Abstraction, Production, and the Possibility of Cosmopolitanism

 

diogenes-statue-sinop-enhanced

Last week I wrote a post entitled “Nature, Nihilism, Nationalism, Morality, and the Existence of Superiority.” I’ve continued to ponder those same musings.

I’ve wondered to myself “What is the actual value of ‘nationalism’?”

This is at once both a genuine and a rhetorical question. (Here my thinking is both scattered an nonlinear, please bear with me).

Humanity has persisted primariy because of its capacity as a Tool Being. For example, our survival has been predicated upon the following ‘tools’:

  1. abstraction – the ability to create meaning-laden ‘symbols’ and ideas (language, mathematical notation, etc.)
  2. cooperation – the complex creation of ‘social’ life throug the establishment of norms and values (also abstractions).
  3. production – that is, the ability to create ‘tools'(/technology) – both material and non-material (symbols, ideas, norms, values, ect.)

In this regard, perhaps above all, the key to our survival is our neural plasticity. That is, our ability to not oly cognize but, to ‘re’-cognize, examine, observe, evaluate, and change/adapt ourselves, our ‘tools’ and ‘tool’ methodologies, i.e. our symbols, ideas, norms, and values.

A nation-state, for example, is but an abstraction, a non-material tool, its underpinnings being only symbolic. It is a ‘Production’ of ‘Abstraction’ and ‘Cooperation’. The nation-state is a combinative outcome (production) of ‘social’ (cooperative) Institutions (abstraction); the combination of the ‘state’ (Political Institution) and the ‘nation’ (Cultural Institution). Even its borders are non-material and are an arbitrary creation. No doubt like any other symbolic product of tool creation, it was an attempt to serve a purpose but, at what prce? At what cost? Has the ‘end’ justified the means? It has certainly not been without its faults. It has been and continues to be historically rife with tension, terror, and turmoil. Perhaps, it is a tool/technology that has out lived its usefulness, especially given the immense economic and ‘ecological’ disasters we are facing at present.

Rather than attempt to continue to ‘cement’ and ‘concretize’ a non-material notion, perhaps we should begin to ‘plasticize’ such cognitions, re-evaluate their performance, and make the necessary adaptations. Perhaps, a return (of sorts) is in order, a return and re-invention of the thought of Diogenes, a reinvigoration of a kind of cosmopolitanism, in which one’s primary identification is neither the nation-state nor the city-state but, to the polis of the cosmos, citizens of the world.

However, I don’t mean this in some idealistic or utopia way. In proposing a kind of cosmopolitanism I’m not advocating cultural relativism (multiculturalism/’tolerance’) – whch suggests that all cultures and all cultural practices have equal vaue.This is an ideological tool for hegemonic utilization which seeks to establish something of an implicitly or explicitly homgoneous mono-culture. In many cases, the multiculturalist endeavor actually avoids ‘difference’ and fails to honestly or authentically acknowledge the Otherness of the other and the corresponding inequalities. In this way multiculturalism actually serves as a means to maintain the status-qou. Multiculturalism functions as a kind of invisible imperialism and a cloaked colonialism supporting dominant culture (cosumeristic globalization, perhaps?).

By saying that I question the supremacy/superiority of some cultures or doubting that there are superior cultures I am not proposing that they are all of equal vaue.

On one hand, I’m attempting to avoid ethnocentrism, which attempts to judge another cuture by the standards of one’s own. This impairs sociological analysis, and what is needed is the furthered development of a sociological uderstading of culture.

On the other hand, I’m acknowledging that the atrocities denounced by the ‘tolerance’ of multiculturalism is, in fact, implicitly persistent within the muticuturalist’s culture. For instance, one may openly protest the malevolent sexism within the barbarous act of female genital mutilation but, will probably have nothing to say about the litanty of mutilations known as Plastic Surgery performed and undergone for no other reason than as an attempt to conform one’s body to the Western notions of sexiness, masquerading as a free-choice.

