Wednesday, May 21, 2014

NIETZSCHE: A HANGMAN’S METAPHYSICS

Nietzsche: sculpture by Peter Lenk
 

NIETZSCHE: POSTCARDS FROM SWISS ALPS
   
I love the great despisers,
for they are great worshippers,
arrows of longing for the other shore.


Dearest Mother: Yesterday I walked
into a cloud of newly hatched
ladybugs, the air insane with red,
hundreds of tiny bodies, tick-tick,
colliding with my straw hat.
I dine at The Alpine Rose,
make compresses for my eyes
with glacier water from the lake.
As for my sleep medicine,
don’t worry, I don’t go above
50 grams of chloroform.
Please send me some sausages.

Dear Friend, This morning I noticed
my landlady’s powdered face,
her sweetish odor of valerian drops.
The geraniums on her balcony
trail after me, interrupting my thoughts.
What if I asked her point-blank,
“Madam, but suppose God
is an invention of the devil?”
Philosophers are such sadists.
We who think should present ourselves
for immediate execution.

Dear Fräulein,
thank you for the kind gift
of your Memoirs of an Idealist. 
Please stop complaining
that women are slaves.
That’s what makes civilization possible.

Dear Cosima, Dear Lou,
Dear Stranger on the Train:
love was the screaming of the nightingales.
Solitude is a dawn.
In the red silence I write bitter,
I mean better —
Yet if only at the mouth of the question,
outlined with a thread of light,
stood Ariadne —

Respected Colleagues and Illustrious Dead:
I want back
the coin under your tongue.
I climbed as high as I could.
On the ledge of heaven I saw
a swift’s nest, festooned with droppings.

Dear Sister: are we not
the fools of a dead god?
Through the granite
swirls of birth I shout:
There is no truth,
only perspective
s,
the sacred word
is perhaps
 

Dearest Sister:
are we not happy

~ Oriana © 2014

**

“There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth” and, even more so, “To kindle lightning, one must for a long time be a cloud” — and, of course, the most famous: “One must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star” — these aphorisms seem to glorify inner turbulence. But is “Dionysian philosophy” of passion and transience a contradiction in terms? Isn’t a philosopher a calm, resigned man? One who cultivates restraint, and not a wild mustache?

Wait. Let me not get Dionysian right away. My plan is to deliver the essay about Hangman’s Metaphysics first, and shamelessly indulge in Dionysian-Nietzschean intoxications later. Nietzsche teaches one to think in terms of no guilt, no punishment — self-trust. This time my self-trust counsels me to be coherent first.

THE GOD OF PUNISHMENT


By not rejecting the Old Testament, Christianity had to absorb an angry and cruel god (all ancient gods were cruel; mercy is fairly recent development). It was a tribal god, nameless and faceless (Moses was once allowed to see his backside) — a god of wrath who tried to drown the earth in a flood because he regretted the mistake of creation; a god of vengeance and punishment. Joyce called this god of punishment the Hangman God. He was probably inspired by Nietzsche’s “Christianity is a hangman’s metaphysics.” Let me quote a bit from “Twilight of the Idols”:

“We no longer have any sympathy today with the concept of “free will.” We know only too well what it is—the most infamous of all the arts of the theologian for making mankind “accountable” in his sense of the word, that is to say for making mankind dependent on him. . .  The doctrine of the will has been invented essentially for the purpose of punishment, that is, of finding guilty. The entire old-style psychology, the psychology of will, was conditioned by the fact that its originators, the priests at the head of ancient communities, wanted to create for themselves THE RIGHT TO PUNISH—or wanted to create this right for God . . . MEN WERE CONSIDERED "FREE" SO THAT THEY MIGHT BE JUDGED AND PUNISHED — so that they might become guilty: consequently, every act had to be considered as willed, and the origin of every act had to be considered as lying within the consciousness (whereby the most fundamental falsification was made into the very principle of psychology).”

Nietzsche argues that MOST COMMANDMENTS WERE MADE NOT TO BE OBEYED, BUT TO BE BROKEN, CREATING GUILT. Religion creates and exploits guilt. “Brothels were built with the bricks of religion,” William Blake observed. Some religious rules are so contrary to human psychology that they are virtually impossible to follow. Don’t even think about sex, young man! If you ever lust after a woman, it’s the same as committing adultery. Young woman, keep yourself pure. Don’t covet that pretty dress, much less fantasize about the Prince, you vile temptress under the curse of Eve!

Such commandments were made to be broken, so that people would feel perpetually guilty and deserving of punishment. It wasn’t just people’s actions that god spied on, but even more so their thoughts. One of the first ideas taught to children is that god can read their thoughts. No use hiding under the bed or in a closet; you are under constant surveillance. And whose thoughts can be always pure and holy? We know we have trespassed, and thus we feel constantly guilty.

