1 min read19th Mar 202016 comments
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Attempt to understand Nietzsche and paraphrase him, since it seems a lot of people are interpreting him various ways that strike me as incorrect and even absurd. I may be the one who is wrong, but I want to sketch it out. (Some academics likely have it right, but their stuff isn't easily accessible.) 

Genealogy of Morals


People don't reflect enough on what it is they're doing in life--this part strikes me as weirdly vague in its phrasing. I'm not quite sure if he's saying they don't know what they really want, or what their purpose is, or what it is they are supposed to be understanding. I gather from what he says about the hive that he believes something like the purpose of human life is to acquire knowledge that provides meaningful satisfaction to the human spirit. But this is clearly a brief intro which will be expanded upon.

He then talks about how he has been exploring where morality came from for years at this point, and writing about it, and he's happy to see his ideas cohering--they fit together, which means he is on to something real. This strikes me as very important and a generally underappreciated aspect of Nietzsche and philosophy in general---way too many people think they can pick and choose individual sentences and understand what is going on, but these things are part of a coherent value system connected to a larger truth. You really have to absorb and marinate in this type of writing, not take it at face value. They can be extremely dysfunctional or just useless if used out of context. They're "of a piece." Extremely important passage:

That is the only state of affairs that is proper in the case of a philosopher. We have no right to be "disconnected"; we must neither err "disconnectedly" nor strike the truth "disconnectedly." Rather with the necessity with which a tree bears its fruit, so do our thoughts, our values, our Yes's and No's and If's and Whether's, grow connected and interrelated, mutual witnesses of one will,


The next part was slightly confusing to me, but basically he says that from a very young age, he was obsessed with why something was considered right or wrong, and what made it so. He felt he had to question things, in a way so at odds with the behavior of people around him that he thought he was somehow unique or unprecedented (a priori). His personality/nature would cause him to freeze and analyze any inconsistency until he reconciled it or could explain the concept, pretty much. I am the same way; Lincoln said something similar. He explored philosophical problems that were commonly presented to students at that time, and sounds quite similar to Emerson here in saying he decided to argue God created evil and thought he was quite clear. Emerson told his schoolmaster that he trusted his instincts, and was asked what if they came from the devil. He then said "well, I guess I'm a creature of the devil, then, and have to follow my nature." Note that Emerson was from a long line of preachers and in a New England Christian community in the early 1800s, so that was risky. Nietzsche seems more neurotic, and so wonders what in his nature caused him to make that argument, which was "immoral" or "at least amoral." What about his constitution resisted simply accepting that evil came from the Devil, not God? Was it just being clever, or was that what he really believed deep down at age 13? He notes his inner self spoke to him in categorical imperatives, insisting on one consistent rule, no inconsistency. Took me a minute to figure out the "Kantian article" reference. Info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_peace Still not sure exactly the point---simply that his own argument wasn't so insistent on doing the morally good thing? That it was freaky to consider that God created evil, and all its implications? Yeah, it appears he was stressed about violating Christian teachings, but soon learned how to take a secular approach, and seems to imply he became an atheist. No longer thought supernatural origins were in play.

Instead, values were created by men--not God or the Devil--and the question is on what basis did they generate them, are they actually valuable, and do they help or hinder humanity? The "helping" view would mean "is it in them that is manifested the fulness, the strength, and the will of Life, its courage, its self-confidence, its future?" This is what Nietzsche considers valuable. 

He basically then says he dove into the problem and constructed an elaborate intellectual framework over some period of time, and relished the satisfaction of playing around with his discoveries, but kept it mostly quiet, until inspired to publish by an interesting book on morals, that expressed the polar opposite of his own views and thus fascinated him. Despite disagreement on everything, he read it without getting worked up--I assume he means the approach of the author was "fair" and well-reasoned, so he could respect it intellectually and really grasp it. It was the first time he'd encountered this value system clearly and coherently--he makes a point of saying this was the English kind, which he finds alien. That book inspired him to write his later books--to refute its arguments and discuss the origin of morality. Note to self: read the book described as follows:

I owe to a clear, well-written, and even precocious little book, in which a perverse and vicious kind of moral philosophy (your real English kind) was definitely presented to me for the first time; and this attracted me—with that magnetic attraction, inherent in that which is diametrically opposed and antithetical to one's own ideas. The title of the book was The Origin of the Moral Emotions; its author, Dr. Paul Ree; the year of its appearance, 1877.

