The most important truth is that there is no truth in truth
When I first studied Friedrich Nietzsche at university, I (like countless others) was blown away by the scale and potential consequences of his immense ideas – power of hammer, harmony of tuning fork. He took established Western philosophy (the metaphysics which began with Plato) and turned it on its head – revealing, revolutionary, rebellious and rejecting of reality. Like Freud, Nietzsche is one of those philosophers whose key ideas can often be misinterpreted (most prominently the Nazi bastardisation of his Superman/Ubermensch). In turn, some people also get the wrong end of the stick about the type of person he seems to have been (at least to me anyway). Because his mad man in The Gay Science declared “God is dead… and we have killed him”, because of his unflinching, direct style, his powerful aphorisms and his warrior-like quest to disrupt long-established (corrupt) institutions, too often people think of Nietzsche as some kind of cantankerous masculine behemoth. When I speak of my great admiration for The Father of Postmodernity to my wife Pru, she suggests that it’s typical “for men to really like Nietzsche”. Boys will be boys.
But accounts of Nietzsche suggest he was a soft and kind man – and this is more the side of him that becomes apparent to me when I explore his philosophy. Someone who recognised that there were inequalities, that there was exploitation and corruption being carried out in the name of spurious ‘truths’ with questionable foundations – the exploitation of fears and anxieties and advocacy of empty promises that sought to establish control, manipulate and retain power.
Existentialists and Genuinity
Nietzsche realised that we’d created a world beset by problems of our own making – and he went on the attack to try to address them. It was a mantel, this standing-up-for-the-little-guy, that disciples of Nietzsche’s, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault among others, would later take up. And, as far as my own thoughts on Genuinity and Pure Niceness go, these philosophical giants were more in touch with their Genuinity than they may have ever appreciated – that is, if they’d ever had a chance to read this blog (I’m 100% confident they would’ve hated it). Both Nietzsche and Sartre (and most of the other intellectual heavyweights referenced in Being and Niceness) all share common goals. And the one that interests me when thinking about Genuinity is their tireless efforts to make existence better for their fellow men and women. For all the lofty intellectualism, ground-breaking ideas and (it appears) ideas over action, they all wanted a fairer and better world. And they spent their lives campaigning for it in their own particular ways.
Nietzsche wanted us to be free of the shackles of moral codes (like those which frame religions) and take our own responsibility as free spirits. But are we actually capable of living god-less lives? Celebrities, sportspeople, world leaders and countless other inadequate replacements do an equally poor job of filling the void. And that Freudian superego (Bentham’s Foucauldian panopticon) is permanently there, operating in the background, regulating our actions.
Can’t we just do what we want?
Do we in fact need a moral code? Well, you can’t tell anyone how to behave or what to think, feel or believe. The whole point of existentialism (notably Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre) is that we have a Will to Power – that we make our own choices and take responsibility for our own lives. It puts the subject and their responsibility before essence or moral code.
But we also cannot just accept that everyone literally does whatever they want all the time – or that could lead to acts of unspeakable barbarity, exploitation and harm to those incapable of defending themselves. This is why we need Genuinity – why we need to listen to that positive life-affirming, compassionate inner voice, and why we need acts of Pure and Complex Niceness to guide us towards a future where human beings live in harmony with each other and our natural surroundings (Nietzsche’s ideas often seem to be inextricably linked to Eastern-style thinking such as Taoism – an area of philosophy I’ll refer back to many times in this blog).
When considering Nietzsche’s ideas, one gets the feeling that we’ve gone down the wrong path – by this I mean, in terms of the way human civilisations have developed. If it was possible, the best thing would be to rip up the rule book and start again; to return to a state when our instincts were more in tune with the natural world and we were less burdened by our never-ending quest for more and more knowledge. The only alternative to satisfy the great Prussian would be to overcome ourselves, exact our will to power and attain the superman status he saw as the next rung in our evolutionary ladder. But to suddenly just reject law, order and the rules, norms and customs of civilisation is not just a daunting prospect – it is utterly terrifying.
This scheme of thought is the main crux of my ambivalent feelings when I think about Nietzsche and Niceness – because it’s hard to deny that morality and religion (and the ‘comfort’ of Slave Ethics) appear to be tools of oppression to help those higher up the ladder of influence maintain their control and retain their power. With Slave Ethics, Nietzsche explored how groups in a state of subjugation or oppression essentially allowed themselves to be controlled because of the promise of future prosperity (if they kept the faith and acted accordingly). Thus, put simply, be a good slave, live a pious, ascetic life, and put up with whatever bad stuff comes your way, because you’ll eventually make it to heaven where you’ll bask in the riches of a glorious afterlife. It’s an easy way out, and essentially a gamble, but it’s understandable why those in positions of hopeless oppression would hedge their bets in such a way.
