Monday, August 08, 2005

Hierarchies, Herds,and Tentacles

(Disclaimer: sometimes, when I smoke a wee bit o' the green, I get excitable and need to rant in writing (or otherwise) about whatever is crossing my mind. It is sometimes interesting, often lucid, but generally stands in need of editing, which I usually don't bother with doing once I've returned to an ordinary mode o' consciousness. Such is the case with the following rant; it is offered for whatever entertainment value it may have, but I make no claims to it's overall coherency or the quality of the prose. Cheers to you if you make it all the way through.)

Good and evil, sure, but relative to whom? Whose good? Whose evil? The notion of God can sometimes be expanded to include animals, plants, creation… but most generally the notion of God is commensurate with the whole of humanity. That is, the Christian God – what Nietzsche called “the Maximum God Attained So Far,” is meant to embrace and “apply to” the whole of humanity, not just the people who worship him (hence missionary work, the need to convert). Other Gods are more local, less ambitious. (Allah, too, is meant to embrace the whole of humanity; when a God is designed for this purpose, from any monotheistic perspective, such Gods are often quite jealous when the tribe encounters other tribes with other Gods; it’s not “one God,” but only for us, but rather, “one God for everyone, only starting with us,” and there will be some degree of intolerance towards anyone who presumes to have a different God). Great album name (has anyone used it yet?): My God is Bigger than Your God.

Anyhow: good and evil are relative to the interests of humanity; “good for people.” An action is good if it helps people, bad when it harms people. To worship God is to treat the whole of creation as sacred, because it is the only known manifestation of God, the only part of God we can affect. Notice that almost all sins against God (except idolatry) are sins that harm human beings.

God as the central uniting theme of the tribe, the “concept” of the tribe, the abstraction and personification of its values, that “protects” the tribe. God as the highest ideals of the tribe, pushed into a mirror and reflected back to us, engraved into our sacred texts and our art to hold all accountable to those ideals, including future generations.

Most of this is Nietzsche. Slave morality, master morality. He speaks of “pathos of distance” – that we need an instinct for rank, an instinct for what is higher or lower in man, in society; that the physical manifestation of this lies in the distance in rank from the aristocrat to the slave; that this distance, this instinct to hierarchy, is the founding principle of all values. The morality of the masters are the values that those with power experience, assert, affirm, embrace; the morality of the slaves – Christianity, primarily, in Nietzsche’s sphere of concern – is the attempt of the “downtrodden masses” to assert a form of power – power of “their” God, as protector of the sheep, over the masters. Morality as a tool by which victims hoodwink victimizers into thinking they shouldn’t do just any old thing they please, regardless of the consequences to others (which is what someone with power might presume is his or her right). Morality as an attempt to undermine the crueller, exploitive values of the masters, who need some reason to think they need to consider others: because they’ll suffer after death. The weak will get revenge on the strong, after death, by means of God, who administers justice. It’s not dissimilar from the reason why people used to fear suicides – the fear of the ghost of the person, coming back to haunt those who did him or her wrong and “caused” the suicide. Instead of killing myself and getting my ghost to beat those rich bastards up, I’ll just stay alive and sic my God on them. Sic ‘em, God.

Has anyone ever named their dog God? Here, God! Beg, God! Fetch, God! Heel, God! Roll over, God! “God, stop licking your balls! We have company!” Sic' em, God!

How strange for this to become the religion of empire – the values of the slaves triumph of the value of the masters; the herd grows stronger and stronger, and the masters grow to accept their judgment; the power of their God is actually the power of the herd itself, whom the masters fear. (Thus does Christianity become the religion of the formerly pagan Roman empire). The story of humanity is actually a story of greater and greater egalitarianism. As our society grows more complex, more sustaining of difference, more pluralistic, the values of the “herd” have become stronger and stronger alongside it; it’s only natural. As we sing in choir, “We are poor little lambs who have lost our way,” those who would sacrifice us weep and fill with remorse, and lay down their knives.