“Religion is in the guilt-producing control business,” as Bishop Spong put it. It’s about controlling people. It keeps the poor from murdering the rich, as Napoleon shrewdly observed.  But Nietzsche is not interested in the social function of religion, but rather in its impact on the individual psyche. In Nietzsche’s eyes religion was anti-life; Christianity was a religion of death. “God degenerated to the contradiction of life instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes” (The Anti-Christ).

Ideally there’d be no guilt and no punishment, no gulf between man and a non-judging, all-accepting deity. Christianity took a step toward that radical doctrine, but quickly drew back. The god of punishment ruled more absolutely than ever, the vengeance complete with the doctrine of eternal damnation.

Here is Bishop Spong’s wonderful video on the invention of hell:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF6I5VSZVqc

If god is dead, what about the fate of the immortal soul? Here is Nietzsche’s answer: ”The concepts “soul”, “spirit” and last of all the concept “immortal soul” were invented in order to despise the body, in order to make it sick — “holy” — in order to cultivate an attitude of appalling disrespect for all things in life which deserve to be treated seriously.” (Ecce Homo)

Nietzsche on punishment: “A strange thing, our punishment! It does not cleanse the criminal, it is no atonement; on the contrary, it pollutes worse than the crime does.” (The Dawn)


DO WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO PUNISH OUR PEERS?

Nietzsche on punishment: “A strange thing, our punishment! It does not cleanse the criminal, it is no atonement; on the contrary, it pollutes worse than the crime does.” (The Dawn)

Soon after my twentieth birthday, I had an insight that we have no right to punish others. It was an intuition that simply occurred to me, rather than something I reasoned out. And I didn’t mean criminal justice — obviously a serial killer should be locked up for the sake of public safety. Children — no corporal punishment, but “time out” seemed acceptable. My “no punishment” intuition concerned adults, and particularly relationship partners. What right do we have to set ourselves up as judge and executioner, and try to punish them for doing or saying something that displeases us? Do we ever have the right to be nasty in revenge for it?

By “punishment” I mean sarcastic remarks or other verbal abuse, or “the silent treatment,” or refusal of physical affection. “We don’t have the right to punish” occurred to me long before I read “heaven is a place where everyone is kind,” or essays on how we are moving away from an honor-and -vengeance based social code to a dignity-based code. I didn’t have a fully worked-out explanation, but somehow I managed to realize that we have to break the chain of unkindness leading to more unkindness — even if we feel “provoked.” 


It is unfortunate that Nietzsche became so famous for having said “god is dead.” For the broader public, this eclipsed everything else he said. His views on free will, guilt, and punishment are hardly known at all — a great loss, since this is one of the crucial issues of our time.


BUT WHAT ABOUT . . . REWARD?

But if the most radical message of the gospels is non-punishment or non-revenge, what about — reward? According to Nietzsche, the psychology of the gospels is not about punishment and reward. If we must use think in terms of "reward," then the reward for the no-punishment attitude is the kingdom of heaven not in the afterlife, but right now: “the kingdom of heaven is within you.”  


By abolishing punishment, we abolish the gulf between the human and the divine, thus entering “the kingdom.” Or, to secularize the language, by abolishing punishment, we abolish the gulf between the flawed, vengeful humanity and the more loving and compassionate humanity, thus entering heaven, a place where everyone is kind. Heaven is a state of mind; or, to use Nietzsche’s language, “a condition of the heart.” 

(True, the scholars have come to question the translation, saying that it should be: The kingdom is among you — it refers to the person of the Messiah. But if so, then it ceases to be of interest to me. But I'm among those who claim the right to choose those stories, sayings, and interpretations that we find inspiring — that help us live. The scriptures are always read selectively, regardless. We might as well choose the best parts.)

Likewise, it’s imperative to be selective when it comes to Nietzsche; we must be careful to absorb only his best, and not, for instance, his contempt for the “herd.” I think “a hangman’s metaphysics” — the idea that religious rules were imposed not to be followed, but broken, thus making everyone feel guilty and living in dread of punishment — belongs among his most brilliant insights.  


“The greatest ideas are the greatest events,” Nietzsche claimed. To a lover of ideas, that is self-evident. There is a great idea buried in Christianity, and that is the idea of non-punishment. That idea was too radical not only for its time; it is too radical in our times as well, except for all but a handful of intellectuals who debate the existence of free will — a concept invented by priests to justify punishment. In Nietzsche’s words, “Religions are at bottom systems of cruelty.”
 