Conversely, if one was to accept Nietzsche’s Zarathustrian premise and decide to implement their own will to power, to reject slave ethics and to make their own values, the superman born from such ambitious and noble roots would also bring it’s own problems. What if we did all just decide to do what we want all the time? Surely anarchy would inevitably ensue? I really believe that Genuinity would guide the majority of people towards creating a coexistence based primarily on kindness – on Niceness. But the pitfalls of the herd are pertinent here, and this is something that needs to be considered. Because the willing herd, the crowd, the public, prepared to cede their responsibility and allow a select few to make their decisions for them and to dominate, simply allows the existing flawed system to continue.
But what if…
Let’s just suppose for a crazy idealistic minute that we were able to transcend ourselves like the Nietzchean ubermensch, but in a way where Niceness and Genuinity flourished. It’s a wonderful thought – but there’s no resisting the inevitable conclusion that absolute free will, total freedom of choice and every human being on earth living in harmony with each other is simply impossible. Unfortunately, it only ever takes a few rotten apples to spoil an orchard – there will always be some who wish to rule, reign, profit from, harm and exploit others for their own ends and benefit.
What, then, if we were somehow able to take elements of Nietzsche’s will to power, the superman, the rejection of slave ethics, and focus our will towards Niceness, but in a way where we accept that we can’t be perfect? Would this promise a better existence? I’d love to think so. In many ways, this Nietzchean Niceness is the best way forward for humanity. But I know it’s a fallacy – if everyone was nice to each other all the time, the world would be beige. We need competition, opposition, criticism and cynicism. This is a theme that will continually crop up in this blog – the idea that the key to a better world comes from balance; that Taoist dualism of yin and yang.
Being connected – yet disconnected
Soren Kierkegaard, the deeply religious Dane who suffered greatly at the hands of his own faith’s stranglehold, wrote at length on the negative influence of the crowd. He was something of a loner, and this of course influenced his thinking, but his criticism of the crowd has been taken up by Nietzsche (with his herd), Heidegger (the public) and many others including Sartre. According to Kierkegaard, losing oneself was all too easy in the crowd – something Nietzsche agreed with when considering the comfort of the herd. For all four thinkers, it is much easier to allow others to make your decisions for you; in spite of the dangers of passing up your freedom to choose. Allowing one’s will to be usurped by another and passing the buck of making those difficult choices is a pattern that is all too common among members of the crowd/herd/public. It is essential that we challenge who we are. And, in my opinion, we must tap into our Genuinity to help us, and all those we connect with, live better lives. Genuinity is all about kindness – but it’s also about being brave enough to make our own choices and follow our own will to power. I’m sure Nietzsche would’ve said that my suggestion of following your Genuinity probably acts counter to making your own decision – but I must here argue in favour of Niceness; it’s just simply something we have to all try to share and connect with.
Striving for Niceness
Nietzsche foretold that his ideas wouldn’t have an impact in his lifetime, but rather correctly predicted a posthumous appreciation of his grand ambitions. He also knew that his hopes for the superman to arrive (for us to overcome ourselves and progress to a higher plane as a species) were also almost certainly never to be realised. But just because we don’t believe a universal Niceness isn’t possible, doesn’t mean we can’t strive for it. As the Taoist elements of my Genuinity inform me, it’s admirable to reach for the stars – just as long as you’re still content when you only make it to the moon. We all have the capacity for a willingness to be better. Let’s use our Nietzchean, Kierkegaardian, Sartrean will to power to help each other create a better existence.
If we accept that’s it too late simply to start again, then what can we do to improve the state of things as they are? How can we affect our lives now, and for future generations, in a positive, life-affirming way which puts Niceness first? Striving towards synergy with one’s Genuinity, like Nietzsche’s superman, may never (almost certainly cannot) be realised by all of humanity. But Niceness (Complex, Pure and all others mentioned earlier in this blog) and Genuinity, are goals, like the superman, we are obligated to strive to achieve and work hard to perpetuate. The world needs Niceness now more than ever – this doesn’t simply mean bowing to a democratic system or aiming specifically for virtuousness; there are too many weaknesses entailed, too many opportunities for exploitation or misuse. But Pure Niceness and Genuinity, that positive inner voice, must be heard; one’s Eros, one’s superman, this existential responsibility, this socialist equality, this compassionate utopia, this Taoist inner child, feminine energy, this appreciation and love for nature and synergy with the natural world, this return to respect for all life and everything in their universe. Kindness, compassion, love. Niceness. We have to stop settling for how things are and change them into how we need them to be. Selfishness and greed are out – Niceness is in.
