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Your Enemy is Your Friend


In the last post we explored Nietzsche’s controversial - even potentially sociopathic - views on the instrumentalisation of other people. For his ‘Higher’ human being, other people are reduced to being a ‘means’, a ‘delay’, an ‘obstacle’ or a ‘temporary resting place’.

For us, this might be hard to swallow. We like to think we view each other a little more respectfully than that. Nietzsche’s so-called ‘Higher’ type seems to treat people as little more than objects to be stepped over, shoved aside, or used and discarded!

The real implications of Nietzsche’s view bear further examination but for the time being, we will engage in a less disconcerting exercise. We will consider activities, rather than people, under the same categories - and with regard to a specific life goal or project.

So, for me, how does each use of my time, effort and energy contribute to the writing the Nietzsche Self-Help Experiment book? Which activities are a means, which a delay, and which an obstacle or a temporary resting place?

Recall that we experimented with the idea of a Nietzschean morality, which we labeled ‘Pragmatic Morality’ - one within which any activity is morally Good or Bad based on the extent to which it contributes to the furtherance of our great creative projects. ‘Great creative projects’ because they constitute our life’s purpose and, therefore, give life meaning. Without meaning, we face what for Nietzsche is the enfeebling spectre of existential nihilism! Meaning, in the absence of any metaphysical substantiation for our values (‘God is dead’, remember?) is intimately related to the expression of our functions, realising our potential, growing, progressing, moving onwards and moving upwards.

Previously, I began by looking at physical exercise and paid work and concluded that both could be a means to the realisation of my project, as long as they were rightly considered and approached from an appropriate perspective. Now we will consider another aspect of life, socialising with others, and gauge its standing within our new pragmatic morality.

Time out with other likeminded people seems to be an important part of life. We interact, we let our hair down, we maintain friendships and we forge new ones. Hell, we just want to have a little fun, right? In fact, in his Birth of Tragedy, doesn't Nietzsche laud the necessity of the festival, people coming together, even losing control in a Dionysian frenzy of group feeling? The Dionysian entails intoxication, collective experience, a little chaos to counterbalance the order and restraint of cultured and individuated society - its so-called ‘Apollonian’ aspect. It is not difficult to see shades of Nietzsche’s Dionysian dynamic when you are in the midst of a party in full swing or among a chanting crowd at a football game.

True, but the requirements of the collective - of a culture - are not the same as those of Nietzsche’s ‘Higher’ types. For them, he prescribes solitude and an exclusive focus on the production of their creative works. Remember, he writes for the few, not the many, and his prescriptions for the few are different to those of the many. In his Will to Power, he writes:

‘The ideas of the herd should rule in the herd – but not reach out beyond it’

It is literally a case of one rule for you and another for someone else. This is profoundly contrary to our understanding of justice, fairness, egalitarianism and plain morality. We believe that everyone should be treated equally, bound by the same rules and standards. But notice that in this case, he is advocating festivals for the masses and an obsessive, solitary regime of hard work for the creators – the ones responsible for the development of culture itself. We tend to think of elites (AKA aristocracies) as those who enjoy more privileges than the rest of us, but in general, Nietzsche’s elite group of higher men and women seem to be subject to more severities than privileges.

For the creative project discussed here, the writing of the Nietzsche Self-Help Experiment book, it would seem that socialising with others couldn’t be justified under the Pragmatic Morality. Oh dear, no more parties :-(

However, as we discussed before, one needs to interact with others in order to study human behaviour up-close and test behavioural theories. The Nietzsche Self-Help Experiment book is about human behaviour and human development, so it would seem counter-productive to isolate one’s self from other people to an excessive degree. Again, it comes down to one’s motives and one’s approach. We need to be sure we are doing things for the right reasons.

Then of course, not all socialising is about losing control in a Dionysian frenzy. There are social interactions that are based on friendships. What about these? Well, for Nietzsche, friendship is important but real friendship is a somewhat edified and rarified state. This is not about sinking a few beers with your buddies on a Friday night.

The key characteristic is a strong dynamic of the Agon - that is, the spirit of vigorous competition and rivalry. In this way, true friends elevate each other by pushing each other towards higher achievements. This makes one’s friends similar to one’s enemies. And indeed Nietzsche sees a strong correlation between the two:

‘In a friend one should still honour the enemy. Can you go close to your friend without going over to him? In a friend one should have one’s best enemy. You should be closest to him with your heart when you resist him.’

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Their similarity can make it difficult to know where the one ends and the other begins.

‘Friends, there are no friends! ... Enemies, there is no enemy!’

Human, All Too Human

By this, he means your friends should be your enemies, challenging you, and so they are ‘no friends’ in the conventional sense. Likewise, your enemies force you to struggle and aspire, therefore they are ‘no enemy’ as their opposition is, in fact, an aid to you.

So we can see that, for Nietzsche, socialising with true friends is useful and can contribute to the success of our creative projects, but not so much through their support or direct encouragement, as through their competition and the challenges they present to us. Perhaps we can all recall occasions when a real friend was the one who told us a truth about ourselves, even though it was hard to hear. The ability of friends to provide a ‘reality check’ is invaluable. Multiple perspectives are better than one and, like viewing a tall building, others may be able to see more of us by virtue of their distance. As Nietzsche writes:

'Self-observation. Man is very well defended against himself, against his own spying and sieges; usually he is able to make out no more of himself than his outer fortifications. The actual stronghold is inaccessible to him, even invisible, unless friends and enemies turn traitor and lead him there by a secret path.'

Human, All Too Human

So socialising is this sense can be considered a means of realising our creative projects. The matter hinges on the quality and nature of your friendships. Equally, socialising can be justified in terms of using it for human observations or social experiments that contribute to one’s creative works. Perhaps it can even be justified in terms of a rest or respite (a temporary resting place) from an arduous programme or work, but only in due measure.

What is interesting to notice is that, despite our attempt to avoid the instrumentalisation of other people, which we discussed at the start of this post, instead focusing on the (pragmatic) moral value of activities, we seem to have arrived back at a situation of using other people - either as a critical foil and devil’s advocate, or as subjects for observation and experimentation, or as amusements and distractions.

As I mentioned previously, Nietzsche is of the view that it may be impossible to avoid such egoism. For him, we always use others for our own ends, though we do not like to admit it. But that is a topic for another day.

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