Saturday, July 31, 2010

I am "We"

Daybreak is devoted to several major topics and a plethora of minor ones. It is a fine example of Nietzsche’s still early (philosophically speaking) expansive mind toying with a wide range of ideas. Among them…

Morality is custom. "Truth" becomes accepted not because it is inherently true, but rather because whatever the claim of truth is gets ingrained over generations of consistent cultural use. All great men, by contrast, are considered evil to begin with because they advocate a way of life that challenges custom to some degree. We touched on this in the previous post.

Modern society built around a system of mass commerce is a threat to our humanity. “To the devil with setting a price on oneself in exchange for which one ceases to be a person and becomes a part of a machine! Are you accomplices in the current folly of the nations – the folly of wanting above all to produce as much as possible and to become as rich as possible?” (from Aphorism 206) In this regard, although he certainly would resent the comparison, Nietzsche is carrying forward the basic critique of society that he shared with his former friend Wagner.

Wagner's perspective is summarized by Julian Young: "Since the masses are trained to be nothing but machine-parts, and are in any case exhausted by work, they are capable of nothing but cheap, mindless pleasures in the moments of leisure allowed them. But, since cheap consumerism produces ever diminishing returns, boredom becomes the salient mood of modernity. In the consumer society people are 'bored to death by pleasure'." (page 113)

Nietzsche reiterated the decentered nature of our humanity in the scheme of things. We aren’t that special in the indifferent universe. “The new fundamental feeling: our conclusive transitoriness. – However high mankind may have evolved it cannot pass into a higher order, as little as the ant or the earwig can at the end of its ‘earthly course’ rise up to kinship with God and eternal life. The becoming drags the has-been along behind it: why should an exception to this eternal spectacle be made on behalf of some little star or for any little species upon it! Away with such sentimentalities!” (from Aphorism 49)

"So you want this lovely consciousness of yourself to last forever? Is that not immodest? And you earth-dwellers, with your petty conception of a couple of thousand little minutes, want to burden eternal existence with yourselves everlastingly! Could anything be more importunate!" (from Aphorism 211)

Nietzsche definitely echoes, supports, refines much of what he previously said in Human, All Too Human.

For me personally, the greatest contribution Nietzsche made in Daybreak was the establishment of a very vivid theory of human behavior, a theory where you and I are a multitude of private impulses or motivations or drives.

His meta-contention is that self-creation should take the place of art and religion in our intimate lives and cultures. Importantly, self-creation takes place within a schema of rather powerful, perhaps even tyrannical, effects of distinctive, intimate drives within the individual human psyche.

From Aphorism 119 – “However far a man may go in self-knowledge, nothing however can be more incomplete than his image of the totality of drives which constitute his being. He can scarcely name even the cruder ones: their number and strength, their ebb and flood, their play and counterplay among one another, and above all the laws of their nutriment remain wholly unknown to him. This nutriment is therefore a work of chance: our daily experiences throw some prey in the way of now this, now that drive, and the drive seizes it eagerly; but the coming and going of these events as a whole stands in no rational relationship to the nutritional requirements of the totality of drives: so that the outcome will always be twofold – the starving and stunting of some and the overfeeding of others. Every moment of our lives sees some of the polyp-arms of our being grow and others of them wither, all according to the nutriment which the moment does or does not bear with it….today’s prompter of the reasoning faculty was different from yesterday’s – a different drive wanted to gratify itself, to be active, to exercise itself, to refresh itself, to discharge itself – today this drive is at high flood, yesterday it was a different drive that was in that condition. Waking life does not have this freedom of interpretation possessed by the life of dreams, it is less inventive and unbridled – but do I have to add that when we are awake our drives likewise do nothing but interpret nervous stimuli and, according to their requirements, posit their ‘causes’?”

