Human, All Too Human – Review

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In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche continues his quest to remap the human world. Like in Daybreak, he studies humans through psychology and arrives to naturalistic conclusions, but creates a more defined worldview of sorts. Human, All Too Human was published before Daybreak, believe it or not, but it looks more put together than its counterpart. Nietzsche may have wanted to pose the problems he observed first, then searched for answers.

We could rename Human, All Too Human as “Human Limits” or “Catch 22”; such are the biggest ideas of the whole book. We are odd and somewhat befuddled apes, very proud of our sapience, yet we can never breach certain walls. And do not even mention metaphysics – for shame! – our greatest error throughout history. Has another animal on Earth ever been as wrong as we are? Nietzsche is an optimist, but a savvy one. He demands we do nothing less than overcome our human nature, a feat for a superhuman, an Ubermensch.

Walls
Language is a wall that separates humans from the world. Language, a skill almost to unique to us and our hominid ancestors, helped us master the world but cut us off from it. As we developed language, we created a separate world of abstract concepts. Words and numbers are symbols that represent ideas, but ideas are not real. Logic itself is a language game. You can observe the height of a redwood tree but you cannot observe 360 feet. Two bubbles exist, one of symbols and the ideas they represent, the other the real world. We live in the first bubble.

If you want to go to an extreme, recall David Hume’s famous argument. Your brain detects electromagnetic waves from the eyes, pressure from the hands, and chemicals from the tongue, then it interprets it as a kind of information, then uses the information to recall a concept. At last, you understand you ate a delicious red apple. But eating forbidden fruit comes at the price of knowledge. The apple does not exist; it is just an idea in your head. You do not exist either.        

To be specific, Nietzsche claims we invented language as a way to gain leverage over an immense scary world we did not understand. Over time, we bought into the hype and presumed mere ideas and names as eternal truths, “faith in ascertained truth” [1]. We invented magic and gods for a similar reason, to gain some control of the world. If spirits sapient like we cause stones to fall or rivers to flood, we can haggle, cajole, or beg them to get what we want [2]. What is magic but symbols we manipulate to create reality?

Ah, Truth, that strange creature we chase after. But she is a very different species than we are. An ape and an idea as subtle as Truth cannot see eye to eye. We evolved in the African savannah, after a great drought destroyed the lust Eden of forests, during a time of great starvation. We evolved eyes with huge blind spots to see the cave lion before she devours us, not to see quantum fields. We evolved a fragile brain that judges in haste and fears the unknown, not a brain that puts bias aside to reason clearly.

The things we call our “worldview” and “personality” are both founded on errors. We formed a worldview because we had to satisfy our needs, passions, and desires. We did so since a young age by absorbing a limited amount of facts we needed and turning them into ideas we needed; all that without accounting for an entire society of people who indoctrinated us so we could function. Our personalities are formed from traumas and hardships, which cause us to form habits as a way of coping and build a wall called the ego to separate us from other people.

Worse yet, we need to hold on to values to have a fulfilling life, yet values make us biased by their nature. We tend to twist facts into a narrative, like we often do when studying history, to justify our values. We value the life of our species and assume that life progresses in a meaningful way by default, but does it? We left Africa to travel the world by following the coastline, walking along an endless beach. We have not changed much. We still walk the same beach, always searching. Because of our nature as living creatures, “human life is deeply involved in UNTRUTH.” [3] A wall separates truth from value.     

And what of science? Does she not help us see the world in an objective way? Yes, but she can only help us as an equal. She cannot give us the truth on a plate. Nietzsche states science has no goals, not a value but a method. People who think science has any inherent value or purpose are wrong. We sometimes use science only to discover a truth, but more often we use science to achieve a certain purpose, and even holding the truth a good thing worth discovering is a value.

Science has indeed improved our quality of life, and promoted the welfare of humanity, but she never intended it [4]. We created the scientific method from Enlightenment values, while looking at the world in a more methodical and skeptical way created Enlightenment values. Side by side, we have walked with science along the beach for the last 400 years or so. There is a lot of serendipity in all this.

Nietzsche even muses if it is better for humans to be ignorant and happy of human nature. What is the point of gaining some limited insight if you are miserable? If you do good works and do not think too hard about mysteries that will never be solved, than the welfare of human society is promoted [5]. We reach another wall, another dead end, with science on one side and human happiness on the other.

