The much maligned Freidrich Neitzsche, (maligned largely due to his Nazi bitch of a sister, (I'm not invoking Godwin's law here, she really was a Nazi), buggering up his work after his death), wrote several brilliant and several bonkers works. Of the bonkers we have Ecce Homo that included the rather odd chapter titles of "Why I am so wise" and "Why I am so clever" and given those it is hardly surprising that Neitzsche has a less than perfect reputation.
However, when he was on form he wrote some seriously important works including "The Birth of Tragedy", a seminal work in aesthetics and the towering "On the Genealogy of Morality". The Genealogy, written in a polemic style, traces a hypothetical history of how and why 'the good', 'the bad' and 'evil' have changed or been created over time.
According to the Genealogy, in the beginning, 'the good' was to be powerful, to have a positive effect on your environment, (solely from the perspective of the one doing the changing) and 'the bad' were simply those who lacked this power. This left 'the bad' in a terrible position—not only did they suffer but there was no reason for that suffering other than their own failings. It was to escape the pain of this situation that Neitzche saw the balance shifting, allowing 'the bad' to transform themselves into 'the good'.
No longer was 'good' to be defined by the exercise of power by individuals but by passiveness, meekness and forgiveness by the masses, an easier set of virtues for those who could take no action in any case. The previous good became the new evil—it was no longer good to act as one wished and the lack of such ability just a sad situation; evil as now constructed had become an active force.
This forging of new terminology allowed the weak to harness and control the strong, power shifting from the instigator to the victim. Further, the victim could now take comfort in the belief that it was not their own failings that led to their situation. Fault lay with the evil ranged against them and the good would eventually be rewarded and evil punished, in this life or the next.
This is a poor summary of Neitzsche's description of the development of Judeo-Christian thought but will give you the gist. I thoroughly recommend reading the book—it's short, easily accessible and a joy to read.
However, Neitzsche's depiction of the cult of victimhood did not provide the whole picture. People were and still are lauded for great achievements, as explorers, scientists, leaders and particularly as 'shields of the weak'. I believe that it has been a very positive development that we have progressed from the time of the 'good' being nothing but the exercise of power, but this change has come with an ever increasing price.
In modern Western society, being the victim has become almost an end in itself and has grown its own industry . People are considered virtuous simply because they have suffered, downgrading other qualities in the process. It is no longer necessary to even suffer yourself. Claim part of a group identity that is now or several hundreds of years ago was suffering and even if you haven't so much as had a stubbed toe, you too can be a victim. This is a peculiar but understandable development. If you give higher status to those who have been victimised then true victim or no, everyone will want a piece of the action.
Some of the problems that self-seeking victimhood throw up are obvious; if you can blame someone else you are less likely to want to fix things yourself—you will seek to identify with situations that should make you depressed and the rest of us have to listen to the incessant whining. Others are less immediate but the most life-strangling factor must be the desperate desire not to offend. This is shown in the way we self-censor and the cancerous growth that is the HR industry and the Grauniad jobs section. For even if we resist the ghastly lure of being a pseudo victim, we still have to contend with those who would decry us as evil for simply behaving normally. Whether you like it or not and even if you have the very best of intentions, an unguarded moment can see you categorised not as a bit of a wally but as evil, an oppressor, as one who must pay tribute to the victims.
So where do we go from here? No one I would wish to associate with would like to go back to the days of Neitzsche's thuggish 'Nobles' but neither is the current situation able to continue without choking the life out of living. Personally, I believe hope lies with the Libertarian viewpoint. Behave as you like, unless you bring material harm on others rather than just hurt their feelings. If you behave as a boor, you will be treated as such but I would rather be free to criticise the boor, the racist, the sexist and the total twat and deal with them being annoying, than live in a society so restricted that it is always the total twats that rise to the top.
Libertarian meat eater, right wing in the sense of conservative with a small c.
- ▼ 2008 (39)