Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Thought 484: A Fresh Look at Genealogy of Morality

The polemic by Friedrich Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality, had an intoxicating and toxic effect on my youth but now that water has flown under the bridge and that I have extricated myself from Herr Nietzsche's direct influence I wish to critically consider it with fresh eyes (and, as he would say, ears). 

I will focus on the first essay 'Good and Bad v Good and Evil'. 

The argument Nietzsche advances is that there are essentially two forms of morality that manifested in history, albeit in combined forms, an 'aristocratic' one and a 'plebeian' one. 

The 'aristocratic' one, with which Nietzsche identifies, views the world in terms of 'good' and 'bad', i.e. first rank and second rank. 

Spiritual high-mindedness, aptitude in warfare, physical prowess are seen as 'good' by warrior cultures, which became the aristocracies of history, regardless of the harm these cause to others, whereas meekness, passivity, cowardice, simple-mindedness are seen as 'bad', i.e. 'lowly', by these same cultures. 

Conversely, he argues, slavish evaluations interpret all that is symptomatic of the higher classes - exuberance, violence, arrogance - as evil and define themselves in opposition to these qualities. 

In that sense, Nietzsche writes, warrior morality acts first by saying yes to itself in all its gruesome reality (as depicted in Homer's Iliad) whereas slave morality first reacts by saying no to the warrior morality under which they suffer.

In other words, in 'slave' morality, anyone who is not arrogant, idle, violent but, instead, humble, industrious, peaceful is good. 

This reversal is what Nietzsche claims to be the genius and legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition. 

Nietzsche goes further in saying that the lower classes come to value calculating cleverness more than the higher classes, since it has helped them survive and better their lot, and in any event men living under masters may indeed become far cleverer than these latter who are too engaged in active political life to pay attention to minutiae and detail (see too the addendum to point (4) of Five Sentences from the Thinker as Poet). 

It is important to note, with Nietzsche, that these days the same individual may partake of both moralities at the same time, his soul 'a real battleground of values', and that these competing forms of evaluation have, in modernity, become more spiritual. 

The question I ask myself is how does this theory of morality play out in the current world climate and can it even be applied?

In politics, social engineers and globalists might well view themselves as 'first rank' and the mass of humanity as 'useless eaters' and therefore, in a twisted way, partake of 'aristocratic' morality. 

Those who fight the 'New World Order' agenda will perceive these dominators as evil and, in that sense, partake of 'plebeian' morality. 

Yet still others may consider the aforementioned elite dominators as precisely second in rank in their callousness and lack of creativity and view them as scheming slaves to fear ('aristocratic' bias). 

From a different angle, many liberal-minded people make fun of and look down on Donald Trump's inadequacies (an arguable 'aristocratic' evaluation).

Trump supporters for their part might view Muslims, homosexuals and Jews as 'evil' (an arguable 'plebeian' evaluation).

Whereas most art is assessed in terms of 'good' or 'bad', discerning individuals might pick up on evil messages and agendas lurking within that art, such as in movies and music - does this mean to say it is a 'slavish' evaluation?

The controversy around German philosopher Martin Heidegger is interesting in that respect as his supporters view him as a high-ranking philosopher ('aristocratic' evaluation) but his detractors view him as an evil Nazi ('plebeian' evaluation) whose writings should all be removed from libraries. 

[Ditto with Hannah Arendt, who did show a pronounced aristocratic bias in her writings (e.g. The Human Condition). While she took kindly to Ancient Greece and Rome and underplayed the problem of slavery in those cultures since it enabled - and allowed - some to be free from the necessity of life-sustaining labour, a role modern technology has come to play for us, and went so far later on as to say that evil expresses itself superficially, not deeply, some modern commentators view her in her philosophical elitism as a kind of 'white supremacist', particularly in so far as all her referential material is elite, white and male.]  

Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist movement certainly identified with 'warrior' morality and one of their gripes with Jews was to have un-made this warrior morality by inflicting mankind with a conscience. (See my addendum to the post Amorality of Nature - Knowledge of Good and Evil). 

Modern day anti-semites, for their part, often regard 'political correctness', 'positive discrimination' and pro-immigrant stances as emanating from Jewish conspiracies to commit 'white genocide' but in seeing Zionist Jews as 'evil' are themselves partaking of 'slave' morality.

Anti-welfare state politicians will take a poor view of 'benefits claimants' (looking down - arguable 'aristocratic' evaluation) and seek to cut their money while those who suffer the cuts will view these same politicians as 'evil' (arguable 'plebeian' evaluation).

Yet plenty more will look down on the anti-welfare brigade ('aristocratic' evaluation) out of the moral, Christian-inspired, ground of not preying on the vulnerable. 

Taking myself as an example, while I take a low view of business, TV and money-making generally, many others will take a low view of my bohemian, benefits-supported lifestyle. 

Yet I also see evil in the world, all the more so after having read up on cases of ritualised abuse, child exploitation, torture, State-sponsored terrorism and mind control experimentation.

It seems clear to me that the good and bad v good and evil ways of looking at the world have such an enormous variety in application coming from so many different angles, sensibilities and socio-economic groups that it has lost most if not all of its illuminating potency. 

The only thing to take from this writing is that moral valuations are context sensitive and variable within each individual and it is of no philosophical - as opposed to existential - value to characterise them as either 'aristocratic' or 'plebeian', living as we do in societies organised along different, more complex, more egalitarian lines than those from which these two moralities arguably sprang.