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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

COURAGE OVER FEAR

Suddenly, might is not an overwhelming force that exists outside the human subject, imposing fear as the lord does to the bondsman.  Might is something that can be summoned from within oneself, and is thus available to all human subjects who manifest the necessary will.  In addition, might is plural in nature: it has many faces, and in folktales and fairytales this many-sidedness often appears when a beleaguered viewpoint character receives supernatural help from some benign donor to "even the odds" against a powerful enemy.Thus, within stories that emphasize "might vs. might"-- which is to say, combative stories-- the plurality of might implies that no lord is ever so mighty that a bondsman cannot assume his power and knock him from his lofty position. -- THE ETHIC OF THE COMBATIVE, PART 2.

Despite my liking for Nietzsche's concept of the *ubermensch*, I can't say that THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA is my favorite book on the subject. The philosopher's alter ego Zarathustra uses the concept to illustrate his ideal of "self-overcoming," a point which was resolutely ignored by later pundits in favor of the calumny that Nietzsche was a worshiper of violence, an anti-Semite, and a proto-Nazi. Though Nietzsche is clear enough on his core philosophy to anyone willing to read closely, it's not always pellucid as to what he's opposing. Zarathustra, speaking largely in a series of quasi-poetic, incantatory aphorisms, rails against all sorts of metaphorical evils that represented the mediocrity of European, calling them things like "the small men," "the Ultimate Man," "the fleas," and "the tarantulas."

Keeping this criticism in mind, in the section "On Science" Nietzsche is extremely clear when he advances a doctrine about "fear" and "courage." Since ZARATHUSTRA was not one of my favorite Nietzsche-reads, I think it's unlikely that this particular section influenced my "ethic of the combative," which as I've noted began from the seeds spread by Hegel and tended by Kojeve and Fukuyama. It's possible that Nietzsche, who's known to have read at least some Hegel (whom he did not overly like), may have absorbed some aspects of Hegel's "master-slave" dialectic. If so, he clarified some of the aspects of the dialectic that I found too obscure in Hegel.

"On Science" (translation here by Thomas Common) carries over from earlier sections in which Zarathustra has been convening with several disciples ("higher men," as Nietzsche calls them). One of the disciples, whom is described as "the conscientious man," advances a doctrine that defines humankind as the product of fear.

"Thou praisest me," replied the conscientious one, "in that thou
separatest me from thyself; very well! But, ye others, what do I see? Ye
still sit there, all of you, with lusting eyes--:

Ye free spirits, whither hath your freedom gone! Ye almost seem to me
to resemble those who have long looked at bad girls dancing naked: your
souls themselves dance!

In you, ye higher men, there must be more of that which the magician
calleth his evil spirit of magic and deceit:--we must indeed be
different.

And verily, we spake and thought long enough together ere Zarathustra
came home to his cave, for me not to be unaware that we ARE different.

We SEEK different things even here aloft, ye and I. For I seek more
SECURITY; on that account have I come to Zarathustra. For he is still
the most steadfast tower and will--

--To-day, when everything tottereth, when all the earth quaketh. Ye,
however, when I see what eyes ye make, it almost seemeth to me that ye
seek MORE INSECURITY,

--More horror, more danger, more earthquake. Ye long (it almost seemeth
so to me--forgive my presumption, ye higher men)--

--Ye long for the worst and dangerousest life, which frighteneth ME
most,--for the life of wild beasts, for forests, caves, steep mountains
and labyrinthine gorges.

And it is not those who lead OUT OF danger that please you best, but
those who lead you away from all paths, the misleaders. But if
such longing in you be ACTUAL, it seemeth to me nevertheless to be
IMPOSSIBLE.

For fear--that is man's original and fundamental feeling; through fear
everything is explained, original sin and original virtue. Through fear
there grew also MY virtue, that is to say: Science.

For fear of wild animals--that hath been longest fostered in
man, inclusive of the animal which he concealeth and feareth in
himself:--Zarathustra calleth it 'the beast inside.'

Such prolonged ancient fear, at last become subtle, spiritual and
intellectual--at present, me thinketh, it is called SCIENCE."--


Zarathustra counters with an argument that defines humanity in completely opposite terms.

Thus spake the conscientious one; but Zarathustra, who had just come
back into his cave and had heard and divined the last discourse, threw a
handful of roses to the conscientious one, and laughed on account of
his "truths." "Why!" he exclaimed, "what did I hear just now? Verily, it
seemeth to me, thou art a fool, or else I myself am one: and quietly and
quickly will I put thy 'truth' upside down.

For FEAR--is an exception with us. Courage, however, and adventure, and
delight in the uncertain, in the unattempted--COURAGE seemeth to me the
entire primitive history of man.

The wildest and most courageous animals hath he envied and robbed of all
their virtues: thus only did he become--man.


I'd love to know what scientists of his period Nietzsche believed to be guilty of defining humankind predominantly in terms of fear. Regardless, I believe that he was fundamentally correct. Adherents of empirical science validate the logic of "cause and effect" above all other principles, with "Occam's Razor" wagging its tail behind. Thus if the simplest explanation seems to be that humankind developed out of a need for security, to reduce fear's sway, then that would also be the correct explanation. It's surely no coincidence that H.P. Lovecraft, whose early flirtations with religion were dispelled by his conviction in the empirical sciences, penned the following:

THE OLDEST and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

Nietzsche was no less influenced than Lovecraft by the empirical science of his time. However, to judge from the words Nietzsche places in the mouth of his prophet, the philosopher believed that "courage" was "the entire primitive history of man"-- and that's keeping in mind that he's speaking of the "man" who is not even close to becoming the transcendent "superman:" the superman that, by his own attestation, Zarathustra believes in but has not actually seen. Whereas Lovecraft, who loved horror stories, defined humankind in terms of a negative reaction to "fear of the unknown," Nietzsche founds his vision of humanity in terms of "delight in the uncertain." I'll mention that these opposing viewpoints may also be glossed by Adler's notions of positive and negative compensation, on which I expatiated here.

I'll explore some of the ramifications of Nietzsche's viewpoint in future essays, but this essay is constructed largely as a resource for the viewpoint as such.





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