On the Genealogy of Morals
Lightening Is Not a Wolf
The pattern of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals revolves around the deconstruction and consequent rebuilding of common thought relationships; within these differentiations we find both the thematic basis for and the huge diversity of Nietzsche’s philosophic scope. Deleuze and Guattari assert that Nietzsche constructed the concept of bad conscience and “could see in this what is most disgusting in the world and yet exclaim, ‘This is where man begins to be interesting!” What these two authors lose in this analysis is that the essential function of bad conscience is the alleviation of what we consider disgusting through an extremely interesting medium. There is nothing new about being both disgusting and interesting, many things are, but being the product of those qualities renders bad conscience to be one of the most compelling concepts of Nietzsche. Within his argument, Nietzsche creates a problematization of this idea that can be viewed as a recognition of both the disgusting and the interesting, yet it ultimately finds itself inhabiting a no man’s land in between these two poles. In it within this step that we are stuck, along with the argument of Deleuze and Guattari.The first aspect of Nietzsche’s argumentative patterning, his penchant for differentiation, can be seen from the very beginning in Book 1 of On the Genealogy of Morals. The concept of ressentiment is fundamental to an understanding of bad conscience, and it is interesting how Nietzsche structures their conceptual introductions similarly. He focuses on the origin of ressentiment primarily before delving into the idea itself. Central to this discussion of this origin is the lightening metaphor within the bird of prey allegory. Nietzsche asserts that “just as the popular mind separates the lightening from its flash and takes the latter for an action…so popular morality separates strength from expressions of strength” (45). This statement must be understood as it ties directly into Nietzsche’s argument that “there is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming; ‘the doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything” (45). Thus the bird of prey has no choice but to be a bird of prey, and thus the lambs must create the belief of that choice so they can name themselves good and the birds of prey evil, creating the parallogism that sets up the context for the idea of ressentiment in the first place. Nietzsche structures the whole basis of this idea around the primary deconstruction and reframing of the common idea of free will within the false inference of the evil / good slave outcry: “let us be different from the evil, namely good!” (46). The slave morality is centered in this origin of the weak triumphing as the weak over the strong. Nietzsche reveals this as the essence of ressentiment: “the inversion of the value-pointing eye…in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, psychologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction” (37). Fiction can become fact, as the idea of free will was created by the weak and has ultimately become fact. Nietzsche problematizes this characteristic of society through an analysis of its origins, but also finds its presence in modern society.The idea of bad conscience is part of this larger slave morality, and this very relationship adds to its divergent nature of being both disgusting and interesting. Bad conscience is in fact structured in the exact way that Deleuze and Guattari analyze Nietzsche’s perception of it—it is something that is based in the disgusting and yet also serves as a mechanism that allows society to push people to a higher level—yet this higher level is laid out in the skewed morality of a system that embraces self-torture in the first place. Nietzsche unpacks these aspects of bad conscience through a detailed set up of its schematic context. He begins this exploration at the beginning of Book 2 by declaring that man differs from other animals by our “right to make promises” (57). This right hinges upon our “real memory of the will: so that between the original ‘I will,’….and the actual discharge of the will, its act, a world of strange new things, circumstances, even acts of will may be interposed without breaking this long chain of the will” (58). Once again, Nietzsche is mapping the landscape between the action and its expression like in the lightening metaphor, yet this time he is telling the story of how bad conscience originated through the complex equations of human moral evolution. Starting with this landmark of promises, Nietzsche establishes that this precisely is the long story of how responsibility originated: “…the right to make promises evidently embraces and presupposes as a preparatory task the that one first makes men to a certain degree necessary, uniform, like among like, regular, and consequently calculable” (58-9). He asserts, tantalizingly, that “at the end of this tremendous process…the ripest fruit is the sovereign individual,” namely the end result of the transference of free will’s instillation into fact from fiction. Alas, we are still stuck inside this process. Hence bad conscience comes into play.This memory of the will is formed by promises, turns into responsibility, and penetrates “the profoundest depths and becomes instinct, the dominating instinct” (60). This instinct, Nietzsche claims, is what we call our conscience. Yet how do we remember? “Man could never do without blood, torture, and sacrifices when he felt the need to create a memory for himself” (61). Thus our oldest impulses to remember were all structured around the idea of a violent consequence to forgetting. Yet this is not all. This notion of conscience ties into the chief moral idea of guilt, which personifies the bad conscience. Nietzsche argues that “the major moral concept Schuld