We have before us the large and luminous legacies of Hegel and Marx to work against in trying to describe the atmosphere of discontent from which both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard begin their excursions in to the individual and the "will to power," in to the eruption of mass society, of mass culture, and of the necessary abdication of will to these masses. Both Hegel and Marx, in their analysis of the individual and of society in general, concluded that the mass of poor, disheveled, hungry, exploited and alienated society will rise up and guarantee their own freedom from the strength inherent from within, from their own productive powers, from their "work." But this, in a sense leads one down the path towards becoming a tool, a thing, that is verified by production, by the hourly clock, by the piece count of production itself. How then can production, work, and the mass really rise and attain freedom (the telos of history, according to Hegel)? Hegel had concluded the history of philosophy within his own dialectical method of reason and rationality, while Marx had critiqued capitalism and made the call for the "workers of the world to unite!" Within these systematic, totalizing theories we see that the idea of the individual is placed within the context of different systems. The individual is only an individual, according to Hegel, within others, within reflection upon the other within ourselves. The individual worked under the creation and appointment of God to the high post within society and within ourselves, and with this appointment, we see the valuation of human individualism only through this disguised reality of living for some coming prospect of redemption and freedom. Marx though was bit more secular and placed his own emphasis upon the individual within the context of capitalism. Capitalism became the great God for Marx, and he saw the fat cats get richer, while the poor women and children became poorer and poorer. This alienation from species-being, or the true idea of humans as being a part of a collective consciousness, was for Marx the main development of capitalism. Ideology, desire, commodity fetishism were all effects of capitalism solely induced by the means of production and the power of the large states that furthered the emphasis upon the power of capital to provide for the riches and success of all involved in production.
Victory of the "slaves" was the crying call for both Hegel and Marx in their views of a return to a stage of man's development where the community, the good of the many over the good of the few, attained its true place as the "way" in which humans were to function. Thus we see the development of mass structures of thought that held up the mass societies developing in the nineteenth century. But what was the outcome of this "end of philosophy" and the valuation of "slaves" as being the real movers and thinkers in the world and in history?
The outcome was a radical backlash from different voices throughout Europe, with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche leading the attack against the levelers of individuality. What must be recognized is the finite and mass systemization of thought that both Hegel and Marx produced with their critiques and theories based upon a rationalization of society derived mainly from the Enlightenment and Kant. In this viewpoint, reason plays its role as the great leveler and relies on, as philosopher Robert Solomon notes, the "transcendental movement of reason."
Beginning with Kierkegaard, we see that there is "no particular moment [in which we] find the necessary resting place from which to understand [my life] backwards." Kierkegaard begins from a hatred of Hegel's "harmon[ious]" system of thought within the self-consciousness and a disgust for the fakeness and reflective, inactive malaise of his age. We see here that man spends his time reflecting and thinking instead of doing, instead of being in the world through action and passion. This deliberation upon the moment leaves Kierkegaard yelling for action, for revolution, for something other than nothing really happening. But what of this reflection? Why is reflection 'bad' for Kierkegaard? Against Hegel, who, for Kierkegaard, engages in a "silent, mathematical, and abstract occupation which shuns upheaval," Kierkegaard calls the worst enemy of the individual the "public," or "herd mentality" for Nietzsche. But inherent within the "public" the dualism of it being important and not at the same time, as it is for man in general. We are taught to be for-ourselves, to be individuals, but at the same time we are taught to conform to the norms of society and language, to conform to the "right" ways of thinking and being-in-the-world. This dichotomy is the strange attribute that the "public" has because it is us and not us at the same time, it is the mentality to "be like mike" or to "just do it." This boils down for Kierkegaard in to "advertisement and publicity," both of which, for me at least seem to be based upon marketing and capitalism. Maybe Kierkegaard was a closet Marxist who disdained Marx's belief in the social powers of man?
