The More Natural Man: Our Nihilistic Age as foreseen by Nietzsche

1)

THE MORE NATURAL MAN

In section #120 of The Will to Power, Nietzsche argues that man, in the 19th century, had become more natural and his subsequent definition of the ‘more natural man’ is subtle, ironic and replete with satirical criticism as it is, essentially, an attack on Rousseau’s ‘return to nature’. Yet, seen from our 21st century standpoint, the short essay offers much more than a criticism of Rousseau’s noble savage, it is, like all of Nietzsche’s thought, full of prophetic insight regarding the kind of man to come, which is to say, the kind of people we now are.

One of the first points he makes is that there never has yet been a natural humanity, and this is true. The anti-human historical process that has created our WEIRD civilisation has always been a steady movement away from nature.

It could be argued that our de-naturalisation process began with the advent of language. As soon as we started representing everything in the abstract field of names, we lost our direct touch with the natural world. In many ways, the ability to use and understand languages defines humanity and, although it would be hard for most of us to concede human status to an AI machine, even if it were housed in a perfect replica of a human body, nevertheless, if a human mind could be transplanted into a mechanical body, it would be more human than a human being who had lost the capacity of language.

Pessimists often use the excuse of human nature to criticise the so-called Utopian fantasies created by faith in human potential, but the truth is, humanity is far more of a conditional animal than a prisoner of the restrictions of nature. In a sense, language liberates us from nature by alienating us from it. Whenever we look at an object and think of it in terms of its name, we are stepping away from it into the objective realm of being-apart which allows the naming process to take place.

When claims of the apparently flawed side of human nature are made, (usually defending a thesis that humanity is an incorrigible species and that society’s problems are inherent in our biological makeup) they often refer to restrictions born from the process of socialisation and other cultural manipulations than impediments coming from natural instincts. But this thinking is erroneous and mendacious: most negative pre-programming is, in fact, social rather than genetic.

For Nietzsche, however, the natural man is something which should be aspired to. Not because it is ennobling and we all have a noble savage inside us, but because, quite the opposite, we should nurture our natural sides because nature is immoral. The more natural man therefore is the immoral man – the nihilist. In section #120, he proceeds to describe this natural-immoral man, this nihilist, and much of what he sees can be found reflected in society today. Nietzsche knew the nihilists were coming, and in this essay, he seems to welcome it.

2)

OUR NIHILISTIC AGE

Nietzsche’s attitude to nihilism is extremely ambiguous, he both welcomes and fears it, often seemingly at the same time. The only thing that seemed absolutely clear to him was that a nihilistic age was dawning. It would be an age that would bring with it the profoundly negative figure of the Last Man, in which he saw the hopeless, herd-following nihilist society that civilisation would only be saved if another, new kind of humanity can evolve out of the nihilistic mess. This Last-Man-transcending being he called the Übermensch, the Overman, which has also been translated as the Superman.  

a)    THE ONE PERCENT  

  

In section #120, Nietzsche’s More Natural Man is presented as ‘our first society’, the wealthy class. In our own times, it would represent that 1% of filthy rich and the other 10% of very well-to-do individuals who belong to the star class of business folk, finance folk and celebrities (our film stars, pop stars and sports stars). Nietzsche calls them ‘the leisure class’, for whom love (sex) is reduced to a ‘kind of sport’ in which marriage ‘is an obstacle and a provocation’. It is a purely hedonistic class, who ‘live for pleasure’. This class is more natural because a nihilist system, without any grand or authentic purposes, demands an unethical breed of unscrupulous immoralists, the members of which are ‘curious and bold’.

Bold, perhaps, as lovers of extreme sports and high-risk gambling in the financial markets. According to these definitions,the Wolf of Wall Street would be a logical, and natural product of the nihilistic system he saw unfolding into the future.

Humans have a thirst for knowledge, but the more natural man does so with a ‘libertinage of the spirit’ that hates ‘pompous and hierarchical manners’ and delights in ‘what is most forbidden’. Or, in other words, Nietzsche was predicting a lust for the perverse and the radical. They ‘should hardly know any longer of any interest of knowledge if the way to it were paved with boredom.’ The more natural humanity, therefore, will only learn, and its members will only allow themselves to be educated, if the learning process is fun. They will learn what they want to learn, not what they need to know. This explains the enormous manifestation of ignorance in our information rich world. It is not because society is saturated by information, as many of our sociologists tell us, but because it is bored by the important stuff and seduced by the fun of triviality. And it is for this reason that so many of those in the information age prefer to remain in the most part ignorant.

