Mark, Wes, Dylan, Seth explore more of essay three of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals on the meaning of ascetic ideals.
The preview clip here engages in some summarizing, trying to fit asceticism into Nietzsche’s overall morality as it moves forward from the slave revolt over master/animal morality, turning to how Nietzsche uses asceticism to critique how scientists see their own activity, the one-sidedness that makes them too serious and so prevents them from questioning their own pursuit of truth.
Nietzsche describes the ascetic ideal itself as the goal that we subordinate everything else too, but this is clearly wrong, because asceticism is as Nietzsche has described it is the way in which we revere things, not the explicit object of reverence. Nietzsche also characterizes these acts of reverence as nihilistic, as if they are explicitly praising nothingness, but of course this is his analysis, not the manifest content of people’s acts and beliefs. According to Nietzsche, in excessively praising the otherworldly, which includes such ideas as absolute truth (which by definition we can only reach closer to but never actually possess), absolute goodness, and absolute beauty, we debase the things around us (ascetically denying ourselves their pleasures) in favor of the unattainable, and so our goal is in fact empty: this pursuit is in pursuit of literally nothing, and so it’s nihilistic.
In the full episode we spend some more time on the function of the priest, which is not wholly negative. The priest provides a narcotic for the masses by channeling their resentment, which allows them to avoid depression even while it engenders unhealthy self-critique as well as demonization of various Others, which of course are not so good. There’s a dangerously thin line between healthy sublimation and destructive re-orientation. Likewise, there’s a kind of romanticism that Nietzsche is against, but the commandment to “seize the day” usually characteristic of romanticism applies equally well to the kind of attitude Nietzsche is in favor of. This closeness of the good and the bad shouldn’t be seen as a confusion or being-fucked-up-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder relativism, but an acknowledgement that there are common psychological mechanisms at work, and that even negative strategies for coping with life can be repurposed in positive ways (and vice versa; the sick can take even the best tools and use them to make themselves sicker).
We briefly try to apply Nietzsche’s social critique to modern politics: Both self-torturing liberals and cultish conservatives are guilty of what Nietzsche would consider bad strategies. What is it to have a “war on” something like drugs; This is an aspect of the ascetic ideal, where we put aside normal balancing considerations to defeat what has been labeled as an existential threat.
Finally we talk about Nietzsche’s perspectivism, as opposed to the “objectivity” that is really an aspect of asceticism: ignoring some things that we know to focus on particular abstract aspects. Instead, we need to use hermeneutics, which is the exploration of the meaning of phenomena, which is a much looser, more literary kind of analysis, which N. has given us an example of through the genealogical analysis that is the crux of this book, as well as the current interrogation of the meaning of asceticism. There is no abstract reasoning, but only actual people with their various biases doing their best to be objective, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. Is this really a fair criticism of actual scientists, or just a reaction to the Baconian, pretentious scientists of his day and the philosophers influenced by them, like Bentham trying to make a calculus of pains and pleasures?