Sils-Maria, photo by Ivan Pastoukhov

**

AN ACTUAL POSTCARD FROM SWISS ALPS
 

I am utterly amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: that I should have turned to him just now, was inspired by “instinct.” Not only is his overtendency like mine—namely to make all knowledge the most powerful affect — but in five main points of his doctrine I recognize myself; this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world-order, the unegoistic, and evil. Even though the divergencies are admittedly tremendous, they are due more to the difference in time, culture, and science. In summa: my lonesomeness, which, as on very high mountains, often made it hard for me to breathe and make my blood rush out, is now at least a twosomeness.
 
~ Friedrich Nietzsche, from a postcard to Franz Overbeck, Sils-Maria, 30 July 1881

(And my mother used to criticize me for writing overly long and complex postcards — but a postcard from Nietzsche, now THAT was a postcard!)

Overbeck was a German theologian and Nietzsche’s most loyal friend. Overbeck’s most important work is “How Christian is Our Present-Day Theology?” He argued that Christian theology, both the dogmatic and the liberal kind, had basically nothing to do with the radical ideas of Christ.

Indeed we can trace the beginnings of the death of god to medieval theologians, who argued that even god was subject to the laws of necessity and a priori concepts such as mathematics. The scholastic meditations on questions like, “Could god choose to do evil?” or “To whom was the ‘bloody ransom’ of the sacrifice on the cross paid?” —  such questioning undermined the concept of omnipotence and benevolence, and paved the way for the rationalistic biblical scholarship that, like Enlightenment before it, concluded that far from being the inerrant word of god, the bible was written by men.


 A view of the Upper Egandine, Switzerland. Sils is the lake farthest in the distance.

WHAT, NO FREE WILL?

Nietzsche was elated to discover that Spinoza did not believe in free will. God and nature were one, and mind and the body were two aspects of the same substance. Human beings, being a part of nature, are subject to the laws of necessity. Nietzsche introduces more complexity: in spite of being ruled by nature and causes of which he is not conscious, man wants to affirm himself, to feel that he is a powerful agent. “The first result of happiness is a sense of power,” Nietzsche asserts in Dawn. On the subjective level, a human being has no choice except to see himself as an agent, a doer who deliberately chooses one thing and not another. (As more than one person quipped, “I believe in free will. I have no choice but to believe in it.”)

And yet: “Artists have here perhaps a finer intuition; they who know only too well that precisely when they no longer do anything "arbitrarily," and everything of necessity, their feeling of freedom, of subtlety, of power, of creatively fixing, disposing, and shaping, reaches its climax — in short, that necessity and "freedom of will" are then the same thing with them” (Beyond Good and Evil). To put it simply, artists know that their best work arises from the unconscious.

“If ever I played dice with the gods at the divine table of the earth” — But here the poet is at play, not the philosopher. Ultimately Nietzsche is only struggling toward the understanding of the subjective experience of will. The foundations of the scientific worldview are not yet in place. The closest thing to determinism is the idea of “god’s plan” — forever causing confusion about predestination versus free will and thus guilt — “a hangman’s metaphysics” indeed!

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra comes down from the mountains to correct the concept of duality. Good and evil are intertwined, as well as freedom and necessity — artists learn that by experiencing the creative process. But then everything is intertwined. In Zarathustra’s words “Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you have said Yes too to all woe. All things are entangled, ensnared, enamored . . . ”

*

THE DOG WHO’S KNOWN NOTHING BUT LOVE

Not long ago in a park-like area where I tend to meet the neighborhood dog walkers, I met
Kayli, a beautiful German shepherd. I love the breed, but know it’s not a spaniel that you can start petting right away. But Kayli wanted to be petted. In fact pretty soon she was lying on her side, asking for her belly to be scratched. I was somewhat taken aback. German shepherds are police dogs and military dogs, and intelligence is only one reason they are chosen for such work. They are still close to the wolf, and when they attack, they are ferocious. Though exceptionally beautiful, they are also the “intimidator dog.” And here was Kayli on her back, asking to have her belly scratched by a stranger. I couldn’t imagine trying to train Kayli not to fawn on the terrorist suspect — sure, it could be done, but who’d want to?

And then I thought: “All this dog has ever known is love.”

Shouldn’t Christianity be about love rather than sin and guilt? A child who gets a lot of love grows up into a different adult than a child who’s constantly shamed and made to feel guilty. The great experiment is actually being performed; child rearing has become less and less harsh. This is particularly true of children of professionals, who strike observers as brighter, happier, and more affectionate than children in previous generations. When these children grow up, we can already guess that war and violence will have little appeal to them.

They are growing up without the nonstop surveillance of an omnipresent “eye in the sky” and the constant guilt induced by toxic religions. It’s hard to exaggerate the benefits of being treated with respect and love ever since you can remember. This is the basis of lifelong emotional security.