“The thing to do,”as Zizek explains, “is to change the entire field, introducing a totally different Universal, that of an antagonistic struggle which does not take place between particular communities, but splits from within each community, so that the ‘trans-cultural’ link between communities is that of a shared struggle”.

The point, then, of this re-invented cosmopolitanism is not  cultures of ‘equal value’ but, equal struggle. It is the universality of struggle and power relations. The universal unification of struggle betwen more and less advantaged groups. Universal Citizens of universal struggle universally united by the emancipatory struggle towards universal liberation.

 

 

Nature, Nihilism, Nationalism, Morality,and the Existence of Superiority….

sorrieu


Most of the time I find social media, especially Facebook, insufferable and I grow increasingly impatient with the incessant stream of inconsequential fodder posted under the pretenses of ‘content’. Yet, as many times as I’ve wanted to pull the plug, and as close as I’ve come to hitting that deactivate button the one thing that keeps me clinging to my account begrudgingly is the rare opportunity to actually engage in intelligent discussion. Below is a snippet of one such conversation. My sparing partner, a Facebook friend with whom I differ in opinion greatly, is someone I respect and consider to be a very intelligent and learned individual. We were participating in lively yet very respectful debate/dialogue regarding nationalism, the supremacy or superiority of some cultures to others, nihilism, morality, and the recognition of good and evil. The gist of my friend’s proposal was that history reveals that there are indeed superior cultures, that superiority finds its basis in nature, and that, amongst many other topics lol, nihilism does not supply a push towards betterment in the same way that morality does. Below is a summation of my response, I’d love to know what you think.
As crass as this may seem one must begin by asking what is ‘superiority’? What does it mean for something to be superior, especially in relation to an alternative? What is the methodological criteria by which to judge superiority? Who is it precisiely that decides/judges and by what authority have they been deputized to do so?Is the means by which to do so objectiviably verifiable and tangible? What is it’s legitimating determination?
Or, is it simply a question of the majority or the greatest number? Here, even utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill, with their ethical calculations, are suspicious, seeing the totalitaran ability of the ‘many’ to encroach upon the liberty of the ‘few’ as unavoidably authoritarian and un-ethical.
Also, I’m not sure its conducive to propose the presence of ‘superiority’ in nature, the categorization being an entirely anthropocentric notion/description. In nature it is more accurate to speak of genetic ‘fitness’ and environmental ‘adaptability’. Even if we do, for the sake of argument, accept the terminological idea to have ‘natural’ (for lack of a better term, *I must note that the division between nature and society is a false dichotomy) implications we can see that while there are certainly creatures that are superior in the ‘particular’ they are not superior universally, i.e. there may be superior swimmers, superior, climbers, superior runners, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that a species is superior  in every way or superior to all other species. (This kind of notion of superiority and supremacy seems to waft of a kind of implicit fascism and despotism, is it not this same kind of thinking that was used to justify slavery and the oppressive subjugation of indigenous peoples, seeing them not as ‘people’ but as an inferior species and less than human?). It would also seem less than ‘natural’ to then conclude that because one species is ‘superior’ to another it should then be the only allowable species in an environment, this would certainly produce a definite and potentially catastrophic  “imbalance.” The idea of human-supremacy has lead to our current ecological state of disaster.
I can personally attest (at least from my own experience) that nihilism and ethicality are not mutually exclusive and are perfectly compatible. As perhaps something of a nihilist/cosmic pessimist myself (perhaps in the Schopenhauerian sense, here I’m also a bit of a misanthrope), I think that existence/life is both arbitrary and meaningless. But, it is precisely this void that has created for me an ethical urgency and a moral imperative. If existence is ‘meaning-less’ than we are faced with the absolute responsibility for ‘meaning-creation’. In this regard, to say that something is ‘meaning-less’ is not the same as to say that there is ‘no-meaning’ or there can be no meaning, there is simply no definitively intrinsic or inherent meaning .
“Meaning”, like morality, values, etc. is simply a technology/tool utilized in our survival – the capacity for symbolic abstraction (neural plasticity). In this regard, can we accurately say that morality “exists”? ‘Exists’ on what plane? On what level? To what degree? To what extent? In what way? Is its status of existence objective? Here, then, ‘good and evil’ are also not found in nature but, are of human invention, “good and evil” has no reality beyond human construction (symbolic abstraction – meaning value creation) and more often than not created as a means to ostracize and demonize the Other (Nietzsche’s example of Slave Morality may be helpful here). It’s interesting that in the realm of religion there are many religions that operate without a god but, almost  none without a devil. It seems that we necessitate a ‘villain’ far more. But, as Michael Shermer explains “[E]vil is not a fixed entity or essence. It is not a thing. Evil is a descriptive term for a range of environmental events and human behaviors that we describe and interpret as bad, wrong, awful, undesirable, or whatever appropriately descriptive or synonym for evil is chosen”. “Morality” is, at best, only ‘provisional’, applying “to most people in most cultures in most circumstances most of the time” (Shermer). (*quotes are from the book “The Science of Good and Evil”)
I’ve spent the entirety of my academic career and the entirety of my personal research studying and examining religion, culture, society, ect. and I cannot come to the conclusion that there are cultures as a whole that are objectively superior, especially not absolutely superior in every conceivable way. Like the nature example above, we could reasonable say that some aspects of cultures are superior (infrastructure, economy, judicial systems, etc.) and it is not to say that one, ‘in hind-sight’, may not find one culture preferable to another. Rome had a superior military to Greece but, the ‘thought’ of Greece was far superior to that of Rome (never mind the gluttonous corruption of the Empire, lol) Roman society could be considered superior to that of the Goths but, this did not stop the overthrow of Rome by the ‘Barbarian Horde’. In the same way, European society, as the arbiters of civility and civilization considered themselves superior to the native peoples but, who seems to have had the more harmonious civilization? History is not devoid of the influence of power relations, after all history has been written by the winners, lol (here I recommend the work of Michel Foucault).
It seems then that I’ve simply come full circle arriving back to the very questions of superiority  with which I began, lol. That is, objectively defining the grounds, parameters, and legitimacy of supremacy in a tangibly verifiable capacity.
I should say that these are not necessarily questions of outright disagreement but, questions of ultimacy and validity.
As Socrates once said “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”