It’s not a case of what can we do, but rather what will we do. The word will here being key, as it our will which must guide us. We mustn’t be limited by can and cannot, but instead choose/decide – be wilful, and take responsibility for how we want things to be. Using Pure and Complex Niceness as a framework, think deeply about the ways in which you can improve yourself, make more connections, give more love and kindness and defy Anti-Genuinity – overcome yourself (release the superman!) but also learn to appreciate your true/best self. Like Nietzsche, I believe we need a non-Darwinian evolution – but, in my terms, an evolution of priorities. Our best people need to thrive – and the best qualities all come from Genuinity.
Genuinity is not religion
It is vitally important that at this point that I make a distinction – because much of what I’ve thought, and subsequently shared, about my thoughts on Genuinity could be interpreted as just a religious sheep in wolf’s clothing. So let me make it absolutely clear that Genuinity has nothing to do with any god, religion or act of faith. It could perhaps be explained as something to do with Being. But there is no implication on my part of Being being a necessary result or consequence of the work of some kind of deity. This is not just a form of divination made to look like something practical and of-this-world. Genuinity, most simply put, is kindness. It’s a positive, life-affirming, feminine spirit; a child-like inner voice – it is Niceness. It’s our true self. There is no suggestion from me that this comes from any god or higher power in particular, just as there is no insistence on my part that such a power doesn’t exist. I remain entirely open-minded. Truly anything is possible. I fully accept that the idea of a creator is unlikely, but no one knows why or how we’re here. Perhaps we’ll discover that particular secret when we die?
My aim is to deal with the practical, everyday world in which I live, just as the likes of Sartre, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Merleau-Ponty, and even Heidegger to some extent, did. I want Niceness to help people – to make the world a better place. I want us to appreciate what we have and strive to be better at promoting the best of us.
Self denial – the true world as fable
Nietzsche thought of religion as an act of self denial – by putting our faith in religion we forgo the opportunity to be immediately responsible for the direction of our own will. He saw it as anti-life – a will to nothingness. Life’s hard – let’s pass the burden of freedom on to someone or something else; let them make the difficult decisions for me. Kierkegaard saw religion as something that required passion, integrity and commitment – and despite the fact that the heavy burden of his divine diligence inevitably crushed him, there is plenty to admire in the Kierkegaardian spirit. He actually railed against those members of the church who sought to exploit the grace of god for their own ends. For Kierkegaard, the objective uncertainty of god made faith a leap over reason – but it was one he was prepared to make with all his heart. And his sense of passion and commitment is admirable. If we could all demonstrate the same commitment to kindness, the world would be a much better place.
As Karl Marx famously stated: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. For Marx, religion reduces the immediate sufferings of its subscribers and provides pleasant illusions. But it also reduces their will to confront the oppressive reality which capitalism had forced on them.
It is not my intention to tell anyone what to believe – all I will say here is that I concur with Nietzsche when he says that knowledge that harms humanity is not knowledge worth having. If people choose to believe in religions, they have the same existential right as anyone to make that decision. But organised religions cannot continue to be used in a way that oppresses and subjugates people – the slave ethic is not healthy. We have to be strong and choose Niceness – choose love, kinship, family, kindness, Genuinity.
And choose to be connected – to each other and to the earth on which we stand.
As Nietzsche wrote: “All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth comes only from the senses.” There are strong links to the phenomenology of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty and ontology of Heidegger here. We get so lost in our own thoughts (the Cartesian model of western philosophy – the mind-body dualism from Descartes onwards) that we forget the significance of our senses. Does truth lie in intellect and knowledge (breaking down atoms further and further and further) or is it simply in what we see, touch, taste, heat and smell? And what of perspectives? Morality is partisan – as Nietzsche illuminated in reference to Kant, there are no moral phenomena. It is always linked to human thought.