I asked myself: What if Nietzsche knew nothing but love and respect (it’s not that his mother wasn’t loving, but let’s not forget that he attended German schools at a time when adults believed children needed to be dominated into the ground)? In addition, what if he knew Zen and Daoism and got to practice serenity? What if he didn’t suffer as much as he did — would we then ever have The Birth of Tragedy? I wouldn't in the least mind the loss of Zarathustra, but I’d want The Birth of Tragedy at any cost. Lest we continue in rationalist slumbers, someone had to remind us that the word “tragedy” derives from tragos, he-goat. (But maybe life inevitably delivers sufficient hardship, without the need for people to torment one another.)

 
 A mask of Dionysus, Myrina, 2nd century BCE
 

But I’ve been changing my mind about the necessity of torment for creativity. Does it take an inner emotional storm to render passion on the page? Art requires distance — on that point all agree. Wordsworth said that art is “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Philosophy should be tranquil — we take that for granted. But the invigorating energy in Nietzsche’s writing — could it have been born of tranquillity? Would his quarrel with Christianity been as intense?

“Emerson and Goethe were serene, almost as though they lacked superegos,” Harold Bloom states in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? The superego is the internalized punitive parent, the angry father, identified by some with conscience. But it’s the collective angry father, including social norms, peer pressure, and of course religion.

What happens if the parents are predominantly loving and the child grows up feeling secure rather than fearful? We’d expect this loved child to have an inner supportive parent and become a slow-to-anger, serene adult. Ah, the cheerful serenity that permeates much of classical art, the joyfulness that is supposed to be the daughter of Elysium and the essence of the immortals. Some might object that a serene person can’t be creative since art is trauma-driven. But does art have to be trauma-driven? Could anyone find Goethe or Emerson insufficiently creative? Or Goethe, in spite of his later rejection of Romanticism, incapable of rendering mystery, storm, and passion?

*

Continuing with Bloom, I came upon this:

Goethe was an instinctive pagan, believing in his own daemonic endowment and spontaneously manifesting the “joyful wisdom” that Nietzsche so desperately sought to attain . . . Originally a Unitarian minister, Emerson abandoned his post  because he knew only the God within, which he defined as the best and oldest part of his self. . . . I enjoy the thought of Eliot reading my favorite sentence in the essay “Self-Reliance”:

‘As men’s prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect.’


~ Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?

*

The middle of the nineteenth century was by no means a time of tolerance. True, Darwin’s The Origin of Species (an act of intellectual courage on the order of Copernicus and Galileo — though Darwin did not have to fear for his life) was published in 1859, but it would be decades before its ideas became widely known and become a cornerstone of the scientific worldview that made a Creator unnecessary, an archaic relic. Emerson did not dispense with a Creator, but posited a “god within.” I think it was extremely brave of him to call prayers a disease of the will and religions a disease of the intellect. This meant that no university would employ him, but then, unlike Nietzsche, Emerson did not care to be a professor. His eloquence brought him a wide audience, his lectures and books supplying him with a secure income.

And it was also brave for Emily Brontë, a parson’s daughter, to write this stanza in “No Coward Soul Is Mine,” her most famous poem, one of the finest in the English language

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main


(For more on Brontë and Emerson, please go to

http://oriana-poetry.blogspot.com/2012/09/no-coward-soul-is-mine.html)

To call organized religions “worthless as withered weeds” was at least as radical then as it is now (not in contemporary Europe, but here in the US; the US is an anomaly in the developed world, being close to Mexico in religiosity). Of course Blake also had a rather Gnostic personal system, influenced by Swedenborg, whose concept of god was highly idiosyncratic and his theology unorthodox (e.g. he believed the Last Judgment had already taken place).

And what about Spinoza’s pantheism and his claim that the soul dies with the body? Yes, there were precursors . . .  Nietzsche wasn’t even the first one to say that god was dead — Hegel used the phrase in his works several times. But who reads Hegel? Nietzsche was the one who announced the death of god as the “greatest event of our times.” Churches and cathedrals — those were now the great tombs of a dead god.

Nietzsche knew that the news of god’s death would take a while to make itself fully known: “After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave—a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.— And we—we still have to vanquish his shadow, too!” (Joyful Wisdom)

 
Nietzsche and Marx as the killers of god
 

(A shameless digression: The missing figure among these “god killers” is of course Freud, who saw religion as an infantile projection of a parent in the sky.)

André Malreaux said that the twentieth century century would belong either to Marx and Nietzsche. Marx prevailed, though he’d be horrified by Stalin’s Soviet Union and communism as the state religion. (By the way, did anyone notice that Putin starts his speeches by addressing his audience as “comrades”? The imperialist-communist dream is not over as long as Putin is in power.

While the omission of Freud is ridiculous, many might also see Darwin as belonging here. Darwin was the most reluctant of god's assassins. He was concerned about his wife Emma, who was devout. Could she live on if told that Adam and Eve were a myth? The 19th century, so astonishingly daring in many ways, also gave us the fragile "lady" who shouldn't roam too far from her fainting sofa.)