What to do When Something You Love is Part of the Problem?

The past year and a half of my life has been tumultuous at best. It has been the epitome of what Shakespeare defined as the “winter of our discontent”. It has been a time marked almost exclusively by loss and misfortune. I’ve lost my job,having been laid off twice. I’ve lost my home. I’ve lost financial security. I’ve lost friends and relationships. I’m at the verge of losing my marriage. I’ve lost hope. I’ve lost belief in damn near everything. I’ve lost mental stability and above all, I’ve lost myself somewhere along the way, that is, if I had ever truly found myself to begin with. I’ve had to come to terms with what I’ve been denying for most of my life, the fact that I am clinically depressed. That diagnosis didn’t exactly come as a shock and it certainly is far from a new development. I’ve had bouts with dark periods and reoccurring instances of intense melancholy for almost as long as I can remember but, I had never been officially diagnosed, nor had I ever sought treatment until now. The maelstrom that has become my everyday life has simply exacerbated these already prevalent propensities.

I’ve recently started reading Jennifer Michael Hecht‘s book, The Happiness Myth, in it she gives an illustration that seems to all too accurately represent my experience here. She writes:

Consider that we all have an internal empty field at birth, and as we grow, we experience shocks in certain areas of the field, which we respond to by building up a great pile of stones in that spot, to protect ourselves from being hurt again. As time goes on, the inner field grows crowded with stone mounds. Moving around in such a field requires inventive choreography; and that dance is what a personality is. When life circumstances change, the situation turns worse, since none of your long-developed shortcuts and coping methods work now. You crash into walls. The crashing makes you go to therapy, but you go to therapy looking for new shortcuts that will allow you to navigate your city of rock piles under these different circumstances, and what the therapist wants to do is bring you to the pillars and help you unpile the stones. There is nothing in the mounds to be scared of anymore, so if you can just budge the rocks, you will come to have free reign of your mind, and of the world, again.

