Monday, March 2, 2015

I Heart Nihilism - Excerpts, Nietzche's The Will to Power




The conversations that I have been having recently seems to be full with people searching for something, escaping, wanting, and/or desiring a form of becoming. These conversations have re-affirmed some of the ideas I have about authority, goals, construction of self, delusion and this never ending mortal coil. It’s an odd thing to feel liberated by knowing that things are all messed up and just not right with the world. It is liberating because from that awareness there is at least a glimmer of challenge, hope, altercation and even possible alteration of this state.

I think I have always been a nihilist but I am too anti-group and suspect to attach myself to anything definitively. Regardless, nihilism is a philosophy of thought that has always resonated with me (oh those teenage years and Schopenhauer). Nihilism like all things gets a bad rap in some contexts and deserved criticisms in others. What it is to me though is means to a clarity of knowing and that clarity induces starkness, which may sometimes seem like despair or void, but this clarity is essential, as it is only from that point (to me) that acceptance and change can actually occur. How can one alter realities if one is deluded from even seeing them? (Rhetorical).

In light of this tone of thinking, below are some excerpts from Nietzche’s The Will to Power from the section Nihilism. It makes me think a lot about this whole living thing and also how it reflects art and the art world, our sense of self and this postmodern condition we are living in. It’s a quick and memento like chapter, read it in full if you are further interested or compelled.


Frederich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 1901 (translated by Walter Kaufman and R.J. Hollingdale, 1967)

From Preface:

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. This history can be related even now; for necessity itself is at work here. This future speaks even now in a hundred signs, this destiny announces itself everywhere; for this music of the future all ears are cocked even now. For some time now, our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.

---
Skepticism regarding morality is what is decisive. The end of the moral interpretation of the world, which no longer has any sanction after it has tried to escape into some beyond, leads to nihilism. "Everything lacks meaning" (the untenability of one interpretation of the world, upon which a tremendous amount of energy has been lavished, awakens the suspicion that all interpretations of the world are false).

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The nihilistic consequences of contemporary natural science (together with its attempts to escape into some beyond). The industry of its pursuit eventually leads to self-disintegration, opposition, an antiscientific mentality. Since Copernicus man has been rolling from the center toward X.'

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It posited that man had a knowledge of absolute values and thus adequate knowledge precisely regarding what is most important. It prevented man from despising himself as man, from taking sides against life; from despairing of knowledge: it was a means of preservation. In sum: morality was the great antidote against practical and theoretical nihilism.

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(June 10, 1887)
But among the forces cultivated by morality was truthfulness: this eventually turned against morality, discovered its teleology, its partial perspective-and now the recognition of this inveterate mendaciousness that one despairs of shedding becomes a stimulant. Now we discover in ourselves needs implanted by centuries of moral interpretation-needs that now appear to us as needs for untruth; on the other hand, the value for which we endure life seems to hinge on these needs. This antagonism-not to esteem what we know, and not to be allowed any longer to esteem the lies we should like to tell ourselves-results in a process of dissolution.

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(1883-1888)
The nihilistic consequence (the belief in valuelessness) as a consequence of moral valuation: everything egoistic has come to disgust us (even though we realize the impossibility of the unegoistic); what is necessary has come to disgust us (even though we realize the impossibility of any liberum arbitrium' or "intelligible freedom"). We see that we cannot reach the sphere in which we have placed our values; but this does not by any means confer any value on that other sphere in which we live: on the contrary, we are weary because we have lost the main stimulus.
"In vain so far!"

---
(Spring-Fall 1887)
Pessimism as strength-in what? In the energy of its logic, as anarchism and nihilism, as analytic. Pessimism as decline-in what? As growing effeteness, as a sort of cosmopolitan fingering, as “tout comprendre" and historicism. The critical tension: the extremes appear and become predominant.

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Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the "in vain," insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure—bein ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long.

 ---
(Spring-Fall 1887)
Nihilism represents a pathological transitional stage (what is pathological is the tremendous generalization, the inference that there is no meaning at all): whether the productive forces are not yet strong enough, or whether decadence still hesitates and has not yet invented its remedies.

Presupposition of this hypothesis: that there is no truth, that there is no absolute nature of things nor a "thing-in-itself." This, too, is merely nihilism-even the most extreme nihilism. It places the value of things precisely in the lack of any reality corresponding to these values and in their being merely a symptom of strength on the part of the value-positers, a simplification for the sake of life.