 

*

The recent progress in secularization would be incomplete without stating that some of the clergy no longer believe in god. Already in 1993, an article in The Independent yielded this juicy quotation about the Episcopalian non-belief:

'In the good old days (about ten years ago) it was enough to run off with a choirboy or the organist's wife to be unfrocked. But, having dismantled the liturgy of Cranmer, the [Anglican] Church is now so lazy about language that it allows blatant confusion between doubt (which any reasonable person experiences) and disbelief. So any friendly atheist who is above moral suspicion is welcome to stay on board and receive a salary and accommodation to the value of £20,000 a year’.

And I have personally met rabbis and liberal Protestant ministers who either openly admitted to agnosticism, or adopted Rabbi Kushner’s definition of god as a sum of human ideals. As for the Catholic left, it has endorsed doubt. Doubt is no longer a sin; it is now officially a part of faith. As Catholicism goes, that is huge progress. The church is living dangerously!

*

This morning I pondered the name Yahweh: what an alien sound, how obviously an imported god! No wonder the generic names for “god” are preferred. In Hebrew, that name was EL (recognizable in Elohim). After all, it’s Isra-EL, and not Isra-yahweh. (Yes, of course I know that it was forbidden to pronounce Yah’s name, but I suspect there were reasons for this prohibition beyond mere “respect.”)

I checked Wikipedia: “The origins of the god [Yahweh] are unclear: an influential suggestion, although not universally accepted, is that the name originally formed part of a title of the Canaanite supreme deity El, el dū yahwī ṣaba’ôt, "El who creates the hosts", meaning the heavenly army accompanying El as he marched out beside the earthly armies of Israel; the alternative proposal connects it with a place-name south of Canaan mentioned in Egyptian records from the Late Bronze Age.”

What an image! Yahweh as the warrior god who leads the heavenly army marching beside the army of Israel! No wonder the name Yahweh is no longer used; that tribal god is truly dead, the pronunciation of that name forbidden so successfully that it got lost with the loss of the vowels. We are listening to the last echoes of the hollow gong. Even the Jehovah of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not the Bronze Age god.

ETERNAL VITALITY

What is of genuine importance is eternal vitality, not eternal life. ~ Nietzsche

To Nietzsche, what matters is not the eternal boredom of the feeble Christian heaven, but “living dangerously” (in Nietzsche’s case, it was rather the matter of thinking dangerously). “Eternal vitality” instantly reminded me of Blake’s “Energy is eternal delight.” And somehow that energy finds a venue for itself, the ideas and new areas of growth. It goes both ways: when a goal seizes the imagination, the energy will be found; and when energy is abundant, a goal will be found. Like a mountain river, the eternal vitality rushes on.

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendor . . .
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

~ Shelley, “Mont Blanc”




I started living when I fully and absolutely realized that there is a deadline. Only then I realized that I can choose to cope, or I can choose to "practice falling apart." Likewise, I can choose to be generous and adorable, or grumpy and miserable. But I won't cease to be outspoken for the sake of being adorable. It's enough that my friends and neighbors like me, and most people I interact with. The message "I value you as a human being" is included even in a brief chat.

Nietzsche was known as a kind man of impeccable manners. In his writings, alas, he shows himself filled with contempt for the great majority of humanity, the “herd.” This is a trap into which an intellectual can easily fall, especially if he is isolated from his peers: “I am separate, different, and superior.” Among philosophers, only Plato seems to have understood the value of kindness instead of judging and punishment. That’s the famous, Be kind

But Nietzsche understood at least in flashes the price for being judgmental:

"If God had wanted to become an object of love, he would first of all have had to forgo judging and justice: a judge, and even a gracious judge, is no object of love.” (The Joyful Wisdom)

It was the commandment to love god that caused me the most distress. I would go as far as to say that if we’d been given the freedom to hate god (to me god = Yahweh, god the father, the boss with real power; the son seemed subordinate), or at least not been coerced into pretending to love him, then who knows, I might have developed some affection for the lonely guy in the sky (I saw him as an “old bachelor,” a European label for an eccentric never-married man). True, vengeful and narcissistic, but I imagined he suffered too — not out of compassion, no, but due to isolation and boredom. The constant praises of angels sounded hellishly boring to me. “How can he stand it?” I asked myself when I was still a child, trying to imagine heaven: nothing but clouds and angels and the souls of the dead, all singing hymns 24/7. No respite for the night, since heaven was constant daylight. 





