Nietzsche and the Slaves of American Culture

A rough sketch, particularly one that exaggerates certain features, can be more useful than a finely proportioned, subtle, and detailed drawing. This may be the case, for example, when one wants to highlight certain features that otherwise may be missed if they are buried in detail and perfect lines. With this in mind, I want to discuss a disturbing aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy in order to foreground an even more disturbing aspect of American culture.

At one point at least, Nietzsche viewed what he considered High Culture—by which I take it he meant the cultural achievements of the likes of Beethoven, Goethe, Wagner (at one time), et al., and perhaps even the work of a Darwin—to justify the enslavement of lower types/classes. While there is the alternative of opting for universal equity, that can only occur with a sacrifice of culture. Safranski writes:

In his notes, Nietzsche sharpened the problem of the link between culture and social justice. When it comes to culture, he contended, a decision must be made as to its essential aim. The two major options are the well-being of the greatest possible number of people, on the one hand, and the success of individual lives, on the other. The moral point of view gives priority to the well-being of the greatest possible number of people, whereas the aesthetic view declares that the meaning of culture lies in the culmination of auspicious forms, the “peak of rapture.” (Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, 73.)

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The Need for Outspoken Outrage and Disgust

A few people I’ve been close to have been very critical by nature, easily outraged and disgusted by the actions and character of those around them. It was this that caused one of them to leave Facebook recently. He couldn’t see the point in engaging in something that was bringing forth so much bile. However, none of the people I’ve known have been as vociferously outspoken as Wittgenstein was personally or Nietzsche in writing. All of this raises two interesting questions. First, is there something of greater value in being more sensitive to opportunities of indignation, as opposed to being “easy going” in the oblivious sense? Second, if there is greater value in it, does that mean that one should be more willing to express it? Should you merely feel indignant or should you readily express indignation?

The value of being sensitive to the outrageous and disgusting can be assessed along two lines—the value to oneself and to others. Presumably, if you are more sensitive to the follies and evils of others, then you will regularly be swimming in unpleasant emotions. You might either flourish in such waters or find them drowning your happiness, depending on your nature. Thus, such sensitivity could be seen as valuable or disvaluable.

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