NIETZSCHE’S ASSAYING ANIMAL

Quality

In his Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche, searching for the essence of the human condition, uncovered the “assaying animal” the one that quantifies and qualifies. He observed that mankind is the species that sees itself as “the being that measures values”[1] and linked this self-perception to human pride and acuteness. Mankind is the assaying animal of the market place and “mankind soon reached the grand generalisation that everything has its price, everything can be paid for”[2]. But was Nietzsche here really associating the essence of the human with the Homo-economicus? It is certainly a very neo-liberal notion that we are, and that Nietzsche did… but how true is this assumption?

 

The assaying animal is a competitive animal, but is this a truly logical assumption? Assaying is not just a process of quantification: we don’t just compare things according to size or volume, but according to quality. In fact we could say that quality is considered uppermost over quantity, in almost all human assaying, in all fields of human activity except: (a) the economy and (b) the game. In these two areas quantity is the important thing. The economy is a mathematical reality in which pride can be measured according to the more zeroes one has following a figure that is not zero. Likewise, the game is usually devised as an accumulation of points. Sure, there is the idea of sportsmanship and cheating is frowned upon, but in the long run what matters, in the game and the economy, is that one has more points than one’s opponent.

 

Games and economies are abstract inventions, but in the real, beyond these abstractions, what is essentially important is quality rather than quantity. If one is ill, one doesn’t need any overdose of alimentation, what one needs is the right kind of diet to make one well. Offer a banquet to a starving man and you may kill him. The buffet bars that offer as much as you can eat, and the publicity campaigns that imply the same, are as damaging to public health as any drugs. When the assaying is quantitative the spirit cannot be an essential quality of our nature. There can be no real fulfilment in having more. The fulfilment comes qualitatively, by having what is better.

 

Human measuring, however, whether through quantity or quality, is inherent in the concept of freedom-granting power. It has always been in the interests of Power to determine quality by quantity and reduce reality to mathematical abstraction. Only when we can see all the perverse side-effects stemming from the subjection of the qualitative by the quantitative will Sapiens[3] be able to release itself from the cruelty inherent in the sadistic, aristocratic desires for the freedom of power.

 

All economic injustices are a direct result of aristocratic fantasies for the freedom of power. Fantasies which can only be conquered by a stronger desire – that which is inherent in Sapiens – the lust for knowledge, and the revaluation of all concepts via understanding and knowledge.

 

For example, only when democracy is understood as a universal granting of access to knowledge will the status quo of power elites be finally undermined. Power is knowledge and if the civilising trend is to be a democratic one then it must be understood that the universal access, distribution and sharing of knowledge is democracy; any secrecy is undemocratic; is anti-civilisation and barbaric. And knowledge cannot be measured quantitatively but qualitatively. A Sapiens measuring will be predominantly a qualitative one. Poverty will no longer be measured according to the amount of money one has, but according to the amount of fulfilment one has. Fulfilment for Sapiens will be a knowledge-based satisfaction. We are talking about an empire of Wisdom that is shared democratically and used for sensible, practical necessities primarily and for personal pleasure secondly. Dignity through a fulfilment of what is necessity. Pleasure through the quality of the life experience in the world. This is the Sapiens future.

 

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, THE GENEALOGY OF MORALS, Second Essay, VIII.

[2] Ibid

[3] For more on Sapiens see my post “Where are we?” https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/where-are-we/

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4 thoughts on “NIETZSCHE’S ASSAYING ANIMAL

  1. Great post, so long as you define “knowledge-based fulfillment” broadly – to include love, friendship, imagination, aesthetics, etc. – otherwise, it might sound too rational or rigid. Also, I agree with your quantity/quality analysis but I suspect I might still – forgive me – hit the Pancho’s Mexican Buffet line from time to time. Guess I need an occasional appetite-gratification beyond the scope of our shared knowledge. I don’t know if this requires keeping a little “play” in your theory or…

  2. Thanks Gary. Yes, it is too puritanical… but we’ve gone so far overboard we need some healthy prohibition now and then in order to discover what “freedom” is really good for.

    • Yes. Fulfillment is poorly appreciated if you’re struggling to be happy, although I don’t believe the task is really to redefine it but rather to explain that fulfillment is the only possible road to happiness, rather than vice versa.

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