Dialogue with Nietzsche, c. 2020

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Nietzsche: For the New Year: I still live, I still think; I must still live, for I must still think.[1]

T: The new year will be one of intense thought paired with increased mental rest. The idea is to continue expanding the intellectual rigor—more study and writing—then periodically scram (more often). The last thing I want is to end up like you, looking up from a pile of horse shit.[2]

[laughter]

Changes in mind and body strike in real time, not arbitrarily. Waves of thought inundate my mental shoreline, but I must continue—how else to improve on yesterday? Then take pause to quiet the mind after high tide. Each day is a lesson in writing: reflective, creative, wasteful. Advance yesterday’s intent and record its progress. Every day for decades. A different page on the calendar does not change it.

Nietzsche: The best author will be he who is ashamed to become one.[3]

T: I’ll never be ashamed and I’ll never be the best. We’ve both written ridiculous nonsense in our lives, but all I’m ashamed of are the early works and their palpable infancy. Where is your shame, dear teacher?[4]

Nietzsche: The happiest fate is that of the author who, as an old man, is able to say that all there was in him of life-inspiring, strengthening, exalting, enlightening thoughts and feelings still lives on in his writings, and that he himself now only represents the gray ashes while the fire has been kept alive and spread out.[5]

T: We writers are ash before the creative process, a storm of fire in the midst of the work and ash once again when the work is complete. The energy used to create the work is powerful enough to spawn something immortal. For somehow, in creating an object of the intellect, as you wrote: “I am of today and before, but something is in me that is of tomorrow, and the day following, and time to come.”[6]

And yes, live! Today is an opportunity and tomorrow will be another, shall you find good fortune to arrive upon its shore.

Nietzsche: Be of good cheer; what does it matter! How much is still possible! Learn to laugh at yourselves as you ought to laugh![7]

T: Laughter is undoubtedly the skeleton key for this labyrinth. Reference your example of the Dionysian impulse within us: yearning for what makes us feel good and perform at our best.[8] Look to your student Foucault who embodied it as a life philosophy. Just as with you and extremes of the mind, Foucault surrendered to physical extremes. My (more) moderate perspective reminds me that laughter is responsible for the best memories of my brief life, and that if I were to chase an extreme, marry myself to it entirely without fear of residual repercussions or side effects (e.g., you: terrible death, Foucault: terrible death[9]), it would be a life of laughter. Laughter is death’s most formidable adversary.

Nietzsche: Living—that is to continually eliminate from ourselves what is about to die.[10]

T: The human experience is living in a house one block from train tracks upon which trains traverse a hundred times a day, sirens blaring at all hours, shaking the room and waking the sleeper just as she falls asleep, finally.[11]

Nietzsche: The thinker, as likewise the artist, who has put his best self into his works, feels an almost malicious joy when he sees how his mind and body are being slowly damaged and destroyed by time, as if from a dark corner he were spying a thief at his money chest, knowing all the time that it was empty and his treasures in safety.[12]

T: Many of my edges at age 40 are yet smoothed from genetics and (relative) youth but most are visibly chipped and cracking, some damaged. I’m not ashamed or prideful of my imperfections but have always been aware of my mortality. Close proximity to death as a child wired my brain to expect to die at any time, anywhere—especially in the home. It’s no wonder I isolate myself and carry a notebook to ponder mortality like a friend or adversary (selfsame).

Nietzsche: A person needs to learn much if he is to live, to fight his battle for survival…[13]

T: One survives by learning to adapt. If you don’t adapt, you don’t survive. But we always need more critical thinkers, people who yearn to continue learning as they age. These individuals feel responsible for examining the human condition and improving it. Perhaps it is their responsibility—who else will do it?

Nietzsche: There is much that is difficult for the spirit, the strong reverent spirit that would bear much: but its strength demands the difficult and the most difficult.[14]

T: You can’t set examples if you’re afraid of responsibility.