JUNG ON THE “CATACLYSMIC SHIFT”

Jung observed that “A cataclysmic spiritual shift had taken place, largely missed by the theologians, a shift from the God above to the God below [i.e. in the unconscious], from communal liturgy to private communion, from ritual observance to EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE (emphasis mine), from dogma to myth, from religion to psychology, from the conscious to the unconscious.” (Paul Stern, C.G. Jung: The Haunted Prophet, p. 253)


But that had been already said by Emily Brontë in her famous poem, “No Coward Soul Is Mine.” She was dismissing all religions as “worthlesss as withered weeds” and affirming the “god within.” But poetry is not taken seriously. Milosz also speaks of this shift, along with the disappearance of heaven and hell, as the greatest event of modern times.

I suspect it will take a few more decades before the full extent of the “cataclysmic event” is known. As Ginette Paris observed, “It’s still early after the death of god.”

THE MEANING OF “OVERMAN”:

According to Friedman in The Disappearance of God, the overman is not an individual or an ethnic group. It’s the collective human potential. It’s the ideal future humanity. The term expresses “a yearning to yield something happier, nobler, and wiser than ourselves.” (It’s instructive here to recall the Superior Man in Dao de Jing.

The attainment of this potential is tied to the death of god. It’s only after religion decays that humans can experience richer development, free from imaginary guilt. To repeat once more: the rules were meant to be broken, so that we’d feel guilty. In The Antichrist Nietzsche says: “The very word ‘Christianity’ is a misunderstanding — in truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.”

What can this richer development lead to? Zarathustra declares: “I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth . . . Once the sin against God was the greatest sin, but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing.”

This should not be taken as Nietzsche’s precocious environmentalism. “The earth” stands here for this earth, this life — this one and only life need not be a “vale of tears”; it can be a joy; it can be magnificent. Once, blasphemy and failure to pray and attend worship services were major sins. With the death of god these become irrelevant, ludicrous even. What matters is the growing human cooperation and the extension of human rights so that one small group doesn’t fatten off the exploitation of others. We may be still a long way from reaching this ideal, but at least there is an awareness of it.

Rilke stated that we were “building god.” Nietzsche saw the task as building humanity. Dostoyevski warned that man wants to become god, and the result can only be disastrous. In terms of the “new Soviet man,” Dostoyevski was right. But now globalization and the Internet are opening new perspectives. Nietzsche, that misunderstood anti-nihilist, that glorifier of humanity as it should become, really thought that we must become gods. Or, at the very least, move beyond the old heaven-and-hell mentality toward a full embrace of this life and this beautiful world.

“This I teach men: no longer to bury one’s head in the sand of heavenly things, but to bear it freely, an earthly head, which creates a meaning for the earth.” “Evil I call it, and misanthropic – all this teaching of the One and the Plenum and the Unmoved and the Sated and the Permanent. All the permanent – that is only a parable. And the poets lie too much.” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Upon The Blessed Isles)


 


FREE WILL IS NOT AS IMPORTANT OR AS INTERESTING AS WHAT THE UNCONSCIOUSNESS PRODUCES

Charles:

This blog has more information than a good sized book.

My favorites quotes: "True, this is a very selective reading of the New Testament. But the scriptures are always read selectively, regardless. We may as well choose the best parts."

“I believe in free will. I have no choice but to believe in it.”
But free will is not as important or as interesting as what the unconsciousness produces.

"Doubt is no longer a sin; it is now officially a part of faith.”

Of course my favorite section is the one about Kayli. I love that you said this dog has known only love.


Oriana:

Creative people definitely learn about the importance of not interfering with the creative process, which is unconscious. The unconscious is the source of interesting, often surprising ideas or images. “Free will” is indeed not relevant here. That’s an excellent observation.


Darlene:

If Nietzsche hadn’t been an atheist, I can easily see him as a Christian writer trying to restore the ideas of Jesus about no judgment and no punishment.

Oriana:


I agree. It’s just that he could see that god was dead, and he became the great announcer of the death of god. It was too late: Darwin’s theory of evolution was becoming known, and the geologists had established that the earth was much much older than 6,000 years. Nietzsche said that there was no longer any need to debate the existence of god. It was sufficient just to trace the evolution of the construct of god.

But Hangman’s Metaphysics can easily be seen as a radical critique of organized Christianity from the point of view of the revolutionary ideas of Jesus —  instead of punishment, forgiveness; the kingdom of heaven is within — a blissful and loving state of mind.

I think people are beginning to take more interest in the idea of no punishment. For one thing we are aware that violence is often associated with having been abused as a child. More cruelty toward a prisoner will not rehabilitate him. But letting him work with animals just might work, providing unconditional love. 



Darlene, you’ve hit on something huge here: the essence of Christianity. Now, when you ask people about the central message of Christianity, Protestants may say that we get to heaven by grace and not by deeds, but others (including the more liberal Protestants) will say the central message is compassion and forgiveness. If you equate that with “non-punishment,” then Nietzsche can indeed be regarded as a more Christian thinker than a lot of fundamentalists, for instance, who seem so preoccupied with who will burn in hell forever. Nietzsche as a radical Christian — there is something to be said for it. And hell, being a cruel and unusual punishment and the opposite of compassion and forgiveness, is the most anti-Christian concept there is.

