The economics of sin

November 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nietzsche is an organ that still pumps blood into talk of the human god, the super-ego, or übermensch — without using Nietzsche’s vocabulary it would hardly be possible to discuss. On the Genealogy of Morals shows such a will to power to be traceable in social codes & conduct. Firstly, in the arrangement of a hierarchical system: “The pathos of nobility & distance… the continuing & predominant feeling of complete & fundamental superiority of a higher ruling kind in relation to a lower kind, to those ‘below’ — that is the origin of the antithesis ‘good’ & ‘bad'” (13).

Ambition achieves distinction for whoever carries it, regardless of whether success is a long way coming or impossible. Even when paired with enormous talent, ambition is second to ego; it ignites a sense of the right to rule. In a more Nietzschean manner:

Whoever can command, whoever is a ‘master’ by nature, whoever appears violent in deed & gesture — what is he going to care about contracts! [Contracts: the rules of civility.] Such beings cannot be reckoned with, they come like fate, without cause, reason, consideration or pretext, they appear just like lightning appears, too terrible, sudden, convincing & ‘other’ even to be hated. What they do is to create & imprint forms instinctively, they are the most involuntary, unconscious artists there are. (63)

These forceful beings are the ones that make the forms others inevitably follow, according to Nietzsche. Struggle against oneself is rewarded, suffering treasured. Such practices are perfected in the ascetic’s negative ideals that care for & create the self. “The ascetic treats life as a wrong path” (90); guilt & punishment have been normalised through frequent recommendation. A culture of guilty conscience is developed.

Further still, guilt & punishment have an external purveyor in the legal system, an objective party to distribute punishment. With regards to it, we may talk of an economics of sin, which “treats every case as being something which can be paid off, so that, at least to a certain degree, the wrong-doer is ‘isolated’ from his deed — these are the characteristics imprinted more & more clearly into penal law” (51). [A legal dependency on case precedents could be thought of as a relatively stable exchange rate between a crime & the sentence. Religious penance is also quantified with Ave Marias or flagellations to clear the conscience for smaller sins.] In establishing a system of punishment, a dependency is borne to the Christian notion of common sinfulness.

The break from religion has been painful, but is at the same time proving to be a universal movement. The common religion has shifted to the masochistic one of deifying the self. Its popularity testifies that something was missing. God was dethroned once life’s vanity was widely recognised. People were free! But the free act looks at the ends of actions to make decisions: the free act bases its decision on a projected value. That means that the effect comes before the cause in the cognitive process of decision-making. If it were the other way around, rational argumentation would accuse it of baseness, hollow instinct, or mechanical response.

Freedom : Nobility : Prejudice

“Strictly speaking, there is no ‘presuppositionless’ knowledge, the thought of such a thing is unthinkable, paralogical: a philosophy, a faith always has to be there first, for knowledge to win from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a ‘right’ to exist” (119). Knowledge is not achieved directly from life, rather from a prejudice we might do well to call an aesthetic. [The term leans toward euphemism but, if nothing else, stabilises the negative connotations any other choice would have — at least here, I am trying to choose impartiality; like any word choice, it pre-empts the reader like a trap.] We are now very much in the territory of the last post.

The grounding aesthetic is homocentric, emboldened by examples of the basest survival instincts as well as the most complex egos. This is what formal religion has been replaced with, Nietzsche continues — love for the human figure, the urgent sense that we need to preserve it & possess it. When there was god, there was instant justification of the homocentric aesthetic; being “in the image” of divinity, we had every right to use ourselves as a measure of beauty & goodness [notice that these are always paired]. It is best expressed in Twilight of the Idols: “Nothing is beautiful, except man alone: all aesthetics rests upon this naïveté which is its ‘first’ truth” (Portable Nietzsche Reader 526). Here, we uncover an admission of necessary perspectivity [or, simply, sentience]. Materialism is the seed of existentialist thought.

Both materialism & existentialism are ‘a turn inwards’. Society is neglected. The contract is written off, for the sake of one’s obligations to being. The ego grows, & with it alienation. Society, as that which measures & tests us, cannot be reached out to. We know ourselves to be guilty on this account. We must be insufficient for not being able to leave our mark or sometimes exist in the social sphere at all! If we are strong, work recommences with more ambition. Such is the anxiety of modern minds in Nietzsche’s estimation. The futility of life, not being accepted, is turned into something familiar, into something that can be paid off, into the pronouncement of guilt.

In the economics of sin, others are not needed (save as hypotheses) to put oneself on trial, judge oneself guilty, & to punish oneself. We remain ever-ironic. & awareness is no antidote.


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