I conceded to therapy because, as Hecht explains, I have become claustrophobic in my ‘inner-field’ and all my coping maneuvers and mechanisms have failed me. It seems I can’t see the forest for the …pile of rocks. The horizon is blocked by the infinite burial mounds I’ve continually constructed. Underneath, something festers but, hasn’t died. I am full of the undead, things unresolved, a field of tell-tale hearts pounding, pulsing, beating, unceasingly under the floor boards of my psyche. And as Hecht illustrates, rather than providing me with the means to muffle the noise, to drown out the sound, or teaching a new methodology for avoiding the mound, my therapist is trying to give me the tools to pry up the floor boards and to unpile the rocks.

However, due to the previously mentioned financial instability I haven’t been able to afford to meet with my therapist frequently. In this regard, one of the things that has managed to bring me a bit of joy and grant me a welcomed and much needed distraction, as odd as it may sound, has been the World Cup matches. Within the 90 plus minutes of each match I can forgetfully sit in something closely resembling peace, blissfully ignorant, unaware, and mindful of the tragedy of where I am, temporarily pausing the sorrow and the pain of my context. Perhaps, even teleologically suspending my discontent, disdain, my regret, guilt, and my shame. Yet, even here there is something still being denied. Something dishonest.

Anyone moderately aware of current world events knows of the mass protests surrounding the World Cup and its oppressive presence within the country of Brazil. The Brazilian government’s involvement with FIFA has been nothing short of corrupt. They have torn down whole villages, wrongfully evicted families already impoverished by the injustices of an uncaring bureaucracy. People force-ably removed from their homes, thrown out into the streets with nothing and nowhere to go., weeping as they watch the demolition, witnessing the conversion, the transformation of what was once their neighborhood become stadium parking. All this done for the benefit of a sport that will line the pockets of those already bloated with wealth exploitatively acquired from the plight of the poor. And yet I tune in to every match. I watch religiously, all the while sweeping under the rug the terror and trauma of thousands of dislocated Brazilians grieving and mourning losses far greater than my own.

Does my loss justify my viewership?

Last week was the fourth of July and I was involved in a social media discussion regarding the compatibility/incompatibility of Christianity, the 4th of July, and the declaration of  Independence. I wrote the following:

I must greatly question the legitimacy of an an equality defined by a group of rich, white men who rose to prominence on the backs of slave labor. That fact must be recognized and addressed, to gloss over instances of hypocrisy that maintain oppression, would itself seem to be perpetuation of oppressive injustice. We can commemorate the accomplishments of the founding fathers and the biblical cannon but, equally we must exercise a radical honesty about the immensity of their faults, where they have fallen, and where they have unavoidably failed to live up to their own standards.

This, then, is my confession. My recognition of radical honesty. I am the oppressor. I am the 1%. I am one with the ones I propose to stand against. This is my apology. I am sorry that I tore down your homes so that my own pleasures could be served. I am sorry I took everything from you for my own entertainment. I am sorry that I destroyed everything you’ve worked for, everything you’ve earned, everything you’ve scraped together and scraped by on. I am sorry that I am part of the problem. I am sorry that I will still watch the next match. I am sorry that my apology isn’t enough. I am sorry that “I’m sorry” will never do, never make amends. I am sorry that I don’t know what else to do. I’m sorry…

The Moral Responsibility of Existential Freedom

Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for an Ethics class I took earlier this year. The essay is a brief exploration and investigation into the moral framework of Jean-Paul Sartre’s and Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist ethics. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!

