Saturday, February 2, 2013

On arrogance.

Today's thoughts:

This is being written at 3am, and will as such be written at the corresponding level of intellectuality. Apparently that's actually a word.

As I compiled my last post (just now) I re-read it and thought "well, it would be only too easy to construe this - and, from there, everything else on this blog - as incredibly arrogant and unreadably self-satisfied". Oh, so "unreadably" isn't a word?

I wanted to acknowledge that, indicate that I was aware of it and hopefully show that it isn't actually the case. First of all, I like to write with florid prose. Almost all of my writing, whether it's this blog or university assignments, is created with myself as the primary audience member. Not so much for the content, but for the pleasure of what is being said - and believe me, I do enjoy being that audience member. Jimmy Carr quips that when people ask him who his favourite comedian is, he says "me... I know it sounds arrogant but on the other hand, it is exactly my sense of humour". I'm hardly my favourite writer, but I take huge pleasure in developing and honing the ways I communicate, and I find writing is the best way to do that.

Second, and this is probably more important - as time has progressed I have become more jaded and more cynical with intellectual debate. Whilst in the past I bent over backwards to acknowledge opposing viewpoints and different interpretations, which I still think is a necessity when writing polemic (for exactly the reason that this post is about), I have found my beliefs and assertions calcifying as I've tired of fruitless and unproductive back-and-forth. Time for a long-winded tangent.

Take, if you would, the allegory of the blind men and the elephant: three blind men encounter an elephant; each one tries to comprehend the creature based on the limited data they have available (one feels the trunk, one the legs, one the tail). This is often presented as an explanation for the overabundance of religions in the world today - many minds all experiencing different facets of the divine. However, this allegory falls apart when one points out that the blind men could simply pool their data and by working together comprehend the elephant. That's obviously an corollary for science, not the ecumenical movement.

The reason I brought it up, though, was to provide an example of the kind of people who have taken the wind out of my fair-minded sails. Assuming that we are all blind and groping at the elephant of existence (I've danced around myriad opportunities for crass humour ever since I brought the bloody animal up) the people I've run out of time for are those who won't participate in the collaborative process. Who aren't willing to shift their position, who aren't willing to even question it. Please believe me when I say no one judges my beliefs more harshly than myself, and that by abandoning the convention of politeness - it makes for a good editor - I know that I've removed a potential barrier against this kind of regressive certainty.

I'm working on it, but in the meantime and in my own space, I'm not going to stop calling things as I see them , just like Christopher Hitchens taught me.

Mr Gabriel Syme fights Nietzsche's battles for him.

Today's thoughts:

I was fossicking around on Facebook and found this picture a friend had put up last year. At the time it prompted a most remarkable outpouring of hate from a most remarkable bell-end, which in turn prompted me to respond in kind. It's a good summary of his works - I think - regardless of how unnecessary and pretentious it is to argue Nietzsche for several hundred words on Facebook.

Some samples of the intellectual offerings, first of all: well as the charming assertion that "I'm not sure you could describe Nietzsche's later works as "thinking". They're completely unintelligible to even the most experienced of minds!"

Ha. Well. We know better than that, don't we?

I replied:

For someone who considers Nietzsche's work "unintelligible", you certainly seem to think you know it better than the man himself. It may alarm and surprise you to learn that not everyone merely attaches themselves to a dogma - perhaps the benefit in Nietzsche is not blindly following his writings but contemplating what they mean. Trying to understand what at face value seems so utterly alienating and repellent is a practical intellectual exercise that raises our consciousness and strengthens us as individuals.

I couldn't help myself, and came back a little while later with the following. You can see how overzealous I'm getting by my first sentence:

Since I can't stand the butchery of Nietzsche's incredible and revolutionary philosophy, I'll offer my own interpretation:

Nietzsche's view of reality is that no objective moral standards exist. There is no metaphysical authority and no meaning to our own lives. Our perceptions, our values and our desires are all subjective, and therefore to shape the world as we wish it we are required to inflict this subjectivity on others (this can take some contemplation to understand, but it's well worth the time). This is what Nietzsche called "will to power".

Moralities are ways of harnessing and restricting this will to power. When you tell people to repress their desires - we're not attaching a "good or bad" label to such an action at this point - in favour of following a set code of ethics and meaning, you are restricting their own agency, freedom and individuality. Perhaps this is necessary to create a functioning and cohesive society, perhaps not - at this point, it's just an observation.

"Slave moralities" like Christianity are so called because they do not allow individuals to enact their will to power. Everyone is a slave of the overarching system which has been set in place. Like a piece of clockwork, the system of morality has been fashioned and then set in motion, and everyone becomes a slave of its beliefs and dictates. A "master morality", which Nietzsche himself preferred (but we do not have to), is one where individuals rise above the system and create their own moralities. Nietzsche did like the idea of the strong and exceptional - those who could think for themselves - being freed from moral constraints, but to equate this with Social Darwinism and presumably thus Nazism is to miss the point so far that I suggest no one need listen to you on this topic until you've shown yourself capable of anything more than pointless, ad hominem ranting.

And then a few minutes later:

You know, I felt bad about my rather angry closing remark, but on re-reading this whole discussion I think anger is the right response.

Free-thought cannot be stifled by doctrine, no matter how "insane" they may be considered by their peers - references to Galileo at this point seem very apt. We can't read Nietzsche if we're conservatives, because any attempt to question the status quo must be quickly suppressed.

If we're name-dropping philosophers, everyone should read Hannah Arendt's lecture "Thinking and Moral Considerations". In it, she shows that heinous crimes such as the Holocaust are not the result of dangerous thinkers, but by the masses of people who *fail* to think. Please, for the love of whatever banal and unoriginal god you may insist on following, spend as much time as you can questioning everything and everyone. And if you don't agree with me... good. Why not?

No replies after that. So, I guess I.. won? Arguing on the internet, Special Olympics, all that.

By the way, if anyone wants to plagiarise this for some school/university essay, go ahead. Formal attribution is not required. And yes, high schools do teach Nietzsche. I supervised last year's VCE Philosophy exam, amongst others, and the big N was most prominent on the paper. Surely Year 12 is the last period of someone's life you want to spend dissembling their hierarchies of structure and meaning.