Nietzsche was only half right

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Not dead yet

“When Nietzsche said “God is dead” he meant that God is not necessary for our morality anymore.  He meant that we had been lying to ourselves about God, using him to create an artificial system of morality that is no longer viable.

“When he says we killed God, he means that our science, skepticism, education, and technology have pushed us past the point where believing in miracles is possible; but as a consequence of this murder we are lost, have no goals, no aspirations, no values.  Christianity was a made up morality, but it served a kind of purpose.

“The resulting nihilism results in despair, or requires us to look deeper within us and find a new source of human values.

“That’s what Nietzsche hoped would happen, but that is not what happened.

“The modern twist to Nietzsche is that we didn’t kill God after all: we enslaved him. Instead of completely abandoning God and embracing a will to power, or taking a leap of faith back towards the “mystery” of God because the angst was too great to bear; instead of those opposite choices, God has been kept around as a paid-for judge.  They accept the “morality” but secretly retain the right of exception: “yes, but God knows that in this case…”

Atheists do this just as much but pretend they also don’t believe in “God”.  “Murder is wrong, but in this case….”  But of course they’re not referring to the penal code, but to an abstract wrongness that they rationalize as coming from shared collective values or humanist principles or economics or energy or whatever.  It’s a “God” behind the God, not a Christian God but something bigger, something that preserves the individual’s ability to appeal to the abstract, the symbolic.

“”…but in this case…” Those words presuppose an even higher law than the one that says, “thou shalt not.”  That God, the one that examines things on a case by case basis, always rules in favor of the individual, which is why he was kept around.

“But the crucial mistake is to assume that the retention of this enslaved God is for the purpose of justifying one’s behavior, to assuage the superego.  That same absolution could have been obtained from a traditional Christianity, “God, I’m sorry I committed adultery, I really enjoyed it and can’t undo that, but I am sorry and I’ll try not to do it again.” Clearly, Christianity hasn’t prevented people from acting on their impulses; nor have atheists seized their freedom and become hedonists.

“The absence of guilt is not the result of the justification, it precedes the justification.  Like a dream that incorporates a real life ringing telephone into it seemingly before the phone actually rings, the absence of guilt hastily creates an explanation for its absence that preserves the symbolic morality: I don’t feel any guilt…………. because in this case…

“But why no guilt?…”


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  3. Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is one of the greatest films ever made.

15 Responses to Nietzsche was only half right

  1. Gene says:

    The block quote suggests this is from a larger publication, though Google is unhelpful. Was it merely a formatting mistake, or is this a pinch from Alone’s alleged book? Are you teasing us with the manuscript, Alone?

    In any case, Nietzsche himself begins to tell us how to return toward a sane perspective on ourselves as early as part one of Zarathustra: “‘I love him who is abashed when the dice fall to make his fortune, and asks, ‘Am I then a crooked gambler?’ For he wants to perish.”

    My question then concerns whether this sermon is enough (enough to shake one’s narcissism, in Alone’s words), and if any sermon ever was. If the answer is no I guess we can go back to trepanation.

  2. JohnJ says:

    The only way to attack other people’s principles is to describe them as unreasonable. And then you propose your own principles as founded in pure reason. It makes it easier when you can put other people’s principles in a category and dismiss them all as being nothing because they’re from that category. That’s just sophistry, though.

    Murder, for example, is a wrongful killing. Self-defense isn’t murder because self-defense isn’t wrongful. Except some people do think that killing in self-defense is wrong. So to those people, self-defense is murder. But if we’re going to continue to use the word “murder”, and to punish people for it, we have to decide what makes a killing wrong. That means we have to have a value system, and a government that enforces those values.

    So if we’re going to have a government-enforced value system, there has to be a decision about what (whose) values get to be enforced. So people argue about what values should be enforced. By “argue”, I mean call people names. “I am rational, therefore everyone who disagrees with me must be stupid. That’s the only possible explanation.”

    Dismissing other people’s values as “religious” is just a way to imply that they are definitionally irrational. This is, itself, a logical fallacy. But it has ever been thus.

  3. barrkel says:

    Not really understanding this post. I think you need to clarify more what you mean when you say an “abstract wrongness” implies a kind of God. It seems dangerously close to that old justification for God existing: merely having the notion of a God means that God exists – the ontological argument, which I think has been well debunked by now over the millennia.

    I’m an atheist. I think humans are animals – nothing special about them when viewed objectively – and certainly nothing to infer the existence of any divinity from. But rightness and wrongness are concepts rooted fundamentally in subjectivity, from being human and living in a web of human relationships. Rightness and wrongness are concepts that are necessary for widespread agreement over the rules for how we interact. But there is nothing of God in there. It’s an irrelevant concept.