has its origin in the very material concept Schulden” (62-3). He deconstructs our modern notion of punishment through this prism, as the idea of “an equivalence between injury and pain…[evolved] in the contractual relationship between creditor and debtor” (63). This relationship gets at the very seed of both the slave morality and the pattern of deconstruction within Nietzsche’s argument that lends itself to the construction of dualities: “in punishing the debtor, the creditor participates in the right of the masters: at last, he, too, may experience…the exalted sensation of being allowed to despise and mistreat someone ‘beneath him'” (65). Thus punishment is conceptualized within the system of slave/master morality and illustrates the ugliness of human nature. Yet it is within the unpacking of punishment’s relation to its purpose that we find the greatest example of the repetitive patterns within Nietzsche’s argument that create, and eliminate, dualities within moral concepts.Section 12 of Book 2 is the thematic climax of the gradual crescendo of deconstruction of common thought relationships Nietzsche has written into his On the Genealogy of Morals. It serves as both a model and an end in itself to the pattern of uncommon interpretation that has fertilized the mind for the complex idea of guilt. This section is tied to the metaphor of lightening within the bird of prey allegory through its desire to differentiate the origin from its expression, yet it delves even further into this exploration in that it sets up a model of clarification that can be used to break down any false equalization between meaning and manifestation. “The cause of an origin of a thing and its eventual utility, its actual employment and place in a system of purposes, lie worlds apart…however well one has understood the utility of any physiological organ (or of [anything else]), this means nothing regarding its origin” (77). Nietzsche really pulls the rug out from under his reader with this assertion (he wryly acknowledges that it may sound “uncomfortable and disagreeable” to “older ears”). In disregarding this fundamental truth, “the essence of life, its will to power, is ignored; one overlooks the essential priority of the spontaneous, aggressive, expansive, form-giving forces that give new interpretations and directions” (79). Nietzsche even goes so far as to spend a page listing various motivations, and manifestations, for punishment. This passage is hugely important because it guides the reader in how to comprehend the rest of Nietzsche’s argument. Being admonished, and enlightened, thusly, we return with Nietzsche to the origins of bad conscience.This breakdown of purpose versus action becomes very important when Nietzsche opens up his analysis of bad conscience. “Punishment is supposed to possess the value of awakening the feeling of guilt in the guilty person; one seeks it in the actual instrumentum of that psychical reaction called ‘bad conscience,’ ‘sting of conscience'” (81). So we recognize what is meant to elicit this feeling, and we have explored the moral chain of its manifestation, its push through promise and responsibility into the conscience. Yet what were guilt’s origins? Nietzsche offers the following explanation: “I regard the bad conscience as the serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experienced—that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace” (84). These final sections of Book 2 are littered with exclamation marks—the reader can almost palpably feel Nietzsche’s excitement at unveiling this new concept for man, his interest brought forth in the analysis of such a hideous truth of human nature. The most vital part of this enclosure within society is that it “brought about that all those instincts of wild, free, prowling man turned backward against man himself. Hostility, cruelty, joy in persecuting…all this turned against the possessors of such instincts: that is the origin of bad conscience” (85). Within the confines of society and its customs “this fool, this yearning and desperate prisoner became the inventor of the bad conscience” (85). This assertion falls beautifully into the Nietzschian concept pattern that allows the interpretation of bad conscience as both profoundly disgusting and highly interesting: as we become more and more stuck in the process of the transference of free will’s instillation into fact we create illusions in order to feel power; these creations ultimately end up reigning us in even more, like the false inference of the slave morality and the invention of guilt. This disgusts Nietzsche. “There is so much in man that is hideous! Too long, the earth has been a madhouse!” he cries (93). There is almost a feel of wretchedness within the final pages of his analysis of bad conscience—Nietzsche points out that “there resides a madness of the will which is absolutely unexampled: the will of a man to find himself guilty…his will to erect an ideal—that of the ‘holy God’—and in the face of it to feel the palpable certainty of his own absolute unworthiness” (93). Nietzsche blasts God as the ultimate masochistic masturbatory creation of the guilt-ridden conscience. Yet even with his great cries of disgust, his passionate usage of exclamation points, Nietzsche ends this great pattern of de- and then re-construction with an actually quite compelling call for hope. “Some day, in a stronger age than this decaying, self-doubting present, he must yet come to us, this redeeming man…so that…[he] will redeem us not only from the hitherto reigning ideal but also from that which was bound to grow out of it, the great nausea” (96). Yet this man is also a man of “great love and contempt” (96). Thus even in hope it is only in the embrace, and enlightenment, of such great dualities that progress is possible. Bad conscience is not the only thing that finds itself being two things at once.