Note on timeline: Nietzsche mentions he spent a lot of time thinking this stuff over in the 1870s, especially mid-late. Have to look at what was going on, but I believe Bismarck was doing his thing. Emerson was alive but failing. The U.S. was just starting to become modern, at a rapid pace, in terms of big business especially, then sliding into imperialism and government-by-expert. I think Europe was reasonably stable (excepting Russia?), but I'll probably turn out to be very wrong on that.

I referred accordingly both in season and out of season in the previous works, at which I was then working, to the arguments of that book,—
not to refute them for what have I got to do with mere—
refutations but substituting, as is natural to a positive mind, for an improbable theory one which is more probable, and occasionally no doubt for one philosophic error another. In that early period I gave, as I have said, the first public expression to those theories of origin to which these essays are devoted, but with a clumsiness which I was the last to conceal from myself, for I was as yet cramped, being still without a special language for these special subjects,

Nietzsche makes a point of noting he takes a positive approach--meaning he wants to build a case for the correct system, not negate others'. So where he thought something made an unlikely assumption relative to his own, he spelled that out, admitting he was wrong at times and that his ideas took a while to express effectively, but have stayed consistent. Interesting that he thinks he needed jargon--not sure which special subjects/language he means, but I could see how certain things would be useful shorthand. Also, this must have been translated into German, which may have made things a little weird when talking about certain concepts and technical terms.

Will continue with Part 5. 

I really appreciate summaries (even of the cuff ones) for classics and books, so thank you for writing this! I generally like Nietzsche and found this pretty useful.

Thanks--glad you found it somewhat useful!

Found a brief summary of Ree's book---guess they knew each other! 

he Origin of the Moral Sensations was largely written in the autumn of 1877 in Sorrento, where Rée and Nietzsche both worked by invitation of Malwida von Meysenbug. The book sought to answer two questions. First, Rée attempted to explain the occurrence of altruistic feelings in human beings. Second, Rée tried to explain the interpretive process which denoted altruistic feelings as moral. Reiterating the conclusions of Psychological Observations, Rée claimed altruism was an innate human drive that over the course of centuries has been strengthened by selection.

Main point: Ree was interested in altruism, and believed it was an evolutionary selected for instinct. 

Published in 1877, The Origin of the Moral Sensations was Rée's second book. Its standpoint, Rée announced in the foreword, was inductive. Rée first observed the empirical phenomena he thought constituted man's moral nature and then looked into their origin. Rée proceeded from the premise that we feel that some actions to be good and others to be evil. From the latter came the guilty conscience. Rée also followed many philosophers in rejecting free will. The error of free will, Rée claims, lies behind the development of the feeling of justice:

Main point: I can see why Nietzsche reacted badly to these arguments, but wasn't offended by them. Ree worked backwards from categories of morals he'd made up, so that was kind of an issue, in his searching for an explanation to back up his assumptions. If you don't have good judgment on these things, like Niezsche did, this can get ridiculous very quickly. He also seems to think our sense of morality is something we emotionally feel about actions, which seems not the best assumption, and that the guilty conscience comes after these intuitions instead of being intertwined? It was probably more sophisticated than that in the book. But we're unable to control these feelings, and shouldn't feel guilty, because we can't choose anyway, but we feel we choose the wrong thing, and that when this happens, it has to be remedied--so we crave justice. It's not clear if these are reasoning errors or more like evolutionary intuitive/emotional errors.

"The feeling of justice thus arises out of two errors, namely, because the punishments inflicted by authorities and educators appear as acts of retribution, and because people believe in the freedom of the will."

Oh. Okay. So basically since kids are yelled at and told they are responsible for doing bad things, they assume this is true and they deserve what they have coming. This seems kind of all over the place. Authority figures feel some actions are bad, and treat kids as thought that is the case and they can choose not to do them, and this is credible to the kids because they also innately feel these actions are bad and that they have choice. Therefore they see the punishment as necessary and logical.

Rée rejected metaphysical explanations of good and evil; he thought that the best explanations were those of offered by Darwin and Lamarck, who had traced moral phenomena back to their natural causes. Rée argued that our moral sentiments were the result of changes that had occurred over the course of many generations. Like Lamarck and Darwin, Rée argued that acquired habits could be passed to later generations as innate characteristics. As an acquired habit, altruistic behavior eventually became an innate characteristic. Altruistic behavior was so beneficial, Rée claimed, that it came to be praised unconditionally, as something good in itself, apart from its outcomes.