It seems that Kierkegaard's main point, or impetus for his thought was for man to be real and not to be fake and duplicitous in the face of society and the "public." In an age of reflection and resentment, we see that men take up facades and caricatures and not real identities. But that is the difficulty of the "present age." The individual is influenced immensely by the outside forces and desires that hinder one's individual growth and belief in something. Advertisement and publicity are tools of the "public" to attain a homogenous society based upon rationality and reason. Kierkegaard seems to want Dionysian ecstasy and large copulation's, mass festivals and the destruction of value (capital value). He wants to see the individual become an individual through the actual nothingness of life and the fact that we don't know why we are here and what we are to do here.
The main thrust of Kierkegaard's philosophy is based upon the idea of the "either/or" dilemma man has in existence. This idea boils down to having choices in one's existence, being able to decide what to do, how to act, how to think, how to live. These choices are not easy to make in some instances and require energy and deliberation. But Kierkegaard says that this deliberation on a choice must not be infinite, but must occur right away, within praxis, because the longer we wait the more difficult and multifarious these choices become. One must "either" do something "or" not do something, and whatever choice one makes, one will have to live with because it has already occurred, it is behind them and it is "on that former occasion." Once one gives up a choice or lets "them" or the "public" choose for one, then that person has forfeited their individuality; that person has given up the possibility of other directions because they have let others choose for them. This would be quite the contrary to Hegel's view where one lives vicariously through another for the attainment of an individual self. But for Kierkegaard, this idea of the "either/or" is essential to the development and fortification of the individual for their own being-in-the-world.
Good and evil are important for Kierkegaard, for "everything hinges on this." He considers this "either/or" to be the ultimate choice one makes in one's life. This choice depends upon one's belief in passion and faith, be it in religion (God) or anything else. For once one believes that he is a particular, above and beyond the universal, or absolute, then he has sinned. The choice between good and evil occurs at every moment within one's existence. This choice of good or evil is not dictated by anyone else but the individual because it transcends the realm of the "public." It remains at the deepest core of any being-in-the-world. Good and evil are the structures that make up passion within the heart and can only be seen in glimpses, in moments that attack the mind and leave their everlasting impression of choice. Kierkegaard uses Abraham's murder of his son Isaac as an example of one living for their own individual belief in good and evil. Abraham had so much passion in what he believed to be "right" that he chose to take the life of his son as a manifestation of this intense belief. Be it right or wrong, Abraham believed in something to the extent that he would take another's life to stay true to one's belief and passion in something. Thus Abraham acted; he did not deliberate and reflect upon the "them," but he acted according to his "either/or" that faced him. This is the true extent to which life must be lead, according to Kierkegaard. A life devoted to what one believes, individually, without recourse to the "public" that lurks everywhere, around each corner one comes up to in life. Hence, this becomes one's subjective truth, or one's own inner drive towards their own telos. Hegel would call Abraham's actions murder, as would many, and his actions would destroy any possibility of Abraham ever developing his self-consciousness. In fact, by murdering the other, self-consciousness would find another desire to live off of, another individual to see one's self in.
Abraham acted subjectively in existing "inwardly in inwardness," living in and through passion. Kierkegaard saw this as being truer than living through one's relationship to another objective truth. Subjective truth must be a "God-relationship," or one that is deeply inward in inwardness. It must come from the passion derived from action and it must relate one to itself in seeing itself as existing in the world truthfully, even, as Kierkegaard say, "if he should happen to be thus related to what is not true." Subjective truth relies on one's belief in one's own actions as being the true method or structure from which to continue living. If the truth is objective, then the truth is not for one, individually, but for many and for the "public." This truth then would not be true because it relates one not to oneself, but to another, which is not himself and which is not true. The distinction of being not true is important here because subjective truth must be true to the one and not to the many. In being objective, truth is uncertain, it wavers between what is right and wrong for "them" and not for "me." Subjective truth is a certainty based upon knowing that what you are doing is for the self and it has a definite relationship to itself. Certainty in truth is key because it allows one a conscience not associated by the powers that be, but by the power that is, the power that allows one to continue on a daily basis--existence. Certainty fills one's life with something, be it right or wrong, that is not the question here. The question is, are you living for yourself truly? Are you [being] real?
Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche championed the individual over the "herd" mentality that was pervasive during the nineteenth century. Though individualism was romanticized and allowed to be in society, it was fake individualism that was based upon conforming to an individualism that was wholly seen through another (Hegel). This individualism was the "last man" for Nietzsche, and it was the telos of man as a materiality in the world--the victory of "slave morality." The "last man" was seduced by spectacle, easily awed by the illusions of "good" and "bad," or "evil" (Greek ideas derived from the Platonism of the foundationalist account of the reality-appearance dualism) It was an individual without individualism. Nietzsche prophesied the life of the artist in redeeming aesthetic beauty, the oneness of one's self with the spirit of the world. Christianity was the demise of individualism and the prevalence of ressentiment and mass passivity. The citizens of Europe were sitting around taking the bait, while those with the "will to power" were creating the illusions that truly manifested the discord and absolute stupidity (absurdity in Camus' view) of the world. "God is dead!!" Nietzsche cried out, as his Zarathustra embodied the madman in all of us.
In a strict, yet interesting departure from Hegel, Nietzsche categorizes man in two camps--"master morality and slave morality"--both of which he finds in a single man, divided or seemingly intertwined with each other. Comparable to Hegel's view of the other within us and our selves in others, Nietzsche sees both struggling within us, changing us, and controlling our decisions in life. But against Hegel, Nietzsche's moralities are both the demise of man, the ultimate dialectic whose battle with each other produces the ressentiment and death of God, and the beginnings of a new man, a spiritual man that transcends the mere battles being waged in the heart and mind. The master morality chooses and controls the distinction between "good" and "bad," with the former being what is "exalted" and "proud," and the latter being what is despised and "contemptible." Thus a hierarchy is produced whereby the powerful, those controlling the mechanisms of the age, decide what is "good" and what is "bad." The "good" lies on the art, social character, and values of the elite, and the "bad" being what the lower classes engage in, their actual lives. The nobles do not need reinforcement or approval, as Nietzsche says, because they live the values they create, they are "value-creating." The nobles remain within themselves and shun difference and do good only because they see it being the duty of the nobles, as an excess of their "wealth." The values of the noble remain wholly here and now, deemed upon what is seen as progress and the importance of the moment. Their contemptible behavior towards those they rule or have power over is the exact treatment they give to their animals. The nobles see them as the "others" that are the unwanted, the despicable masses who dirty the streets, introduce the profane, and diminish the sophistication of the society.
The "slave morality is essentially a morality of utility," as Nietzsche pronounces. It belongs to those who do good, and act with humility, whose values allow them to cope with the actual reality of their diminished existence, at the bottom of the barrel, collecting like sediment forever piling on top of each other. The slave thinks the nobles to be superficial in there happiness and in the worth of their own lives. The slave never allows for one to be happy with the existence one creates; it is always the "they" and the "them" that cause the grief of the world. The masters are the "evil" because "they inspire fear" in the slaves, so the slaves are the manifestation of evil. This is the mentality that, according to Nietzsche, "longs for freedom," the ability to rise from the depths of contempt, and to fight against the language of naming that the masters own. The "origins of language" are what the slave morality fights against, the power to name and to appropriate. Nietzsche shows how the slave morality plays itself to a conclusion in the priests and other spiritual leaders in the world, mainly the Jews. The contempt for them by others, has made them just as bad, says Nietzsche, made the slave morality victorious by allowing it to be the prominent reaction to action. The revolt of the slave morality transformed the world in to homogenous creativity, in to a reactionary society, instead of a action-oriented existence. The ressentiment created by the slave morality is devoid of any "difference" or "others." Its leveling powers have negated difference, has made the outside the subjective realm, instead of making the inside stand alone, not dependent upon "external stimuli." The battle ground of slave morality is the battle after the death of God, after the demise of "higher nature," that place of actual being in an individual, which has now been demolished and destroyed by the "public."
The individual, in a sense, has been demoted to the level of mere representation and has lost ability to have any power of the measure and creation of value. The ills of the world are specifically the ills of man, of man reflecting in to itself. In this self-promulgated disdain for individual passions, the lone man is left to wonder its fate in a sea of "thems," in a vast sea of blue hats, with his being the only red hat. Thus he sees himself as being the only one who has the "will to power," the ability to survive, to live within oneself, outside of the realm of reason and rationality, the real sickness of man (Europe). What is left for the "last man" then? Where can the "last man" go from here? Must it wallow in the sea of meaningless [re]actions and of ressentiment ? Will the all powerful individual man rise from the ashes, like the Valkyries, and ascend to its proper place as the supreme "I"?