The Reactive Nietzsche: Contradictions in the Genealogy of Morals
In his Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche censures the members of the Judeo-Christian tradition for their “impotence.” As a result of their impotence the descendents of this tradition (slaves, as I will call them to maintain some modicum of political correctness), have developed a hatred “to monstrous and uncanny proportions” (33). This hatred has had the end result of squelching the happiness and will to powertwo truly laudable elements of humanitythat a truly strong individual might otherwise develop. While Nietzsche touches upon positive aspects of what he would like to see in the world in the Genealogy of Morals, he spends the majority of the work destructing the tradition that he views as having taken over the world. Nietzsche takes issue with two primary aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition: its reactivity rather than creativity, and its celebration of suffering rather than joyful activity. He takes issue with both because they display a passivity that attacks rather than creates. Both allow humans to dwell on things that are not natural human impulses, and avoid willful creative activity. The great contradiction of the work is that in its expression Nietzsche shows a propensity for the same behavior he condemns. His entire work is a reactive, pessimistic attack on the western traditiona tradition he feels prey to. This contradictory expression brings his own philosophy under the axe that he has built, but first it demonstrates the way that suffering and reactivity are the natural human impulses he says they are not. Nietzsche explains that the Judeo-Christian values system can be explained in terms of the weakness of its followers. During their developmental periods both Jewish and Christian cultures were enslaved cultures. As these philosophies were developed by people in slavery they came to be philosophies that in some way accepted slavery as part of the human condition and celebrated it. In celebrating their own condition, Nietzsche says the slaves came to believe, “he is good who does not outrage, who harms nobody, who does not attack, who does not requite, who leaves revenge to God, who keeps himself hidden as we do” (46). The notion of being hidden in this philosophy is very important for Nietzsche for it suggests the way these people avoided constructive behavior. Instead they celebrated their suffering and developed a “will to self-tormenting,” to venerate the slavery that was unfortunately and unnaturally a part of their condition. The slaves are thus like the aesthetic philosopher Nietzsche similarly disdains, who “affirms his existence and only his existence, and this perhaps to the point at which he not far from harboring the impious wish: Let the world perish, but let there be philosophy, the philosopher, me!” (108 translated from the latin). Like the aesthetic philosopher, in the celebration of their own existence the slaves celebrate negative values that would have the world perish, or at the very best, abstain from all good human behavior. A noble morality celebrates “vigorous, free, joyful activity” (33), but Nietzsche says the slaves say No to this philosophy: “slave morality from the outset says No to what is outside,’ what is different,’ what is not itself’; and this No is its creative deed” (36). This pessimistic rejection grows out of the “hostile external world” of the slave.” The slave’s reaction cannot be creative but rather is “fundamentally reactive” (37). Because they are always saying no, the slaves can never partake in any true creative deed. They can only destroy, and their first instinct is to destroy the master: “he has conceived the evil enemy,’ the Evil One,’ and this in fact is his basic concept, from which he then evolves, as an afterthought and pendant, a good one’himself” (39). The primary aspect of the good in the slave morality is the suffering that is endemic to this condition; this Nietzsche says, is not something to be celebrated. Nietzsche insists that the human reverence for suffering, and the reactionary aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition should not be taken to be natural human impulses just because they are expressed in the dominant system. Speaking of the causality of history he says, “the cause of the origin of a thing and its eventual utility, its actual employment and place in a system of purposes, lie worlds apart” (77). His skepticism of the values system of the modern world is the impetus behind the historical nature of his genealogy. In this genealogy he believes that central place of suffering and the reactionary attitude of the western tradition are derived from essentially artificial conditions. Because the slave was forced into hiding, the slave developed a mode of battle that Nietzsche refers to as “cleverness” (39). The word is used in a very derogatory sense to refer to self-interested sophistical arguing and scheming rather than an honest consideration of human impulse. More significantly, the very values of the Judeo-Christian tradition evolved only as a result of the artificial creditor-debtor relationship. This relationship taught man that he owed something to everyone who had given him anything, including one’s ancestors. The debt to one’s ancestors is fundamentally unpayable because they are dead, and as a result one develops a tremendous sense of guilt, which one only knows how to correct through suffering, as one would for a creditor. Christianity is the apex of this philosophy for it heightens the sense