Nietzsche: Anyone and everyone wants to lie back in the shadow of the tree that the genius has planted, while avoiding the hard necessity of working for that genius, of making him possible.[15]

T: It’s about inspiration, willpower and ability. Do average people feel inspired into action? Do they have the willpower to act? Are they able to act? For as you once wrote: “One must speak to indolent and sleepy senses with thunder and heavenly fireworks.”[16]

I look to you and the other sages to help me understand the current state of global affairs. I want to know what motivates people and why. American politics are a mess and it’s the same just about everywhere. Perhaps the fissure between core ideals has become too large to traverse. It’s an era of intense bickering and stubbornness, of falsity and lies. It’s difficult for anyone to discern the truth. People have thus perpetuated the falseness and lies, which have evolved into something greater than the lie tellers.

Nietzsche: The greatest labor of human beings hitherto has been to agree with one another regarding a number of things, and to impose upon themselves a law of agreement, which is indifferent to whether these things are true or false. This is the discipline of the mind that has thus far preserved mankind, but the counter-impulses are still so powerful that one can truly speak of the future of mankind with little confidence.[17]

T: Confidence has lapsed with the destruction of institutions—it’s been a steady erosion. People have become comfortable with their supposed leaders behaving in opposition to established norms of decorum and respect, but also in opposition to fundamental principles. They have become accustomed to false representation. Their president in America lies and steals, he works backchannels and shouts and pushes buttons and has amassed a squadron of blind followers who believe the lies or at least tolerate them. It’s unclear how the fanaticism reached such elevated levels—do they actually believe the lies (are they duped), or do they hate the other ideals so much as to become responsible for their own blindness?

Nietzsche: Fanaticism is the sole volitional strength to which the weak and irresolute can be excited, as a sort of hypnotizing of the entire sensory-intellectual system, in favor of the over-abundant nutrition (hypertrophy) of a particular point of view and particular sentiment, which then dominates […] When a man arrives at the fundamental conviction that he requires to be commanded, he becomes a believer.[18]

T: You used believer there in the context of Christianity, but it applies to any fanatic belief (blindness).[19]

Nietzsche: Belief is always most desired, most pressingly needed where there is a lack of will: for the will […] is the distinguishing characteristic of sovereignty and power. That is to say, the less a person knows how to command, the more urgent is his desire for that which commands, and commands sternly—a god, a prince, a caste, a physician, a confessor, a dogma, a party conscience.[20]

T: I’d like to continue this discussion again once I’ve reread your later writings like The Will to Power, The Antichrist and Twilight of the Idols. Perhaps in the spring. Until then I’ll use your teaching and the teachings of others to navigate this terrain and find a pathway through. I can carry the light that you and the others kept aflame. Thank you as always.

_______________________________________

[1] Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Gay Science. Trans. by Common, Thomas. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2008: 133.

[2] Nietzsche famously collapsed in Turin, Italy on January 3, 1889 after witnessing a horse flogging. He collapsed at the horse’s feet, beginning his descent (ascent?) into madness and subsequent death.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Human, All Too Human. Trans. by Zimmern, Helen. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2008: 107.

[4] T: My teacher should be ashamed of his misogyny. It’s easy for me to critique the great thinker more than a century removed, but his view of women is misaligned, at best. One reason for this is undoubtedly his soured relationship with Lou Salomé, a female intellectual he admired and fell in love with. In 1882, Nietzsche, along with his friend, philosopher Paul Rée, assembled an intellectual trio with 21-year-old Salomé. Nietzsche fell for Salomé straight away and at least three times proposed marriage to her. Salomé rejected Nietzsche’s advances and ultimately began romantic relations with Rée, leaving Nietzsche alone, in anguish.

[5] Human, All Too Human: 113.

[6] Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. by Martin, Clancy. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2007: 112.

[7] Thus Spoke Zarathustra: 251.

[8] T: Nietzsche’s dialectic of Apollo and Dionysius in his book The Birth of Tragedy is basically this: Human life is a continual struggle between two internally competing instincts, or powers—Apollonian (rationality, lightness, structure, harmony, restraint) and Dionysian (madness, chaos, drunkenness, ecstasy, creativity).

[9] T: Nietzsche had at least two strokes following his collapse in Turin, and he died (aged 55) from pneumonia 19 months after falling at the horse’s feet. Michel Foucault, 20th-Century philosopher, died of complications from AIDS in 1984 (aged 57) after admitting to rampant unprotected sexual encounters with men in San Francisco and elsewhere in the early 1980s.

