Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Imagine if Zarathustra came down from the mountain and the ears of the people assembled in the marketplace were ready for his words. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra may have descended the mountain to “lure man from the herd” and compel him to assert his own values, become his own creator, but would Zarathustra have been so inclined if the marketplace were more full of artists and less full of flies?
The bourgeois culture, Nietzsche challenged, was built upon life-depriving traditions. In Christianity, for instance, the root of what Nietzsche called “slave morality”, the so called virtues espoused by the priestly class; solitude, fasting and sexual abstinence appear to Nietzsche as neuroses of self-denial rather than as exercises of self-control that increase vitality. Christianity and the slave morality that stemmed from it, Nietzsche argued are life depriving; not life asserting. The problem of morals Nietzsche took up informed his perspective on the Few and the Many. Those who adhered to the slave morality and it’s tenets of self-denial and self-sacrifice for the sake of being “good” or “just” subscribed to a herd mentality more conducive to misery, curtailment and degeneracy than the feeling of abundant life. On the contrary the few strong enough to exercise their will and act upon their instincts distinguish themselves from the herd by exhibiting “power, fullness of being, energy, courage in the face of life and confidence in the future”. The former are the masses and the latter, the individuals. Zarathustra went down into the marketplace to dare man to surpass himself and become the individual he alone has the potential to be.
If the values of bourgeois culture Nietzsche criticized were destroyed and replaced by new tables of values arrived at democratically would Zarathustra have returned to the solitude of the mountains?
Nietzsche explicitly rejects democracy: I am, he asserted, “the last anti-political German.” His reason; politics and democracy represented the leveling of men, the creation of common values that suffocate the individual by treating everyone the same. Politics and democracy with its laws and regulations posed a threat similar to slave morality with its precepts of self-denial. The laws and regulations institutionalized to promote the common good and preserve the existence of the political establishment would also oppress the few “human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves.” A democracy, in the interest of maintaining the common good imposes restrictions, sets up constraints and punishes those who do not fit within the confines of the generalized rules of culture. A democracy’s (legal) assumptions about what constitutes the individual (his enumerated rights) limits the horizon of possibilities which Nietzsche holds is the “new, daring, untried” way which man must leap towards to overcome his all too human limitations.
Back to the question. Suppose Zarathustra descended upon a marketplace where people were engaged in critical discussions about values, where performances like the rope dancers were the norm rather than the exception, the marketplace was lively and the people, receptive to new ideas, were enthralled to hear about this “new species of man.” Imagine this marketplace fulfilling John Dewey’s ideal public where citizens, after having adopted an experimental attitude participate in creating social values that develop the capacities of man. Democracy as Dewey conceived it is “an affair primarily of doing.” If will and action are to Zarathustra what the democratic way of life is to Dewey and democracy depends upon “those engaged in combined action” might we have some room to combine the individual and the plural? A mass of individuals collectively exercising their will, creating their own laws, asserting their own values and reveling in the new truths they create together. “What the argument for democracy implies is that the best way to produce initiative and constructive power is to exercise it. Power, as well as interest comes by use and practice.” Zarathustra acknowledged his need for companions, even if only as a measure by which he could distinguish himself.
May Zarathustra have had a companion in this marketplace? What? In a marketplace exercising the “general will”? In a marketplace devoted to the “comprehensive social interest” of democracy the ruminoids abound, stretching their bellies to consume an infinite dish of petty policy. Here more than anywhere poisonous flies lay their eggs. At the altar of the common good Nietzsche stands hammer in hand.
“Good” is no longer good when one’s neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a “common good”? The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value.
This seems like a Nietzschean response.
Yet what is common to the overman in all the forms he may take, is struggle and strife, a yearning to become who one is. Surely we can envision a bold future of overmen if the Many realized how powerful they could be if they started dominating culture rather than consuming it. The greater good seems paltry compared to a more expansive horizon of possibilities. The central aim of Dewey’s democracy is to create just that, a culture that “liberates human potentialities.” In such a culture Zarathustra may multiply and thrive. At the very least, he would have a harder time laughing at “this thing they call culture” for he may find himself among “equals” as ready as he to leap beyond themselves and fly into the sun.
