Untimely Reflections

Every time I read Nietzsche, I get the sense that all of 20th Century philosophy (the interesting stuff, not all-too-clever "analytic" claptrap) is, to twist Whitehead's phrase, a footnote to Nietzsche. It has become impossible for me not to be inspired as I pore over his words, especially his last few books.

Many of the social maladies that he was the first to diagnose have only continued and worsened. We live in such a thoroughly mediocratized age that even the elite are afraid to be elitists. People of superior intelligence and creativity are made to feel guilty for their talents. (And while it can hardly be said that we "deserve" such things, since they are parceled out by chance as it were, we should certainly not feel bad for possessing them.)

I think Nietzsche is wrong to the extent that he ties some of his valuations to gender and race (of course, this may be a bad interpretation of his use of "types"). Indeed, it is an advancement that our age strives to look past superficialities like sex and skin color. However, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Evaluating individuals on account of group identity is a mistake; evaluating individuals per se is not.

The mediocratic spirit is virtually uncontested in America today. The one area in which we allow the flowering of productive conflicts and the ascendancy of the victors--the business world--is corrupted by its extreme short-sightedness (profitability in the upcoming fiscal quarter as guiding ideal). The race to the bottom that is called "politics" in America today disgusts me, to be sure, but when we go behind the scenes--looking at those who control money, media, power, the fabrication of reality--the stupidity of the corporate world just becomes more nauseating.

The temptation when reading Nietzsche is to want to cast oneself as a master, as a free spirit, a true philosopher. But most of us don't have the stomach for it; we are too much the product of our anti-elitist culture. So, let me be frank. It is impossible to have democratic or socialistic sympathies and to be Nietzschean. This may not be a problem, of course (who wants to be merely derivative of some previous thinker?), but let's at least not lie about it.

Perhaps it's the years of living alone, a lifelong paucity of friendships and other close relationships, the tendency to drift apart from my peers when I do discover them--in short, my solitude--that has allowed me to read Nietzsche differently than when I was a naive undergraduate. I complain of loneliness, sure, but I need solitude, time to reflect, to talk to myself, to take a break from the hell of other people (and exchange it for the purgatory of my own mind). I've had more than my fill of it lately, to be sure, but I should not be ungrateful for the effects it has had on my development. Still, it makes it even harder to resist that temptation...

As I begin to embrace my more meritocratic, even aristocratic, sentiments, I find that I have a lot of assumptions to rethink. The unidimensional range of acceptable political opinions--not simply in political theater, but in academia in particular--is especially constraining. The issues I care about don't fit anywhere on a left-right axis.

If I had to summarize my ideals, I would say that I want to see the improvement of humanity--but what does this mean now?

Contrary to prevailing tendencies, I think we should, as far as possible, make nature--and especially human nature--submit to our will. This, I think, can be the ultimate triumph of humanity: the recasting of the world in our image. But not "our" in the sense of just anyone. Those individuals who are truly exceptional--and I think these will eventually be, for the most part, those we call "posthuman"--should be the ones to do this. If we must have democracy to keep the masses in line, then let us also have a Solon, let us have lawgivers who can craft the appearance of popular sovereignty. And among those lawgivers let there be real equality.

And now we come to the real difficulty in espousing such opinions. My intense desire for honesty, and not simply directed toward myself, leads me to make public what might better be kept private. But I am not ashamed of my radical ideas (and for the time being they remain relatively unthreatening, drowned out in a sea of other voices) and sometimes I want to invite trouble, to make life a little more interesting. In any case, I change my mind often enough that I have no problem distancing myself from previous assertions if necessary. Old opinions get boring after a while anyway.

Nevertheless, I should tame my vanity and recall Descartes' parting maxim: Bene qui latuit, bene vixit (or, better yet, Spinoza's Caute!). Perhaps reinvigorating an old custom and writing in Latin would be worthwhile (because not writing is simply not an option). That would just leave me with the task of learning it... (Damn these American public schools!)

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