I am working away at a book on Nietzsche, and was about to write a brief synopsis of his revaluation of all values project. He thinks there are genuine values, I think, but they are rooted in health, or the perspective of life, and not in any transcendent moral truths. Basically, to be healthy, you need to cultivate all the forces at work in your psychology (or as many as you can), turning your garden into a teeming jungle, with a result that is profound, complex, powerful, and noble. It may be that no two individuals will turn out alike — one may become Goethe, another Napoleon, etc.
Then I wanted to go on to say “But this is no Disneyland jungle cruise. You may turn out to be a moral monster.” I also have in the back of my mind McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (since I’m reading it), in which there is a character named the judge who is one cruel and cool-headed son of a bitch. He is very learned, speaks eloquently, and thinks nothing of scalping a child. McCarthy makes him out to be like another species — hairless, extraordinarily strong, taller than everyone else, and set apart from everyone else. (Near the end he’s traveling around with a hairy imbecile, hunting another character down — so it reminds me of the ape and the superman chasing down the human, who is caught in the middle.)
So I looked through Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, looking for a telltale quote that made it clear that Nietzsche means terror. (Isn’t there something about a race of supermen returning from war, raping, and pillaging as if from a lark?) But I couldn’t find one. All I could find were quotes attesting to the fact that he is no liberal, let alone a utilitarian, since he thinks truly terrible and terrifying experiences might forge a great individual. But that’s different from saying thatthe great individual would himself be terrible and terrifying.
I’m probably missing some obvious passages, but thought I’d toss this question out to see what anybody thinks: is it obvious that a Nzean superman might well be a moral monster (like the judge)?
Reminders like this are important, lest we forget just how outrageous our current government is.
Interesting essay here. Jacoby claims that academics over the last generation have become increasingly isolated, and blogs are nothing more than private journals broadcast with a megaphone. (Also a bit shaming, as here I am blogging about it!)
UPDATE: Here is a related essay by Stanley Fish, on the topic of “what’s the use of the humanities?” His surprising answer is that the Humanities are not of any use — their value is not instrumental toward other things, but they are valuable in and of themselves. That’s neat, but I am wary of insulating the Humanities from all practical activities. The Humanities, properly studied, change lives, and complicate them.
An anecdote: last term I taught a big Humanities class, and one of the assigned readings was by Heidegger. The principal claim we discussed is that today we have forgotten the question of Being, and no other question is as important. One student, in his response, wrote that he thought Heidegger was right that the question of Being is fundamentally important. But the student thought we shouldn’t spend much time thinking about it, because such thinking can only get in the way of progress and advancement. (!!!!!) It would seem that a more thorough education in the Humanities might get folks to recognize that some things are more important than ‘progress.’
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with the powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” Preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855.
My wife’s book club is reading The Cave by Jose Saramago. It sounded interesting, so I read it too. It takes place in some nondescript time and place, perhaps in the not-so-distant future. Most of the landscape is barren, except for some small villages, and a city, and in the city a huge complex called the Center. The Center is a huge shopping mall, living complex, entertainment center — basically, everything you need in a massive single building. Many people are trying to flee the barren landscape and gain admission to the Center, where it seems everything will be new and clean and happy. The main character, an old potter named Cipriano, makes a living by selling his pottery to the Center. His wife has died, his daughter lives with him, and her husband is a security guard in the Center. The crux of the novel is the difficulty of deciding whether to move into the Center, since Cipriano’s business is not doing well. They live a charming, romantic life in the village, and it’s easy to see that moving to the Center has all the appeal of deciding to live in a shopping mall.
What interests me is trying to connect the novel to Plato. There’s a very obvious connection at the end of the novel, but before that there are also other interesting connections. Cipriano finds a dog that turns out to be perfectly adorable, and of course we know that philosophers are supposed to be like good dogs: friendly toward what they know, and hostile toward the unfamiliar. The dialogue between Cipriano and his daughter is very elegant, like Platonic dialogue. Cipriano and his daughter start making clay figurines, which sort of recalls the overall project of the Republic. And the overall theme seems to concern what it is to live harmoniously and according to one’s nature, which is Plato’s understanding of justice.
I hope some of you other philosophers have the chance to read it, as I’m sure there are other connections I’m missing.
What we are seeking after, whether in philosophy, literature, poetry, or film, when we are not seeking merely information or entertainment, is something which causes us to say: “Now this is the real shit.”
For whatever reason, over the last few weeks I’ve read some Vonnegut novels, including Breakfast of Champions, Timequake, and Hocus Pocus. When I read him years ago, I found him entertaining but somewhat shallow. Now I think he’s hilarious and profound. Moreover, reading him and some econversations with Mike have helped me get a bit clearer about my problem with religion.
I can’t honestly say that the fictitious (and impossible) impartial, objective, blank-slate observer can cook up some sort of argument showing that religion must be false. This is because “religion” is so slippery. If it means or entails young-earth creationism and contemporary faith-healing, well then, okay, maybe we can gather together something close to a knock-down argument. At least we can show that believing in this sort of “religion” requires either inconsistency or dubious intellectual gymnastics. But if “religion” is less specific in its falsifiable claims and keeps the miracles out of carefully documented historical times, then who’s to say?
But novelists like Vonnegut, it seems to me, paint a very compelling portrait of human psychology. According to this portrait, humans generally are (a) capable of caring for each other, (b) capable of smoking each other, and (c) inclined toward seeing monumental or divine significance in their actualizing either (a) or (b). Now it could be that there’s a divine being behind it all, or it could be that (a)-(c) are merely natural facts of human psychology, and “God” grows out of (c). As I say, I find this portrait compelling, and it seems to me that the human art of self-deception is stronger than the human arts of metaphysics and theology. I do not have an argument for this. It’s a mere “seeming.” All I can do is stare in a kind of wonder at those who know everything I know and yet aren’t pulled by the same “seeming.” This is why I enjoy Harrison’s company so much!
A quick dart into the political. In Timequake, St. Kurt recommends two further amendments to the U.S. Constitution:
28. Every newborn shall be sincerely welcomed and cared for until maturity.
29. Every adult who needs it shall be given meaningful work to do, at a living wage.
Wouldn’t be a wonderful world if these amendments were even possible candidates for debate?