 

The key to understanding Sartre’s conception of ‘responsibility’ is to grasp his idea of freedom. Sartre adheres to a radical freedom, perhaps one could say the radicality of a metaphysical freedom. Here, Sartre emphasizes his notion that ‘existence precedes essence’, in other words, he stresses the fact that “man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and only afterwards, defines himself” (320). Thus, Sartre explains that because of this radical existential ‘freedom’ “existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him” (320). For Sartre, because humanity arrives in an undefined purity of existence or Being it is the utter and absolute responsibility of each human individual to define their existence. As such, Sartre underscores the radicalized autonomy of the individual.

Similarly, de Beauvoir’s stance regarding ‘responsibility’ is also directly linked to her understanding of ‘freedom’. Here, she deviates slightly from Sartre in her description of what she calls ‘situated freedom’, that is, she recognizes that “our capacity for agency and meaning-making…is constrained, though never determined, by the conditions of our situation” (Bergoffen, sec. 2). This is not to say, however, that de Beauvoir denies Sartres claim to ‘radical’ freedom and responsibility, rather she extends them into the domain of the other, emphasizing a kind of autonomous interdependence. In other words, in her recognition of one’s full responsibility to their radically autonomous freedom she senses a deeper call and a deeper commitment, a calling committed to acknowledging one’s simultaneous responsibility to recognize the radical freedom of the other. Debra Bergoffen explains that “Though I can neither act for another nor directly influence their freedom, I must…accept responsibility for the fact that my actions produce the conditions within which the other acts” (sec. 4). In this regard, the ‘situation’ of our freedom/resonsibility is marked by the communal interconnectivity of individuals. De Beauvoir points out that “an individual is always situated within a community and as such, separate existents are necessarily bound to each other” (Mussett, sec. 2.b). Thus, de Beauvoir makes clear that our responsibility to express our individual freedom does not take place within a vacuum. “She argues,” instead, “that every enterprise is expressed in a world populated by and thus affecting other human beings” (Mussett, sec. 2.b). We are each other’s world. As such, for de Beauvoir, responsibility is hinged upon one’s ability “to treat the other…as a freedom so that his end may be freedom” (142). De Beauvoir writes, here, that “To will oneself free is also to will others free” (73). Thus, de Beauvoir concludes that “To will oneself moral and to will oneself free are one and the same decision” (24).
Bergoffen, Debra. “Simone de Beauvoir.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Stanford University, 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
De Beauvoir, Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp, 2000. Print.
Mussett, Shannon. “Simone de Beauvoir.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. IEP, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. From Existentialism is a Humanism. In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 319-325. Print.

Nietzsche, Gender, and Morality

Understanding Nietzsche’s categorizations of Master and Slave morality is a cumbersome endeavor. Nietzsche’s literary inclination towards an aphoristic styling makes his work and thought anything but clear cut and straight forward. His philosophy is marked by nuance, subtlety, and complexity. While it would be easy to look upon Nietzsche, the self-described ‘immoralist’, and his concepts of Master and Slave morality unfavorably, this may be more indicative of a mis-interpretative reading of his work. In this regard, it is not so much that Nietzsche is im-moral so much as he is, what Kathryn Pyne Addelson describes as a “moral revolutionary” (303).