    • daniel says:

      So you’d be ok with someone killing for the hell of it?

      Alone isn’t saying that morality implies that there is a god (in the supernatural, divine sense), but that functionally, it serves the same purpose.

      Your belief that

      serves the same purpose as God. If God were truly “dead”, people would be able to go around doing whatever they wanted, even if it were distasteful to you, and no one could say (when doing something distasteful to the doer) “for them it’s wrong, but this situation is different. If they just understood . . .”

      Put simply, your

      rightness and wrongness are concepts rooted fundamentally in subjectivity . . . necessary for widespread agreement over the rules for how we interact

      is exactly what Alone means by

      an abstract wrongness that they rationalize as coming from shared collective values or humanist principles or economics or energy or whatever.

      (Specifically, I think, the “collective values”).

      • daniel says:

        Aw shucks!

        . . . Your belief that ^^

        rightness and wrongness are concepts rooted fundamentally in subjectivity . . . necessary for widespread agreement over the rules for how we interact

    • JonnyVelocity says:

      “I’m an atheist. I think humans are animals – nothing special about them when viewed objectively – ”

      Who is objective? Surely you’re not claiming to be.

  4. operator says:

    When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.

    - Emo Philips

    So nowadays Little Emo might very well steal that bike because “the Lord works in mysterious ways”, eh?

  5. sdenheyer says:

    In my opinion, looking at morality as intuitions that have been coughed up by evolution (moral disgust seems to recruit our disgust for contaminated food or disease, for example) and buttressed by social institutions can reveal a good deal of the gears and wheels of how it works.

    In “Better Angels of our Nature” Pinker draws attention to a “Moralization Gap”, as elucidated by Roy Baumeister and other social scientists. The idea is, there are two common narrative themes “built into” our brains which we recruit, one for victim and the other for perpetrator.

    The perpetrator theme looks like this: “I had good reasons for doing what I did, I apologized, and the harm was minor anyway. It’s time to get over it and move on.”

    The victim theme: “The perpetrator’s actions were incoherent and irrational. The harm was grievous and irreparable, and I’ll never forget it.”

    These narratives remain stable even when given the bare facts of a case and asked to take the perspective of either victim or perpetrator. The short answer to “Why no guilt?” is that we tend to show ourselves in the best light by explaining our guilt away.

    This makes the framing of morality as religion something of a sideshow – one can always climb up layers of abstraction in service of the explainability of the actions of perpetrators. For some acts, you have to climb very high – this where the will of God, the dialectic of history, the common good, etc. get invoked.

    So, the link between “God is dead” and nihilism presupposes the absence of God is the absence of morality. But it’s also possible (likely, I’d argue) that this is backwards – our moral intuitions informed what we thought God wanted us to do.

    • operator says:

      … looking at morality as intuitions that have been coughed up by evolution …

      If you’ve spent for than a few cycles on this topic, you might find God Wants You Dead interesting (don’t let the “free e-book” part scare you off – that’s the writing style and content’s job) – particularly the insights on what memetic superorganisms do and how they’ve evolved… and, of course, what it means to be a host.

      • sdenheyer says:

        I’m skeptical about memes – that is, fine as metaphor, but I doubt they can be correlated to actual neural activity – but I scanned the book briefly and it looks interesting. Thanks for the recommend.

        • operator says:

          … fine as metaphor, but I doubt they can be correlated to actual neural activity …

          Yes – “memetic superorganism” is entirely metaphor, but it’s a necessary fiction for simplifying the complexities of the subject matter (“the collection of all abstract ideas held by a person or group of people”).

          For example: one might say that “the practice of branding is a meme in advertising” and “advertising is part of the memetic superorganism of capitalism” – those statements point to the collection of ideas and beliefs behind either practice and can be used to describe the relative evolution of the “branding organism” versus “the product demonstration organism” or Capitalism versus Communism (larger collections of ideas which self-perpetuate through ideological conversion or the destruction of hosts bearing opposing collections of ideas).

          We can consider the relative truth of what the meme metaphor points to with some fMRI tests:

          The shock came when Read repeated the experiment, this time telling volunteers which brand they were tasting. Nearly all the subjects then said they preferred the Coke. Moreover, different parts of the brain fired as well, especially the medial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with thinking and judging. Without a doubt the subjects were letting their experience of the Coke brand influence their preferences.

          - The Science of Branding

          The receptiveness of human hosts to meme-type influence – the story, imagery, and “brand” that is Coke – has a greater influence on their purchasing decisions than the actual taste of Coke… if you are willing to convert from using product demonstration to convert customers and believe you can trust what you read at :)

  6. jw says:

    This is good writing. What’s the source?

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