Nietzschean reflections in times of the pandemic

Love children especially, for they too are sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea.

Friedrich Nietszche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

With the COVID-19 pandemic in the background, what follows is an essay that calls for a rethinking of our ethical thought, of our way of being in the world, inspired by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and the innocence of childhood.

Love for the ghost of the future: towards an ethics and politics of the non-human

Silvana Vignale (1), (Lobo Suelto! – 05/05/2020)

The world will no longer be the same, we tell ourselves. The conditions of possibility of our historical experience are changing. Any question about “the day after” – we know that there is no such day -, should begin with one of the main historical a priori principles of our experience: humanism.

Will we continue to sing the praises of our humanity, when it is in the name of it that the environment is attacked – and given that even before, liberalism’s concept of industrial appropriation was tied to human dignity, and man’s relationship with nature and with other beings was one of domination – ? Will we continue talking about dealing with political and economic issues while attending to the human, when it is in the name of humanity that we seek to protect lives – while confining the majority to precariousness, marginality, hunger and death – ? Are we talking about humanitarian solutions to the crisis, when that crisis is what we have ourselves caused, ignoring events such as immigration and forms of population displacement, due to war and inequality in the world? Of humanitarian aid when this refers to the provisions that warplanes drop on towns in the Middle East, after having unloaded upon them bombs? Will we continue talking about humanity, when in doing so, man is used as the equivalent to being human?

Never betray humanity; that is Kant’s categorical imperative. Should we not already suspect it?: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.” (Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 1785). We already know then, some time later, what “humanity” meant here. It became a paradigm of an ethics that actually serves the destructive dominance of the human being over nature, the dominance of the soul over the body, the dominance of the male over the female, and the dominance and violence of some over others. The notion of person, in our highest formal imperative, supports it: as a theological-political apparatus, it always served the ends of domination. Crimes against humanity have been organised around, once again, guaranteeing the continuity of the pact or contract: it is the double standard of universal and inalienable human rights, which are nevertheless overlooked by international organisations when the political and economic order of the countries, who choose the words with which the world is ordered, is at stake.

Let us not forget in this regard what allowed in the modern universe to find the path of the Enlightenment: delivery from self-imposed minority. The way out of childhood, to find oneself in an age of majority which is that of the freedom of thought, of that which while emancipating our understanding from religious dogmas, binds us to obedience to the political, limiting our freedom of action and reaction, managing our forces, increasing our productive capacity, weakening our capacity for assembly, for gathering together and political action. Managing obedience by means of public and private spheres of activity. Let us also not forget that this management constrains women to a double subordination: when the sphere of the private is confinement to the domestic. During the whole process of this emancipation, the Enlightenment that invented liberties also invented the disciplines, as Foucault said: it is the domination and constraint of some forces by others, the payment of a voluntary servitude by another voluntary servitude.

In the face of value neutrality and scientific objectivity, we must point out, over and over again, the relationships between power and truth; to whitewash forever the interest of all ethics and the perspective of all eyes. Perhaps, and again, we must find an ethic that presupposes happiness, but from materialistic and not formal motives. In childhood there is the ignorance of happiness in its relationship with duty, with responsibility, with merit, with moral debt, with economic debt. Ignorance of the fallacy of merit as a prize for the greatest effort. Let us return to a non-meritorious ethics, without falling back on any dogma; an ethics that is not founded on the promise, and with it, on the confiscation of all future time.

The challenge is the exit from the theological-political apparatus and the disguises of servitude; from a happiness that does not deserve or pretend to be universal as the truth. After all, we have told ourselves a story of truth and politics, which is also the story of forgetting childhood as an innocent territory, free of guilt and debt. The history of truth for the West has been nothing but the history of humanisation, the history of forgetting the corporeal, of what concerns life, of the circulation of affections, in pursuit of the guarantee of security and obedience to a political order that makes of the singularity of subject an abstract individual; the history of universals that function as an apparatus for capturing bodies, bodies which continually oscillate between the person and the thing. Nietzsche was not wrong when he asked whether philosophy has so far not been an interpretation of the body and a misunderstanding of the body. It is the bodies that today harbour a virus that put the political and economic order into crisis, which seem to deal better with the management of death than of life. It is the circulation of something between bodies and not of money that marks the turning point in the transformations of our historical experience, despite the history of humanism, truth and universals.

And how are we to think of a politics of the non-human, a politics or a political community that frees itself from the human, and bind itself to other forms of relationship, in a new affective economy, with ties to other beings, with the world, with nature, and also with ourselves? Is a non-human politics possible, a politics different from that of man and the rights’ of man’s, a politics that includes the feminine without reducing the feminine to the figures of the maternal and of care, to the sphere of the private, of love of one’s neighbor, of selfless love? A politics that includes animals not as objects of our violence and consumption, but as those with whom we share a world? How to think of non-Enlightenment politics, a politics that does not boast of the prudent uses of reason; a politics that begins from an intimacy not mediated by representation, that restores it to the realm of the materiality of bodies, to other forms of relationship with life? Is a politics of childhood possible, in which our relationships no longer merge into the guilty fiction of the Fall, which does not merge into creditor-debtor relationships? Is an innocent politics possible, such as that of the third metamorphosis of which Zarathustra speaks, that of the child as the first movement of a wheel? A politics that leaves to history and its ruins categories such as the person, the individual, I/me, the subject, individual freedom, and of course, man? A politics that does not apprehend and arrest us in an identity, that does not put the body behind the soul or a cogito, a politics that attends to the circulation and the multiplicity of forces, gestures, or affections? A politics that does not decree which lives have value and which do not, that does not establish human distinctions?

If it is still conceivable as a metaphor and as a destiny that man would be erased, like a face in the sand on the edge of the sea, it should be considered that ghosts are not always ghosts of the past. There are also the ghosts of the future, those that wait to be incarnated: “higher still than love to men, is love to things and phantoms. The phantom that runneth on before thee, my brother, is fairer than thou; why dost thou not give unto it thy flesh and thy bones?”(2) A love arrow, a love for the future, for what is to come.

1. PhD in Philosophy. Researcher at CONICET. Contact: [email protected]

2. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spake Zarathustra.

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