These drives are fundamentally amoral, which is a basic reason Nietzsche attacks the metaphysics of morality the way he does. He believes he has found a superior explanation for human behavior that does not need what we typically call 'moral'. "In itself it has, like every drive, neither this moral character nore any moral charcater at all, nor even a definite attendant sensation of pleasure or displeasure: it acquires all this, as its second nature, only when it enters into relations with drives already baptised good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people have already evaluated and determined in the moral sense." (from Aphorism 38)

“…mostly we have little or no understanding of the viper’s nest of ‘drives’ and emotions that are inside us…if we are to take control of our lives – if we are to be ‘selves’ rather than ‘failed selves’ (or ‘ex-selves’) – a precondition is, as Epicurus emphasizes, to ‘know oneself’, to understand our own natures…Nietzsche talks, for example, of self-‘sculpting’ or self-‘gardening’ (self-landscaping one might say) as a matter of allowing undesirable drives to wither by removing oneself from places and company which stimulate them…..Nietzsche clearly advocates ‘self-mastery’ through self-‘cultivation’ and disapproves of ‘letting the plants grow up and fight their fight out among themselves’…’self-making is a matter of ‘bringing forth’…it is a mistake to think of Nietzschean self-creation as a matter of creating, like God, ex nihilo. Self-creation is, to repeat, self-cultivation.” (Young pp. 305-306)

“The expression ‘drives’ is subject to misinterpretation because it automatically brings to mind a system of primitive, basic biological urges, which was precisely Nietzsche’s intention. He depicted a highly differentiated network of subtle motions. The sensual and mental blend into a swarm of abstruse events in which even a ‘deep’ thought is merely superficial. This is not a reductive process, but rather a demonstration of how all senses are engaged in the philosophical progression of thought. It is easy to contend that thoughts are a collaborative effort and elevate them wherever possible into the sphere of language and consciousness. This attempt can succeed only if language is able to stretch its wings, becoming free, mobile, and elastic in the process, flying over the broad landscape of humanity, constant vigilant, but not in search of prey.” (Safranski, pp. 216-217)

“Our impulses are in a state of chaos. We would do this now, and another thing the next moment – and even a great number of things at the same time. We think one way and live another; we want one thing and do another. No man can live without bringing some order into this chaos. This may be done by thoroughly weakening the whole organism or by repudiating and repressing many of the impulses; but the result in that case is not a ‘harmony,’ and the physis is castrated, not ‘improved.’ Yet, there is another way – namely, to ‘organize the chaos’: sublimation allows for the achievement of an organic harmony and leads to that culture which is truly a ‘transfigured physis.’” (Kaufmann, page 227)

Ultimately, self-creation comes from an understanding of the multiplicity of drives within each unique person. Such understanding is rare and distinctive among human beings, separating self-mastery from the custom and morality of the herd. From Aphorism 9 – “Self-overcoming is demanded, not on account of the useful consequences it may have for the individual, but so that the hegemony of custom, tradition, shall be made evident in spite of the private desires and advantages of the individual: the individual is to sacrifice himself – that is the commandment of morality of custom. Those moralists, on the other hand, who, following in the footsteps of Socrates, offer the individual a morality of self-control and temperance as a means to his own advantage, as his personal key to happiness, are the exceptions.”

“Nietzsche identifies six modes of ‘working on oneself’. Of pruning those aspects of one’s nature one wishes to deny expression: one can deny a drive gratification so it eventually withers (giving up smoking, for example), restrict its expression to certain limited times and places (carnivals, ancients and modern), overindulge it so as to generate disgust (risky Nietzsche points out, because the horse-rider often breaks his neck), associate the drive with some painful thought, as when the Christian associates the idea of the devil with sex (aversion therapy), build up a rival drive by constant gratification, and finally, like the ascetic, one can weaken the whole bodily system so that all drives, including the one to be dealt with, are deprived of vehemence.” (Young, page 306)

As usual with Nietzsche, there is a paradox here. Nietzsche believes that human beings do not possess free will but, rather, always act under the subtle influences of biology and cultural tradition, impossibly bound to these influences, not free at all. So, if we are not free as individuals to this modest extent then how can we truly ‘sculpt’ and ‘cultivate’ ourselves? Nietzsche is aware of this possibility and paradox.