Effect and Cause
Let us turn to metaphysics, the proud domain of the philosophers. Nietzsche is consistent in his statement; metaphysics is an error of reason. We mixed up cause and effect. Observe a basic error in the tradition. The philosopher looks at the human right now, living in a specific time and place, forged by so many of the different political, religious, and economic factors of the moment, and says, “This is human nature”. As an eternal fact, as if the human never evolves like other animals do [6]. The philosopher saw a cause, the human of today and her society, and traced it to an effect, “human nature”.  

Nietzsche, true to form, attacks morals in a similar way. Like in Daybreak, Nietzsche argues that a group of people would adopt certain practices because they were useful and pleasing to the. A Practice turns to habit. Passed through generations, it becomes a tradition, and finally a moral command. A person can even grow to like an unpleasant practice over time [89]. The philosopher looks back on this history and says, “Follow these moral maxims. Then you will do good service to the community and lead a happy fulfilling life.”   

If we turn to metaphysics, we will see more clearly how it is an error of reason, and tie the Gordian knot. How did we first come up with metaphysics, and everything that comes with it? Nietzsche gives a strange answer, indulging in speculative history as usual: dreams. When we first dreamed, long ago in the dark past, we visited a second substantial world, or so we thought [7]. From there we dreamt up a world beyond this world, something every religious person believes in. And what does the philosopher say? That the gods from the higher world visit us when we sleep, causing us to dream.          

Homo Sapiens?
There is a fundamental problem, which relates to walls and metaphysics. We have projected our human needs, passions, fears, and prejudices unto the world for a very long time. We built up a mass of fancies and errors over the past thousands of years. Yet those errors made us a sensitive and profound animal, especially the errors that inspired the great creative feats in the arts. Our history, our tradition, however wrong and terrible it is, gives us dear treasures. “Whatever is worth of our humanity rests on it.”, Nietzsche says [8].

As we slowly, painfully improve on our faculties of reason and methods in science, we will rid ourselves of old bad habits, little by little. But we should take care to carefully discriminate what is good and preserve it. I guess Nietzsche despised many socialists and atheists of his day because they tried to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

You get smug atheists who hit you over the head with crude materialistic philosophies while preaching a shallow form of humanist philosophy. Ironically, many hold on to Christian values and, while claiming to be skeptics, are as credulous as the fools who give money to televangelists. You get depressed socialists who rightly critique many of the evils in tradition, capitalism, and religion, but either cannot fully reject them or replace them with new “higher values”. Maybe you must have delusions to truly believe in “higher values” at all, and pessimism cannot be helped.

Nietzsche would instead like to see a larger “movement” where people become more self aware, more aware of our subconscious biases, our indoctrination, our bad human habits, and our hidden thoughts, especially the unsavory parts of us hidden from our knowledge. And science can help us laugh at ourselves, to give us “a sort of mistrust of this species and its seriousness” [9].        

Are we in are going under difficult changes, describing us as having birthing pains. Nietzsche even describes us like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The truth is painful but the truth will set us free. When we get a new habit of understanding, we will take a new view, looking from above, and will attain a new wisdom and consciousness of guiltlessness [10]. Perhaps we needed to make so many errors to reach this state to evolve in the first place. Were our errors necessary for us to take a higher step?        

Citations:
1.Nietzsche, Friedrich. Human, All Too Human. Middletown, DE: Wildside Press, June 23 2018. 26-27.
2. Ibid. 106-107
3. Ibid. 50.
4. Ibid. 57
5. Ibid. 54-55
6. Ibid. 20
7. Ibid. 28-30
8. Ibid. 33-34
9. Ibid. 56
10. Ibid. 99-100

Daybreak – Review

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Daybreak is Nietzsche’s first “real” book, where Nietzsche settles on a unique style of writing. He no longer writes essays, ordering his thoughts on a line, but peppers the whole book with aphorisms. It may frustrate the reader who is new to Nietzsche since he won’t find any main thesis. Instead, Nietzsche puts together his ideas into a web, helping you connect more ideas together to create a range of thought with more dimensions.

Yet there is a main spirit in Daybreak. Nietzsche explores human moral life in new ways; he opts out old ideas of the soul, free will, and categorical imperatives for naturalistic explanations of the body, climate, diet, and the instincts. He does not show any crude materialism, as you might think, but deals with subtle and spiritual things. The human species is dynamic, constantly changing throughout the ages, as does all nature. Nietzsche rejects the dichotomy between “matter” and “spirit” present since at least Plato’s time; instead, the “lower” world of the body and the land creates the “higher” world of the mind, art, and culture.   