[10] The Gay Science: 41.

[11] T: In early winter 2019 I moved to such a spot. Now, after a few months next to the train tracks, I feel a Dionysian urge to destroy the trains and smother their hellish screams that cannot be escaped at any hour. Lying awake in the darkness I calculate the men or women responsible for the blaring horns and I design the most violent stratagems upon their very lives.

[12] Human, All Too Human: 113.

[13] Nietzsche, Friedrich, Anti-Education. Trans. by Searls, Damion. New York Review Books, New York, 2016: 54.

[14] Thus Spoke Zarathustra: 25.

[15] Anti-Education: 14.

[16] Thus Spoke Zarathustra: 82.

[17] The Gay Science: 65.

[18] The Gay Science: 182.

[19] fanatic: a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause. New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2010.

[20] The Gay Science: 181.

Tim Parks on consciousness

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If the mind is marooned in the head, pulling levers and pushing buttons (alone or in a team) to tell the body what to do — then our knowledge of the outside world will always be suspect. How can I know a world if I’m not part of it, if I’m stuck in Plato’s cave unable to experience the reality without, if I’m seeing colors where there are no colors, smelling smells when, as Galileo would have it, there are no smells?[1]

  1. The popular and orthodox view [of consciousness]: It is produced by your brain and exists exclusively in your head. This is supported by almost all neuroscientists and many philosophers. Most textbooks give this view as proved.
  2. The minority enactivist view: Consciousness arises from our active engagement with the world and requires both subject and object to happen so that conscious experience is extended through the body and into the environment. This view is supported by some philosophers and a few neuroscientists.
  3. The minority Spread Mind view: Experience is made possible by the meeting of the perceptive system and the world, but actually located at the object perceived, identical with it even; in short, experience is the same thing as the object.[2]

The present orthodoxy is that there are black holes, but no smells. We are in the Platonic cave and need instruments of every kind to look at the higher reality outside, even though what we actually experience are only readings on instruments. We are trapped on one side of a Cartesian duality wondering what’s on the other, constructing a hypothetical ‘reality’ in figures, predictions and ideas.[3]

While the brain may be ‘responsible’ for the pain we feel in other parts of the body, it is apparently immune to pain itself. You don’t feel a scalpel cutting into it.[4]

Consciousness is all change, accumulation, dispersion, things that unexpectedly remain active, or repeat themselves, over years and years, a few words a teacher said at school, still very much in hearing range — things you thought had gone but suddenly come back — the smell of a certain red sauce they poured on ice cream in your infancy wafts by you fifty years later at a street corner [in a far different place] — and things you imaged would remain, must remain, they hurt so much or give so much pleasure, and yet are quite gone, or so it seems; in fact there must be many such things you don’t even know you’ve lost; you performed them once, then never again.[5]

[1] Parks, Tim. Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness, New York Review of Books, New York, 2018: 32.

[2] Ibid, 129.

[3] Ibid, 156.

[4] Ibid, 207.

[5] Ibid, 267.

notes from Fraser (2019)

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Determined to unshackle market forces from the heavy hand of the state and the millstone of ‘tax and spend,’ the classes that led the [pre-Trump progressive-neoliberal] bloc aimed to liberalize and globalize the capitalist economy. What that meant, in reality, was financialization: dismantling barriers to, and protections from, the free movement of capital; deregulating banking and ballooning predatory debt; deindustrializing; weakening unions; and spreading precarious, badly paid work. Popularly associated with Ronald Reagan but substantially implemented and consolidated by Bill Clinton, these policies hollowed out working-class and middle-class living standards while transferring wealth and value upward—chiefly to the one percent, of course, but also to the upper reaches of the professional-managerial classes.[1]

This is the genesis of Occupy Wall Street that didn’t homogenize and died publicly humiliated on the streets of Everywhere, America. It was unorganized and nowhere near as thoughtful and ordered as those it tried to engage in conflict.

