Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Intellectual and visceral beliefs [2/21/17: Nietzsche and the Death of God]

            Nietzsche would have himself or his reader cast off the idea of any possible world save the present; no alternative ideals that might be better or worse, no posited, unobservable, “real world,” and no moral imperatives indemonstrable by appeal to the observable world (that is, all of them).  No valuation but one’s own:  perspective is reality.  Fine, then; but what action does this imply?  All the old moral principles can be justified by replacing some divine mandate with personal valuation.  I like people, so don’t kill them.  I want people to be happy, and want to be happy myself, so do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.  Of course, one does not and cannot develop valuation independently of society and experience in societal milieu, so I can’t help but wonder if this causes the ubermensch project to fall apart.  How is one to know which “passions” are one’s own, and which are imparted by others?  The distinction is meaningless.  We are products of our biology and our experience; it is entirely possible that free will is a myth.  So are we to use whatever passions we have, and care not whence they come?  Well, then, we’re back into the institutions and norms—the “old moral monsters,” as he calls them—that teach us those values.  We’re social animals.  Our state of nature is society; to separate us from it is meaningless.
            Following our class discussion, let me elaborate on something I should never have assumed was implicit.  I roughly, poorly, indistinctly believe in two different kinds of belief.  The one is intellectual:  a truth of reason, proof, demonstration.  It is explicit, for I declare it; and it can be changed if one can show, by appeal to evidence, demonstration, and reason, that it has less basis than another.  The other kind is visceral:  these are truths of the heart, of the flesh, of long experience incarnated as identity.  They are intuitive, only poorly explicable, and mutable only with great effort; for to alter them is to remake the self.  The intellectual belief and the visceral have little conversation; they can contradict one another as freely or more freely than they contradict themselves.
            I believe a great many contradictory things, and believe that I can successfully argue—though I cannot bring myself to believe—a great many more, both within and across the intellectual and visceral spheres.  Still more things do I hold within my intellectual mind as possibilities rather than loci for belief.  Meanwhile, the visceral belief is elusive, difficult to pin down and even harder to express.  This is all to say:  it is no easy task for me to explain what I believe.  In what sphere?  With what weight?  In the intellectual sphere, according to what presuppositions?  In the visceral sphere, in regard to what and who, and when I’m in what mood?  I believe—intellectually—that the universe is a meaningless mass of information (that might have no resemblance at all to my ideas of it, per my last post), and that the very act of assigning meaning to it—even meaning in the sense of “this is a chair” and nothing deeper—is fundamentally wrong-headed, for it elides some data and emphasizes others when no datum is inherently more important than another.  This willful, inevitable wrong-headedness, the construction of shapes of meaning out of the meaningless, is, to me, a wonderful and beautiful thing.  Viscerally, meanwhile, I believe in chairs, and other people, and love, and hope—in fundamental goodness, in beauty, and in the world that I perceive with my raw flesh—and my intellectual justifications are nothing but rationalization.  I’ll sign off with Section 123 of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H.”; for it helps me to articulate my visceral dream in the face of the immense nothing that is everything.

There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
Oh Earth!  What changes hast thou seen!
There, where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.

The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands;
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds, they shape themselves and go.

But in my spirit will I dwell,
And dream my dream, and hold it true;
For though my lips may breathe adieu,
I cannot think the thing farewell.

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