This sounds like it would be "moral foundations theory" or something, but this really doesn't seem to have developed reasoning about which traits would evolve from certain natural causes. Maybe the summary just doesn't bother to say. But he doesn't seem able to come up with the idea that altruism would have evolutionary benefits, although it doesn't seem like this idea would have been hard to generate even at the time, as animals cooperate. Actually, I think I misunderstood, and he did make some evolutionary argument. But basically we found altruistic people so attractive that even when unnecessary, it was selected for--overly altruistic people were selected for, even if it led to bad outcomes, because it is itself an impressive virtue. I can see why Nietzsche would freak out about this.

Part II of paraphrasing Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, this time focusing on Section 5 of the Preface. I want to record my initial impressions of reading Nietzsche without much knowledge of other people's analysis--mainly for the reason he describes here: trying to get to the underlying commonalities in various theories before getting attached to a theory. Especially because I've found 20c intellectuals made a lot of errors interpreting the 19c, and I like to use 19c primary sources. This part (section 5 of the preface) seems pretty important. 

In reality I had set my heart at that time on something much more important than the nature of the theories of myself or others concerning the origin of morality (or, more precisely, the real function from my view of these theories was to point an end to which they were one among many means). 

Nietzsche (who I will abbreviate as N from now on) makes it clear that he's trying to call attention not to the theories themselves, but what they had in common, to get at what was solid and underlying them. They would be picking up on the same things in different ways where they were valid. The source of these insights was the key, and it could be discovered from different angles. Below, he says this source was "the value" of morality---why do people care so much about defining morality to begin with? That's the key.

The issue for me was the value of morality, and on that subject I had to place myself in a state of abstraction, in which I was almost alone with my great teacher Schopenhauer, 

So being in a state of abstraction was anomalous for him and rare in general. I'm pretty sure what he means in this: he had to dismiss all his assumptions so that the could see past the theories to the essence: what they had in common. He had to discover it from the ground up like someone who never internalized any theories. Fieldwork; investigation. Apparently he learned how to do this mostly from Schopenhauer's example.

to whom that book, with all its passion and inherent contradiction (for that book also was a polemic), turned for present help as though he were still alive.

N makes a point of emphasizing both this book and his first one are polemics. Let's stop and think about this, because this is why I think modern interpretations of N are so off. Modern western thinking doesn't really acknowledge this exact concept, which was central to 19c writing, almost none of which had the tone we now associate with serious or scientific writing--neutral, objective, professional, bureaucratic, etc. It's not that it wasn't serious, but it was inherently playful or engaging, meandering, not technical. That was just considered normal---some were much better than others at it, more interesting or clever, but it wasn't significant that someone wrote this way. There were also a lot of allusions, used as shorthand, instead of jargon like we use today. This is still common in official correspondence in some parts of the world--I've noticed many Americans read statements by the CCP and wonder why it sounds "religious" or "inspirational." This is simply default 19c intellectual language, often referred to with bafflement as "flowery" or "romantic" now (which was often quite combative and blunt by our standards.) It was pretty influenced by religion, specifically Biblical and classical language, and western works translated documents from Asia or the Middle East using the same framework. When I use a term like playful, I don't mean anyone was joking. Just that they aren't making entirely literal or factual statements, like you would find in an instruction manual---that was considered inappropriate outside of very specific circumstances, like giving instructions for a simple process. You can't just stop at face value.

Some definitions, for clarity:

  • A polemic is an aggressive, uncompromisingly critical verbal assault.
  • Polemical is the adjective form of the noun polemic, which itself comes from the Greek word, polemos, meaning "war."
  • A polemic is something that stirs up controversy by having a negative opinion, usually aimed at a particular group.
  • polemic (/pəˈlɛmɪk/) is contentious rhetoric that is intended to support a specific position by forthright claims and undermining of the opposing position.

So N was explicitly assuming a stance, which was common at the time, to tear apart a specific target, not merely offering his ideas spontaneously. He was responding. I realize this is obvious to many, but I've noticed this understanding is absent in a lot of later analysis of 19c stuff. A polemic is consciously an attack and is shaped as such, but modern critics will say a polemicist was biased as though this is significant and makes the work less credible. N's first two books, at least, can only be understood in this context: in light of what he was specifically opposing and reacting to, which necessarily set the terms of the debate. This would explain focus and emphasis. He also notes the first book was full of inherent contradiction. 