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 (1883-1888)
Every purely moral value system (that of Buddhism, for example) ends in nihilism: this to be expected in Europe. One still hopes to get along with a moralism without religious background: but that necessarily leads to nihilism.- In religion the constraint is lacking to consider ourselves as value-positing.

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(Spring-Fall 1887)
The nihilistic question "for what?" is rooted in the old habit of supposing that the goal must be put up, given, demanded from outside some superhuman authority. Having unlearned faith in that, one still follows the old habit and seeks another authority that can speak unconditionally and command goals and tasks. The authority of conscience now steps up front (the more emancipated one is from theology, the more imperativistic morality becomes) to compensate for the loss of a personal authority. Or the authority of reason. Or the social instinct (the herd). Or history with an immanent spirit and a goal within, so one can entrust oneself to it. One wants to get around the will, the willing of a goal, the risk of positing a goal for oneself.

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The lower species ("herd," "mass," "society") unlearns modesty and blows up its needs into cosmic and metaphysical values. In this way the whole of existence is vulgarized: in so far as the mass is dominant it bullies the exceptions, so they lose their faith in themselves and become nihilists.

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(1883-1888)
The ways of self-narcotization.- Deep down: not knowing whither. Emptiness. Attempt to get over it by intoxication: intoxication as music; intoxication as cruelty in the tragic enjoyment of the destruction of the noblest; intoxication as blind enthusiasm for single human beings or ages (as hatred, etc.).- Attempt to work blindly as an instrument of science: opening one's eyes to the many small enjoyments; e.g., also in the quest of knowledge (modesty toward oneself); resignation to generalizing about oneself, a pathos; mysticism, the voluptuous enjoyment of eternal emptiness; art "for its own sake" ("Ie fait") and "pure knowledge" as narcotic states of disgust with oneself; some kind or other of continual work, or of some stupid little fanaticism; a medley of all means, sickness owing to general immoderation (debauchery kills enjoyment).
1. Weakness of the will as a result.
2. Extreme pride and the humiliation of petty weakness felt in contrast.

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The reduction of growing gloom.- Our pessimism: the world does not have the value we thought it had. Our faith itself has so increased our desire for knowledge that today we have to say this. Initial result: it seems worth less; that is how it is experienced initially. It is only in this sense that we are pessimists; i.e., in our determination to admit this revaluation to ourselves without any reservation, and to stop telling ourselves tales-lies-the old way.

That is precisely how we find the pathos that impels us to seek new values. In sum: the world might be far more valuable than we used to believe; we must see through the naiveté of our ideals, and while we thought that we accorded it the highest interpretation, we may not even have given our human existence a moderately fair value.

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(Spring-Fall 1887)
The "predominance of suffering over pleasure" or the opposite (hedonism): these two doctrines are already signposts to nihilism.
For in both of these cases no ultimate meaning is posited except the appearance of pleasure or displeasure. But that is how a kind of man speaks that no longer dares to posit a will, a purpose, a meaning: for any healthier kind of man the value of life is certainly not measured by the standard of these trifles. And suffering might predominate, and in spite of that a powerful will might exist, aYes to life, a need for this predominance.

---
"Life is not worthwhile"; "resignation"; "why the tears?"a weakly and sentimental way of thinking. "Un monstre gai vaut mieux qu'un sentimental ennuyeux.” deserves to be repudiated.

At this point nihilism is reached: all one has left are the values that pass judgment-nothing else. Here the problem of strength and weakness originates:
1. The weak perish of it;
2. those who are stronger destroy what does not perish;
3. those who are strongest overcome the values that pass judgment.
In sum this constitutes the tragic age.

---
One fails to see, although it could hardly be more obvious, that pessimism is not a problem but a symptom, that the name should be replaced by "nihilism," that the question whether not to- be is better than to be is itself a disease, a sign of decline, an idiosyncrasy.

The nihilistic movement is merely the expression of physiologieal decadence

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(Nov. 1887-March 1888)
To be comprehended: That every kind of decay and sickness has continually helped to form overall value judgments; that decadence has actually gained predominance in the value judgments that have become accepted; that we not only have to fight against the consequences of all present misery of degeneration, but that all previous decadence is still residual, i.e., survives. Such a total aberration of mankind from its basic instincts, such a total decadence of value judgments-that is the question mark par excellence, the real riddle that the animal "man" poses for the philosopher.

