Friday, November 15, 2019

On Medium: Nietzsche and the Creativity of Losers

Here's an article that critiques Nietzsche's case against Christian values.


  1. Nietzsche was possibly the most psychologically insightful philosopher yet, which is why his taking Christianity at face value is so baffling. He understood the psychology of Jesus with an ironic accuracy - given his own un-christlike values - and yet he didn't seem to suspect that Paul and just about every subsequent Christian leader have been apologists for the very status quo that Nietzsche would defend. Some may have wanted to overthrow the powers of their day, but then only to usurp the throne.

    You ask a very good question about whether or not a true kingdom of God would be desirable here on Earth, given what rich material suffering and injustice have proven to be for artistic inspiration. Fortunately, we will never be in a position to make this hard call. History has refuted Gene Roddenberry and vindicated George Orwell: we will never have a post-scarcity society no matter how far our technology advances. Apparently some people need the sight of poverty to appreciate their own affluence and so artificial scarcity must replace the real scarcity of pre-industrial times.

    I agree that Jesus' program in unsustainable if human civilization is to continue; but that is precisely why it needs to be embraced by all who can bear it. If humans cannot live together in harmony without a gun to their collective head, then they have no civilization worth preserving. Anarchy would actually be preferable, since at least in that state there are no pretensions that humans are anything better than clever apes. The wicked should inherit the earth, for they deserve it.

    1. I'm not sure what you mean when you say Nietzsche took Christianity at face value. His explanation of slave morality as a resentful expression of the will to power does the opposite. Do you mean that Nietzsche didn't appreciate the cynicism of Christian leaders?

      I wouldn't write off transhumanism and post-scarcity economies as nonstarters. I agree that the corruption of the upper class entails a class of slaves for them to rule over, but technological advances have a habit of revolutionizing society whether we like it or not. What might change is that the upper class of humans is effectively ruled by the machines, so the rich and poor find common ground as relative slaves. I don't make any prediction here; it's just an intriguing scenario to ponder.

      Your third paragraph seems to throw in the towel. I wouldn't say we're "better" than animals, but we are different from them. Reason is a double-edged sword, a blessing and a curse. A reversion to natural anarchy would prevent us from fulfilling our potential as honourable creators, unless the anarchy were part of a post-scarcity scenario.

  2. Nietzsche recognized the resentment at the bottom of Christianity as a mass movement, but he mistook their holier-than-thou rhetoric as a declaration of war against hierarchy. He actually seriously compares Christians with anarchists at one point! Did he read the epistles? Did he know what Christians actually did as soon as they became the majority? Rhetorical questions, I know, but I feel obligated to ask them. Long before Constantine's conversion, Paul says that Christians should be satisfied with the status quo: that the Roman's are regents of God on earth (Rom 13), that women should obey their husbands (Eph 5:22) & slaves their masters (Eph 6:5). Instead of an all-out war against the world, the flesh & the devil, Paul proposes an armistice. I don't personally subscribe to Joseph Atwill's theory that Christianity was an invention of the Flavian dynasty, but I can understand why he arrived at that conclusion.

    You mention the possibility of humans being ruled by machines. Well, if we are talking about a benevolent AI, then probably the best we can expect is some variation on the Matrix. Ted 'Unabomber' Kaczinsky proposed something a little darker when he said that technology might end up altering human nature to serve its needs - an ironic reversal. When I read that part of his manifesto, I couldn't help but envision the Borg from Star Trek. That's not something I would personally look forward to.

    Concerning anarchy. I agree that anarchy (not Anarchism) would prevent even the possibility of honor, but that is why I would embrace it. The most repugnant aspect of this world is not that people suffer, it is that those who suffer the most are the honorable, the compassionate, the innocent, who either die broken or succumb to the general corruption. But in a state of perpetual anarchy, such unworldly people would not survive to reproduce their kind. Within a few generations, it could be expected that only the most vicious, amoral and subhuman specimens would remain on earth; and yes, they would suffer abominably, but at least they would deserve it. Imagine a Marquis de Sade novel in which the villains exhaust their supply of innocent victims. Earth would be transformed into a literal Hell inhabited by demonic parodies of what was once humanity. Meanwhile, all the good people would either be dead & so at peace, or alive together in some spiritual domain beyond the cosmos. All that would need to happen is for 1) The world's governments to be weakened or corrupted to the point where law enforcement ceases. 2) Some secret organization (like the Red Lotus from Avatar) that would assassinate any up-and-coming dictator who might try to bring order to the chaos. 3) All good people would need to stop compromising with evil by literally obeying everthing Jesus suggested in his famous sermon on the mount. If every good person became a dove, the hawks would make swift work of them & then, with no victims left to exploit, they would turn on each other & hopefully wipe each other out. It would be a vindication of Schopenauer's argument that ours is truly the worst of all possible world, since any imaginable world that was worse than ours could not persist for very long.

    I think global warming and declining oil will take care of the first condition. A secretive guild of assassins like the famed hashashin of Alamut, but devoted to anarchy, could satisfy condition 2. As for #3, desperate people easily succumb to religious pipe-dreams. The same people behind the assassination squads, but less martially inclined, could devote themselves to spreading Jesus' teachings. It's a f***ed up plan, I'll admit, but it might be better than who knows how many millenia more of business as usual. And who knows, maybe Jesus was right after all; there might really be a home for us beyond this life. But if there isn't, then it's a fast track to nirvana for all.

    1. On Nietzsche, I read him as saying that Christianity is only superficially opposed to hierarchy. What Christianity is really doing is replacing the masters with the slaves. It's the slaves declaring war on the masters, and because the slaves are sickly and can't fight like men, as it were, they use morality to convince the masters to surrender for spiritual reasons. So it's not an elimination of hierarchy but a changing of seats in the enduring structure of a dominance hierarchy.

      Regarding being ruled by machines, I had in mind something subtler than the Matrix AI, something along Jaron Lanier's lines. (Yuval Harari picks up on this too, I believe.) We're already effectively ruled in some ways by the algorithms that govern internet searches and Facebook feeds. As those algorithms automate other social sectors, we'd be effectively ruled by the software; we'd be sorted into our little worlds, the software replacing the drugs in a Brave New World scenario.

      That's an intriguing interpretation of anarchy you have there. Sounds like it could make for a provocative novel. It reminds me, though, of some doubts I've had about the conventional view of the postapocalypse such as you find in The Walking Dead. The conventional assumption is that the parasitic thugs would take over. But there's an opposing intuition or complication to consider: when society breaks down, I'd expect mass cooperation and sympathy rather than just animal terror. There would be an ecstatic freedom because we'd no longer be slaves to our corrupt institutions. We'd no longer have anything to prove in terms of our status symbols and the imperative of conspicuous consumption. In short, we'd be forced to confront the sort of existential matters I've been on about on this blog.

      I doubt, for example, the first thought you'd have when seeing a helpless person, after the end of the civilized world is to rob or kill him, knowing you could get away with it because the police and the prisons would be gone. Perhaps if you were starving and there was no other food around and that person had some food, you might be forced to take the food. But I doubt there would be the same kinds of petty crimes we commit today. I suspect we'd return to hunter-gatherer tribes, and remember that they likely had a naive, childlike animistic view of everything.