I haven't read much Schopenhauer, but will make a mental note to do so. I can tell from reading most of the available summaries that the general understanding of him is confused, because they're all contradictory in predictable ways. He was used in service of a variety of competing philosophies later on, and various fields, resulting in essentially many alleged versions of Schopenhauer. What I take from it is that he believed that appearance and reality were different things, and that some sort of Buddhist-like detachment was advisable, rather than the romanticism of his time, which assumed people could know and do more than they could. So, life is full of suffering, so resign oneself to that instead of trying to control everything and torturing oneself with desire and being overly rational. But he was more empirical than mystical, demanding evidence for beliefs, and atheistic. I'm sure that is an extreme simplification and at least partly wrong, but that's the only thing that seems solidly supported by all the sources. And he wrote a lot of polemics, especially towards Hegel's positions, which of course modern sources fail to appreciate, and therefore spend a lot of time complaining that Schopenhauer was pushy and biased and personally fixated---which was the entire point. He was trying to take down contemporaries he thought were wrong. They all also imply that he "coincidentally" generated ideas similar to  Buddhism, as though he could not have been aware of its existence and been informed by it, o commented on the similarities and differences--philosophers at this time knew what Buddhism was, and many studied it. Anyway.

As N notes, Schopenhauer (S from now on) was an outlier at this time, especially in the German intellectual world, and he found his style attractive. But not the content. S had idealized the instincts of pity, self-denial, and self-sacrifice, making them sound inherently valuable by building such a vivid case for them. He sincerely believed in these ideals, "on the strength of which he uttered both to Life and to himself his own negation," N says. 

But against these very instincts there voiced itself in my soul a more and more fundamental mistrust, a scepticism that dug ever deeper and deeper: and in this very instinct I saw the great danger of mankind, its most sublime temptation and seduction seduction to what? to nothingness? in these very instincts I saw the beginning of the end, stability, the exhaustion that gazes backwards, the will turning against Life, the last illness announcing itself with its own mincing melancholy: I realised that the morality of pity which spread wider and wider, and whose grip infected even philosophers with its disease, was the most sinister symptom of our modern European civilisation; I realised that it was the route along which that civilisation slid on its way to a new Buddhism? a European Buddhism?—Nihilism? This exaggerated estimation in which modern philosophers have held pity, is quite a new phenomenon: up to that time philosophers were absolutely unanimous as to the worthlessness of pity. I need only mention Plato, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld, and Kant—four minds as mutually different as is possible, but united on one point; their contempt of pity.

So, I guess as he read S for help with his strategy, he became deeply disturbed by the implications---again, his inner self detected something very wrong. If one started thinking this way--and I think this is related to concerns about the dangers of intellectually-minded people getting into the habit of mainly abstract thought and building air castles, since he seems to think the state of abstraction somewhat odd and associates with S--all that is solid dissolves into abstractions; there's no life, nothing seems wort it; one can see that everything is futile, that nothing can be known enough to justify the confidence to act. And it appears also a complacency ("stability"?), where all you can do is look back because there's no future imaginable.  And then depression and moralization and nihilism. He could see how easy it was to fall down this path, and even if it seemed logical, the results were clearly abnormal historically and bad in their overall outcome. Obviously, N is familiar with Buddhism and makes the connection easily. (It isn't clear that he opposes Buddhism itself, but a bastardized version of it alien to Europe.) Then he connects this with the larger, less intellectual/abstract problem of the "morality of pity" that was spreading through people throughout "our modern European civilisation" (wonder what he thought about America at this point in comparison?) and "even philosophers." He is noting an ongoing change, a stark break with the past, specifically in modern Europe. It is "quite new," a problem of modern philosophy. And it is a sharp reversal--something people should be very suspicious of when we're talking about the fundamentals of life--what does it mean when humanity changes its mind about such a thing? It's at the very least calling out for closer analysis. 

Also important is that he keeps returning to the significance of different theorists having commonalities, and the value one would expect to find in the commonalities, which likely correspond to something real they are all picking up on. And N considers them all very different. And they all think pity is useless (as in, not helpful or admirable, not something to encourage).

Just for reference, Plato lived in ancient Greece, much earlier than the rest. Kant lived in the 1700s, the other two in the 1600s. So we're probably talking about a shift that happened, at earliest, in the late 1700s, and most likely in N's own century, the 1800s.

*Note:* I wrote this draft a few months ago. I intend to write a series synthesizing all the information I’d collected for a book about how the 2020s would be an “interregnum” in which many of our fundamental assumptions would be undermined. The shock that exposes many underlying tensions has come unexpectedly early and suddenly, so I’ll just do this more informally.

In the concluding paragraph of the famous book The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen wrote: “There is the distinct possibility that, in the next twenty years, we are going to find out far more about how the world really works than we ever wanted to know.”

