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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...

Monday, November 16, 2015

NIETZSCHE AND THE NEOPURITAN NANNIES PT. 3

In Part 2 I drew comparisons between H.G. Wells-- at least as he was when he wrote THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME in 1933-- and that modern species of ultraliberal that I've called "Neopuritans." One thing I neglected to mention, though, is that Wells himself uses the term "Puritan" in an approving manner in order to characterize his ideal world-state:


The Air Dictatorship is also called by some historians the Puritan Tyranny. We may perhaps give a section to it from this point of view.

"Puritan" is a misused word. Originally invented to convey a merely doctrinal meticulousness among those Protestants who "protested" against the Roman version of Catholicism, it came to be associated with a severely self- disciplined and disciplinary life, a life in which the fear of indolence and moral laxity was the dominant force. At its best it embodied an honourable realization: "I shall do nothing worth while and nothing worth while will be done unless I pull myself together and stiffen up my conduct." If the new Air Dictatorship was schooling the world with considerable austerity, it was certainly schooling itself much more so.



I don't know if "Puritan" carried the same negative value for 1933 English-speaking audiences as it generally does for many if not all such audiences today. It may be that Wells thought that the term's associations with austerity-- and with the process of rejecting the corrupt hierarchy of "the Roman version" of the Catholic Church--  would resonate with his readers, to whom he hoped to justify any and all measures in order to defeat all the evils of the world-- capitalism, nationalism, religion. Modern Neopuritans will not usually go quite as far as Wells in desiring to see humanity purged of everything that suggests contrariness, but they too define the world, as Wells did, in terms of finding security and placating fears.


I don't know what if any response Wells may have made to the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. But given that he posits a World State so well-managed that it can, as I mentioned before, change the nature of the human animal so as to "evolve" away from combativeness, I feel sure that Wells never "got" Nietzsche's assertion that the "will to power" pervaded even the most non-combative situations:


From THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA, "On Self-Overcoming" (trans. Thomas Common):




WILL to Truth" do you call it, you wisest ones, that which impels you and makes you ardent?
Will for the thinkableness of all being: thus do I call your will!
All being would you make thinkable: for you doubt with good reason whether it be already thinkable.
But it shall accommodate and bend itself to you! So wills your will. Smooth shall it become and subject to the spirit, as its mirror and reflection.
That is your entire will, you wisest ones, as a Will to Power; and even when you speak of good and evil, and of estimates of value.


Then, toward the end of the section:




Thus did Life once teach me: and thereby, you wisest ones, do I solve you the riddle of your hearts.
I say to you: good and evil which would be everlasting- it does not exist! Of its own accord must it ever overcome itself anew.


With your values and formulae of good and evil, you exercise power, you valuing ones: and that is your secret love, and the sparkling, trembling, and overflowing of your souls.
But a stronger power grows out of your values, and a new overcoming: by it breaks egg and egg-shell.
And he who has to be a creator in good and evil- verily, he has first to be a destroyer, and break values in pieces.
Thus does the greatest evil pertain to the greatest good: that, however, is the creating good.-
Let us speak thereof, you wisest ones, even though it be bad. To be silent is worse; all suppressed truths become poisonous.
And let everything break up which- can break up by our truths! Many a house is still to be built!-


________


Nietzsche is probably saying a great many things here, but the one most apposite to Wells and his Nanny-World-State is that even though the "wisest ones" like to think that they're serving an abstract morality with their "values and formulae of good and evil," in truth they're just as in love with the exercise of power-- their "secret love"-- as are outright tyrants.


Nowhere does Wells show the would-be tyrant's love of absolutism than in Section 4 of Book Five, when he indulges in a rant about the supposed virtues and vices of the England in which he himself lived:


The contrast between present conditions and conditions seventy years ago is paralleled in history by the contrast between English social life in 1855 and 1925. There also we have a phase of extreme restraint and decorum giving way to one of remarkable freedom. We can trace every phase. Every phase is amply documented. There are not the slightest grounds for supposing that the earlier period was one of intense nervous strain and misery. There was a general absence of vivid excitation, and the sexual life flowed along in an orderly fashion. It did not get into politics or the control of businesses. It appears in plays and novels like a tame animal which is not to be made too much of. It goes out of the room whenever necessary.



One wonders if Wells was aware that one of the "remarkable freedoms" of Victorian England was its proliferation of extremely well-concealed pornography.  However, to hear Wells tell it, this was more or less an invention of 20th-century England:


By comparison England in 1920 was out for everything it could do sexually. It did everything and boasted about it and incited the young. As the gravity of economic and political problems increased and the structural unsoundness of the world became more manifest, sexual preoccupations seem to have afforded a sort of refuge from the mental strain demanded by the struggle. People distracted themselves from the immense demands of the situation by making a great noise about the intensifications and aberrations of the personal life. There was a real propaganda of drugs and homosexuality among the clever young. Literature, always so responsive to its audience, stood on its head and displayed its private parts. It produced a vast amount of solemn pornography, facetious pornography, sadistic incitement, re-sexualized religiosity and verbal gibbering in which the rich effectiveness of obscene words was abundantly exploited. It is all available for the reader to-day who cares to examine it. He will find it neither shocking, disgusting, exciting or interesting. He will find it comically pretentious and pitifully silly.



As noted earlier, I didn't give SHAPES an exhaustive reading, but from what I could see, at no point in the book did Wells identify what authors he deemed to be responsible for literature "displaying its private parts."  The passage above shows an extreme Puritanical outlook unmediated by logic or personal taste-- in tone very like the rants of Frederic Wertham and Gershon Legman. Yet, for all the flaws of those worthies, at least they cited a lot of particular works that frosted their respective butts. No specific accusation, no matter how unjust, can be as egregious as a blanket condemnation like Wells'.


It's been remarked that Wells' world-state is just another version of Plato's Republic, except for the fact that Plato's city was never supposed to encompass the whole world. Plato too believed in the suppression of "inconvenient truths" for the betterment of the greater good, and Nietzsche may have had him in mind when he spoke this particular aphorism:


To be silent is worse; all suppressed truths become poisonous.








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