Thursday, April 30, 2015

We Fearless Ones

Just after the publication of Beyond Good and Evil (BGE) in 1886, Nietzsche attempted what we would call today a "reboot" of his philosophical career. Having obtained the rights to all his previous works, he wrote new prefaces and rebound the ample supply of unsold copies as new editions. I will deal with these new prefaces in my next post.

Part of this reboot was an entirely new Book Five added on to the republished version of The Gay Science in 1887. With this section, Nietzsche stitched this earlier, brilliant work published in 1882 (prior to Thus Spoke Zarathustra) with his current thinking. Part Five allows us to see The Gay Science as the beginning of Nietzsche's mature philosophy, comparable with BGE.

The new section was entitled "We Fearless Ones" and it was Nietzsche's attempt to summarize the qualities necessary for an individual to thrive in society after the death of God. It involved a criticism of many aspects of western civilization but particularly of scientific materialism, democracy, and religion as forces in society.  Nietzsche was also erotic and sexist in many aphorisms, keeping with that strong thread from the previous four sections of the work.

Yet, Part Five was infused with enthusiasm and confidence while also revealing the "darker" side of higher living - the use of others, slaves of a lower culture, in order to achieve a society based on principles that transcended both tradition and modernity.  Nietzsche advocated an experience of reality without culturally determined norms, without ordinary human needs, where the individual was free to discover whatever life might bring and to experience a grounded reality that was simultaneously challenging and inspiring.

"Indeed, at hearing the news that 'the old God is dead', we philosophers and 'free spirits' feel illuminated by a new dawn; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, forebodings, expectation - finally the horizon seems clear again, even if not bright; finally our ship may set out again, set out to face any danger; every daring of the lover of knowledge is allowed again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; maybe there has never been such an 'open sea'." (Aphorism 343)

Specific sections serve as details of Nietzsche's higher thinking with regard to many subjects. For example, he makes his case that human consciousness is almost entirely a social phenomena.  Further, this aspect of societal reality is driven linguistically.  A terrifically accurate insight, in my opinion.

"...consciousness in general has developed only under the pressure of the need to communicate; that at the outset, consciousness was necessary and useful, only between persons (particularly between those who commanded and those who obeyed); Consciousness is really just a net connecting one person with another - only in this capacity did it have to develop; the solitary and predatory person would not have needed it.  That our actions, thoughts, feelings, and movements - at least some of them - even enter into consciousness is the result of a terrible 'must' which has ruled over man for a long time..." (354)

With the sense of "must" just mentioned Nietzsche is considering society as an expression of the will to power, of other forces beyond the human horizon. This is brilliant writing.

...conscious thinking takes place in words, that is, in communication symbols; and this fact discloses the origin of consciousness.  In short, the development of language and the development of consciousness go hand in hand.  My idea is clearly that consciousness actually belongs not to man's existence as an individual but rather to the community - and herd-aspects of his nature;  that accordingly, it is finely developed only in relation to its usefulness to community or herd; and that consequently each of us, even with the best will in the world to understand ourselves as individually as possible, 'to know ourselves', will always bring to consciousness precisely that in ourselves which is 'non-individual', that which is 'average'; that due to the nature of consciousness - to the 'genius of the species' governing it - our thoughts themselves are continually as it were outvoted and translated back into the herd perspective.  At bottom, all our actions are incomparably and utterly personal, unique, and boundlessly individual, there is no doubt; but as soon as we translate them into consciousness, they no longer seem to be... This is what I consider to be true phenomenalism and perspectivism: that due to the nature of animal consciousness, the world of which we can become conscious is merely a surface - and sign-world, a world turned into generalities and thereby debased to its lowest common denominator - that everything which enters consciousness thereby becomes shallow, thin, stupid, general, a sign, a herd-mark;" (354)

Napoleon was often a Nietzschean example of a great human being.  The French Emperor was a warrior not only in the military sense but in the sense of higher being, broad-minded, a master of the military and a builder of society itself.

"...we have entered the classic age of war, of sophisticated yet popular war on the largest scale (in terms of weapons, talents, discipline); all coming ages will look back on this kind of war with envy and deep respect as someone perfect, for the national movement out of which this war glory is growing is merely the counter-shock against Napoleon and would not exist without Napoleon.  He should be credited one day for having enabled man in Europe to become the master over the businessman and the philistine - perhaps even over 'woman', who has been spoiled by Christianity and the enthusiastic spirit of the eighteenth century, and even more by 'modern ideas'. (362)

Nietzsche's inclusion of the following passage is interesting because it includes the strong undercurrent of eroticism (and sexism) so noticeable and noteworthy at this stage of his life's work.  Much of it is shallow and naive but it nevertheless reflects the sexual ingredient of the will to power.

