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Musing on Democratizing Zarathustra

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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.

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March 21, 2013 at 11:55 am

Posted in Culture, philosophy

Aphorism 2

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Today, as ever, man is reared by his illusions, suckled at the teat of a world of promise. Shortly after learning to wipe away the dribble from his chin man seeks to fulfill the promises the future holds. He is schooled in the world and someone tells him dribble runs down his chin at which point he ponders: am I not myself promising. Deciding he is not worthy of the world’s promise he desires nothing more than a napkin and stands transfixed to disillusionment for the short remainder of his life.

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December 5, 2012 at 2:26 am

Posted in Aphorisms, philosophy

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Aphorism 1

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The transition from long drawn out anxiety, perhaps a lifetime’s worth of anguish and despair to the short exuberant moment of laughter is the brief recognition of how unimportant our gravest worries are compared to the importance of allaying our concerns, even if only for a moment. One can, and has for many centuries chosen not to laugh and has died a comical death.

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November 29, 2012 at 7:27 am

Posted in Aphorisms, philosophy

Like, 1800 Years of Missionary-Position

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The different ideas that arise from the concept of sex are inextricably linked to what Michele Foucault calls “power relations.” The way we think about sex, as Decaf Fiction pointed out is effected by social categories surrounding the act of sex. OK, so say we have like 1800 years of missionary position, personally think we were more creative than that, at least before Cyril scraped the flesh from Hypatia’s body with an oyster shell (he was sanctified for this)…rambling now, anyways, during this 1800 year reign of missionary-only sex, people were socialized to regard anything straying from this sexual norm as deviant. Punishment was meted out to anyone suspected of defying established norms controlling human sexuality. Religious and social institutions reinforced these norms. Touring torture mueseums in medieval towns of Europe will acquaint you with the extent religious authorities would go to enforce sexual proscriptions. A torture device called the “pear”, a bolbous screw driven mechanism that expanded when turned, for instance, was inserted into the vagina of women suspected of cukoldry, of being witches or for any number of other offenses of sexual deviance. This was also called the “Pope’s Pear”, a reference to its use by the Popes and clergy in the act of extracting confessions from sinners. That such disciplinary measures surrounding the act of sex repressed people’s sexual drive, causing them to conform to the sexual norms dictated by the religious establishment illustrates how certain people were in a positions of power, in positions to coerce compliance out of others, often by ruthless means. This is an example of how power relations function. Sex was supposed to be confined to acts permitted by the pear inserting screw turners and their superiors during the 1800 years of missionary. Clergy members and others involved in regulating copulation stood at a distance from the social body they coerced into obedience. Having lived during this sexually repressive historical moment one would associate sex with the rules, regulations and punishments surrounding the act of sexual intercourse. A discourse about sex existed, but that discourse was dominated by people in positions of power (relgious establishment in this case) who forced submission to their rules and regulations of the body and it’s engagement in sexual intercourse with the pervasive threat of punishment, with the pear or in places like Chad and Kandahar today with scalpels and scissors to perform female circumsision, an act of regulating a females sexual life and enforcing compliance to established sexual norms.

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November 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Chemistry of Concepts

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A tension exists between philosophy and science. I was at the cafe working on Discipline and Punish. An older man, bearded wearing khakis and a navy windbreaker approached me at the table where I was sitting. “Is that Foucault’s Pendulum you are reading”, he asked. I told him I was reading Michele Foucault, another French guy, the post-modernist philosopher. This didn’t resonate with the older man. Curious I asked him about the book he was referring to. He explained It was about the 19th century French physicist, Leon Foucault, who demonstrated in an experiment open to the public how the earth rotates. While physicists had long understood how the earth rotated Foucault’s experiment in 1851 was the first easy-to-see proof of Earth’s rotation. Are you a physicist your inquirer profoundly inquired? No a chemist.