But Nietzsche was an aristocratic tit, of sorts; let’s deglamourize the masters and show a bit of respect to the herd; lets try to see the above in a more objective way, without taking sides quite so much. The message of the story is that the larger, more organized, and more complex the herd gets, the harder and harder it is for our “masters” to hold any sort of power over us. The people united shall never be defeated; it’s easy enough to look at Marx through the eyes of Nietzsche (the will to power is more “basic,” abstract, all-applicable than the class struggle) – but it’s actually more productive to look at Nietzsche through the eyes of Marx, to look at how values and class go hand in hand, and to sympathize not with the aristocrats, whatever their value may be -- but the herd. "Herd" is just another name for our common humanity, after all. The bonds between members of the herd do matter.

The question that actually got me started on this stems from my reflections on reading The Rebel Sell, and discussing my friend Dan’s musical tastes with him, which tend to the darker realm of the spectrum (we focused mostly on Controlled Bleeding, this weekend -- fuckin' Catholics, man). One of the premises of The Rebel Sell is that rebellion is often the privilege of the upper middle classes; that those who wish to destroy – or at least transform – society actually seldom come from the lower classes, but more often are from educated, moneyed classes. This taps into issues of master and slave morality – but why would the masters be more subversive, more disrespectful, towards the values of a society, when they seemingly have the upper hand? When they clearly profit so much from the social order, being on top of it?I mean, it’s because of the way society is organised that they’re rich, right? Shouldn’t they be more protective of social values? Why chop down a tree that you're sitting in?

Yet so often, the aritocrats, the athletes of perception, the Nietzscheans, witness social values we’re speaking as those of the herd, and want to subvert/transcend them. Witness Sade, Foucault, Bataille... I mean, S&M, fetishism, Satanism, avant-garde music/writing/film, “guerrilla theatre,” ecoterrorism, revolution, and other minority “elite” tastes (for the most part, anyhow) are generally the province of wealthy classes. Why? (I mean, sure, there are sadists, Satanists, and musical deviants at every class level, but, I mean, you’re more likely to find kinky freaky people in wealthy lofts in the city than in the suburbs; if someone likes to be tied up and spanked, chances are they read interesting books and have at least a college level education – it’s among the poor that such things are sick and disgusting and sinful. Usually.) To frame the question, then, in terms of the above observations of God, and accepting that “good” generally refers to something that can be tied to the species, some reflection of the human state, we might productively ask:

Why are the rich more evil than the poor?
Why are the poor more conservative than the rich?
Is there anything bad about this, or is it just the way things are?
How do we get the poor to be more revolutionary?
How do we get the rich to be more respectful of the herd?

There’s also the perennial favourite,

How am I implicated in this? Which of my views are really the sustained prejudices of my priviliged position, the artefacts of my class interests?

Also of note, for me, on a more microcosmic level:

Why is Dan’s music so darn evil?
Why does something in me object to it?
Why do I kind of like it, too, though?

The interesting thing for me is that people who THINK they’re rebelling by overthrowing social values, who think they’re changing society for the better, are really just asserting their own privilege. It’s only because society has granted them distance, through wealth, that they have the leisure time to... well, you get the idea.

Though there are other ways of being “distant” from society. You can rent a cabin in the woods, drop out; you can become a lunatic, a religious ascetic, a hermit... Such people seldom have any social power, though; I'm sure there are many deviants in log cabins who are very creative and intelligent, but their ideas don’t have much social force, given their low social stature. I mean, people read all sorts of radical environmentalist stuff and take it seriously, but not the Unabomber manifesto...

Aren’t these privileged few the driving force of social change, though? Artists and revolutionaries? Change comes from the top, and slowly drags the herd with it, slowly diffuses its way through the herd, slowly catches on? It all becomes a game of follow the leader. The rebels, who think they are oppressed by social conformity (=”oppressed by the values of the herd,”) are actually only able to rebel insofar as they are NOT actually oppressed; it is their privilege that drives their rebellion, not their oppression. The poor are the ones who resist change, who cling to securities... In crying out against those who dominate them, are really just looking out for their own interests. Hence they tend to devalue things which threaten social stability, which the lower classes are more dependent on than the upper. (From homosexuality to Communisim to sex-art-magick, these sorts of energies are best tapped by the rich, who can “afford” to explore these things, due to their relative independence from the community). The lower classes need their Christian values and common good manners and common sense and marital ties, need these structuring principles in their lives, because they are weaker, less able to stand on their own, more dependent on the aid of their communities and the sturdiness of communal bonds to get them by.