This casual admission that—in an age that prides itself on its knowledge and technology—our entire society is out of touch with reality, /and that we don’t want to address this/, seems more than complacent. He’s not talking about the conspiracy theorists, but the people at the very top. And looking around, he’s undeniably right.
But hey. We’re always screaming about facts and truth. If we don’t need to invent a new way of life — if all we have to do is learn about how the world really works, that’s quite a relief! Our tools have never been better. We just need to take an inventory first. A trip through our history, with a focus on various cycles, seems the most promising way. We have to get our bearings. What do I mean by that?

Mike Meyer has a good analogy for dealing with our disorientation: “We are in a situation much like a parent, late Christmas Eve, finally opening the box with the new bicycle and discovering the absence of any instructions.” Naturally, the parent thinks “well, I know what a bicycle looks like, what the hell.” Meyer reveals he was that parent, and that it wasn’t so easy, especially pre-Internet. He now knows he must “science the shit out of this thing,” or do “a rethink of what the parts are that we have, particularly those didn’t go anywhere, and determining their purpose based on form.” He had to “deconstruct the bicycle and then carefully study the parts” to see how they would fit together, which was successful.

His wisdom: “We have been and are making assumptions based on irrelevant, old information, have begun screwing things together haphazardly, and have hit problems that mean what we are doing won’t work. And there are all of these parts still laying on the floor. The answer is not a hammer,” but questioning our assumptions. “We obviously put things together in a way that wasn’t correct and we kept doing it when we should have stopped. Now we are going to spend a long, uncomfortable time undoing things we that had done.” Time to deconstruct everything and figure out what we’re working with. We need to know what the hell is going on.

Contrary to common belief, government by expert turned out not to be very great at this. Mainly because the elite class did just about everything but using the actual pieces as intended. More on that, later.

Here’s the deal: the founding fathers of this country “entertained no hopes of suppressing factions and educating a united or homogenous citizenry. Instead, they constructed an elaborate machinery to contain factions in a way that they would cancel one another and allow for the pursuit of the common good.” Putting it even more starkly, a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln declared, it was his ability “to use the frailties of others against each other for the common good, that make him stand out alone not only in this age, but in any other in history.”⁠ By the late 1980s, Allan Bloom could comment, “All of our reforms have helped strip the teeth of our gears, which can therefore no longer mesh. They spin idly, side by side, unable to set the social machine in motion.”

There was a great decoupling between the parts of our world and their functions. We crippled our collective understanding on every level by rewiring things without ever updating the user’s manual. One could go into the root causes of this for volumes, but a lot of it has to do with our belief that the solution is always “sciencing the shit” out of things.

While this book is trying to diagnose the problem more than fix it, my conclusion suggests surveying the pieces, deciding what everything does and whether or not to throw it out or install it in its proper place.

*Note*: This is all very creepy, because I was going to point out next how modern medicine is miraculous in the areas more amenable to human control, but that it probably wouldn’t be able to make a massive difference with something like the 1918 flu, and that modern achievements can actually drive superbugs. I had noticed people seemed to be using tech/medical advances to offset any pandemic concerns when it came to visions of frictionless, hyper-efficient globalization. This seemed weird to me - I expected to see something like this in my lifetime, and the ineradicable risk of pandemics seemed like one reason for valuing a certain level of self-sufficiency and sovereignty over maximal efficiency and lack of friction.

Watching People Waking Up

Across the spectrum, people realize this isn't confined to merely partisan or economic concerns, but goes much deeper.

Sam Corey:

"Liberal America has been whipped up into this orgiastic frenzy to browbeat ideological deviance rather than lift themselves from the old familiar double-downer sideshow of half-measures and diminished expectations . . . This economy has the backbone of a mollusk . . . This flies far beyond the scope of a doofus Jell-O-Shot and his bungling of disease contamination. The coronavirus is more proof of just how much of contemporary American life is a sham, with power structures built on corporate profiteering as opposed to our best interests. Whole Foods, instead of giving their employees sick days, expect them to donate their paid time off to each other . . . This idea of capitalism effectively marshaling resources to meet human needs is a fantasy borne of free-market fetishization. What about this inspires any confidence in how we would react to a looming climate catastrophe? COVID-19 may be a passing pandemic, but neoliberalism is a terminal illness. America is hung in a frustrated limbo created mainly by the gross cynicism of basilisk leaders barely squinting beyond the horizons of quarterly profit margins.

