Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Twilight of the Idols: Thoughts On a Haunting Passage

One passage from Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols really struck me as I was reading this evening:
Nothing seems rarer to me today than genuine hypocrisy. I greatly suspect that the soft air of our culture is insalubrious for this plant. Hypocrisy belongs in the ages of strong faith when, even though constrained to display another faith, one did not abandon one's own faith. Today one does abandon it; or, even in either case one remains honest. Without a doubt, a very much greater number of convictions is possible today than formerly: "possible" means permissible, which means harmless. This begets tolerance toward oneself.
Tolerance toward oneself permits several convictions, and they get along with each other: they are careful, like all the rest of the world, not to compromise themselves. How does one compromise oneself today? If one is consistent. If one proceeds in a straight line. If one is not ambiguous enough to permit five conflicting interpretations. If one is genuine.
I fear greatly that modern man is simply too comfortable for some vices, so that they die out by default. All evil that is a function of a strong will- and perhaps there is no evil without strength of will- degenerates into virtue in our tepid air. The few hypocrites whom I have met imitated hypocrisy: like almost every tenth person today, they were actors.
Conviction is a word that rings in my ears and sits in my gut. For me, its tie to religion is almost palpable. However, conviction, so I have had to teach myself, is not a word that can be hijacked by religion alone. Conviction is something that is deeply human; so much so that it quite readily reveals a person's true desire. I see, and I think I understand Nietzsche to see, that hypocrisy occurs when we betray our own convictions. However, the problem is that our convictions are not really convictions anymore as they have become diluted and surrounded by other supposed "convictions." It is equatable to spreading oneself out over five distinct jobs, rather than doing one job as well as possible. The work done on one job that retains a person's sole focus will be noticeably better than work done on five jobs by one person who is simply attempting to get them all done. Likewise, if we attempt to hold five convictions, all of which are actually in dissonance of one another, how can our convictions remain reflections of the part of each of us that we would suppose is truly "me"?

Nietzsche's writing that "this begets tolerance of oneself" is, much like his passage in which the madman declared the death of God, a cry to humanity that we are devaluing ourselves, and it is an inside job. What happens to a person who literally does not believe anything? This is not atheism. It has nothing to do with it. Much as total transcendence and total immanence are actually indistinguishable, so is holding convictions about everything in comparison to holding none whatsoever. What is more is that these diluted convictions create an avenue for the justification of everything, irrelevant to what is labeled right or wrong. Take for example Christian politicians who demonize the poor and pass laws to put the poor at a further disadvantage in society. Is this not in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus who sought to to uplift the poor and see them as blessed in the future for their poor hand in life? Why is this possible if not for the myriad convictions that we only hold when it is convenient for us? For Nietzsche, we have so devalued all our values that even hypocrisy is lost on us. Hypocrisy is not inconsistency, Nietzsche cries, life is now inconsistency. 

Is being genuine even possible, asks Nietzsche? One cannot live under the false ideal that it is possible to live a non-contradictory life. However, contradiction is not the point of Nietzsche's passage. Where does this end? Nietzsche charges that we have so little respect for life, for humanity, for being, that we undermine it at every turn. We have so disrespected what makes us human that even our convictions betray us as they become avenues for political statements rather than the concrete evidence of what we believe is worth sacrificing our own being for. Convictions cannot conflict and remain convictions, less they become ideals. 

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