"For man and woman have different conceptions of love - and it belongs to the conditions of love - and it belongs to the conditions of love in each sex that neither presupposes the same feeling, mother same concept of 'love' in the other.  What woman means by love is clear enough: total devotion (and not mere surrender) with soul and body, without any consideration or reserve, rather with shame and horror at the thought of a devotion that might be tied to special clauses or conditions.  In this absence of conditions her love is a faith: woman has no other. Man, when he loves a woman, wants precisely this love from her and is thus himself as far as can be from the presupposition of female love; supposing, however, that there should also be men to whom the desire for complete surrender is not alien, well, then they are - not men.  A man who loves like a woman becomes a slave, but a woman who loves like a woman becomes a more perfect woman...The passion of a woman, in its unconditional renunciation of her own rights, presupposes precisely that on the other side there is not an equal pathos, not an equal will to renunciation; for if both should renounce themselves for love, the result will be - well, I don't know, maybe an empty space? Woman wants to be taken, adopted as a possession, wants to be absorbed in the concept 'possession', 'possessed'; consequently, she wants someone who takes, who does not himself give or be made richer in 'himself' - through the increase in strength, happiness, and faith given him by the woman who gives herself." (364)

But this is only an aside to his main point.  Julian Young writes of "We Fearless Ones": "Nietzsche's ideal is set extraordinarily high: only  'Dionysian God or [super]man' can finally achieve it. Nonetheless, though it may seem on the verge of megalomania, it is based, I think, one quite familiar experiences.  When we are 'down' everything seems impossible, too hard, the whole world is against us.  We wish - 'romantically' - we were somewhere else.  But when we are 'up' nothing seems too difficult; the world is at our feet. We feel full of energy and confidence, confidence in our power to overcome the 'terrible and questionable'. And so we (we who are full of 'the power of positive thinking', another sub-Nietzschean concept) welcome the stressful in the way in which a mountain climber welcomes the challenge of the mountain.  And we feel this way not just about what lies within our own direct control but also about the world in general: that in one way or another, it will all work out for the best in the long run.  Nietzsche's ideal of spiritual health imagines this state of 'Dionysian' ecstasy as, not just a momentary condition, but as a permanent state." (page 447)

Book Five again: "But there are two types of sufferers: first, those who suffer from a superabundance of life - they want a Dionysian art as well as a tragic outlook and insight into life; then, those who suffer from an impoverishment of life and seek quiet, stillness, calm seas, redemption from themselves through art and insight, or else intoxication, paroxysm, numbness, madness.  All romanticism in art and in knowledge fits the dual needs of the later type, as did (and do) Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, to name the most famous and prominent romantics that I misunderstood at the time - not, incidentally, to their disadvantage, one might in all fairness concede. Man who is richest in fullness of life, the Dionysian God and man, can allow himself not only the sight of what is terrible and questionable but also the terrible deed and every luxury of destruction, decomposition, negation; in his case, what is evil, nonsensical, and ugly almost seems acceptable because of an overflow I'm procreating, fertilizing forces capable of turning any desert into boundless farmland. Conversely, he who suffers most and is poorest in life would need mainly mildness, peacefulness, goodness in thought and in deed - if possible, also a God who truly would be a god for the sick, a 'savior'; as well as logic, the conceptual comprehensibility of existence - for logic soothes, gives confidence - in short, a certain warm, fear repelling narrowness and confinement to optimistic horizons....The desire for destruction, for change and for becoming can be the expression of an overflowing energy pregnant with the future (my term for this is, as is known, 'Dionysian'); but it can also be the hatred of the ill-constituted, deprived, and underprivileged one who destroys and must destroy because what exists, indeed all existence, all being, outrages and provokes him." (370)

This Dionysian ecstasy thrives on shifting foundations and change.  "We are misidentified - for we ourselves keep growing, changing, shedding old hides; we still shed our skins every spring; we become increasingly younger, more future-oriented, taller, stronger; we drive our roots ever more powerfully into the depths - into evil - while at the same time embracing the heavens ever more lovingly and broadly, and absorbing their light ever more thirstily with our sprigs and leaves." (371)

Julian Young again on Nietzsche's view of science and, of course, since Nietzsche makes everything so intimate in his philosophy, a critique of the scientist as a man. "Were he alive now he would surely target dogmatic materialists as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins as prime examplars of unscientific science-worship.

"Nietzsche points out that the two elements of the absolutizer's position are both 'prejudices'.  Since we 'cannot look around a corner', cannot step outside our minds, we can have no certainty that any world-interpretation produced by our 'four-cornered little human reason' corresponds completely, or even partially, to reality.  And since we cannot be certain that our own interpretation grasps the world as it really is, we have no grounds to be dismissive of other interpretations: 'good taste' demands 'reverence for everything that lies beyond [one's own] interpretation'.