Adam Aelkus:

The last few weeks have been a profoundly radicalizing experience. . . . But as we have seen, these institutions are perfectly capable of unraveling themselves without much help from Russian bots and trolls and Macedonian teenagers. And if the fish rots from the head, then the counter-disinformation effort becomes actively harmful. It seeks to gentrify information networks that could offer layers of redundancy in the face of failures from legacy institutions. It is reliant on blunt and context-indifferent collections of bureaucratic and mechanical tools to do so. It leaves us with a situation in which complicated computer programs on enormous systems and overworked and overburdened human moderators censor information if it runs afoul of generalized filters but malicious politicians and malfunctioning institutions can circulate misleading or outright false information unimpeded. And as large content platforms are being instrumentalized by these same political and institutional entities to combat “fraud and misinformation,” this basic contradiction will continue to be heightened.
The cardinal sin motivating all of this is worrying about whether we trust institutions without asking if these institutions normatively deserve trust, whether it is possible for trust to emerge in the absence of agreement about underlying causes of social problems, and most importantly how subjective trust in authorities can be achieved without objective action . . . in the UK the institutions in question were mostly passive rather than active even as they invoked the rhetoric of collective sacrifice. They asked the public to endure and keep on keeping on, even if it was unclear how or why they ought to do so . . . Western society fetishizes the appearance of leadership even as actual leaders recede into a malfunctioning technocratic machine that prunes individual agency and leaves behind only a phantom limb sensation of what once was . . . this conjuncture’s structure is organised around apperceiving itself as led, to the extent that leaders themselves might then drop out of the equation, and a form of human fronting take their place. This is to say that leadership in this conjuncture has become virtual or hauntological; mechanised and bureaucratised to the extent that human agency can become circumvented. We have gotten very far from the original goal of trying to ensure good information is not drowned out by the bad, because the social status of those circulating the information is a cheap heuristic for validating it.

Mark Lutter:

I have long thought that American institutions were in various states of decline and needed to be revitalized. I was wrong. American institutions are rotten to their core . . . There are three reasons for our decaying institutions. First, we have become complacent. Second, vetoes have become too widely distributed, the tragedy of the anti-commons. Third, we have an elite that is fundamentally unserious.

What's the word for when you eschew political rhetoric, and then directly therafter start decrying the state of our Institutions via political rhetoric?

Are you commenting on one of the quotes or my own comment? If the latter, I did not eschew political rhetoric. I said the issues were not confined to merely partisan or economic concerns. This was very much intended as a political post, but not a partisan one.

Who/what was called out in the quoted comments:

-"Liberal America"

-Our economic framework

-The President ("doofus Jell-O-Shot")

-American life

-Whole Foods



-Financial elites

-American institutions, including mainstream media outlets

-UK Institutions

-The public in general (American)

-US/UK Leadership



-Malicious politicians and people spreading bad information

-Social signalers

-Western society



-Unserious elites

Final Section of Preface of Genealogy of Morals (see previous short forms)

Section 8 concludes the preface with a few important points.

If this writing be obscure to any individual, and jar on his ears, I do not think that it is necessarily I who am to blame. It is clear enough, on the hypothesis which I presuppose, namely, that the reader has first read my previous writings and has not grudged them a certain amount of trouble: it is not, indeed, a simple matter to get really at their essence. 

So, I need to read is early book, as he says, but just pointing out that he emphasizes the necessity of understanding the work as a whole, and really grappling with it.

Take, for instance, my Zarathustra; I allow no one to pass muster as knowing that book, unless every single word therein has at some time wrought in him a profound wound, and at some time exercised on him a profound enchantment: then and not till then can he enjoy the privilege of participating reverently in the halcyon element, from which that work is born, in its sunny brilliance, its distance, its spaciousness, its certainty. 

Again, his work is not something to be taken lightly or technically, but really wrestled with, absorbed word by word and found transformative.

In other cases the aphoristic form produces difficulty, but this is only because this form is treated too casually. An aphorism properly coined and cast into its final mould is far from being "deciphered" as soon as it has been read; on the contrary, it is then that it first—requires to be expounded of course for that purpose an art of exposition is necessary. 

Reminder against taking the aphorisms too casually or thinking the meaning is simple or clear at first glance. He must give examples and explain it more fully. 

The third essay in this book provides an example of what is offered, of what in such cases I call exposition: an aphorism is prefixed to that essay, the essay itself is its commentary. Certainly one quality which nowadays has been best forgotten— and that is why it will take some time yet for my writings—to become readable-- is essential in order to practise reading as an art--a quality for the exercise of which it is necessary to be a cow, and under no circumstances a modern man--rumination.