Now if only god would exist . . .  









7 comments:

  1. Dearest O,

    This is a superb post. Thank you so very much for its richness and depth.

    Your poem ( which I really loved) kept me engaged for many reads. I love the different voices you took on, and the line, 'philosophers are such sadist' had me burst out laughing at it's truth, especially when they are challenging Christianity's so-called 'truths'.

    This post, as all your posts, is utterly rich and varied and I will try to hit some points that deeply resonated. First, thank you for your intelligent rendering of one of the most intelligent men in history to date. Not easy with one so complicated as he was, and yet you synthesized so much in such a short space, one point segueing into the next fluidly.

    Your thoughts upon the back of N's thoughts on punishment are so appreciated because N was the greatest 'non victim', the one who rather than blame (and therefore punish) needed to say Yes to life rather than lay down and take life as some sort of punishment in itself, even suffering, which he no doubt had much of in his life, and he still needed, wanted to say Yes to life. What an inspiration he is to me.

    Religions as systems of cruelty, indeed! But 'the kingdom as a condition of the heart', so beautifully and fully true. The need to punish is the need to blame and comes from a deep disappointment with one's own life.

    I love the quote from N on how the artist knows that free will is borne of necessity, that they are one. I would suggest that not only is the artist's work from the unconscious, but that the great 'need' of the artist to create is what drives the artist and that this Great Need can arise out of either chaos and torment (Van Gogh, and N) or serenity (Emerson, Goethe). But I do not think the question is whether the artist needs torment and chaos to create (because one person's chaos is another person's serenity, one person's torment another person's delight and so on), but how great is the need despite conditions in a life. And that Need and how it surfaces, is to my mind, a mystery and utterly daemonic (as in there are no predictors as to who will respond to this Great Need and who will not).

    I could go on and may post again, but I wish we were sitting in a round table discussion of these most important ideas, and we are, sort of, so again, O, thank you for providing the forum for us.

    Thunder and lightening, and storms for days in NM (N loved a good storm!). So I will be thinking of him throughout this time of storms. So wonderful the earth gets to drink! How's the basil and mint coming along?
    T

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  2. First, the bad news about the mint. It got sick and just a bit buggy, tiny white flying things hanging around it. Rather than spray I quickly removed it from the herb box. I'm still too much a beginner to know how to deal with such problems without poison. Besides, the holy basil has become my favorite herb: super-healthy and growing by the day! The rosemary seems indestructible, but it’s like a desert survivor; the holy basil is lush like a loved child.

    The other basil is spread out by now; it could get huge! The two oregano babies were not disturbed by transplant.

    I am about to get another hose from Home Depot . . . yes, such as are concerns these days, and it amazes me that I'm able to write about Nietzsche on the side. As always, I'm grateful for your comment — it helps to keep me going. By the way, this particular post is getting a nice readership — it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out to be one of my “millennials,” i.e. posts with over 1,000 views. (My most popular post, “A Dangerous Method,” a review of the movie about Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein, has had close to 22,500 views by now — not that I can explain it except as “success breeds success” — once it got to the #1 spot, it’s kept attracting audience.)

    Yes, the drive to create has to be ferocious. At the same time, how marvelous to learn self-trust through the creative process, to know that we don’t need to “try harder” — everything that needs to be born will be revealed when the time is ripe (a time that is often inconvenient, e.g. in the shower, or right after we turn off the night lamp and tuck ourselves to sleep — or right after we turn off the computer! But — “when the muse knocks, you answer.”)

    Stimulated by Nietzsche on free will and punishment, I’ve read more and finally lucked out: Massimo Pigliucchi, “Answers for Aristotle” — a marvelous book. The author used to be a biology professor before shifting to philosophy, so he brings a scientific background to the “persistent questions” such as volition, falling in love, or the evolution of religion. With Massimo’s help, I’ve settled for a model of very restricted free will that can be observed in decision making, especially the torturous kind when we feel really torn and keep going back and forth — “for hours or days,” says Massimo, not knowing that when it comes to poem endings, for me it can take fifteen years. My record is nineteen years — one day, seemingly out of nowhere, I finally knew how to end a certain poem. Some neural networks must have kept active watch behind my back, so to speak. I’ll never forget what my mother said, without any hesitation: “The human brain is the most magnificent thing in the universe.”

    **

    Please visit my Facebook page and leave the slightest comment: “Hi from Therese” would be enough. I’d still love to have you in the Salon — other members would profit from your occasional (and not required) comments. As the leader of the Salon, I owe it to the members to recruit a good mind when opportunity arises.

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  3. Listening to Pugliucchi on Youtube, thank you! for this resource. Patience, per Facebook.