What is more, in the nihilist civilisation, not only knowledge, but anything that has to be acquired has to be fun, or exciting. Given a choice, (and nowdays there is always a choice) the more naturally nihilist individual will always choose to do that which is pleasurable over something which is necessary or beneficial …

Or at least whilst the situation at hand does not involve a life-or-death consequences scenario like we have seen created by the Covid-19 pandemic. With the coronavirus crisis we have witnessed the hedonistic values of our nihilistic civilisation profoundly challenged, and the necessity of protecting our health has been able to put the universal libertinage of the spirit on stand bye.

b)    NIHILISM AND COVID-19

The pandemic experience has also revealed all the dangers enmeshed within the nihilistic attitude of our times, and we can now see more clearly what we lost when we surrendered to capitalism and the nihilisms it generated. The first casualty of our nihilist era was reality itself. Wealth, and the power it wields, has denied, or tried to deny, any needs that do not favour the acquisitions of what it wants or which impede the playing out of its own exciting fantasies and games. It is for this reason, for example, that capitalism has resisted the necessary conversion to green energy sources, because lurking beneath any new green deal is a greater purpose for humanity which threatens the basis of the nihilistic era itself. Likewise, Wealth has created false needs (those which the marketplace is more or less defined by) in order to push all surplus upward and allow the wealthy to acquire whatever they can imagine desiring.

The Covid-19 crisis has also shown us what little regard the more natural nihilists that drive our System have for humanity and human suffering. In the major capitalist states like the USA and the UK, the desire to protect the economy and keep trade flowing has been eagerly expressed even above the aim to protect lives against the disease. The natural nihilists have even made calls to citizens to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the economy and President Trump went as far to call the American people ‘warriors’ as he incited them to sacrifice themselves to the greater good of American business.

The more natural nihilist, argues Nietzsche, is practically amoral and principles for him or her have become ridiculous. Duty is only ever spoken about with irony, says Nietzsche. But the nihilist is not completely immoral. He or she has the morality, he says, that comes from his or her instincts – without explaining what these moral instincts are. In fact, the idea contradicts another theme of the essay, that nature is immoral. If there is no morality in nature, Nietzsche suggests, what can our moral instincts be? And if they have no instincts regarding morality, why should the more natural nihilist have any instincts at all? So, when he does talk of the nihilist’s morality, we think that he is referring to the morality that the nihilistic system manufactures and propagates to serve the desires of Wealth: the morals involved in the patriotic duties that demand sacrifices in times of crises – when those crises threaten the interests of Wealth.

c)     NIHILISM AND POLITICS

When he discusses politics in #120, Nietzsche intuits the evolution of his more natural nihilists into dictators and fascists. Politics is a problem of power, he says, and “we do not believe in any right that is not supported by the power of enforcement.” In order to rule the upcoming nihilistic societies, politicians will have to do it through force. All rights will be conquests, he says, implying that this necessary struggle for power, between “one quantum of power against another,” will make society strong.

Again, his prophecy came to fruition, although in a far shakier way than Nietzsche probably anticipated. At the turn of the 20th century the nihilist era quickly sank into a dark age of struggle, wars, revolutions, and incredible anti-human dictatorships, replaced, in the latter half of the same century, by less natural nihilist democracies. Representative democracy became the norm and politics was reduced internationally to a constant, if banal, struggle between left and right to win the votes of the centre, while the real natural nihilists, the capitalist corporations, accumulated incredible wealth and power by installing an economic paradigm above the political one. The resulting global empire, of corporations and international finance, became our most natural nihilist, driving the hedonism of consumerism to such orgiastic levels that it now threatens an ecological breakdown through an over-consumption of natural resources and a largely unchecked contamination of the environment. But while this global commerce increased its immense power, its fragility also increased at a reciprocal, chaotic rate. All it needed to bring about its collapse was a tiny germ; an unexpected new virus – with Covid-19 the world economy practically came to a complete standstill.