The chemist took a seat at the table next to me. I asked him if he worked for Monsanto (jajaja). “I’m a teacher, at Rhode Island Community College”, he corrected me. We began discussing climate change, in particular the effect of flourocarbons in the atmosphere and how the concentration of carbon molecules has been steadily rising since the onset of the industrial revolution.

The chemist started questioning the validity of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s consensus. The IPCC found that global climate change is anthrogenically driven, although to what degree and at what rate the climate will change is highly disputed. Being the irreverent jackanapes
that I am I asked him if he also did research for the American Petroleum Institute. No, he responded. I still don’t believe him.

Our conversation wound down. The chemist told me he didn’t think a philosopher would “be interested in the hard sciences because scientific discoveries can’t be, ya know, bull shitted”. He asked me if I was a student, to which I responded: not officially.

The chemist wanted to know about Foucault, about Discipline and Punish. I summarized what Foucault was up to. This book is a critique of power. It pertains specifically to bodies of knowledge, like science, I told him. I continued, Foucault explores the relationship between human bodies and the sciences, illustrating how humans become subjects of science and science inscribes knowledge on their bodies. According to the DSM IV you exhibit all of the symptoms of having ADHD. I used this diagnostic example to show the inscription of knowledge on bodies at work. Some science says this person is a leper, a cancer patient, a psychopath, a social deviant. Science is used to facilitate the categorization of many phenomena, much of which has advanced mankind immeasurably. But science has also been used to categorize human beings for political purposes. One need look no further than the pseudo-sciece phrenology and it’s application to determine criminal tendencies in the late 19th and early 20th century. Criminology is another glaring example of a politically charged science. In sum, I told the chemist, Foucault and postmodernists in general attempt to unravel how scientist/subject relations, gender, cultural bias, prejudice and unspoken assumptions effect the scientific process.

It’s all malarkey. The soft sciences don’t stand up to physics, biology or chemistry. Such critiques are attempts to halt human progress, to tear discredit remarkable discoveries. Do you believe in God he asked me.

I chuckled and told him humans invent all sorts of masters to enslave them. We shook hands and he walked off.

My exchange with the chemist brought me back to something Nietzche talks about in Human All too Human. In aphorism 6 The Spirit of Science Rules It’s Parts, Not the Whole Nietzche talks about the unconscious drive of philosophy to ascribe the greatest significance to the world. To the philosopher chemistry or physics seems so insignificant when compared to “knowledge for life”. It’s not that the philosopher deems physics or chemistry unimportant. In fact both fields respectively are part of life’s panorama of perspectives. Explaining the phenomenon of boiling water in terms of phase changes, pressure and boiling point gives indelible insight into what is happening in the pot. But so too can a poetic description. The water is boiling because the steam is trying to escape life’s cauldron of boiling motherfuckery. Something longs for escape, refuge in the cool alpine heights. And the steam dissipates out of the cauldron rising towards the peaks. Whatever…

I guess what I’m trying to say here, where I’m channelling Nietzche is that science and all it has to offer is magnificent. We’ve come so far (well?) and please my friends keep going. But in the end all we are given is this “chemistry of concepts and sensations”; a religious, moral, scientific or aesthetic way in which we create knowledge for life. And cleaving to the immediate “certainties” of this or that science, no matter how luring it’s discoveries is foolish. The chemists’ dismissal of philosophy and denunciation of critiquing science all together highlights the antagonism between philosophy and science. “Philosophy wants as art to bestow on life the greatest profundity and significance whereas science seeks knowledge and nothing further”. And science attains knowledge until some mischief maker comes along and demonstrates how that field of knowledge is bunk. A new body of knowledge emerges. A new discourse begins. But todays truth is tommorrows lie and truth has a way of serving the good and just, who all too often become tommorrows liers.

Maybe I’m reading too much into my exchange with the chemist. Perhaps our exchange was merely a standoff between a gerontocrat and an impertinent inquirer. Either way no one will ever be proven right. We are men of such a limited period of time. There are no facts, no eternal truths. “Everything has become”.

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October 13, 2012 at 2:56 am