MSNBC: Not Monstrous Jokers, Just Ahead of the Curve
Man lives in the tension between "perfection and imperfection, time and timelessness... order and disorder, truth and untruth, sense and senselessness of existence... between the virtues of openness toward the ground of being such as faith, love, and hope, and the vices of infolding closure such as hubris and revolt; between the moods of joy and despair; and between... alienation from the world and alienation from God."
As mentioned in yesterday's post, we are woven of "determination and indetermination," hence we are free. And our freedom lies within the vertical space of this O <--> Ø continuum.
To deny this structure -- to pretend to live outside it -- is to "lose consciousness and intellect," to "deform our humanity and reduce ourselves to a state of quiet despair or activist conformity to the 'age,' of drug addiction or television watching, of hedonistic stupor or murderous possession of truth..." (ibid).
In short, "dream life usurps the place of wake life." Darkness displaces light, but like a bat, the little darkling learns to rely on other senses to get him through his self-imposed night.
Which reminds me of an image: when we look at a star, we are seeing the past, depending upon how distant the star. In a certain sense, astronomy is cosmic history.
Now, imagine the time it takes for the darkness to arrive after a star has gone dead. It could be years, centuries, or millennia. What about human darkness -- or the time it takes for the darkness to dawn after the human light has been extinguished?
This is precisely what Nietzsche, the last intellectually honest atheist, was driving at. To say "God is dead" is to say that the light has gone out of the cosmos. But how long will it take for the darkness to arrive?
As far as Nietzsche was concerned, he was the first person in whom the darkness had fully registered -- or who could tolerate its implications -- in all its naked gløøm and døøm. He was the Prophet of Darkness, the Antichrist, if we understand Christ as the primordial Light of the world.
There are prophets of Light, obviously -- those human fleshlights who not only bring us the good nous, but who embody it. Nietzsche was the first self-confessed Darkworker and Nightbringer, as it were.
In Experiments Against Reality, Roger Kimball notes that "Of all nineteenth-century thinkers, perhaps only Karl Marx surpasses Nietzsche in his influence on the twentieth century," to such an extent that "much of what makes the modern world modern also makes it Nietzschean."
Like how? Oh, how about his "glorification of power and his contention that 'there are altogether no moral facts.'" These are certainly "grim signatures of the age. So, too, is his enthusiasm for violence, cruelty, and the irrational" (Kimball).
Nevertheless, Nietzsche is to be admired, first for his literary panache and his vivid description of the darkness, but mostly for his profoundly honest acceptance of the implications of the death of God. We would take atheists more seriously if they took their own doctrine as seriously as did Nietzsche, all the way into nihilism, amorality, and madness.
Speaking of which, I am always amused by modern sophisticates who posit religion as nothing but a kind of individual and collective defense against madness (which it sometimes is, e.g., Islamists). Given the pervasiveness of religion, this would have to mean that man is pervasively mad. Could be.
But if this is true, the only way to confirm it would be to "reverse imagineer" the containing structure of religiosity, and experience the intrinsic pre-religious madness that afflicts man. In other words, in order to be more than an idle pneumababbler, the irreligious person would need to descend to the level of madness that brought religion into being.
Here again, this is why I give credit to Nietzsche, because this is what he did. It's very easy to talk bravely of godlessness in a culture founded upon and permeated with Christian values and assumptions. It would be another thing altogether to celebrate atheism in a completely atheistic environment -- say, a prison for the criminally insane. In that case, you'd be desperate for the monsters around you to grasp some dim notion of obligation to transcendent demands, like "it's not good to strangle a guy for his cigarets."
But if God is dead, then this is what the world is reduced to: a prison for the criminally insane. It is a prison because there is no vertical exit, not even via death; and it is insane because there is absolutely no measure of sanity, not to mention decency, beauty, truth, or anything else. Rather, what there is, is power and will.
If God is dead and atheism is the case, then Nietzsche is quite correct that man is necessarily "beyond good and evil." But Nietzsche would have had nothing but contempt for the current crop of weak-willed neo-atheists who casually adopt such an explosive idea.
As Nietzsche said, I am no man, I am dynamite. Again, quite true. A true blue atheist can't just stand in the luxury liner built by Christians, while condemning it and the passengers. Rather, he needs to dive headlong into the deep, and say Yes to the cold truth of absolute negation!
Think of the Joker in the Dark Knight. Now there is a true Nietzschean with the courage of his absence of convictions: "You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these... these civilized people, they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve." And "the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules."
The Darkness will have fully incarnated when it reaches the Last Man, by which time the cannibalism will be well underway: "The event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude's capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of having arrived yet" (Nietzsche, in Kimball).
When it does arrive, then out goes the childish nightlight of Christian morality, and we are finally free of God and his perverse concern for the meek, the weak, the vulnerable, the children, of all things! Hellelujah!
But "who or what will take the place of God? What prodigies will fill the vacuum left by a faltering morality?"(Kimball).
Let us count the waves of barbarism, of idolatry, of credentialed stupidity and tenured apes!
Here is what tears a person such as Nietsche apart from the inside out. As Erich Heller wrote (quoted in Kimball), Nietzsche "had the passion for truth" but "no belief in it"; and "this is the stuff from which demons are made" (emphasis mine).
This is a critical point, for all men come factory-equipped with a passion for truth -- which is, of course, one of the markers, or logoi, of our createdness. But it is hard to think of anything more dangerous and destructive than a passion for truth in the absence of truth, or of religious impulses in the absence of religion.
Think just of the bloody 20th century, and all of the wholesale murder and destruction caused by truthless men with a profound passion for truth. But don't let these enormities distract you from the deep structure of the problem, or cause it to go unnoticed when it is happening in slow-motion.
(What slow-motion darkness looks like: A Party of Trolls)