In terms of Nietzschean Niceness, we need to defy the illusions that cloak reality and listen to our Genuinity – show our inner strength, apply our will to power and reject what’s offered – the meek shall not inherit the earth; the superman and Genuinity must – let’s refuse to place our faith in systems and higher orders that seek to exploit us. Reject the easy-way-out – reject the power of the State and reject the weak democracies they use so carelessly to maintain the stranglehold of power.
Machiavelli suggested that politics is not about truth but being believed. Well we need to believe in each other – believe in our ability to defy this age of simulacrum, of hyper-reality, and illusion. The truth really is that there is no truth in truth – so forget the gods of the past and the tired, bloated media which provides their vacuous modern-day replacements. Choose kindness, choose love, choose Niceness.
Remember how it feels
It’s worth adding a further little snippet on humanity and sensuality with the mention of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty a few pars above. Because I think it’s key in the realm of Nietzschean Niceness to highlight the importance of our senses. One might argue that the key to a better future lies in a more phenomenological outlook – but not just thinking about subjective experience; really appreciating what it means to see, hear, touch, smell and taste the world we live in. Reconnect with the natural world – Nietzsche championed its importance and it’s what the Tao would have us do, too. Self denial comes in many forms – it’s time we stopped denying our natural roots and realised how lucky we are to have this beautiful planet. Reconnect with the earth beneath our feet – learn to love it and appreciate it. And we need to get out of heads for a change – as Merleau-Ponty suggested, the world is physical, we are sensory beings, and the body is the primary site of knowing the world. If I’m not writing this blog, I’ll usually be reading, editing or writing about football all day at work. I get home, eat something from a packet and gorge on TV – often something mundane, uninformative or trashy. I spend too much time staring at screens and not enough time breathing in fresh air, running, jumping, lying on the grass, drinking beer in the sun, kicking footballs, listening to music, playing music, dancing, playing games, hugging, kissing… You get the gist. We need to stop denying our minds AND bodies the activity and stimulation they need. The world is a wonderful place – go out and enjoy it while it’s still in one piece.
Nietzsche wanted us to be noble creatures – or rather aim to live by Noble Ethics. It might at times seem as though some of the traits Nietzsche sought in human beings ‘overcoming themselves’ seemed to lack pity – and that’s because they do. For Nietzsche the noble spirit rejected pity – it wasn’t helpful to either the person trying to allay their guilt-ridden conscience or the pitied – who could just fall back on slave ethics to guarantee their safe passage from a life of hard knocks to one of salvation in the afterlife. Pity is also an important element of the Christian religion, among others, and Nietzsche felt it weakened people. He saw it as anti-life. The noble person strives to make their own values – they respect opposition, provided the opposition shows the same level of respect. The exalted status of nobility might seem an odd thing for someone like Nietzsche to promote – but at its core is goodness. Nietzsche wanted us to be proud, healthy and bold. To be strong and brave, honourable and honest. And these are all traits that are inextricably linked to Genuinity. Give respect, and command it. Avoid arrogance, but take pride in what you do. Most importantly – make your own values. Do not unwillingly allow others to make them for you. He who obeys himself is on the road to achieving Superman status: “Egoism belongs to the essence of a noble soul.”
This is a difficult concept to get one’s head around, as like much of Nietzsche it is easily misunderstood or misconstrued. The most important thing is to remember that the Superman is not meant to be a master of others, but a master of oneself. Will to power is a life-affirming doctrine – be noble, and carry the burden of making your own values. Use your Genuinity to help you achieve this – act with compassion, be kind, be respectful, be Nice – but don’t let your Niceness allow you or others to be exploited or subjugated. To be noble is to be bold – but it is also to be good.
Language and communication
What part does language, and communication in general, have to play in a ‘Nietzchean utopia’? Our words, our languages, and the countless other modes of communication that we’ve formed over thousands of years, have undoubtedly become useful in bringing us closer together. They help us to connect, to get things done, to express ourselves, to demonstrate, to teach, to reach out – to co-exist.
But could we live without the words we have? And would we actually be better off? Should we start all over again in regards to language and communication? Have we lost touch with our animalistic roots? Are we so detached from our natural instincts that we can never truly be contented creatures again? Does in fact our language imprison us? Does our ability to communicate in the way we do only allow us to torture ourselves and others psychologically?
Michel Foucault wrote a lot on language and power – he used the term Discourse to illuminate the way power and language are inextricably linked. For Foucault, discourses are systems that produce knowledge and meaning – and language = power. Each episteme (basically different periods in history) has its own discourse – and different areas of knowledge and understanding are themselves discourses – for example, medical, judicial or religious schemes of thought. The language and practices which stem from these discourses allow dominant forces to retain their status and control – it is disperse and pervasive; a regime of truth.