The wealthy can afford to rebel more than the poor, so they do. The wealthy have more status than the poor, so the poor eventually catch on and ape them. (The more sensitive souls, the artists and musicians and thinkers, usually go first, but how they are initially rejected by the herd!). (And aren’t they usually from the upper middle classes? It’s usually the kids with the parents with the best standard of living who become the freaks and geeks and art-rebels).

Shot from the herd like the turd of a cow
Run through the fields like an oversized plow
Sewing the seeds and calling the tune
Staring in bafflement down from the moon

The wealthy then need to reassert their status by devaluing, denigrating, what used to be cool, “before it became trendy.”

Dan and I did arrive at the conclusion, though, that there are multiple hierarchies… That to simply analyze anything in terms of power relations (or, as they tend to do in The Rebel Sell, economics) is a limited, and therefore, limiting, view. There will be stuff that doesn’t fit the framework, tentacles that reach out from the peripheries and attempt to tear the frame apart, freeing the unquantifiable organism at the center, unlimited, exploding life… There are multiple hierarchies in society… a hierarchy is just a tool we lay on top of social relationships to help us analyze them; like any pattern, it may reflect the rule, but there will always be exceptions, tentacles… So this is a partial analysis…

Uhh… anyhow, some of these thoughts started spinning around in my head, so I thought I'd kinda scribble them down somewhere. Here's a cool quote from Nietzsche's The Gay Science that just popped up, which is apropos:

What is new, however, is always evil, being that which wants to conquer and
overthrow the old boundary markers and the old pieties; and only what is old is
good. The good men are in all ages those who dig the old thoughts, digging deep
and getting them to bear fruit - the farmers of the spirit. But eventually all
land is depleted, and the ploughshare of evil must come again and again.


kathy said...

I've never read Nietzche,except for a few quotes. From what I know of him, he seems to be an existentialist and really values seeing life through ones own senses. An strong indivual and critical thinker who prizes freedom over everything else. Perhaps a nihilist. My response to your blog is that I think that no matter how strong an individual one is, none can truly be separate from the rest of humanity. There are certain things everyone has in common. For example, we all have to deal with our own death, with chaos and uncertainty. We all have to eventually face the empty void. This knowledge creates fear in many. Fear motivates us to create religions and philosophies. We need our myths to will help us function amongst the chaos. Ofcourse they are all just stories, human-made constructs. But they are all are initially creative structures that show us how to live (hopefully in ways that are healthy). The problem is that life is fluid and always changing. So the conditions that spawned a once useful story change and suddenly we have a dysfunctional belief pattern that we cling to. It’s okay to make up stories to deal with life. In fact, it is creative and what makes us distinctly human. The problem is denying that they are just creative constructs, and not being able to accept that nothing is really solid, that there is no foundation to stand on. That Life is fluid.
It is not just the masses but the leaders too who all grasp at these illusions. One group feeds off the other. Hierarchy is a human-made structure. Thinking that one truly has control over anything in life is just an illusion.

I know subversive individuals who are from all different backgrounds, rich and poor. Ofcourse, having access to leisure and education makes it easier to start to think critically and question life’s illusions. But I’m not really sure what makes some people more awake than others. A sensitive nervous system perhaps. As a child I was always being told by others that what I experienced directly through my senses was wrong. Which fucked me up for some time. I was repeatedly taught that I couldn’t trust my own body. Through experience, I started realizing that I could trust myself and that many people are lying to themselves and to others out of fear. Denial. Since I was young, I have been making up my own stories. And reading others people’s stories. That is how I dealt (and still do) so with life’s chaos. The secret is, knowing that they are just stories, nothing more, nothing less. This goes for the endless thoughts that stream through my head, creating white noise out of the blackness. The empty void is scary but it is also a place that offers endless possibilities.

ammacinn said...

A nice piece of writing. I'm impressed anyone made it through my babbling.