A State

In one passage in Zarathustra there is a comparison between the state (modern nation type state) and a sort of monster with unending hunger for its own aggrandisement. A monster which, in its desire for that glory-bedecking, effectively devours the people. A good comparison considering the way nation-states appropriate the very blood of people to further its causes, as well as laying claim to the achievements of its cultural and scientific geniuses, actions which are both monstrous and in bad taste. However, as I shall come to, a monster might be more palatable.

For those of us who are baffled by the idea that the achievements of someone else who may have been born in or at least associated with roughly the same geo-political entity and expanse are in any sense ours, this is in especially bad taste. This is not least because, should we achieve any such cultural or scientific zenith, then it too would be taken to further glorify the nation-state. This is compounded by the fact that membership of a nation-state is not a choice. I do not speak there of membership of an individual nation-state, since clearly people can choose to transfer from one to another, I speak of the complete lack of choice as to whether you belong to one or not.

For some reason the idea that some people might not wish to be part of the currently ubiquitous nationalist system is largely absent from the memetic environment, and to try and broach it brings little but immediate censure. Not wishing to work for a nation-state is laziness. Not wishing to contribute to a nation-state is selfishness. Not wishing to die for a nation-state is cowardice. That this comes from the nation-state, its mouthpieces or its indoctrinated, also does not seem to make many suspicious.

A monster might understand that there may be some who do not wish to participate in the monster/monster-slayer dynamic. The nation-state does not.

It is not terribly clear in Zarathustra if there is any solution to this, though there is more in Nietzsche’s wider writings. And it would simply be a world where there could be a separation. Not a physical separation, but a politico-conceptual one. No one wishing this separation would care if the mean and lacking could never lift their eyes and thoughts above the immediately phenomenal, such that the pointless and bloody business of the nation-state continued for the vast majority.

Nietzsche conceived that the few who could and would stand apart would be the geniuses, and the cultural productive excess arising from their being allowed to stand apart would be the recompense from having to depend on the material production of the… non-geniuses. Well, actually he referred to them as slaves. Property-owning, wealthier than the geniuses/masters, vastly larger in number and greater in material power (essentially your normal citizen body of today), but slaves nonetheless, being as they would be culturally inferior and necessarily so.

I have no hope for this. Some monsters can be reasoned with or overcome: the main point where the comparison fails.


People Rule…

I typically do not like to write posts prompted by topical issues but current events have made me ponder the nature of democracy in a particularly Nietzschean way. I have no time or inclination (or, let’s face it, knowledge) to go over his full thoughts on that system, so let me just say that contrary to those who consider democracy as telic, or those who simply have no historical sense and imagine current systems are persistent, that democracy is a transition for him.

Nietzsche seems to consider that democracies of the modern European mode are inherently sown with the seeds of their own destruction, since they at once encourage an endless pluralism and liberality (rather than a natural commitment to any ruling ideal) along with a degeneration in the recognition of normative authority represented by the state. This latter went along with the demise of theistic thinking for Nietzsche, but I think it can more generally be seen as a function of the self-questioning activities that seem to arise amongst liberal societies.

And so democracies are almost inherently divisive and divided. In an unstable way, since it results, typically, in majority rule over the minority. Where 52% dictate the laws and lifestyle for the other 48% you begin to see that this is not a society, and democracy is not a system that works for a people. For Nietzsche, the positive was that this necessary division and tension would ultimately result in a new form of aristocratic rule, where cultural, artistic, political and every other variety of genius would form a counterpoint to the much larger herd, the herd unable or unwilling to formulate any better type of culture than the present one.

To our ears there are distasteful elements to this thinking, containing as it does the assumption of a group inherently better than the other, an elite that seeks to stand apart. In any event, my objection is not that this does not sit well with our democratic, post-Christian senses, but that I cannot imagine such a rise. Or, at least, I cannot imagine such a rise forming any kind of stable replacement. The herd will always pull down any who seek to rise and flee. The herd does not recognise or tolerate any system other than its own. Even Nietzsche’s wish simply that those who wish to rise above could simply be allowed to stand apart a little seems too much to wish for.

Majority rule, the essence of modern democracy, is stifling for the minorities. And while the nature of societies, states, changes, and inevitably so, I have never seen that there is a coherent progression in their doing so. One thing becomes another, without purpose, without awareness, and without balance. And that the wish of some of us to stand apart, even just a little, is not allowed to be possible…

Off The Main Sequence

Around a year ago I wrote an all-too-purple piece about the death of God in Nietzsche’s writings, starting from his famous madman in the marketplace scene. Perhaps a more considered treatment would while away part of a grinding Friday afternoon (for me, if no one else).