"Instead of scientific arrogance, the watchword for the truly scientific spirit is 'modesty'.  The very word 'philosophy', 'lover of wisdom', Nietzsche points out, was coined by modest Greeks who, apart from 'conceited' exceptions such as Pythagoras and Plato, never claimed to be wise or to know anything of real importance.  A truly scientific person is modest about his own world-interpretation - a modesty that requires 'sovereignty and strength'.  Every kind of 'fanaticism', whether it take the form of socialism, Russian nihilism, the 'realism' of Flaubert and Zola or the 'scientific-positivist' outlook of the present age, is actually a sign of a weak and timid will that lacks the courage to live in a world of uncertainty.  Lacking, as Nietzsche puts it, to dance 'beside abysses', the weak-willed fanatic needs to be 'commanded' by some prepackaged 'faith', needs to become a 'believer' in a 'single point of view'.

"Being a good scientist or philosopher is, then, as one might put it, a matter of being of good character. People who are of such character live, Nietzsche writes, in the awareness of a world which has 'become infinite': become infinite because, particularly when we take into account the possibility of world-perspectives belonging to non-human creatures, we see that there is no limit to the number of possible world-interpretations, each quite possibly, in its own way, as good as every other one."

Nietzsche in Book Five: "Thus, a 'scientific' interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might still be one of the stupidest of all possible interpretations of the world, i.e. one of those lacking in significance.  This to the ear and conscience of Mr. Mechanic, who nowadays likes to pass as a philosopher and insists that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and final laws on which existence may be built, as on a ground floor.  But an essentially mechanistic world would be an essentially meaningless world! Suppose one judged the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas - how absurd such a 'scientific' evaluation of music would be!" (373)

"We cannot look around our corner: it is a hopeless curiosity to want to know what other kinds of intellects and perspectives there might be; e.g. whether other beings might be able to experience time backwards, or alternately forwards and backwards (which would involve another direction of life and a different conception of cause and effect). But I think that today we are at least far away from the ridiculous immodestly of decreeing from our angle. Rather, the world has once again become infinite to us: insofar as we cannot reject the possibility that it includes infinite interpretations. Once again the great shudder seizes us - but who again would want immediately to deify in the old manner this monster of an unknown world?" (374)

Nevertheless, Nietzsche advances his specific perspective (while proclaiming the validity of completely relative "perspectivism") based upon the will to power among many other central concepts: free spirit, overman, eternal recurrence, amor fati. "We Fearless Ones" distances the insightful person from modernity and it's inevitable mediocrity.  He is a warrior without fear, without common principle, one who will enslave others to express his will in the world. Yet he remains highly spiritual in his patience and calm confidence about the future.

"We 'conserve' nothing; neither do we want to return to any past; we are by no means 'liberal'; we are not working for 'progress'; we don't need to plug our ears to the marketplace's sirens of the future: what they sing - 'equal rights', 'free society', 'no more masters and no servants' - has no allure for us.  We hold it absolutely undesirable that a realm of justice and concord should be established on earth (because it would certainly be a realm of the most profound leveling down to mediocrity and chinoiserie; we are delighted by all who love, as we do, danger, war, and adventure; who refuse to compromise, to be captured, to reconcile, to be castrated; we consider ourselves conquerors; we contemplate the necessity for new orders as well as for a new slavery - for every strengthening and enhancement of the human type also involves a new kind of enslavement - doesn't it?" (377)

"We fearless ones, however, we more spiritual men of this age, we know our advantage well enough to live without fear of this age precisely because we are more spiritual. We will hardly be decapitated, imprisoned, or exiled; not even our books will be banned or burned.  The age loves the spirit; it loves and needs us, even if we should have to make clear to it that we are artists of contempt; that every association with human beings makes us shudder slightly; that for all our mildness, patience, congeniality, and politeness, we cannot persuade our noses to give up their prejudices against the proximity of a human being; that we love nature the less humanly it behaves, and art if it is the artist's escape from man or the artist's mockery of man, or the artist's mockery of himself..." (379)

Nietzsche wanted to push boundaries, to redefine human existence in the context of a vast interplay of forces within the universal will to power, to embrace the adventure of discovering the possibilities of Being, to avoid the pitfalls of established thinking whether political, scientific, or religious.  The Dionysian element is fundamental to saying 'yes' to Being, and to actually enjoy the overcoming of difficulty and disruption.  Part Five clarifies the revised intent of The Gay Science as almost an introduction to BGE. Whatever comes next with human Being, individually and collectively, it will be reason to Be joyful and light in the face of the fully acknowledged weight of existence. There is no reason to fear the future, nor to fear our intimate lives.  We are the master morality.  Anything is possible.