of guilt and thus the demand for suffering in the individual. The sense of guilt imposed by the Christian system is thus derived artificially from an unnatural human conditionthe creditor-debtor relationship. So far this discussion has revolved around what Nietzsche has found at fault in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This is because the Genealogy of Morals is primarily a reaction to the Judeo-Christian tradition, rather than a discussion of his own, positive philosophy. He has occasionally spoken about a positive morality, mentioning the “vigorous, free, joyful activity” (33), but this was primarily as a means for attacking the hatred he sees at the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition. On a larger scale Nietzsche does try to allow positivity to dominate. He begins the book by defining “good,” but this discussion quickly appears to be little more than an introduction to his derisive discussion of “evil” in Judeo-Christian culture. The second essay is titled with the concepts of “guilt” and “bad conscience,” while the third essay is titled, “What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals.” Both of these titles indicate matters that Nietzsche proceeds to attack. This attack mode is, of course, just what Nietzsche censures the Judeo-Christian tradition for in his discussion. He bemoans their “weary pessimistic glance, mistrust of the riddle of life, the icy No of disgust with life” (67). Most of all he abhors this No because it is fundamentally reactive rather than creative. But the entire Genealogy is an extended No, that makes little pause for mentioning anything new. Each of the accusations of reactivity that Nietzsche poses against the Jews seems to be a description of his own activity, or lack thereof. He says, “to be incapable of taking one’s enemies, one’s accidents, even one’s misdeeds seriously for very longthat is the sign of strong, full natures” (39). Nietzsche himself seems very capable of taking his enemieswho he labels as “ill-constituted, dwarfed, atrophied, and poisoned” (43)very seriously. Seriously enough to devote an entire book to them. This would seem to implicitly categorize him as missing a “strong, full nature.”In his very reactivity he displays his own propensity for suffering. He explains that “every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering; more exactly, an agent . . . some living thing upon which he can, on some pretext or other, vent his affects, actually or in effigy; for the venting of his affects represents the greatest attempt on the part of the suffering to win relief, anaesthesia” (127). The living agent Nietzsche chooses is clearly the Jew, and the affect he displays in condemning this agent is apparent everywhere. In one particularly emotional moment, Nietzsche says he can barely bear to witness the tradition he is in the midst of, “but today one no longer has ears for this!” (93). This dwelling on the problems with western culture leads him to a pessimistic suffering in the conditions of his society. He speaks frequently about the disgust for man that the Judeo-Christian tradition engenders, but his own disgust is even more visible. The weak person, he has said, succumbs to his suffering rather than breaking out into creative activityand it is just this weak propensity that Nietzsche displays in his work.Nietzsche does say that we should separate an artist from what he is saying: “one does best to separate an artist from his work, not taking him as seriously as his work” (100). We might extend this to say that even if an artist or philosopher does contradict himself in the expression of his ideas, that does not mean that the ideas themselves should be devalued. The first problem with this approach to the contradictions apparent in Nietzsche is that Nietzsche himself asks us to be wary of people who dwell on reactionary activity. He explains that “every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, [while] slave morality from the outset says No to what is outside,’ what is different,’ what is not itself'” (36). At least in this work, Nietzsche could not label his morality a triumphant one, as it in no way affirms itself, but instead spends its energy destroying, or saying no to what is not Nietzsche’s morality. Certainly we might say another of Nietzsche’s work focuses more on the positive aspects of his philosophy, but the Genealogy of Morals stands as a testament to his tendency to the behavior which he says marks someone’s values as part of a “slave morality.”More importantly, in the suffering and reactionary impulse that surfaces through his expression, we are provided with a case study for the way suffering and reactivity are not merely a cause of the creditor-debtor relationship. Nietzsche’s suffering arises through an eternal discontent with the world. Nietzsche does not address the possibility that it is just this discontent that Christianity hopes to salve rather than venerate. He doesn’t consider the notion that everyone suffers with a discontent of the world, and that everyone wishes the world could be a more perfect place just like himthat there will never be any totally joyful übermensch. As a result, he does not consider that his own universal discontent, rather than some masochistic desire to see others suffer, might be the true reason behind Christianity’s unwillingness to ignore suffering as he would wish. His own work, and the pessimistic suffering apparent there, lends credence to the very opposite of his argument: that suffering is universal rather than a calculation of the meek.