Here, one must recognize that Nietzsche’s aim or goal in describing  the moralities of master and slave is not rooted in socio-political or socio-economic classes but, rather the orientation of one’s subjective pyscological inwardness or internality. As such, Nietzsche, himself, suggests that master and slave moralities can exist “in the same man, within one soul” (289). Here, we must ask what the master is a master of and what the slave is a slave to. For Nietzsche, a master cannot be solely defined by his mastery over the slave as this would empower the slave with more definitive authority than the master. This would in all actuality make the master a slave to the slave for attaining his self-identity. As such, a master need not be the lord of a slave and a slave need not be chained to a master. A Master is a master of himself, a master of his destiny, a master of his coarse, a master of his values, a master of hist values. A Slave, on the other hand, is a slave to his values and a slave to his morals. Masters “are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (Oaklander, 85). Masters are ‘value-creative’ (Nietzsche, 115). A master’s efforts are bent towards self-transcendence, self-conquering, and self-determination (Hayman, 35). Thus, the master’s ‘will to power’ is not marked by oppression or exploitation, as “the state in which we hurt others…is a sign that we are still lacking power” (Nietzsche, 108). The master’s will to power is ” a will to perfection, a striving for distinction” (Oaklander, 82).
Whereas master morality directs its attention and focus inwardly, slave morality inverts the will to power through its focus upon externality, that is, the slave directs his view “outward instead of back to oneself” (Nietzsche, 117). In other words, rather than focusing upon empowering himself the slave focuses only upon dis-empowering the master. Slave morality is an “imaginary revenge…fuelled by the ressentiment of those of who are incapable of taking action” (Hayman, 41). Slave morality is “a resentment of excellence, achievement, individuality, and power” (Oaklander, 86). Here, one could reasonably suggest that when Nietzsche criticizes traits such as sympathy, kindness, and the desire for the common good, it is not the characteristics in and of themselves he rejects but, rather the slave’s usage of them as a means to negate the value-creating actions of moral revolutionaries. In other words, the slave’s expressed idealization and idolization of sympathy, kindness, and the common good is disingenuine and  inauthentic. It is not real sympathy, real kindness, or real concern for the common good. It is a passive-aggressive expression of deception and manipulation, as it is only intended to vilify those who achieved the strength of will to strive for personal excellence.
One could propose that the master’s morality is genuinely sympathic and genuinely concerned with the common good. Addelson writes to this effect saying that “It is not the aim of the moral revolutionary to become the ‘sovereign individual’ when this brings with it the isolation of uniqueness” (303). Instead, Addelson goes on to say, the moral revolutionary “must begin to create himself as the ‘first of his kind'” (303). Thus, Addelson concludes that “it is part of his task as a revolutionary of the people to help them to overcome themselves, to help each create himself as a new kind of individual” (303).
Obviously, feminist critiques of Nietzsche and his concepts of master and slave morality abound. The primary criticism being that those traits that Nietzsche declares to be indicative of slave morality are often those qualities that are most closely associated with femininity, in which case it would seem or appear as though, according to Nietzsche’s categorizations, women, by their very ‘nature’ and by the mere facticity of their gender, would be considered a weak, inferior, and subservient class of ‘slave’s simply by default. However, this, too, is more representative of a misreading and a misunderstanding of Nietzsche’s project. As Addelson points out, Niezsche is no moral reformer aiming only to revise the present structures of ethicality but, instead is found boldly to be a moral revolutionary that seeks to overturn, overthrow, and ultimately revolutionize the entire system of morality itself, creating space to ‘create’ values (293). In this regard, according to Addelson, one could say that part of what Nietzsche intends to overthrow in his moral revolution is the very sociological structures that have ideologically assigned slavish characteristics to women in the first place (294). In many ways, then, because Nietzsche’s focus remains entirely upon the individual’s subjective ability to create and devise their own set revolutionary morals, Nietzsche’s master morality is, in effect, gender neutral. It is asexual. It knows no gender. It is present to all those who are capable and determined enough to become moral revolutionaries, conquering themselves, creating their own values, living in accordance with them, and helping others to do the same.
Addelson, Kathryn Pyne. “Nietzsche and Moral Change.” In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 293-305. Print.
Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 107-109. Print.
—. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 115-116. Print.
—. From On the Genealogy of Morals. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 117-121. Print.
—. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 281-293. Print.
Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Print.

