Monday, 27 April 2009

For the sake of pity: Why read Nietzsche?

There was a time when I could not stomach Nietzsche at all, but lately I want to read nothing else but Nietzsche (with the possible exception of Stendhal, and that only because I wanted to see if Nietzsche's glowing comments were justified - and they were).

Anyone who believes that our overriding moral obligation is to help the poor, the homeless, the refugees, the malnourished, the diseased, etc, etc MUST read Nietzsche. This is not to say that the morality of pity is defenseless; but it deserves to be challenged. Nietzsche suggests we look backwards at the genealogy of this morality and forwards to what it aims at.

As far as the aim is concerned, where is all this pity heading? Are we just trying to make sure that everyone is comfortable, with a warm meal and a bed and a TV and no sound of gunfire in the vicinity? But obviously it is not enough for those of us who pity to be content with their comfort, their warm meal, their bed, their TV and the absence of gunfire. No, we want there to be a crisis somewhere - a crisis that will be a call to action, that will get us up out of our armchairs and out into the streets knocking on doors to raise money for the moral effort. So if we achieved our goal and everyone was warm, comfortable and well-fed and well-entertained, would we be happy? Would we feel better? Or would we feel that something was missing? Are we do-gooders not ever so slightly parasitic - parasites of the poor and needy?

Am I alone in yearning to help others while suffering from a congenital inability to help myself or to help something that we might call "us" (a word - an object - completely alien to me)? Is this not - as Nietzsche suggests - a little decadent?

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