To achieve hegemony, the emerging progressive-neoliberal bloc had to defeat two different rivals. First, it had to vanquish the…remnants of the New Deal coalition…in place of a historic bloc that had successfully united organized labor, immigrants, African Americans, the urban middle classes, and some factions of big industrial capital for several decades, they forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, bankers, suburbanites, ‘symbolic workers,’ new social movements, Latinos, and youth…Campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1991-92, Bill Clinton won the day by talking the talk of diversity, multiculturalism, and women’s rights even while preparing to walk the walk of Goldman Sachs.[2]

I was uneducated and witnessed my grandmother grandstand for the challenger, her photo printed on the front page of the local paper as an adoring fan holding a sign with teeth gleaming in the first few rows. Latina and Ute, she felt she finally had her pale-faced champion.

Progressive neoliberalism also had to defeat a second competitor, with which it shared more than it let on. The antagonist in this case was reactionary neoliberalism…While claiming to foster small business and manufacturing, reactionary neoliberalism’s true economic project centered on bolstering finance, military production, and extractive energy, all to the principal benefit of the global one percent. What was supposed to render that palatable for the base it sought to assemble was an exclusionary vision of a just status order: ethnonational, anti-immigrant, and pro-Christian, if not overtly racist, patriarchal, and homophobic.[3]

The mutation of the republican party from tea party and freedom caucus-influenced to co-option by Trumpism. Either get fired in humiliating fashion, adopt the disgusting and disrobing policies, or, if you’re lucky, get out by the skin of your back.

The rust belt region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit thanks to the triad of Bill Clinton’s policies: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the accession of China to the World Trade Organization, (justified, in part, as promoting democracy), and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which loosened regulations on banking. Together, those policies and their successors ravaged communities that had relied on manufacturing.[4]

I like to think the thoughtful folks of my generation, if voter-aged, would have been so outraged by Glass-Steagall that the idea of its passage would have been constitutional and democratic sacrilege. But we had no idea. Sacrilege, as we found out, was wasted forethought. Democracy and constitution were words.

An African American who spoke of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ ascended to the presidency [in 2008], vowing to transform not just policy but also the entire ‘mindset’ of American politics. Barack Obama might have seized the opportunity to mobilize mass support for a major shift away from neoliberalism, even in the face of congressional opposition. Instead, he entrusted the economy to the very Wall Street forces that had nearly wrecked it…Obama lavished enormous cash bailouts on banks that were ‘too big to fail’ but [he] failed to do anything remotely comparable for their victims: the 10 million Americans who lost their homes to foreclosure during the crisis…All told, the overwhelming thrust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive-neoliberal status quo, despite its declining popularity.[5]

I worked two jobs seven days a week during this time, one of them for two years at a foreclosure law firm. I saw an average of 100 foreclosures cross my desk each day for one state alone for at least one of those years.

President Trump’s policies have diverged altogether from candidate Trump’s campaign promises. Not only has his economic populism vanished, his scapegoating has grown ever more vicious. What his supporters voted for, in short, is not what they got.[6]

I disagree. Each day another hundred supporters are won. Trumpism is a reaction just as the news cycle is a reaction. Each creates a dialogue of re-reaction in a culture of continuous faux-action. The real action is the reaction, and thus the philosophy is based on re-reaction.

[1] Fraser, Nancy. The Old is Dying and the New Cannot be Born: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond, Verso Books, London, 2019: 12.

[2]Ibid, 15.

[3]Ibid, 16.

[4]Ibid, 17.

[5]Ibid, 19-20.

[6]Ibid, 26.

Notes from Asad Haider

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On Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:

McIntosh writes “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tool and blank checks.” The knapsack is carried by an individual navigating an entirely open social field. It contains tools that enable the individual to navigate this field with greater effectiveness than those whose knapsacks are comparatively empty. The resources contained in the knapsack constitute whiteness as privilege, because the knapsack is carried by an individual who belongs to the white identity.[1]

[It is assumed that] If the knapsack of privileges is carried by an individual already identifiable as white, then whiteness must be understood as a biological trait. The falseness of this notion is evident: the people who are currently described as white have a wide and complex range of genetic lineages, many of which were previously considered to be separate “races” of their own…In reality, whiteness itself is constituted by the contents of the knapsack. The constitution of whiteness as identity and its constitution as privilege are simultaneous: the knapsack’s provisions confer not only advantages but also identity upon its bearer.[2]

On the “white race”

This racial phenomenon is not simply a biological or even cultural attribute of certain “white people”: it was produced by white supremacy in a concrete and objective historical process. As Ted Allen wrote on the back cover of his The Invention of the White Race: “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no white people there.”