Just think about what you know (or believe) to be true – what are your beliefs on the justice system? On law? On medical practices? On crime? On morality and ethics? Where do those beliefs and ideas come from? Are we being controlled by a minority who wish to prevent us from idleness (keep us working, keep us making money for them) – or worse still stop us using our time to plan and enact revolution? Or are we, the willing herd, perhaps in on the joke more than we realise – simply allowing the discourse to prevail in the hope that we have a quiet life free from harm? What, to take a central area of focus for Foucault’s work, is madness? What defines madness? What is it to be crazy? Are there certain traits that always defined a mad man, or is madness simply anything which threatens the crowd. If he seems dangerous, he’s probably just mad – lock him up and get rid of the problem.
Can we find a new way forward with Genuinity – where we reject the discourse of fear and promote a new discourse driven by a new will to power – the power of Niceness? The idea of a new language perhaps seems preposterous – and communication is key to connecting. And making connections is what Genuinity is all about. We need to put kindness first – we can’t continue to allow the exploiters and their negative language, which stirs up fear and hatred, to retain its grip on the discourse of this episteme. It’s time for a new way of thinking.
Nietzsche insisted that the truth of a word had no basis in anything concrete – it’s certainties are all illusory: “Truths are illusions, whose illusory nature has been forgotten, metaphors that have been used up and have lost their imprint – that now operate as mere metal and no longer as coins.”
The desire to and need to communicate and connect are part of who and what we are – but so are compassion and kindness. If we have to prescribe to any truth, let it be the proliferation of kindness – if we are to communicate effectively going forward, let it be with the strength of our Genuinity and in the spirit of Niceness.
Education – less is more
So can we actually eradicate Anti-Niceness through education? Well, we can at the very least try. Education is surely our best hope to build a better future – globally-speaking. We all have a responsibility to be teachers – and the valuable lessons we must impart concern all the key aspects of Genuinity. The best way to extinguish hatred – racism, sexism, greed, neglect, bullying, harassment, violent tendencies, thirst for power, desire to dominate – is to educate; to teach young people how damaging it can be to act contrary to their Genuinity; to understand and appreciate the negative effects of hatred and to promote kindness and compassion. Nothing grows without nurture – and nothing improves without time, effort and love. It is time to refocus our energy for learning into ways that help and promote life. Rather than alienate us from it. We need to get back in touch with our senses and instincts – this is true Nietzschean Niceness. The more we connect, the more we share and the more we respect, the better off we’ll be.
We need to let children enjoy their childhood – support them, love them and give them the tools to help them flourish. And we also have to try to retain that childish quality as we grow older – it’s part of our Genuinity; that Taoist inner child – we must not forget the importance of that element of our spirit. Don’t let anyone diminish your sense of wonder. Our planet is amazing – our universe is amazing. And so are we – don’t forget that; be amazing, do amazing things and teach others to appreciate how amazing they are.
But while education is undoubtedly vital – it needs to be harnessed and used effectively. I have a thirst for knowledge – it’s what led me to read all the philosophy mentioned in this blog and it’s only grown as I’ve got older. But it doesn’t count for anything if it cannot be used for good – as Nietzsche realised, an endless pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge is pointless. We need to focus on knowledge that helps us – knowledge that allows us to become more connected with each other and the world. Nietzsche suggested that so-called learned people possessed an “excess of history” – and this prevented them from living an authentic life (authenticity is a concept taken further by Sarte’s existentialism and something I explore in another part of this blog). Once again this appeals to Nietzsche’s Taoist side – he believed a more vital authentic culture emanated from less traditional modes of study. He rejected the significance of the scholar – thanks but no thanks, Mr Plato – you can keep your philosopher king! Deep thought, endless investigation, the restless quest to know everything, the post-enlightenment desire for progress – Nietzsche wasn’t interested; knowing more only seems to bring an increase in pain and suffering – there is no truth in something which puts lives on the line; it is a mistake.
Foucault sums up the idea well in his revaluation of Nietzsche: “The desire for knowledge has been transformed among us into a passion which fears no sacrifice, which fears nothing but its own extinction. It may be that mankind may eventually perish from this passion for knowledge.”