    19 yrs to end a poem! I get it. I've always called it 'mulching' when the muse is in hibernation. It takes (for me) a great amount of trust in the creative process, trust in that something is happening even though it may not feel like it or is not materializing the way I want it to.

    Great to hear the post is getting a good readership and that the basil i spreading.

    Soon,
    T

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  4. It’s truly amazing how the brain works — how a poem, often minor, is not forgotten if there is an “unfinished” feeling about it. If I didn't know that essentially all cognitive processing is unconscious — the “solution” then communicated to consciousness (at least in most cases, I assume) — I’d be prone to believe in “divine guidance.” But it’s the marvelous functioning of the human brain that manifests itself as this sudden knowing . . . typically far better and more daring and original than I’d come up with if I tried to “force” a closure.

    I'm watching “Prince Igor” on video. Makes me interested in those tribes of the steppes that for centuries were a serious threat to settled communities.

    The post now stands at 141 page views. On Open Salon it can easily have 250 in one day — and I hope that a friend will again do me a favor (one can’t join Open Salon anymore) — but on my own blog it will continue to attract readers over months, even years. My most popular blog will eventually reach 30,000 views, I predict. So I can’t complain. Patience, yes. It takes patience.

    Massimo P. is a joy.

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  5. In response to a Facebook friend who said that Nietzsche was a religious writer who had to invent his own system in the absence of a believable god.

    Yes, I think it’s possible to argue that Nietzsche was a religious writer, complete with the ecstatic and somewhat mystical side. I think the Overman (i.e. a more advanced humanity) was Nietzsche’s god substitute, as was “vitality,” the love of life and that which makes life flourish. (I’m reminded here of a cartoon showing a parrot with a sign: “Not only does he talk; he says Yes to life.”)

    He tried to be more Dionysian than his academic education made possible. What we get is an intellectual suffering from migraines and indigestion, yet striving to write hymns of praise to life.

    Nietzsche lived too early to be acquainted with modern physics, which perhaps would have allowed him to construct a cosmic deity, the way some scholars of the Kabbala see it as compatible with quantum physics. I confess that a cosmic deity — which of course would not violate the laws of physics to intervene on our behalf — does very little for me, a theme I’ll develop in my next blog, “God or Not: No Difference.” But Nietzsche’s substitutes do, in fact, work for me. (I wouldn’t go as far as amor fati).

    Nietzsche was, however, familiar with the concept of evolution — geology in fact preceded biology in showing how the planet evolved over millions of years. Nietzsche’s response to the concept of evolution was concluding that it was no longer necessary to discuss the existence of god; it sufficed to trace the evolution of the concept of god. I think that’s precisely when the Judeo-Christian god died for Nietzsche. Yet he wasn’t able to shake off Christianity, and continued to battle against it as the main world religion that says No to life. I think Daoism is perhaps the only religion (if we even call it a religion) that fully accepts life and is permeated with the love of nature. But even in Daoism there is the monastic ideal, though not especially ascetic, judging by how much wine those Daoist poets were drinking.


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  6. I adored Nietzsche in high school. Fifty years later I still listen to Wagner. I made the mistake of bring Beyond Good and Evil to my Jesuit high school, and it was promptly confiscated. Subsequently I heard in class a denunciation of "punk atheists." I'm no punk atheist. I'm a Roman Catholic atheist.

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  7. Welcome, fellow Roman Catholic atheist! It's been observed that the truly intense atheists started as either Catholics or fundamentalist Christians. Liberal Protestants apparently just gradually ease away, without the agony, the despair oddly called "the night of the soul" when perhaps it should be called the dawn of reason; without the attempts to suppress reason -- presented to us as "weak," and the temporary redoubling of religious zeal and the like "Nietzschean agonies" as I'm tempted to call the process. Why "Nietzschean"? Because it's because one of the synonyms for mental courage in discarding comforting lies.

    But Nietzsche has to read selectively. I concluded this after reading The Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil -- there are indeed proto-Nazi ideas in there. Nietzsche underestimated the importance of human cooperation in the creation of culture. True, he did know that a genius has the help of a thousand hands, but it's way beyond that. It's the mundane, incremental improvements like the building of roads. I dare think we can achieve cooperation the way teams of scientists do it, just as one example, with an openness to changing assumptions as new evidence comes in, and without the attempt to massacre the proponents of a different theory (though a fleeting emotional impulse to do just that may indeed exist).

    Speaking of massacres, whether we consider the history of Christianity (the Albingensian massacre, the St. Bartholomew's massacre)-- or the current butchery of ISIS -- to start wondering if humanity can afford the alleged "consolations" of religion. I'd like to think that the insanity we are witnessing on the part of the fundamentalists is the last gasp of clinging to what modernity is making more and more blatantly absurd.

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