Nietzsche seemed to be speaking sincerely when he applauded the more natural nihilists’ politics of force, but what we have seen emerge from this constant struggle between each nihilist quantum is not a more noble kind of power, but quite the contrary. Civilisation has, for the most part, grown politically tired, at times even exhausted, with a tendency towards inefficiency and apathy rather than real struggle. A life that is continually fighting to obtain rights or power is not much of a life if there is no clear purposiveness to accompany the struggle. The obtaining of rights in the nihilist era is a step forward on a treadmill that takes us nowhere. All the more natural nihilist has is the possibility of the enjoyment derived from winning the game, but we are playing in a league that seems to have no end, because when it does the same team always wins.

This is where the seeds of apathy in our more natural nihilist world lie. The competition culminates in elections that become a race between the same old teams, and even when those teams are joined by new parties, the game still manages to retain the same predictable results only with an increased, cacophonic squabbling between the players involved. Our nihilist societies want excitement, but this same old game is boring. As with any continuum, when struggle is reduced to repetition it becomes insipid and pointless. Only an honest, authentic purposiveness is truly worth fighting for.

d)    NIHILISM AND THE GREAT CRIMINALS

The more natural man, says Nietzsche, considers passion a privilege, and he goes on to explain this by adding the audacious: “we consider nothing is great unless it includes a great crime.”

The 20th century and what we have so far of this century, are full of these bold anti-heroes, and we have seen how so many of them have unashamedly committed their great crimes against humanity over and over again. Greatness, claims Nietzsche, consists of transcending social morals. In the purposeless universe there can be no true morality – and this is correct, but in the purposeless world even the greatest criminal nihilist will eventually disappear in the same void that the purposelessness they so revere creates.

The more natural nihilist reduces nature to the devilish and dumb, and for that reason he or she respects it, because they too are devilish and dumb. Neither the more natural nihilist nor nature itself aspires to virtue. In actual fact, the nihilist society respects nature only for what it can take from it. Natural beauty becomes an excuse to go somewhere, where that beauty exists, but when it is reached, if it ever actually existed, it is lost because of the invasion of those searching for it.

Above all, in the nihilistic age nature represents opportunities to make fortunes if one knows how to exploit it. Our nihilist society does have its base, vulgar purpose: making money, and all nihilistic purpose is embedded in it. Money equals exchange and implies acquisition. Nietzsche ignores this vulgar trend for consumerism, or relegates it to the realm of the Last Men. Devilish and dumb are the Last Men consumers, so is this what they have in common with the more natural nihilists that govern them?

e)    NIHILISM AND POSITIVISM

The more natural nihilist remains cold to the beautiful, illusory lies of art and looks for something more brutal – positivism.

Positivism thus becomes the antithesis of beauty. This is an interesting aesthetic statement from Nietzsche: nature itself is not deliberately beautiful, but it is positive. Nature as something fecund, with a desire to manifest itself, grow and propagate itself. Beauty is a human prejudice on nature and so, to be honest in a nature-centred sense, it should be rejected.

But again, rejecting beauty is a rejection of purposiveness, and without purposiveness there can be no real positivism.

f)      THE ANTI-NIHILIST PURPOSIVENESS OF UNCONCEALMENT

That Nietzsche saw nature to be devoid of purposiveness was his greatest mistake. Purpose through a will to Unconcealment is embedded in the ontology of the cosmos. The human ability to perceive beauty may in fact be one of the deepest instincts for survival in our species.

Another, more traditional, way of expressing this would be to proclaim our ability to perceive beauty as an essential element in our souls. An element that nihilism erodes by cutting it off from the nourishment it could receive from any meaningfulness.

Without that nourishment, beauty sinks into the swamps of melancholy and the subsequent depressions that our nihilistic society is infested with.

Nietzsche’s argument that we have grown stronger by being more natural nihilists is wrong – we have grown more adolescent, full of the great capriciousness and bored peevishness characteristic of adolescence. There is nothing noble in this, quite the contrary, its egoism is dangerous and its immaturity has created catastrophic levels of corruption, decadence and political stupidity.       

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