An obvious example here would be a progressive scientific discovery like nuclear power – developing the technology to power a city is an extraordinary achievement of humanity’s passion for knowledge. But when that same technology can be used to obliterate life, humanity is only left with regret over the consequences of such a discovery – a passion which feared no sacrifice indeed. And this isn’t just about death or killing – but the fear and paranoia that comes with knowing too much and digging too deep. There hasn’t been a combative nuclear strike since Hiroshima in 1945 – and this remains the only one in history. For now. But the threat of a repeat has led to nations stockpiling ludicrous amounts of weaponry, wasting time, effort and money, while people all over the world starve to death. And the fear of another World War, one that would do unthinkable damage, persists, pervades and corrupts humanity. How can living in fear possibly be linked to any kind of achievement worth celebrating? Even if it’s an indirect consequence of something seemingly positive – Nietzsche insisted that wisdom sets a limit to knowledge. And it’s hard to argue when you consider the implications of too much knowledge like those synonymous with nuclear power.
And what do we actually know by knowing more? The technical details behind how things work? How much use is that really to us? Surely it would benefit us more to spend less time digging for answers to questions which don’t need answering and devoting more energy to helping each other, being kind and embracing the positive aspects of life. Some things are just beyond description and transcendent of knowledge – like Genuinity. We don’t need to know why we need Niceness or where it comes from exactly – we just need to make sure that we all appreciate it – and share it.
For Nietzsche, the great quest for knowledge concerned self-knowledge – the Superman who makes their own values. A Superman more in touch with their instinctive roots, less weighed down by history and antiquated, unhelpful, non life-affirming traditional education. Nietzschean Niceness is something of a paradox – this is something I fully accept.
While a world of peace, Niceness and thriving Genuinity is what I wish to fight for, I appreciate that so many of the great thinkers I admire so much seem to thrive off fighting injustices and inequalities – so, could we even achieve Superman status without some kind of perpetual struggle to endlessly overcome? Or perhaps if everyone was treated well in the first place, and their basic needs for contentment were catered for, we might have no need for a higher level of thinking. We wouldn’t need to know everything – because we were simply contented. Not so much ignore is bliss as a realignment of our priorities – let’s focus on knowledge which helps us; which makes life better.
Be Dionysian – just not too Dionysian
One of my favourite aspects of Nietzschean philosophy is his appreciation of Dionysus – the contrast of an abundant, life-affirming and chaotic Dionysian spirit against the order, rationality, purity and prudence of Apollo. I cannot deny that the idea of a wild, unlimited joyous excess, a feast of booze, food and sex – a celebration of art and music, has a strong allure. It it feels so good, why don’t we just do it all the time?As previously mentioned, Nietzsche wasn’t keen on the scholastic approach – the post-Socratic model of learning; Nietzsche felt we lacked the libidinal edge of our Dionysian spirit – that we’d lost touch with our instinctive roots. He felt the Dionysian aesthetic spirit had lost its power. And that’s a shame – because I believe we all have that Dionysian spirit within us; some perhaps more than others. And I believe that, like with our Genuinity, it is a mistake to ignore or dismiss it. Enjoying pleasurable experiences, taking joy from life and promoting love, are what Genuinity is all about – but the key to enjoyment is balance (that key element of Taoism you’ll find mentioned a lot in this blog).
And so the key to embracing that Dionysian spirit is also balance – have a few drinks every now and then; in fact, go out and get drunk. Sometimes – you can even get really drunk. Like, shitfaced drunk. With people whose company you enjoy. And have a dance. Or watch a film. Or go to a football match. Or a gig – rock, electro, classical, whatever floats your boat. Or just stay in and eat a massive curry, or whatever gluttonous treat you prefer. Do all those things – do whatever it is you enjoy (as long as you’re not hurting anyone). Just make you do them in moderation. Get drunk – just not every night. In fact – try to make it as infrequent as you can. Because it’s not good for your body or your general well-being. Eat a massive pizza if that makes you happy – just don’t eat one every night. Or every other night – eat a balanced diet as much as you can and then afford yourself little treats every once in a while.
What I’ve just written sounds preposterously and patronisingly obvious – and yet we all fall into the same traps of repeating mistakes over and over again. I could write a whole section on Freud, Fort-Da and obsessive compulsive traits at this juncture, but I’ll just note that I accept that we all have a propensity to self destruction; to doing things we know are bad for us, both because they give us pleasure and cause us pain. So in the context of Nietzschean Niceness and Genuinity, I would simply suggest that we open up to our Dionysian spirit every once in a while – be a bit reckless sometimes, do joyous things, embrace the chaos and contingency of life; just make sure you do it with an appreciation of the world around you and the people who inhabit it alongside you. And make sure you balance out your Dionysian activities – eat well, look after your mind and body, look after the planet and be Nice.