Man created telecommunication networks, invented the cell phone and forgot what he was trying to communicate in the process, “LOL.” And then Facebook rectified this matter. Everyone could share their ongoing confessional with pictures as testaments and “walls” that connected people across the world. People wanted to share themselves, express who they are, make themselves understood and with a platform to project that compulsion one could not exist unless visible to the entire world, they reasoned. The yearning to belong complimented the longing for security about oneself among one’s peers. Mutual disclosure was the aim. But lack of face-to-face communication made them particularly susceptible to deceit. Rabid volunteerism played into the hands of leaders with a penchant for division and the available network helped them divvy up who should be slammed against the wall. Communicating every thought, feeling, desire, haircut, break-up, shower, vacation, onamism, whatever, this species of man became informants and their information was siphoned off for monitoring by people who refused friend requests.
Last August a guy was hit by a car at a cross walk on A street. The Boston Transportation Department placed a Slow Pedestrian Crossing sign in the middle of the road where he was struck shortly thereafter. Apparently the victim’s reaction time was too slow to dodge the oncoming vehicle. In a literal sense the sign is accurate.
Farther down A street another reminder of life’s incipient dangers recently appeared. Large magnifying mirrors had been installed above several apartment doors. A resident had her purse snatched from her as she approached her apartment this past July. Frightened and outraged she complained to the landlord that she could have avoided the incident had she been able to see the thief encroaching from behind. Days later the landlord’s property management company fixed safety mirrors to the apartment. With the world now available in rear view she has no need to look ahead as she passes down A street.
In Manhattan a parent organization lobbied the city parks commissioner to rid playgrounds of high monkey bars and towering slides replacing them instead with “safety-first playground” equipment that is short, surmountable and boring. In a rush to mitigate exposure to lawsuits from broken bones, scraped knees and any number of other common playground injuries park commissioners have kowtowed to parents to placate fears and protect the city’s assets from the ever present specter of lawsuit. Now children can play in a riskless environment without having to confront their fear of heights on the monkey bars or put Band-Aids on booboos thanks to rubber mulch chips.
What these three safety measures have in common is not that they save anyone from life’s unforeseeable hazards but rather they diminish the sense of responsibility we have to face head on the unexpected risks we will encounter. Many drivers respond to large fluorescent signs shaped like people in the middle road by slowing down as they near. This may decrease the number of pedestrians struck by cars at cross walks no doubt. But at what point does one cross walk become more hazardous than the next, especially if every road in the city where they are placed experiences a high volume of traffic? The mother of two-year-old Cally Murray mourns her child’s loss a year after a driver ran through a cross walk marked with yield signs while texting. Did that slow pedestrian crossing sign make her any safer? Or is it possible it instilled a false sense of security that led her to believe she could cross the road safely protected by a sign.
While a safety mirror may give a mugging target a chance to see the perpetrator, possibly giving them that split second chance to yell for help, flee or react in a way more likely to escape the threat, so would simply being aware of your surroundings. Finally when will we realize the danger of keeping children incubator safe? One of the most important aspects of the playground is how children confront their fears of height on the monkey bars or of their anxieties of losing their balance on the elevated beam. The playground can function as an anti-phobic training center where children can explore and discover limits that they try to overcome. Instead it’s become an acrophobic’s dream come true.
Imagine a generation of children growing up guided by signs around every corner warning them of lurking threats, a generation that prefers to look behind than look ahead. A generation like this may have never experienced the thrill of jumping off swings to fly through the air even if only for a few short seconds. Perhaps they will also fear crossing the road without a helmet or entering through doors unguided by eyes in the back of their heads. At some point our dependance on the guiding devices, padding and myriad safety mechanisms will make us so distrustful of the instincts we developed throughout our evolution, the very instincts that preserve us from life’s real dangers, that we will render human instinct obsolete. In a world engineered to limit the doors humankind may dare open to step into the future we may be able to see with our own eyes the danger of safety.