Thursday, February 25, 2010

Preliminary Hermeneutic on Nietzsche's Zarathustra

This preliminary-hermeneutic will be an analysis of half of page 207 of Walter Kaufmann’s Portable Nietzsche, which is a section of On the Virtuous in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Here, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra rails at the hypocrisy, ostentation and disingenuousness so commonly found behind words, acts and demands of virtue. In the second indented paragraph, one can easily think of both mild and extreme examples – both common, both offensive. In the extreme case, one might recall the madness of September 11, 2001, where nineteen hijackers, so “proud of their handful of justice and” so ready to “commit outrages against all things for its sake,” killed nearly 3,000 people in the name of what they deemed holy, righteous and true. “Oh, how ill the word virtue comes out of their mouths! And when they say, ‘I am just,’ it always sounds like ‘I am just – revenged.’” For a milder case, we could look at instances in history and the present that, though not life and death matters in the literal sense, are, in fact, anti-life and a trampling-over of the liberties of others: for example, the monopoly and demand by the Church in the Middle Ages that all art be Christian art, outlawing all the rest and deeming it heresy; or, as another example, the burning of books and banning of plays by puritans; not to mention, in the more extreme case, the torture and burning of men and women, who dared question the moral authority of the Church, or whose views did not fit into its narrow, orthodox interpretations of the Bible.
And we can, most certainly, look at the present for more examples and see the phenomenon of creationism and its adherents in the United States, who use the judicial system to ban the teaching of evolution by natural selection in the public school system and/or, depending on the city or state, hope to implement a course on “Intelligent Design” to be taught as a prerequisite for attaining a high school diploma. This is their justice, and woe to he who dares stand in their way because, as with the other examples, “With their virtue they want to scratch out the eyes of their enemies, and they exalt themselves only to humble others.” That is, they use obnoxious morality, and what they call justice, to condemn and look down their noses at others in order to then feel better about themselves in gaining a superficial, fictitious feeling of superiority over them. Meaning, their so-called virtue is not a virtue at all, but a weapon. However, Zarathustra sees that they are, in fact, morally superior to no one, and are painfully transparent to him in their dogmatic, self-serving ways. Their “virtue” and “justice” are only the exaltation of ways they can be deemed virtuous, by attacking any opposing virtue, way of thinking, or way of life. It is an expression of their militant but petty and pathetic will to power, and it is nihilistic because it demands complacency and a refusal to both question their so-called virtuousness and justice and to evolve to see the infinite limits of human existence and individuality. It is the inexorable demand for stagnation, and with it “the world is drowned in [and suffocated by] their injustice.”
And at the opposite end, Nietzsche writes of those to whom virtue is merely “‘sitting still in a swamp. We bite no one and avoid those who want to bite; and in all things we hold the opinion that is given to us,’” they sadly and apathetically say. This is to mean that virtue to them is simply not getting in people’s faces, and avoiding conflict. But worse than that, like drones, they accept the opinions of others as granted, instead of questioning them and weighing them out against existence and their lives to see if there is any truth in them. It is more nihilism, just a quieter form of it, one that does not make the news, though it is arguably just as dangerous for Nietzsche. “And then again there are such as love gestures and think that virtue is some kind of gesture,” Zarathustra remorsefully adds. This can be tied into those whom he speaks of in Part 1 as “the flies in the market place.” Be they the grand, ostentatious gestures and fine words of politicians or religious leaders, either way, people eat them up. They swallow them whole. It is quite shocking now, decades later, to see clips of loud, eloquent speeches by Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin, where they lecture the immense crowds on how people must be peace-loving! Such a thing should be both risible and abhorrent coming from the mouths of such megalomaniacal men as these. But the people cheered and roared in admiration and idolatry for their mass-murdering, yet so proud, leader(s) and the feelings of virtue, justice and, hence, good conscience that they instilled in them. They applauded as a herd releasing their lowly will to power. They still do.

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