But what is most important is this; Nietzsche wishes to open a new chapter in human history by “reevaluating all values” as he might later put it, and he takes his first steps in Daybreak. Nietzsche is no nihilist; if anything, he is excited and hopeful. He goes on a new adventure and invites you to join him. I certainly had fun reading Daybreak, though it was a hard book to read, because I learned many new ways of looking at the world.

Moral History
Nietzsche spins a yarn of human history to explore how morals came about. Nietzsche is fond of writing this kind of speculative history, where he writes a fairy tale of sorts to describe some deeper process unfolding through the ages. He did in the tale of Greek Tragedy and he will do it again in the tale of Master and Slave morals. I am not fond of this kind of history, and maybe you are not either, but remember! Ancient humans told their history in myths and parables, and judging by Nietzsche’s approach, we still think of our history this way, whether we like it or not.

Nietzsche posits that primitive humans developed habits and customs depending on the best way to live off the land. Morals came about in this way. We may roll our eyes; such a theory is typical today, but Nietzsche takes us through a few twists and turns. There is more to this story, since morals greatly evolved alongside the humans they came from.

Early humans based their morals on community and tradition – what everybody else did before them – and anyone who rejected that tradition was evil. Then, something radical happened: Socrates and Christianity. Socrates determined morals by using logic and a set of universal principles meant to improve the individual. If a custom or tradition was wrong – well, it was wrong, no matter how sacred. Early Christians jettisoned the old Roman and Jewish traditions of their ancestors. Instead, they devoted their time to saving their souls [1].

Ancient Athens condemned Socrates a corrupter of youth and the Ancient Romans saw the early Christians as evil. I find it ironic how, two thousand years later, Christians base so much of their morals on communities and traditions that have little to the with Gospel. And now they condemn rebels as evil, as they were once rebels themselves. American conservative Christians are easy to pick on; their morals come from a sense of national identity that often has a deep racial history. Using the Bible to condemn abortion or gay marriage is the afterthought.  

Well, what about life today? Nietzsche takes several issues with modern morals. In general, he seems to regard them as stale and causing a malaise in the mind of Europe’s people. Yes, you can easily point to how Nietzsche blames Christianity for giving us a “bad conscience”, which he does. But he describes how great Christians developed more subtle and profound morals. For example, the French thinkers of the Enlightenment refined their character, thought, and manners to create a sublime culture [2].

Spirit From Matter
Sigmund Freud was famous for describing how human thoughts and actions, even our loftiest aspects, come from a dark subconscious world of primitive passions. He was not the first. Nietzsche did it before Freud and Schopenhauer did it before Nietzsche. The word (or leitmotif) Nietzsche uses throughout the book is arriere pensee, or hidden thoughts. Even beyond our instincts, our volition determines what we think and see, and just as important, what we do not think and see [3]. We do not really know what we want.

His most striking writings concern kindness, self sacrifice, and human rights. At first, great nobles feigned kindness and honesty as a tactic; it gave them more safety and increased their power by gaining allies. Yet over time, hypocrisy slowly transformed into genuine kindness [4]. On the other end, a disciple who eagerly immolates and sacrifices himself for his god is far from humble. He gains a euphoric feeling of power and becomes exalted by being associated with his god [5]. The ideas of duty and rights we revere today were created when people of greater power and rank formed a relationship with people of lesser power [6].

Nietzsche diagnoses the illness of the soul much like a doctor diagnoses an illness of the body. He examines a person to find cancerous thoughts and emotions lurking beneath the reasoned arguments, and beyond that, Nietzsche traces the cancer’s origin in the body and environment. And much like a doctor, Nietzsche advises small steady doses for even the worst of illnesses; a change in diet, habit, and exercise [7].  

If we have illnesses, and most of us do, fear not. Nietzsche rejects the belief in a soul, and with it the belief that people are “complete and perfect facts”, that we have one essential thing that defines us and that we can never change. Instead, Nietzsche describes our minds like gardens, full of different kinds of growing plants. We have some control as gardeners, and we are even responsible in cultivating our feelings and impulses. And we must change, as a snake sheds its skin. If we do not grow and learn new things, if we do not change our minds, we cease to have minds [8].

