Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bullshit or Not: Nietzsche Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of..." called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." So I've stolen it for what is seeming to be a fairly regular series of posts.

Inspired by Aspazia's discussion yesterday on "brain sex," it seemed only fitting that this time it would be one of my favorite passages from Friedrich Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. I've taken two paragraphs and reversed their order for purposes of presentation.

As is well known, priests are the most evil of enemies—but why? Because they are the most impotent. From their powerlessness, their hate grows into something immense and terrifying, to the most spiritual and most poisonous manifestations. Those who have been the greatest haters in world history and the most spiritually rich haters have always been the priests — in comparison with the spirit of priestly revenge all the remaining spirits are, in general, hardly worth considering. Human history would be a really stupid affair without that spirit which entered it from the powerless.

Among the priests, everything mentioned above becomes more dangerous—not only the remedies and arts of healing, but also pride, vengeance, mental acuity, excess, love, thirst for power, virtue, illness — although it’s fair enough to add that on the foundation of this basically dangerous form of human existence, the priest, for the first time the human being became, in general, an interesting animal, that here the human soul first attained depth in a higher sense and became evil — and, indeed, these are the two fundamental reasons for humanity’s superiority, up to now, over other animals.
One of my most memorable teaching moments is connected to these passages. In order to keep students from making strawmen out of arguments and to force them to take the texts seriously, one of my techniques is to assume the character of the text. Hence, when I was teaching a mandatory ethics course at a quite conservative Catholic college and seminary (about a third of my class consisted of seminary students), there I was on top of the desk screaming and pointing my finger, "priests are the most evil of enemies—but why? Because they are the most impotent." Oh how much fun is that short angry self-loathing German genius with the very large moustache.

So much here. It is the last sentence that always struck me. Is there a relation between (over?)intellectualization and repression? Is it really ressentiment and frustration that makes us "interesting" and superior to all other animals? We are driven beyond ourselves through insecurity more than any other force, no? If we can take the notion of "priest" and "religion" broadly considered to include all forms of belief structure based on hierarchical political power, does this sort of intellectual enslavement make us dangerous? Is it our most dangerous elements that make us most interesting?

As usual, feel free to leave responses ranging from a single word to a worked out dissertation. So, bullshit or not? You decide.