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A Life More Nietzschean


Nietzsche with horns. Image credit: Joel Amatguell

In the last post we toyed with the idea of a more Nietzschean type of morality - one where moral judgements are not based on the mediocritising values of the herd, which is what Nietzsche claims prevails today. Instead, in this alternative morality, judgements are determined by the extent to which any course of action furthers or thwarts our great creative projects. In this post, I intend to begin considering aspects of my life and behaviour in reference to my own project of writing the Nietzsche Self-Help book. What helps? What hinders? What changes could be made to promote success?

Nietzsche thought that the people in one’s life could also be evaluated in this way:

‘A human being who strives for something great considers everyone he meets on his way either as a means or as a delay and obstacle – or as a temporary resting place’

Beyond Good and Evil

Nietzsche classifies people as ‘a means or … a delay and obstacle – or … a temporary resting place. Less controversially, we can apply the exact same kinds of classification to experiences or activities.

For example, if instead of working on my book, I spend the evening watching TV, this could hardly be construed as a means of delivering the book or guaranteeing its excellence. Obviously, it looks much more like a delay. However, if I have been working so hard that my mind is fried and I need downtime, then conceivably watching some TV could be rightly designated as a temporary resting place. Rest enables us to return to work re-invigorated – therefore it is good, surely?

Maybe, but watching TV is often a way of avoiding doing what I need to do, as I imagine it is for many people. Clearly, one really does need to grasp one’s true motives in these situations. This requires a fastidious personal integrity. This is one reason why keeping a reflective journal is useful.

As with any moral framework, it is often the case that a careful judgement must be made as to the rightness or wrongness of any act. If we can say that:

Means = Good

Delay = Bad

Obstacle = Bad

Temporary Resting Place = Good (as long as the rest is really necessary and/or beneficial)

Then all we have to do is determine which category any use of our time or energy falls under. So let’s take a look at how I spend my time and energy and make some judgements.

I get up at 6AM during the week and spend an hour working on this project; reading or writing - definitely a means and therefore Good.

EXERCISE

I do some sit-ups, press-ups, I run to work etc. This is a little less obvious. Sure, it’s good to be healthy but this doesn’t really move my book forward, does it? Well, in as much as caring for the body and being healthier is part of the book’s prescription and I am trying to test the principles of the book as I go along, then this can be considered to be integral to the wider Nietzsche Self-Help approach. So I think it must be a kind of means. Additionally, decent health is generally an advantage, if not a pre-requisite, for most endeavours – physical or intellectual. Got to be Good then.

WORK

Most of us spend the bulk of our waking hours at work and I am no exception. My day job could be considered both a delay and an obstacle to working on my book and therefore Bad, but without a salary I wouldn’t be able to keep the lights on or the roof over my head. So the income that my day job generates can also be seen as a means of delivering my project. So, on-balance, I think it would have to be deemed Good.

But there’s a further benefit in going to work. As well as paying the bills, work life provides an opportunity to test some of the theories and hone some of the skills that contribute to the success of our projects.

As I explored in my previous post, we can use everyexperience to help achieve our personal goals. It is always worth being reminded that the world is your testing ground, your arena, your gymnasium and your laboratory. For example, one can experiment with radical honesty at work, or intense focus, or universal affirmation (à la the eternal recurrence). The results may be mixed but the data will be invaluable.

Mixing and interacting with other people is crucial to understanding human behaviour - including our own. In Beyond Good and Evil, even Nietzsche claims that the ‘superior human being’ must ‘go down’ and ‘go in’ to carry out his studies among the inferior masses. Not, I should add, that I am suggesting I am a superior human being.

(Ah – such modesty!)

We have only scratched the surface here and we are running out of room. In the next post I will scrutinise the following actions, behaviours and uses of my time to find out if there are good or bad, in terms of this new - let’s call it - pragmatic morality:

  • Socialising with others

  • Food

  • Alcohol

  • Love and sex

  • Sleep

  • Sport

  • Courtesy and kindness

But I will close by drawing attention to the most significant difference with regard to this pragmatic morality: the fact that it is individualistic. The morality we are used to is ‘universal’. It applies to all people, in all places, at all times. It is also exclusive, in that it claims:

‘I am morality itself, and nothing besides is morality’

Beyond Good and Evil

It does not accept that other ethical values systems can be rightly called ‘morality’ at all. Some even believe it has a metaphysical basis, as in Judeo-Christian religion (e.g. the ten commandments) or Kant (the categorical imperative). The fact that it purports to apply to everybody equally is one reason why Nietzsche calls it a ‘herd morality’.

On the other hand, the pragmatic morality we are discussing applies only to an individual and it is grounded in the pursuit of their projects. The individual applies a moral self-legislation rather than subscribing to a collective morality. It can also be seen that, whereas the universal morality is eternal and absolute, the higher type’s morality can change over time as it serves different ends. It is dynamic.

A comparison of our conventional ‘herd’ morality and this experimental pragmatic morality is made in the table below.

The kind of character that is being defined here, with his or her so-called pragmatic morality, is bound to attract our suspicions. Don’t they begin to sound, at least in some respects, like some kind of sociopath? Possibly, but I imagine Nietzsche would say this is evidence of our deep-rooted moral prejudices, which predispose us towards fear and mistrust of the higher type of human being.

Next time: Your enemy is your friend

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