Friday, December 12, 2008

The weak, in their slave morality, resent the power of their masters, as well as their inability to retaliate

Part III: Alyosha and Zarathustra on Com-passion and a Genuine Embodied Life
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

Zarathustra holds compassion in low-esteem and views exhibitions of pity with great suspicion. According to Zarathustra, pitying another person causes resentment in the recipient and is simply a way for the person showing pity to think himself better than others. In the sections entitled, “On the Rabble” and “On Tarantulas,”[1] Zarathustra re-visits this idea of resentment (or ressentiment) with both recalling categories and themes discussed in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. For example, in the Genealogy, we are introduced to master and slave morality.

The weak, in their slave morality, resent the power of their masters, as well as their inability to retaliate against their masters. Because the weak see no justice in this life, they invent an other-worldly realm where God metes out ultimate justice. Slave morality is credited with having invented the concepts of evil and good-concepts which are defined in reference to the masters (those in power). The great flaw of slave morality is the way in which the weak define themselves in terms their masters rather than carving out their own definition of themselves.

According to Nietzsche, values are constantly in flux; consequently, notions of good and evil are always changing and cannot be fixed. Whatever the current conceptions of good and evil happen to be, these will remain the dominant way of thinking until a different group comes into power and re-creates new conceptions. Interestingly, in this genealogical account of morals, Nietzsche concedes that the slave morality ultimately involves a cleverness about it, because it was able to trans-value the then-dominant values of its day.

For instance, the slaves turned the qualities associated with the masters-powerful, wealthy, strong, cruel-into a description of evil characteristics. Likewise, they transformed their own characteristics-weak, poor, lacking in power, compassionate-into a description of good qualities. Even though he grants this cleverness to slave morality, ultimately both Zarathustra and Nietzsche despise the ressentiment that drives it, as ressentiment in seemingly deterministic fashion produces nay-sayers who have their eyes fixed on some other-worldly world, and consequently, degrade and devalue the body and this world.

Lastly, in his discussion of the “ugliest man,” who, according to Zarathustra, murdered God because he couldn’t bear God’s constant, ever-present, penetrating gaze, we are told that the one sentiment that the ugliest man could not endure is to be shown pity.[2]

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