It was a prophetic point the like of which I am not familiar with elsewhere. The imagery is of the light of dead suns still falling upon us as a metaphor for the apparent continuance of God as our ground and our goal while in truth the source has long since ended. His madman spoke of how even a hundred years hence no one would yet understand the truth of this. By which he meant that no one but himself truly knew what it would mean for humanity when its previous foundation of God for all things was revealed to be vacuous. And he was right. No one truly understands it, more than a century on. Especially those people who still do not realise the truth of the death of God.

Even for atheists, all conceptions of morality (for example) are rooted in this. It could not be possible for pre-religious sources of morality to have survived the millennia of monopoly religion has ground into us that it has on such matters. Although the evident nature of evolution gives us a much clearer insight into our origins, and has removed the idea that there is a goal, we are still mired in narrative that may as well have issued from the throat of a bronze age pontifex. After all, our religions and their mythologies stem from us and our nature, rather than being in-the-world discoveries that apes of utterly neutral nature happened upon.

Even could we understand what it means for our once-eternal source of normativity to be gone (or, with boring accuracy, to have been shown never to have been what we believed) we would have no stomach for it. Nietzsche knew that. In fact, in stark contrast to most philosophers, he felt that beautiful, useful lies were preferable to truth. His focus on individuals of higher nature was not just (not just) soaring elitism, and not just part of the idea that not everyone, only the few, could ever grasp his ideas and make proper use of them, but that such people should become their own mythologies, ones that could essentially be their own self-sustaining sources of normativity. Though, a source conceived of differently than before, not being in any sense objective.

Or so I believe. I don’t believe Nietzsche had any other recourse. Because a central part of the death of God, this loss, this realisation that all never was, is that there is no replacement. No scientific basis, no aesthetic theory, no historical sense, can take its place in this void. It is one reason most find Nietzsche so difficult. He offers us nothing, having torn away all of our illusions. Somehow we find this… obscene. But he had no place or authority to do so. All we are left with, in darkness and cold stellar substance, is ourselves. And we simply forge ourselves, and our own ways, if we even recognise that this is what we do. For now the light of dying suns continues to blind us, and we do not listen to those we can only see as madmen.

This Again…

To begin with a very specific concept in Nietzsche’s work, I hope to terminate in the broader and more general consideration deriving from it. The concept being that of the eternal recurrence. Something of an odd one, in that body of work, since it has the hallmarks of sounding like a metaphysical thesis, something which I am going to assume it is not (well, ‘conclude’, but for reasons of space-saving…).

The basic idea is simple. Imagine every instant in the entire progression of time replaying without deviation from start to finish, once this world’s lifespan has reached its finish. The metaphysical tempt is clear. It immediately betrays hallmarks of some strands of scientific cosmology as well as religious traditions. The clear difference is in the invariance. No positing of quantum effects, infinitesimal discrepancies in starting conditions, or necessities of free will to allow changes in the unfolding universe.

So what is the point? It is not a metaphysical thesis even in part because a) it is ludicrous and b) since the far more salient point is the psychology of the thesis, the complete lack of our awareness of this repetition would render that beyond useless. The point is clearly a psychological one because of the question about what such a consideration would mean to us.

The pithy and attractive answer for the stygian mindstated such as myself is that this is the most horrifying idea imaginable, and that is almost its own point. Of course, the eternal recurrence would mean that perfect summer day came around again, your childhood dog is alive again, and the endless re-manufacture of those sweets you used to enjoy. But, in the main, it means every millisecond of agony, pain, and loss, occurring forever, without surcease or mutation or hope of appeal.

But, this is Nietzsche, of a certain period, and so the invitation is for joy rather than despair. And I can see how. Because it is horrific beyond compare, to encompass this idea, to imagine it so completely you can, momentarily at least, believe it, and remain standing, is a triumph. To encompass it and laugh, transcendent.  This fits with the brittle and shallow, if largely correct, interpretation of so much of this type of Nietzschean expression, but it still misses one point. There are lines in his work pertaining to this idea exhorting us to change every ‘it was’ into an ‘I will it thus’. To, it seems to me, take a personal responsibility for all that has happened, or at least happened because of us. That is happened because of us, not to us. That each such moment had its necessity, and that each one stood upon those preceding, and we can no more wish for the ‘bad’ things to be excoriated from history than the ‘good’.

In my thinking this was the invitation, and the point. To redeem the misery and tragedy of life, by asking us to see and accept a type of unity in our own experience. That what is is because of all that went before and we should not wish for alteration, if we are to affirm anything in our lives.

Perhaps this sucks the joy out of joy. But then anyone who finds joy easy, or commonplace, does not need to agonise so. As a struggler, I am stirred by the attempt, whatever I believe its validity to be.