Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A comment on section ten of Nietzsche's "The Gay Science"

The work is organized into short section that are little self contained essays. Section ten is titled "Concerning Atavisms". What Nietzsche means by that word is people who embody attitudes and who have ideas that seem to be from another time. In other words, people who are idiosyncratic and, as Nietzsche says, rare. Nietzsche is of the opinion that only very stable environments can lead to people who are idiosyncratic being able to develop themselves, because unstable environments would crush them and would pre-empt their self development as beings who chafe against society. I take environment to mean not just home life but to take in society as well. While I can see how he gets to the idea, I have to oppose it or at least say that stability is not the only condition that produces idiosyncratic and rare individuals. The diametrical opposite of stability does so as well.

While some instability in a society makes it harder for an individual to manifest ideas and attitudes that are more subtle than normal and that also don't fit in with society at large, if that same society becomes unstable enough the way opens up again for individuals to put forward Nietzsche's rare, out of season, ways of acting and of thinking. The reason for this is simple enough: once things become unstable enough people start defecting from society in general and start doing their own thing. There's no reason to believe in the greater social system and its values because enough of it has been ripped apart that it's no longer credible. In a situation like this, individuals can do an end run around society and still live their values, even though the set up is vastly more precarious on a day to day basis than the extended stability that can let eccentricity develop as well.

In fact, a lot of recent counter culture has been produced by individuals who come from family and social situations just like this, who drop out of society because society offers nothing for them and who instead form their own culture and community.

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