What is the status of the "I" today? What has changed since Nietzsche proclaimed that "God is dead?" Does this still have relevance to current trends and actualities in the world? I think that Nietzsche and Kierkegaard would answer (as would I) with an emphatic "yes." The difference between then and now can be found in any political speech, in any educational setting, in any medium of communication. The "I" is now even more diffuse and representational, based upon simulation of what it means or is to be an individual. The glazing and leveling of capitalism, the true victor of slave morality (or any morality), is now almost complete. Now everyone can be an individual, can embrace the difference in everyone because the differences are now the same. They are all thingified and relegated to mere means to the ultimate end of pure simulation of being, actually existing in the world. One can become anyone through the mediums of communication, behind a veil of electric currents, and satellite projections; behind the mask of Hollywood and of television--the passive media of the utilitarian revolution of the slaves. One can become anyone at anytime--hookup to the Net and be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The true individual must now use the representation of individualism to even understand individualism. The relation between a viewer and a performer, the actors and the audience, are deciders of heroes and of individuals. Mass audience approval, attained anywhere in a matter of seconds, decides what is the norm or the "right" way to be. The "public" is now not only victorious, it now controls what is deemed victorious. The elite are even now at the same level as the common. All are at the edge of their seats rooting for the "good" side of the Force to overcome the "dark" side of the Force. The explosions leave afterimages of bright nothingness within the cornea, and soon, everything becomes an afterimage of the moment ago, the representation of what was. One shuts their eye and realizes they are too scared to be alone, to be within one's nothingness. They open their eyes and turn on the TV and are one with the world, can watch humanity destroy itself on the local evening news.
Our time is one of "advertisement and publicity," but hyper-advertisement and publicity. The mind overloads on the infinite possibilities of being, of being a part of "them" because "everything worth doing has already been done." We wake up and we wonder why we can't have more money, or a faster, nicer, bigger car, or a beautiful partner, who is also a partner in the law firm, or a Platinum American Express card. No longer do we wake and be thankful that we are once again alive for another day, another moment to act and to be passionate about one's life. The malaise of waking out of a passive slumber, out of a belief that the "out there," is the true meaning of the "in here." Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were the harbingers of the twentieth century and the existentialists picked up on this illusory reality that is lived by every "last man" in the world. We walk around being amazed by spectacle. We are amazed at a man committing suicide on a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour. The child sitting at home, in front of the TV saying, "Wow mom, come here, check this out, like, he's going to kill himself!!"
The dependency upon the "public" for our conceptions
of identity is the same as the victory of the slave morality. We see
someone who is beautiful in a magazine, and they tell us how we can be just
like them, how we can be like Mike, or wear the same watch as James Bond.
The influence of mass media in creating desires that are consumed in what
is truly the "identity of our times." One can be what ever one wants
as long as they have enough credit on their card or enough money in their
checkbook. And education itself is not for the creation of individual
thinkers who can formulate information in to their own thought, but is the
reproduction and regurgitation of mundane information that is deemed necessary,
while the students lie comatose in front of the computer, or TV, or sit around
getting high all day without engaging in any action--just getting, getting,
receiving, eating, shitting, sleeping, and grubbing off of mom and dad.
Cities are wastelands of detritus, stockpiled waste collecting on Staten
Island (hey, let's build houses there!!), concrete cubicles of immediate
representation of the "good life," of the way to be. Wars are fought
for naught, for the belief that one is serving a higher good (hello...God,
truth and the American way are dead!) But is there any relief from
this reified, reproduced, mass culturized, and reactionary being-in-the-world?
Can one ever truly be an individual? Is it an option anymore, or more
importantly, was the individual ever real in the first place? These
questions have been dominant in our privileged ability to even ask them,
in our ability to judge, categorize, in our ability to possibly even say
"I know the truth of me..." These questions are alive, for me at least because
I just don't understand what it is, what this life is all about...