that alone can help us.”

Intimate mastery and control are important. The metaphysic of “restless activity” can cloud this fundamental understanding and effectively enslave the person. Next to religion, the workings of business and commerce are also a basic obstacle to attaining higher culture.

Aphorism 283 –
Principal deficiency of active men. – Active men are generally wanting in the higher activity: I mean that of the individual. They are active as officials, businessmen, scholars, that is to say as generic creatures, but not as distinct individual and unique human beings; in this regard they are lazy. - It is the misfortune of the active that their activity is always a little irrational. One ought not to ask the cash-amassing banker, for example, what the purpose of his restless activity is: it is irrational. The active roll as the stone rolls, in obedience to the stupidity of the laws of mechanics. – As at all times, so now too, men are divided into the slaves and the free; for he who does not have two-thirds of his day to himself is a slave (my emphasis), let him be what he may otherwise: statesman, businessman, official, scholar.”

We are complex beings of “moods and opinions” who must largely accept and put up with the activity of other people. Fritz was socially entertaining and cleverly humorous, but he was inept at genuine intimacy. In this case he was truly alone. And this fact limited his understanding in my opinion. Nevertheless, his insights about the diversity of internal forces that compose each singular individual is one of the most profound understandings in his philosophical system.

From Aphorism 376 –
“Through knowing ourselves, and regarding our own nature as a moving sphere of moods and opinions, and thus learning to despise oneself a little, we restore our proper equilibrium with others. It is true we have good reason to think little of each of our acquaintances, even the greatest of them; but equally good reason to direct this feeling back onto ourself. – And so, since we can endure ourself, let us also endure other people.”

Fritz could only appreciate either highly intelligent women and/or women who where musically talented. His interactions with them never took the feminine perspective adequately into his intimate account. You can’t say he understood the nature of things because he clearly never understood women, who have their own impact of the workings of things.

Aphorism 394 –
"Usual consequences in marriage. – All society that does not elevate one draws one down, and conversely; that is why men usually sink a little when they take wives, while their wives are elevated a little. Men who are too intellectual have great need of marriage, though they resist it as they would a foul-tasting medicine.”

Still, it is important to note that he wasn't completely blind to some fundamentals of relationships.

Aphorism 406 –
Marriage as a long conversation. – When entering into marriage one ought to ask oneself: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman up to your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory, but most of the time you are will be devoted to conversation.”

There is a natural aristocracy in higher culture. This caste of the idle has a special burden to bare in order to bring forth a higher culture.

From Aphorism 439 –
“A higher culture can come into existence only where there are two different castes of society: that if the workers and that of the idle, of those capable of true leisure; or, expressed more vigorously: the caste compelled to work and the caste that works if it wants. Differences in good fortune and happiness are not the essential element when it comes to the production of higher culture; in any event, however, the caste of the idle is the more capable of suffering and suffers more, its enjoyment of existence is less, its task heavier.”

Life is dotted with moments of a profound nature. Most people never notice. One of the purposes of self-mastery is to connect with these moments and to retain their otherwise fleeting guidance.

Aphorism 586 –
Of the hour-hand life. Life consists of rare individual moments of the highest significance and countless intervals in which at best the phantoms of those moments hover about us. Love, spring, a beautiful melody, the mountains, the moon, the sea – they all speak truly to our heart only once: if they ever do in fact truly find speech. For many people never experience these moments at all but are themselves intervals and pauses in the symphony of life.”

Volume One of HH displays the wide-ranging worldview Nietzsche intended to encompass in his philosophy. For that reason it is of fundamental importance. It surveys the landscape of things to come. The "Will to Power" is an obvious Nietzschean idea that evolved later (along with other concepts), but nothing that came later alters Nietzsche’s sweeping worldview nor his fundamentally positive attitude toward living life, as detailed in Volume Two.