Nietzsche and Morality and Us
What is "morality?"
I am reading a book on Nietzsche from a man I never heard of: Nietzsche the Thinker: A Study by William Mackintire Salter, an obscure writer that La Wik says was the author of a “enduring major classic on Nietzsche.” Yeah: $21.49 from HalfPrice Books! He married the sister of the wife of philosopher William James.
Now Nietzsche is famous, among other things, for declaring himself an “immoralist.” He meant, according to Salter, that in order to understand morality your must dissect it. But when we humans dissect something, we kill it, in the hope that the knowledge gained will help create future knowledge: in this case, morality.
We all accept the notion of good and evil. But what do we mean, and where do good and evil come from? And another thing: where does advocating a morality, as a preacher, end, and the study of morality, as a philosopher, begin? Good question, Fritzi.
So Nietzsche has a very penetrating view of morality. In Dawn §9.
The ground marks of morality here appear, as not individual utility, but authority on the one hand and obedience on the other.
And moral authority works not by direct force but by authority, “general and social.” And the obedience is not personal, as to a lord, but comes from a “fear or reverence, deepening to superstition.”
In other words, it goes way back. In early communities, the mores “covered health, marriage, medicine, war, agriculture, religion — so that morality was almost co-extensive with the whole of life.”
In this social environment,
The opposite of the moral man was one who acted (or was disposed to) according to his own ideas—almost inevitably he seemed evil to the rest of the community.
And if you did the right thing for the wrong reasons — as from personal advantage — that was “unmoral” because morality was “a matter of conformity and obedience altogether.”
And the point of morality is the survival of the group, and morality does not apply in relations outside the group. So Nietzsche writes that “Morality is the herd-instinct [ruling] in the individual.”
We may say that herd animals act with a kind of proto-morality whose purpose is to benefit the group. And the same thing applies to human morality where actions eventually rise from unconsciousness into consciousness.
But when morality rises from the unconscious to self-consciousness implemented into religious codes and laws, then we are entering a new world. Unconscious mores are not necessarily experienced as mores. They just are. So when we get into modern societies where there are conscious and conflicting religions and philosophies… well, the world has changed.
I think I experience our current culture war in terms of the conflict, in every human breast, between the instinctive mores that beat there, and the other mores that other people follow and which must always seem to us to be sick and wrong.
I think, injecting my reductive Three Peoples theory into all this, that for each of the Three Peoples, there are unconscious mores and also conscious codes of morality.
But I think that most of our mores, our understanding of good and evil, is unconscious, and that we fool ourselves if we think we have worked it out with logic and reason.
And if we agree with Nietzsche that mores are all about the survival of the group, it becomes immediately obvious that, to the Anointed creative person, the mores of a Benighted responsible commoner are a threat to the survival of the group.
I will go further. I would say that, if we want to understand why our liberal friends refuse to support the police and put criminals in jail, it is because the liberal mores say that crime is not the individual’s fault, but the fault of an unjust society.
To get to the point where a liberal admits that he has been wrong all along on crime would be to experience that her unconscious mores were wrong. Good luck with that!
Here's another thing. It is folly to make morality subordinate to politics. Politics is about the enemy, but good and evil are about making the community of humans survive and thrive in a mostly unconscious way, where everyone understands unconsciously what behavior is good and what is evil.
I think that the reason for the failure of totalitarian ideologies is precisely the failure to understand this. Human society is not primarily a conscious thing, with wise and knowledgeable leaders directing traffic. It is an emergency process where successful mores emerge by making society work better.
I think that Nietzsche is onto something here, and I am going to try to make it work for me.