Allen was pointing to the fact that the word white didn’t appear in Virginia colonial law until 1691. Of course this doesn’t mean there was no racism before 1691. Allen’s argument was to show that racism was not attached to a concept of the white race. There were ideas of the superiority of the European civilization, but this did not correspond to differences in skin color.[3]

The historical record quite clearly demonstrates that white supremacy and thus the white race are formed within the American transition to capitalism, specifically because of the centrality of racial slavery. But we must resist the temptation, imposed on us by racial ideology, to explain slavery through race. Slavery is not always racial…it is a form of forced labor characterized by the market exchange of the laborer. There are various forms of forced labor, and the first form in Virginia was indentured labor, in which a laborer is forced to work for a limited period of time to work off a debt, often with some incentive like land ownership after the end of the term. The first Africans to arrive in Virginia in 1619 were put to work as indentured servants, within the same legal category as European indentured servants. In fact, until 1660 all African-American laborers, like their European-American counterparts, were indentured servants with limited terms of servitude. There was no legal differentiation based on racial ideology: free African-Americans owned property, land, and sometimes indentured servants of their own. There were examples of inter-marriage between Africans and Europeans. It was only in the late-seventeenth century that the labor force of the American colonies shifted decisively to African slaves who did not have limits on their terms of servitude.[4]

The Euro-American ruling class had to advance an ideology of the inferiority of Africans in order to rationalize forced labor, and they had to incorporate European populations into the category of the white race, despite the fact that many of these populations had previously been considered inferior.[5]

[1] Haider, Asad. Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump. Verso Books, London, 2018: 45.

[2][2]Ibid, 46.

[3]Ibid, 51.

[4]Ibid, 53.

[5]Ibid, 56.

A fly in the marketplace

I have become a fly in the marketplace. I buzz and irritate my fellow men and women with newfound toxicity. Capitalism has done this to me — entrapped me in the public domain, away from my cloistered work room and much-valued solitude. Now I fly and buzz with the others, content with my lack of desire and inspiration, poised only to interact in the marketplace, consume, and procreate. I now spread the disease of mediocrity and uniformity as an instrument of the capitalist machine.

From Nietzsche’s Zarathustra:

Flee, my friend, into your solitude! I see you defeated with the noise of the great men and pricked by the strings of the little men.

Forest and rock know well how to be silent with you. Be like the tree again, the wide-branching tree that you love — silently and attentively it hangs out over the sea.

Where solitude ends, there the marketplace begins; and where the marketplace begins, there begins also the noise of the great actors and the buzzing of poisonous flies.

Even the best things in the world are worthless without those who first present them. People call these presenters great men.

The people have little comprehension of greatness, that is to say: creativeness. But they have a taste for all presenters and actors of great things.

The world revolves around the inventors of new values; invisibly it revolves. But around the actors revolve the people and fame; so the world goes.

The actor has spirit but little conscience of the spirit. He always believes in that with which he most powerfully produces belief — produces belief in himself!

Churchill on landlords

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Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains — all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is affected by the labor and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet, by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived…The unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.

— Winston Churchill, 1909

Montaigne on introspection

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If no one reads me,

have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts? … I have no more made my book than my book has made me — a book consubstantial with its author …

Have I wasted my time by taking stock of myself so continually, so carefully? For those who go over themselves only in their minds and occasionally in speech do not penetrate to essentials in their examination as does a man who makes that his study, his work, and his trade, who binds himself to keep an enduring account, with all his faith, with all his strength.

Indeed, the most delightful pleasures are digested inwardly, avoid leaving any traces, and avoid the sight not only of the public but of any other person.

— Michel de Montaigne