The Womb of the Social: Nurturing the Birth of ‘Mothering’ Contractions

Gustavo Guiterrez writes that “Human history has been written by a white hand, a male hand, from the dominating social class” (1976, 6). Guiterrez goes on to say explain that “Attempts have been made to wipe from their minds the memories of their struggles” but, “This is to deprive them of a source of energy, of an historical will to rebellion” (1976, 6). Likewise, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza shows that “Historians, philosophers, and anthropologists have emphasized that current scholarly theory and research are deficient because they neglect women’s lives and contributions and construe humanity and human history as male” (1984, xvi). These sentiments exhibit the imperative behind the work of Virginia Held and why the perspective she offers is so elucidating and so integrally vital, especially in regards to political and social thought and theory.

Indeed, Held, herself, makes these precise distinctions in her assessment of societal organization and corresponding social contracts stating that
Actual societies are the results of war, exploitation, racism, far more than of social contracts. Economic and political realities are the outcomes of economic strength triumphing over economic weakness more than of a free market. And rather than a free market of ideas, we have a culture in which the loudspeakers that are the mass media drown out the soft voices of free expression (2011, 782).

In this way, Held is both critical and skeptical of social contract theory’s validity and premises, explicitly questioning its framing narratives. If we look back to our Paleolithic ancestry we will find that our ‘Original Position’ in regards to social formation and interaction is perhaps nothing resembling the civilization of independent contractors supposed necessary by social contract theorists. The necessitation of the social contract proposed by such contract theorists as Rawls, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc,.., seems to be rather ahistorical, in that,they are something of a Westernized reflection of post-agricultural revolution societies posited upon pre-Neolithic civilizations, cultures, and contexts. Held concludes that “To see contractual relations between self-interested or mutually disinterested individuals as constituting a paradigm of human relations is to take a certain historically specific conception of ‘economic man’ as representative of humanity” (2011, 782). From an evolutionary perspective such a posturing would lead to a diminishment rather than an advancement of a species’ evolutionary fitness, that is, it’s ability to succeed in passing it’s genes on to the next generation. What is displayed in the assessments of many social contract theorists is perhaps a fetishization of the predominating structures and institutions as an idealization (perhaps even an idol-ization) set as a welcomed alternative to a fallaciously conceived ‘state of nature’, which is far more representative of the bias implicit within the ‘contractual’ framework rather than anything historically or anthropologically sound.

Instead, what we will see in humanity’s early stages are loose confederations of close-knit, kin-based hunter/gatherer societies that are familial in orientation. Humanity, then, is primarily relational rather than contractual. This seems to give added precedence to Held’s notion of ‘mothering’. Contracts create ‘obligations’, they do not create bonds, kinship, or relationships. Within the social contract individuals are incentivized or coerced to do only their duty, that is, to do only what is required of them, pursuing self-interest above all else with the exclusion of only that which causes harm to another. In this regard, contracts thrive upon ‘volunteerism’, ‘noninterference’ and ‘inaction’. Where as, Held’s focus upon the mother/child relationship centers upon “relationships that are nonvoluntary” and responsibilities that are “noncontractual…where the primary motive is concern for another’s welfare” (Calhoun 2011, 780). Even Rawls,himself, recognizes that “No society can…be a scheme of cooperation which men enter voluntarily in a literal sense; each person finds himself placed at birth in some particular position in some particular society, and the nature of this position materially affects his life prospects” (2011, 695). Kant, too, falls short here. Kant declares the universal imperative to treat others as ends in themselves yet, even his categorical imperative is implicitly self-centered, still treating others as means to an end, in that, one only treats others a certain way as a means to achieving their own preferred treatment. In other words, one’s self remains the ultimate end. Maternality or ‘Mothering’, instead, is responsive to needs, emphasizing care, “fostering transformative growth,” leading to “trust, cooperation, loyalty, and moral concern” (Calhoun 2011, 780). Held seems to make clear that the flourishing (blooming, blossoming, growth, development) of the individual and the flourishing of the community/society will require a ‘nurturing’ cultivation. Nothing short of a mother’s love will do.
Calhoun, Cheshire. “Virginia Held: Introduction.” In Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, 2nd ed, edited by Steven M. Cahn, 778-781. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Gutierrez, Gustavo. “Where Hunger is, God is Not.” The Witness . April 1976.
Held, Virginia. “From Non-contractual Society: A Feminist View.” In Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts 2nd ed, edited by Steve M. Cahn, 782-795. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroad Publishing co., 1984.

