Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nietzsche and anti-humanism

There are a couple levels of Anti-Huamanist thought in Nietzsche, but I just want to focus on one of them. His general cynical view of humanity doesn't interest me here. Something that's been disturbing me about "Beyond Good and Evil", that I wasn't able to put into words until recently, while, is that his rejection of Good and Bad limits the scope of human existence rather than extending it.

To understand why you have to go back to the title of "Beyond Good and Evil" itself, or rather see that it's an imperfect translation. A better one would be, "Beyond Good and Bad". You see, Nietzsche isn't really arguing against the metaphysical notion of Evil with a big 'E' as it's understood in the Anglo-American religious and philosophical tradition. Instead, what he's arguing is that the fundamental moral categories of good and bad in and of themselves, as conceptual categories, do not have relevance. What he's arguing is that the moral sensibility, whether liberal, conservative, atheistic or theistic, is fundamentally flawed and that the real dynamics of life have nothing to do with the things that we normally associate with it. It's problematic in that there are quite a few large sections of life and thought that are tied into the moral sensibility, and denying moral sensibility denies them as well. Denying the moral sensibility is not the same thing as having an amoral view of life or one that's not particularly moral. It's also not a support for a utilitarian viewpoint where everything is reducible to pleasure or pain. Morality in a very general sense, no matter what type of morality it is, is a mediator that between ourselves and the social, historical, and cultural world around us. It helps us to accomplish our goals, which are biologically human, more effectively.

Ultimately, our concept of 'a' right and 'a' good, no matter what the substance of our concept is, comes from our human, biological, structure. It's an integral part of everyday human existence. To be anti-humanist in this sense is to is to cut off a piece of one's self that helps you, as a human, produce the very great works of art, the great scientific achievements in technology, the great heroic actions, that Nietzsche championed. Without our humanity, none of that means anything except for the basic mathematical equations and scientific concepts we discover that have a completely a-human basis. To fulfill virtually anything that we can conceive of as desirable, beyond animal behavior, we need to engage our human side,because there's no other coherent model of being out there that's not a return to a more biologically primitive form. If we choose to live on the level of animals and reptiles, I don't think that we'll be able to produce anything of a higher or uniquely human value.

What you're left with is will and sensation, and blind instinct, with a formalistic extension of will being one of the few the marks of rightness. Realizing a higher degree of general, raw, will is not the same as realizing a more refined will to do a thing that's complex, inventive, or creative. To me, by cutting off validity to the moral sensibility, one that despite its imperfections is effective in helping us navigate a uniquely human existence, no matter what your justification is, leaves people with drastically less ability to meaningfully navigate the world that they live in, which, Sartre be damned, does in fact include other people.

*On edit: a qualification of what I mean by his objection to the idea of a valid moral sentiment.

I should say that the whole business about moral sentiments not mattering is perhaps better phrased by saying that Nietzsche believes a) that the idea of morality itself is a historical product, and b) that the morality that we say we have is not what we believe but a false consciousness. Combining the two, you get the idea that morality is an optional concept evolved over time that legitimizes the brutal power politics, which means that, essentially, morality is meaningless. Good and bad can't be real because they're all lies. This is the whine of the person who is too jacked up on testosterone and alcohol, and who drunkenly exclaims against anything he or she sees. Simply amplifying your attack on what you consider to be hypocritical morality to the point of discarding it altogether is hardly an argument. In the process, Nietzsche somehow ignores thousands of years of evidence that his scenario is not real. Even the harsh peoples that he praises did not operate in a moral-free zone: they simply had different morals, but morals nonetheless. In any case, perhaps he shouldn't have let third stage syphilis do so much of his writing.

3 comments:

Horapollo Aesymnetes said...

Stirner kicks Nietzsche in the balls, and your argument about 'cutting yourself off from humanity' is circular.

John Madziarczyk said...

Stirner was even more inconsistent than Nietzsche. If you want a more thorough and consistent individualist, you would be better looking at Fichte.

Horapollo Aesymnetes said...

'Individualism' is a shibboleth.
Fichte was a Humanist cunt, like most of his ilk.