From Aphorism 109 – “…that one desires to combat the vehemence of a drive at all, however, does not stand within our own power; nor does the choice of any particular method; nor does the success of failure of this method. What is clearly the case is that in this entire procedure our intellect is only the blind instrument of another drive which is rival of the drive whose vehemence is tormenting us: whether it be the drive to restfulness, or the fear of disgrace and other evil consequences, or love. While ‘we’ believe we are complaining about the vehemence of a drive, at bottom it is only one drive which is complaining about another; that is to say, for us to become aware that we are suffering from the vehemence of a drive presupposes the existence of another equally vehement or even more vehement drive, and that a struggle is in prospect in which our intellect is going to have to take sides.”

It is interesting to note the intensity Nietzsche wishes to convey about the effects of drives upon us as individuals. “Vehemence” is not an uncommon (or inaccurate) translation and its use suggests the passion with which Fritz experienced life itself, his own intimate being. Life is a passionate experience.

Nietzsche’s philosophy is filled with paradoxes and inconsistencies he either never recognized or of which he was aware but never attempted to resolve. Apparently, in the case of psychological drives, Nietzsche thought that some drives are more controllable than others. In any case, I agree with Nietzsche that human Being is more about Becoming within a multiplicity of drives and the resulting suggestion that we are not rationally in control of ourselves. We often express things or behave in ways that we don’t intend because we are, like animals and even many plants, instinctual beings. I am a collection of drives that can be fine-tuned to some degree if I am only aware of them, despite the fact that there is no escaping the general tyranny of drives on our humanity.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche believed that higher culture was possible among ‘free spirits’ who devoted themselves to self-creation. To step out of the norm. To let custom go. These were inspired, adventurous acts. To become an ‘argonaunt’. The challenge, for Nietzsche, is not so much how do we cultivate ourselves in spite of the fact we have no genuine free will, that is merely our only legitimate opportunity in an cold, impersonal universe. The challenge, rather, is to break free from the previously unquestioned assumptions about morality and custom so that self-creation is possible.

“We become so caught up in our daily routines and ensnared in our many obligations and habits that anxiety and opportunism gain the upper hand. As a result, we are not sufficiently composed to let the world work its magic. We fail to provide it with a stage on which to appear as an epiphany, rich and enigmatic, and give ourselves the opportunity to warm up to it. For this to be possible, we must not become too established as creatures of habit. Leeway is required to allow consciousness to observe itself, not in an autistic sense, but in such a way that receptivity for the world can be experienced on an individual level. This degree of attention to the way in which the world is ‘given’ to us entails a decided departure from our customary attitude toward the world. We need to undergo a genuine transition in attitude, the kind we experience every morning when we awaken.” (Safranski, page 218)

Individuals who break free from the habit of herd mentality and focus upon orchestrating their multiplicity of drives attain a higher expression of life. Importantly, the “power” once granted custom over our individuality is transferred to our intimate Being. Aphorism 437 – “Privileges. – He who really possesses himself, that is to say he who has definitely conquered himself, henceforth regards it as his own privilege to punish himself, to pardon himself, to take pity on himself: he does not need to concede this to anyone else, but he can freely relinquish it to another, to a friend, for example – but he knows that he therewith confers a right and that one can confer rights only out of possession of power.”

It is through acts of self-creation that human beings harness the basic power inherent in life. This existential encounter with power would later blossom in Nietzsche’s thought. The “Will to Power” is in some respects built upon the foundation of a multiplicity of drives.

Nietzsche’s theory of psychological drives pre-dates the work of Sigmund Freud. To my knowledge, Nietzsche did not invent psychological drive theory but it was something he came up with independently of any influence he had been exposed to in his academic life. For me personally, this is a deeply insightful understanding of our basic humanity. It presents the clearest understanding of how and why human Being expresses itself as it does in this world.

Self-creation is a bold act in the face of a seething diversity of forces working, largely unconsciously, within each of us. The ability to “conquer” yourself when you are made up of multiple, competing drives that are not entirely controllable is nevertheless the goal of our Being, the core of Nietzsche’s basis for the expression of power within humanity, and the greatest work any of us can attempt in an indifferent universe. To take joy in spite of this paradoxical juxtaposition is largely the cornerstone of Nietzsche’s early work and perhaps best exhibited in his next great work.