The grammar falls apart here again--or maybe not. Maybe just an awkward sentence structure. My paraphrase would be that he believes it will take some time for people to understanding his readings, because modern people lack a quality essential to practicing reading as an art: rumination. The implication would be they're not supposed to think too hard for too long.

Nietzsche Preface Part 7  (Paraphrase---see previous short-forms)


N concludes the preface by explaining that after this new world of ideas opened up to him, he began to search for "learned, bold, and industrious colleagues (I am doing it even to this very day)."

So he wanted to find others who had the ability and fortitude to explore this world with him, and it as been an ongoing process. This last part seems kind of rambling and confused to me compared to other parts...the tense shifts are weird. Could be a bad translation.

Enough, that after this vista had disclosed itself to me, I myself had reason to search for learned, bold, and industrious colleagues (I am doing it even to this very day). It means traversing with new clamorous questions, and at the same time with new eyes, the immense, distant, and—completely unexplored land of morality of a morality which has actually existed and been actually lived ! and is this not practically equivalent to first discovering that land? If, in this context, I thought, amongst others, of the aforesaid Dr. Ree, I did so because I had no doubt that from the very nature of his questions he would be compelled to have recourse to a truer method, in order to obtain his answers. Have I deceived myself on that score? I wished at all events to give a better direction of vision to an eye of such keenness and such impartiality. I wished to direct him to the real history of morality, and to warn him, while there was yet time, against a world of English theories that culminated in the blue vacuum of heaven.

What stands out to me:

"It means" -- what does this refer to? That's what I mean about the grammar falling apart. What is the "it"? Being his colleague? Exploring the vista? 

So this world of morality is completely unexplored, but also something that people have already lived in accordance with? How does that work? What does he mean by "is this not practically equivalent to first discovering that land?" Something tells me this may be a sloppy translation or something, because it is so all over the place logically, but there are the outlines of a coherent argument. Is he just saying that he rediscovered the thought process of societies with different moral structures that his society had forgotten about?  And so it was a new discovery for him and contemporaries able to explore it, and thus very exciting and significant, but not actually something new and unexplored for humanity in general? That's how I read it, anyway, in order to make any sense of it.

And that he appealed to others, like Ree (whom he knew quite well), and who seemed like they might be able to get it if he called this to their attention, given their interest and hard work on the topic? Surely they'd be desperate to learn the truth, to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, even if it meant leaving erroneous assumptions behind? If N could just direct him to the actual historical record, Ree would see the error of the English theories that had misled everyone recently? Idk exactly what the blue vacuum of heaven means, but I assume he thinks that is a kind of pleasant delusion that provokes complacency. 

The conclusion continues to be an illogical mess, but I think he's just saying he wanted to reconnect Ree to the obscured connections between ideas that had built up over time---to help him retrace morality's steps, get him to take things seriously rather than in the casual modern way, in which Darwin's discoveries were no big deal and not unsettling to traditional assumptions. He saw a confused philosophy had arisen from trying to fuse incompatible ideas while not thinking hard enough to notice the problem--not taking morality seriously. Similar complaints are made today about the lack of seriousness and taking things for granted among intellectuals, and I think he's getting at the same point: the justifications behind the conclusions aren't solid, and if people don't realize this, the moral conclusions they take for granted will erode over time unexpectedly because no one is explaining them.

He says it is difficult but enjoyable and rewarding to take it seriously and dive into the weeds. But you have to be the type who wants to know, who loves to find truth at all costs, and to do detailed investigations, and only a few people have this capacity. My guess is Ree disappointed him, as did most others. But one day, he says, "we" will realize our current beliefs on this are a joke, and move into a new plot. The grammar here confuses me again--who is the he who both "will use" this new plot and is already "the great ancient eternal dramatist of the comedy of our existence." The timeline doesn't make sense here, and the latter seems to refer to either God or an archetype or the rules of the world, but why would any of those need new material to do this? Is he just saying an opening would arise for certain moral forces or archetypal figures to take the stage again? That's my guess. 

Nietzsche Preface Part 6 (Paraphrase---see previous short-forms)

I realize now that I was referring to N's first two books, and that they were not actually his first two books--for some reason, the preface gave me the impression that this was his second book, after Human, All Too Human. This must have been the second book on this topic, maybe. I can't quite figure it out because many of his books were published long after they were written, or became known long after, and it's hard to disentangle the list. The out of order publication, and of course his later deterioration, inability to clarify or respond, and edits by others all seem pretty significant. It would be good to read them in the order they were written. I started Human, All Too Human, and probably should have done that first, but oh well. I only now realize the preface was 1887.