It’s worth adding quickly, as recently mentioned, that there is something to be said for the cultural and artistic manifestations of disruption, rebellion, feuding, unrest and conflict – do we in fact need to be maligned or mistreated to give life meaning? Do we need the bad things in life to give a purpose to art and artistic expression? Heidegger gave art exalted status – Nietzsche yearned for the lost aesthetic power of the Dionysian spirit. Can we still have art, music, plays, TV shows and books which inspire and challenge us in a world where Genuinity is given prominence? I would hope that by remembering to let out that Dionysian spirit every once in a while, we can avoid blandness, yet still remain true to kindness.
Michel Foucault believed that the only way for madness to live in itself – outside of authoritarian reason – was through art and philosophy. He was a Dionysian character who regularly embraced the excess of pleasure – a sex, drugs and rock n roll kind of philosopher. And I love that about him. Although it was excess that ultimately killed him. Perhaps a bit more balance might’ve helped him live a longer and more contented life? Or perhaps he was entirely happy with the way he lived his life and I should shut the hell up? Either way, let’s embrace our Dionysian spirit, and our Genuinity, and do so with a bit of balance.
Incredulity towards metanarratives
French philosopher and sociologist Jean-Francois Lyotard illuminated something Nietzsche had long before predicted in his book The Postmodern Condition (1979) – an incredulity towards metanarratives; it was for Lyotard the significant marker of the epoch of postmodernity. In other words – we’ve lost confidence and faith in the illustrious and established sources of meaning – we no longer believe the grand stories of religion like we used to, we’ve lost faith in capitalism, in Marxism. The crowning achievements of the enlightenment era and thus the era of modernity – reason, rationality and progress – are mistrusted. Or at the very least we don’t care about them any more – they’re no longer a frame of reference that the majority of people feel they need to abide by. The storylines that give context and purpose to life are rejected in a favour of the postmodern pastiche culture – diverse, multi-faceted but vague and rudderless; epistemologically uncertain. Can anything help to steer us away from the alienation and vacuousness which the dissolved metanarratives left behind? I hope this can be Genuinity; faith in Niceness, belief in goodness and a propensity to kindness.
This rejection of universal truths might initially sound like a bad thing – but in terms of Nietzschean Niceness, it might be viewed as a different kind of progress. Perhaps even a step towards the Nietzschean utopia I mentioned earlier – an age where we set our own values, rather than prescribe to tired, old histories with nothing genuinely useful (or helpful to humanity) to offer. Either way, this rejection of scientific, religious and even philosophical truths, of universal laws, is undeniably characteristic of the current epoch – but it doesn’t mean we have to turn our backs on Genuinity. Complex Niceness, acts which stem from one’s application of reason and rationality, must always stem from Genuinity. Niceness cannot be detached from it. Reason can be useful to us, but we must always listen to the inner self, inner child, positive life-affirming feminine spirit that is Genuinity.
Reject old histories
So is it really time to reject our old histories? Should we forget the lessons we’ve learned in the past – and find a new way to exist? One which promotes loves and kindness and rejects Anti-Genuinity? Is it time to reject the idea of the State – do we really need to be controlled and ordered in the manner we currently are? Or can we create new, more localised communities – but communities still where we connect, share, protect and look after the welfare of all our citizens? Nietzsche certainly wasn’t a fan of the State – he insisted that culture thrived more without it. And there’s undoubtedly something to be said for those who question authority and rage against the machine – those with a healthy disrespect of the status quo, a youthful voice (perhaps Taoist in its infancy); like Sartre, De Beauvoir, Foucault, etc. Do we need disruption? Will we always require disruption? Is there really a settled form of contentment that humanity can achieve, or is it simply implausible; particularly as a gateway to the inevitable exploitation which follows when we lay down our arms? Or at least when we take our eyes off the ball? If we aren’t always ready to fight for our rights, are we always vulnerable to domination and subjugation?
Personally, as a raging lefty idealist, I’d love to see some kind of Marxist utopia where we all shared things equally, where everyone contributed to the community and was treated fairly; where everyone had shelter, nourishment and contentment – but only within means in which everyone’s basic human rights were respected. A sort of shared moral understanding in the form of a Kantian Categorical Imperative, but one construced on the foundations of Genuinity. Communities built on Niceness – where kindness was the driving factor behind the way we lived our lives. It’s stupid, I know. It’s impossible, of course. But – isn’t it also something worth striving for? Just a thought.
