Tag Archives: Power

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

4 Sep

I love Nietzsche’s ideas, and he doesn’t fail to shock and impress in this book.

He says that these ideas are not for everybody and he’s certainly right on that front. A lot of people I know wouldn’t be able to take on board some of his ideas as they push at our notions of right and wrong, society, power and fairness. Not to mention his strong sexism and stereotyping of nationalities. That’s not to say there is not truth in his ideas simply because they push against what is considered right and wrong in our current moral framework.

This version, translated a century ago by Helen Zimmern, is difficult to read. Logorrheic sentences that last a whole page mean the text is hard to comprehend. The way French, Latin and other languages are thrown in willy-nilly also detracts from an easy understanding. I’d be surprised if there’s not a better translation out there.

Here are some of his ideas that really struck home:

Morality is about maintaining power. People say that the morality of the average Joe Bloggs tends to be more democratic, more meritocratic, and so on, whereas those with power and control see this morality with disdain, almost don’t comprehend the point of it; their morals lead them to maintain their position. The morality of both parties is about increasing their power.

It’s all about one of Nietzsche’s favourite concepts: Will To Power. We talk about fighting for freedom (as currently seen in the Middle East), but it is often the case that freedom is a synonym for power.

He is scathing in his attacks on philosophers and, I presume by ironic extension, on himself. He says that philosophers have ideas, prejudices and beliefs and their philosophy is less about finding truth, and more about proving their own truth, more about finding justifications for their views. He goes on to say their philosophy is a confession, or an unconscious autobiography.

One of his more shocking assertions is worth quoting directly “The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it: it is here, perhaps, that our new language sounds most strangely. The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-rearing, and we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions (to which the synthetic judgments a priori belong), are the most indispensable to us, that without a recognition of logical fictions, without a comparison of reality with the purely IMAGINED world of the absolute and immutable, without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live—that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life. TO RECOGNISE UNTRUTH AS A CONDITION OF LIFE; that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil.

And here is a taster of his apophthegms:

Woman learns how to hate in proportion as she forgets how to charm.

What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil” i.e. any moral framework goes out of the window when love is the motivation.

I could go on. Suffice to say, a recommended read for those able to take such a strong questioning of many fundamentals.

What is Freedom?

17 May


Oh this is good. This is very good.

Creating Freedom’ is a project comprising a series of films, essays, and paintings on the subjects of power, control and freedom.

It begins with a wonderful three minute video that I recommend watching – The Lottery Of Birth – that describes why I think it’s so important to think, to learn, to question, to debate. In fact it rather underpins the motivations behind this blog.

It includes soundbites from luminaries such as Steven Pinker, Tony Benn and Noam Chomsky, and is a trailer for a very exciting project.

In short: We are not born free, we are born inculcated with what our parents believe, and then by the society we happen to be born into. Once we understand this, it is then our task to understand the world for ourselves, to question, always ask questions, especially the taboo questions.

Here’s one that’s been knocking around my mind to get you thinking, especially in the light of the Arab Spring:

Freedom is simply a synonym for power.

Here are a few tasty aphorisms from the site:

We tend to accept the background assumptions of the culture that we are born into.

– Steven Pinker

We can use our life, that unrepeatable product of four billion years of serendipity and evolution, to earn a little more, to save a little more, to win the approval of our bosses and the envy of our neighbours. We can, quite rationally, subordinate our desire for liberty to our desire for security. Or we can use our agency to change the world, and, in changing it, to change ourselves. We will die and be forgotten with no less certainty than those who sought to fend off death by enhancing their material presence on earth, but we will live before we die through the extremes of feeling which comfort would deny.

– George Monbiot

I think the key to any progress is to ask the question ‘why’ all the time… And of course questions can get you into a lot of trouble because society is trained by those who run it to accept what goes on. Without questions we won’t make any progress at all.

– Tony Benn

Offence and Censorship

19 Mar

Right. So this whole offence thing has really got me going.

A person chooses to be offended. It is not the person speaking that gives offence; it is the person listening that takes offence. It is the offendee that chooses to be offended.

For example, if someone disses my mum I’ll probably get offended. But I’ll be choosing to get offended. I could choose to just reply with a witty retort instead, and move on.

To compound the issue, people willfully do not distinguish between attacking a person and attacking an idea. Respecting a person doesn’t mean to say one can’t disagree with what they believe. One can have great respect for a person yet not respect a belief they hold. It’s a very important distinction.

That said if a person chooses to define themselves or their life by a viewpoint, then they will find it more difficult to hear ideas that question that. But it is a level of maturity to which we should aspire if we want to grow both individually and as a society.

I point out the quote often misattributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

The mighty Stephen Fry has it right in this clip on offence:

“It’s now very common to hear people say “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually no more than a whine. “I find that offensive”. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that”, well so fucking what.”

Salman Rushdie, who knows a thing or two about this area, said: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

Ideas need to be challenged, whether scientific or beliefs or politics. If an idea someone holds cannot stand up to rational and logical criticism then it needs to be reviewed. If it can withstand disagreement then all the better – a true or worthy view will then be strengthened by the process.

In fact free debate is a cornerstone of a pluralistic and democratic society.

Offence and the Religious

To the more specific point: for too long religion has been able to censor debate, free thought, literature and science. From Galileo to Salman Rushdie to Copernicus to Danish cartoonists. Even now it is slowing genuine scientific research that may lead to treatments that stop the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people – such as genetic manipulation or stem cell research – as it goes against their idea of god’s order.

In fact, I have the feeling this is more about power – the power of people to control those around them, to control debate in the public sphere and control how people can say things they don’t like. In the case of established religions, I’ll go as far as to say it’s the cry of a rapidly diminishing power.

On this point I’ll give the last words to Douglas Adams:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”

(The full text of the speech is here.)

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