In general, we have some grasp of our different powers: our talents, our skills, our knowledge, our health, and so on. But we do not know our full capabilities. Our environment is so important, Nietzsche says, because it can conceal, weaken, or develop out powers. Nietzsche urges us to study our environment very carefully, which includes everything I mentioned above from circumstances to the land to diet, so we can cultivate our powers to reach the greatest possible heights [9].

What is Feminine
Nietzsche has relations with women and the female gender role that are – complicated. The stereotypical Nietzsche fan is quick to shun women and all that is feminine, but Nietzsche thinks differently. As early humans became more “feminine”, such as becoming more beautiful, frail, timid, sensitive, and discerning, they also became more intelligent and civilized [10].

I find Nietzsche very striking at this point because he subverts assumptions we hold to this day. Even now, we see building civilization as something “masculine”, a task accomplished by Mr. Fix-It and Bob the Builder. We imagine the beginning of civilization as a big manly thing, where a king whips slaves into building a monument. Even liberal minded people, who do not like to put men above women, assume men rule over culture and women rule over nature. But Nietzsche paints a different and more arresting picture.

And Nietzsche even questions gender itself in the first page, describing it as transient as morals. I paraphrase; when we gave a sex to all things, we thought not we were playing but believed we gained a profound insight. Only later did we admit, just a bit, that we made a huge error. We gave a moral character to everything in the world in the same way. One day, declaring something good or evil will be as relevant as describing the sun as male or female [11].

Our Limits
Late in Daybreak, Nietzsche arrives at the end of the world. He reaches the limits of human intellect and even of truth itself. These ideas are difficult for us to hear, since our advancing science and technology tends to make us optimists. Indeed, we assume no knowledge is beyond us. Sooner or later, if only we try hard enough, our leading physicists will discover the Theory of Everything and we will find a way to travel faster than light. But our limits to knowledge are deeper than whether we can make spaceships. Humankind has a limit.

Language itself is a problem. It helps us create all sorts of new ideas, yes, but words box our thoughts into the discreet concepts. Our thinking only goes as far as our language lets us. And when we do discover something, when we wish to expand our language, we have to deal with all the old state concepts our language has, concepts that prevent us from thinking in new ways [12]. What is logic but a word game? Is truth itself just a word?

As much as we think we like science, we have a problematic relation to it, and it has a lot to do with old habits in how we think of ourselves. Long ago, we assumed ourselves to be the highest creature on earth; nature’s final goal was to create us. We assumed nature existed to serve us and all the knowledge we could find would only benefit us. To this day, we seek answers with science to solve our many problems from global warming to why we feel depressed. But science does not care about how we feel or what we feel entitled to, and people resent science for that fact. Many people who claim to love science treat it lightly and would hate science if it ever saw through them [13].

Knowledge can also be dangerous and harmful to us. Learning something new is not always a good thing, as Oedipus shows us. Nietzsche expresses this idea most clearly in his famous Don Juan aphorism. What is our destiny, a people who put the pursuit of knowledge above everything else? We will seek all knowledge, no matter how trifling, until we become so bored we seek knowledge that will hurt us. We will yearn for “hell”, a final terrible answer, but we will not find it, and will forever be frustrated [14].  

How can we overcome our morals and limits in knowledge? Nietzsche has a couple of ideas, but we need to take small doses to get such a radical change in values. The change may be so slow we may not even realize it when we get there. There is no fast and easy way; “great revolutions” are a farce caused by malicious and impatient political invalids [15].  

Let us slowly supplant moral feelings and judgments, Nietzsche says. Let us follow the duties imposed by reason, and re-establish the laws of life. Maybe we can borrow the foundation stones for new ideals yet to be born. Let us then rule ourselves as if lords of an estate, our small experimental state [16].

Nietzsche ends Daybreak with his most uplifting prose. As birds fly to the horizon, we may fly as far as we possibly can to realize our potential, but even the greatest of us will find a perch. Our greatest ancestors did the same. Yet new birds will fly farther, far above our heads and our failures. Where are we all flying? We do not know [17].  

Work cited:

  1. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Dawn of Day. Translated by John McFarland Kennedy, Anodos Books, 2017. Pgs. 10-16.
  2. Pg. 88
  3. Pg 170
  4. Pg. 111
  5. Pg. 104
  6. Pg. 130
  7. Pg 153
  8. Pgs. 181-183
  9. Pg. 128
  10. Pgs. 18 & 71
  11. Pg 9
  12.  Pg. 27
  13. Pg. 143
  14. Pg. 128
  15. Pg. 169
  16. Pg. 151
  17. Pg. 183