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.”
Advertisements

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.