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

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