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(March-June 1888)
The concept of decadence.- Waste, decay, elimination need not be condemned: they are necessary consequences of life, of the growth of life. The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. Reason demands, on the contrary, that we do justice to it. It is a disgrace for all socialist systematizers that they suppose

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What should be fought vigorously is the contagion of the healthy parts of the organism. Is this being done? The opposite is done. Precisely that is attempted in the name of humanity. -How are the supreme values held so far, related to this basic biological question? Philosophy, religion, morality, art, etc. (The cure: e.g., militarism, beginning with Napoleon who considered civilization his natural enemy.)

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The most dangerous misunderstanding.- One concept apparently permits no confusion or ambiguity: that of exhaustion. Exhaustion can be acquired or inherited-in any case it changes the aspect of things, the value of things.

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The cult of the fool is always the cult of those rich in life, the powerful. The fanatic, the possessed, the religious epileptic, all eccentrics have been experienced as the highest types of power: as divine. This kind of strength that excites fear was considered preeminently divine: here was the origin of authority; here one interpreted, heard, sought wisdom.- This led to the development, almost everywhere, of a will to "deify," i.e., a will to the typical degeneration of spirit, body, and nerves: an attempt to find the way to this higher level of being.

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The herd instinct, then-a power that has now become sovereign-is something totally different from the instinct of an aristocratic society: and the value of the units determines the significance of the sum.- Our entire sociology simply does not know any other instinct than that of the herd, i.e., that of the sum of zeroes-where every zero has "equal rights," where it is virtuous to be zero.- solution?" Duration "in vain," without end or aim, is the most paralyzing idea, particularly when one understands that one is being fooled and yet lacks the power not to be fooled .

---
Let us think this thought in its most terrible form: existence as it is, without meaning or aim, yet recurring inevitably without any finale of nothingness: the eternal recurrence.

---
This is the most extreme form of nihilism: the nothing (the "meaningless"), eternally! The European form of Buddhism: the energy of knowledge and strength compels this belief. It is the most scientific of all possible hypotheses. We deny end goals: if existence had one it would have to have been reached.

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Morality consequently taught men to hate and despise most profoundly what is the basic character trait of those who rule: their will to power. To abolish, deny, and dissolve this morality-that would mean looking at the best-hated drive with an opposite feeling and valuation. If the suffering and oppressed lost the faith that they have the right to despise the will to power, they would enter the phase of hopeless despair. This would be the case if this trait were essential to life and it could be shown that even in this will to morality this very "will to power" were hidden, and even this hatred and contempt were still a will to power. The oppressed would come to see that they were on the same plain with the oppressors, without prerogative, without higher rank.

---
There is nothing to life that has value, except the degree of power-assuming that life itself is the will to power. Morality guarded the underprivileged against nihilism by assigning to each an infinite value, a metaphysical value, and by placing each in an order that did not agree with the worldly order of rank and power: it taught resignation, meekness, etc.

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What does "underprivileged" mean? Above all, physiologically-no longer politically. The unhealthiest kind of man in Europe (in all classes) furnishes the soil for this nihilism: they will experience the belief in the eternal recurrence as a curse, struck by which one no longer shrinks from any action; not to be extinguished passively but to extinguish everything that is so aim- and meaningless, although this is a mere convulsion, a blind rage at the insight that everything has been for eternities-even this moment of nihilism and lust for destruction.- It is the value of such a crisis that it purifies, that it pushes together related elements to perish of each other, that it assigns common tasks to meu who have opposite ways of thinking-and it also brings to light the weaker and less secure among them and thus promotes an order of rank according to strength, from the point of view of health: those who command are recognized as those who command, those who obey as those who obey. Of course, outside every existing social order.

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Who will prove to be the strongest in the course of this? The most moderate; those who do not require any extreme articles of faith; those who not only concede but love a fair amount of accidents and nonsense; those who can think of man with a considerable reduction of his value without becoming small and weak on that account: those richest in health who are equal to most misfortunes and therefore not so afraid of misfortunes-human beings who are sure of their power and represent the attained strength of humanity with conscious pride.