Master & Slave Morality Part 2

Last week I wrote a post highlighting some of the nuances of Nietzsche’s idea of Master and Slave morality, you can read it here. This is a continuation of that discussion.

L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) writes that “Master morality begins with an affirmation, with what is good and what is worthwhile” (p. 85). Oaklander (1996) goes on to say that “The strong willed are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (p. 85). The strength expressed in Master morality is affirmative and ultimately creative, as a master is one who has the strength to be self-determinative, creating his own morals, values, and guidelines particular only to himself. Nietzsche (1996) makes this clear writing,

The noble type of man experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval; it judges, “what is harmful to me is harmful in itself”; it knows itself to be that which first accords to things; it is value-creating (p. 115).

A master displays and exercises his Will to Power through his ability create values and to live only in accordance with his own codes of morality. In this regard, a master is not only the master of himself; he is also the master of his morals.

Slave Morality, on the other hand, is weak because it lacks the capacity to create its own values and morals and has not the strength of will to be self-determined. L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) writes that “Slave morality,” contrarily, “begins in negation: a resentment of excellence, achievement, individuality, and power” (p. 86). Slave Morality is reactive, prohibitive, and wholly objective. Slave Morality stunts and impedes the growth and becoming of the individual. Slave Morality is oppressive in and of itself, in that it universally imposes itself upon all of humanity, forcing all of mankind into conformity and compliance with its dictates. The morality of the slave is completely external to him, coming from outside himself, it is absolutely authoritative. Slave Morality is top down, coming from above. In this regard, the slave is not so much a slave to a master but, is instead a slave to Morality, a slave to objective values.

Since the slave does not have the strength or power to master himself or his morals he expresses his Will to Power through the negation of power and the powerful. The slave cannot become powerful upon his own efforts and so instead seeks to garner power through dis-empowering the empowered, calling all the virtues of the powerful “evil” and naming those attributes associated to weakness “good”. Slave Morality says “if I cannot have power then no one can,” and thus, seeks to make ‘power’ itself utterly unethical. Slave Morality is then, a perversion of the Will to Power and offers only an illusory meekness and a false humility through its vilification of the empowered. Slave Morality is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, power mongering cloaked in sackcloth and ashes. Nietzsche (1996), himself, explains that

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values:…While every noble morality develops from triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye – this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself – is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile world; it needs physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all – its action is fundamentally reaction (p. 117).

Lacking the strength of will and determination to fully take responsibility for its own destiny, Slave Morality seeks to bring down those who have through an expression of ethical enmity. Thus, even when Slave Morality seeks to cunningly, deceptively, and coercively attain some sense of power, it does so externally rather than from within itself.

So it is that Nietzsche remains skeptical, suspicious, and critical of the Judeo-Christian grounding of traditional morality, which he sees as the fullest expression of Slave Morality. L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) proposes that “the chief proposition of common morality is that to be moral is to act in accordance with custom where ‘custom’ is the traditional way of behaving and evaluating” (p. 88). Oaklander (1996) continues saying that “Traditional morality forces the individual to give up the power or the freedom to depend upon oneself to determine one’s own actions” (p. 88). Nietzsche challenges the individual to be dependent on neither the demands of the divine nor the dictates of another but solely upon themselves.  Nietzsche beckons the individual to abandon traditional Morality and objective values, to be grounded not to tradition or custom but only to one’s self, to be strong, self-determined, empowered, independent, and utterly im-Moral.

Oaklander, L. N. (1996). Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Nietzsche, F. (1996). From Beyond good and evil. In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.115-116). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Nietzsche, F. (1996). From On the genealogy of morals. In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.117-121). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.