& Nietzsche Essay, Research Paper
You’re Really Nothing at All Nihilism is the characteristic value-disease of our times. The word comesfrom the Latin root for “nothing”, with more ancient connexions with theword for “trifle”. Nihilism is the general phenomenon of human valueshaving no evocatory power, in that questions about meaning fail to yieldanswers that are trustworthy or in the truth, but rather a void ofsenseless silence. While episodes of nihilism could be identifiedthroughout our species’ cultural history, the label is usually applied tothe crisis of valuation that now grips the planet’s pre-eminent culture,the so-called ‘Western’ or Euro-American culture. The concept of nihilism recieves its most penetrating analysis in the workof the German genius Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who called nihilism”the most uncanniest of guests”. Writing in the twilight of the nineteenthcentury, Nietzsche sketched an overall theory of value, in which the humananimal invents value mattrices with which to survive within, and perhaps todominate, his physical and psychological environments. Nihilism is theresult of a faulty value-system turning back on itself and its humancreators, ultimately devaluing itself and causing the experience ofnothingness on the many levels of human consciousness. Specifically, Nietzsche accuses the platonic/christian schema of beinginadequate to the needs of superior human beings, in that it promotes ananemic and unaesthetic worldview. This worldview is based on the illusionof another, more real world than the one we inhabit on earth, asupersensible world for which our actions here become merely derivativerituals. Plato’s Ideas and the Christian God become the guarantors of allmeaning for our lives. But Nietzsche maintained that this was a fictionthat detoured us from being human, and that made men and women into slavesfettered to a herd mentality that strangled our profound creative urges. Nietzsche saw this platonic/christian worldview coming apart at the seemsin the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries. The results, he said, would bean increasingly frantic search for new sources of meaning by the Europeanmind, including cataclysmic wars and the pursuit of ever more powerfulforms of intoxication. The history of our century, with its globalconflicts and increasing chemical, sexual, and materialistic orgiastics are
instructive in this regard. For even if we indulge in ever more intense means to pleasure, behind itall still looms the life-shattering question: Why?, the question that inthe presence of nihilism admits no answer. Why exist, why strive, why loveand create? Why not untruth? Why not nothing rather than something, why notpain rather than pleasure? Nietzsche’s formulation is that the nihilist isthe person who judges the world as it is that it ought not to exist, andthat in this light our lives are essentially in vain, sealed off from any”ought”, from any meaning. In other words, our value-systems do not allowthemselves to exercise power or attempt to seek and create happiness, butinstead are mired in resentment and endless rationalization. We aremachines that are constructed so as to inform ourselves that we have nopurpose and no beauty. Nietzsche saw nihilism as both the great curse and the great opportunity.Man, he said, might very well destroy himself because of nihilism, eitherthrough physical destruction or by turning to a nihilistic religion inwhich man would die spiritually. But he also hoped that perhaps a new raceof philosophers would arise, who could both look into the sun of nihilismwithout blinking and who could legislate a new order of value, new”tablets”, Nietzsche called them, for the strong creative minority to liveby, values that would serve their creators rather than enslave and demeanthem. This effort Nietzsche called the revaluation of values, and he wentmad in the effort to shape the course of this revaluing. It remains for us to be honest and cheerful in the light of nihilism. Weare all nihilists–those who deny it have not yet awakened to the necessaryevolution of their own diseased value structures, or refuse to see out ofcowardice. Those of us who look over the edge and peer into the void mustcall up new tablets of values out of ourselves. It cannot be done so longas we are human. For Nietzsche, at least, the answer lay in becoming morethan human. He postulated the Ubermensch, the so called Superman, who couldmake meaning for himself, a creature as different from the human as we arefrom the ape. Unless we become Supermen, we are really nothing at all, and are destinedto remain so. As to how the Superman can be brought about, Nietzsche andhis alterego Zarathustra give us hints, but nothing more. It is up to a newrace of philosophers with hammers to teach themselves the Superman.