Anyway, Nietzsche insisted we needed to assimilate the past and use it to make our own life and culture. It was a view preceded by him in the eyes of Kierkegaard – that history is a deadweight on the present. To achieve Nietzschean Niceness, the goal is to cast off the shadows of what’s gone before and create a new freedom of spirit; transgress our comfortable existence and challenge ourselves to be better – to be the best at what we can be. Whatever your views on this, there’s no doubt that the world could be a better place. And, as far as I’m concerned, a world where Genuinity is paramount is a step closer to a better one.
As for the aforementioned Kant and Foucault – the former saw the enlightenment (and man’s freedom to reason in public) as a ‘way out’ of our immaturity. Instead of discouraging freedom of thought and insisting that orders are followed, Kant saw the enlightenment as the beginning of man’s opportunity to “dare to know” and demonstrate the courage to know his own reason. Foucault, on the other hand, insisted we hadn’t yet reached that maturity. Instead, he wanted us to take a closer look at the limits imposed on man throughout history – and then transgress them! And perhaps it’s time we do the same with all those grand, old narratives that seem to have lost their lustre – consign then to the history books and build a brighter future, where a will to Niceness is the central plot of the story and the happy ending is a world of peace. Perhaps that ending will prove to be Inertia – in the Freudian sense. The salmon swimming back upstream to return to the place where they were born – but this time to die. To be at peace. Perhaps that really is the only way to achieve peace for those of us afflicted with the human condition? Well, either way, we still have a duty to make this world the best it can be for us and those who succeed us. And realising the potential of our Genuinity is the way to do it.
Love must always win
“That which is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.”
This is a great Nietzsche quote – unsurprisingly taken from Beyond Good and Evil – which seems to lend itself to the idea that love is something transcendent (not beholden to any notion of morality or moral law). For me, that correlates with my ideas on Genuinity – that there is some force, some essence, something that compels us towards Niceness. To be kind. To be good. Love, Genuinity – you can never truly explain these things. But even if you think Genuinity is total nonsense or that love is just something made up by the greeting card companies, it’s hard to deny that compassionate feelings exist or that people commit certain acts that defy reason and rationality. That’s not to say that a loving act is devoid of either – more just that we do all sorts of crazy things which defy explanation; other than being compelled by a sense of ‘love’.
Nietzsche believed that virtue had to come from joy – and that’s certainly a viewpoint I share; the idea that one’s highest moral standards come from a positive place. Be noble, honest, trustworthy, respectful and be loving. If people create their own values – and actually enjoy being the masters of their own destinies, embrace their existential freedom and take responsibility for who they are, perhaps Nietzschean Niceness could make strides. But it always needs to come from a place of love – love must always win.
Land without rain
Ultimately, Nietzsche’s brilliance, his philosophical clairvoyance, came at a price – he died “a land without rain”, with no partner and few friends, gripped by melancholy over the corrupt and misguided state of the world he had uncovered and the exalted existence he pined for (for humanity). His quest for a better world took him to difficult places that the world wasn’t (and still isn’t) ready for. But it was in this quest that he expended all his Genuinity – his love and kindness was directed solely to developing a radical new way of being that would benefit the human race. And in doing so, he forgot to direct a little more of that positive life-affirming energy into his own immediate realm of influence. He didn’t make enough meaningful and lasting connections – probably because few people could match his mighty intellect. One must feel pretty lonely when they’re effectively already living on a different plane to everyone else around them. That being said, I can’t help feeling that if he’d just opened up his heart to the possibility of more connections, love, kindness, Niceness and kinship, he might have lived a longer and happier life (actually, it’s probably not that likely. But it’s possible!). Nietzsche’s problem was that he knew too much – a serious lack of ignorance and an even greater lack of bliss – he saw things too clearly. And he would be the first to remind us that too much knowledge is not a good thing. But he tried to use that knowledge for good – a phrase I’m sure he wouldn’t have liked. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Nietzsche showed his immense Genuinity with his own kind of Kierkegaardian struggle – only Nietzsche’s faith was directed at our will to power; at our potentiality to overcome ourselves and be better – and I hope that Genuinity and a new understanding of the importance of Niceness can do the same; can make us better.