I also determined he must have read a great deal of Emerson by this time, and that's why his conspicuous lack of commentary on Emerson and America is of interest to me. Emerson was a huge influence, almost certainly N's greatest. Most people are still very skeptical of this, but being an Emerson fan, I can confirm how much of N's work is unquestionably taken from Emerson (due to phrasing and combinations of unique concepts). Privately, he talked about Emerson quite a bit, and his influence, but not publicly. But Emerson pretty much formed the basis of his thought. I'm not sure if he was able to read everything Emerson wrote, but I find it weird he seems to be so down on England, while Emerson raved about England and wrote a whole book about England's moral strength published in 1860. Plus, Emerson had gotten somewhat involved in campaigning for Lincoln in 1864, and I think it is weird that N has apparently little to say on that or Lincoln, as the topic was big in Europe. I'm not being America-centric and fixated on my own interests out of nowhere, but specifically because N was so obsessed with Emerson, especially at age 19, which would have been during the Civil War. Was he just incurious about what Emerson had to say after writing his major works in N's childhood? Didn't he wonder about the comparably lively world Emerson described?

Anyway, Part 6:

This problem of the value of pity and of the pity-morality (I am an opponent of the modern infamous emasculation of our emotions) seems at the first blush a mere isolated problem, a note of interrogation for itself; he, however, who once halts at this problem, and learns how to put questions, will experience what I experienced: —sense of potentiality seizes him like a vertigo, every species of doubt, mistrust, and fear springs up, the belief in — a new and immense vista unfolds itself before him, a morality, nay, in all morality, totters, --finally a new demand voices itself.

So he thought it was a relatively minor issue, or not central issue, and then he realized it opened up a real can of worms. All of morality appears suspect o corrupted, and once the disorientation fades, he feels a demand to get to the bottom of the matter an reconstruction the genealogy of morals---how they developed and became distorted. Notes that no one has ever bothered to look into this too deeply. (I'd say that's false, but I get his point, and he probably didn't have easy access to a compendium of existing critiques--still, it seems like quite a few theologians and preachers, at the very least, have dug into this stuff for a while, without just saying "God gave us morals! That's all!"). Also, saying "the modern infamous emasculation" seems to suggest that this was already a much-discussed issue. 

He says no one has really looked into whether a man considered good is of a higher value than one considered bad (by common judgement). He says he means higher value "with regard specifically to human progress, utility, and prosperity generally, not forgetting the future." So, advancement is his standard. "What? Suppose the converse were the truth! What?" It was common at this time to do the double "What?" or, more, often the double "What!" This indicated that the idea would be met disbelief, similar to how we'd say "Really?"

Suppose there lurked in the "good man" a symptom of retrogression, such as a danger, a temptation, a poison, a narcotic, by means of which the present battened on the future! More comfortable and less risky perhaps than its opposite, but also pettier, meaner! So that morality would really be saddled with the guilt, if the maximum potentiality of the power and splendour of the human species were never to be attained?

Pretty straightforward: what if some of the traits we consider good have non-obvious downsides that make them complacent, not sufficiently interested in bettering the future, dragging humanity down from its max potential? 

Pandemic Predictions

Just recording my predictions to see if they come true:

1) Pretty much everyone reopens by the end of the year and lets the virus run its course, with various precautions taken (mandating mask-wearing, etc.) There will be a paradigm shift eventually in which we accept going back to normal won't happen.

2) Most activities will resume, but live sports and especially concerts will remain contentious, as they seem like superspreader events, and demand will be down considerably. I hope concerts aren't going forever, but I expect in the next few years for the venues and LiveNation and such to go under.

3) Global travel will be another major issue--most countries will require a quarantine for new arrivals in the near future, which will make traveling more undesirable than simple fear of catching it on a plane will.

4) Major economic disruption. Unsure what the heck will happen politically. The 2020s was going to be a time of major shifts anyway. Don't know what to predict. Globalization will take some sort of hit. A generational shift in generational leadership may make the transition somewhat smoother than it will seem.


1) Going much slower than expected, but still expect a sudden shift at some point. It's starting to look like the health risks are less severe than many feared in April and May, but of course it's not no big deal either.

2) This is going as I expected, more or less, but I'm surprised by how much working from home continues. I also think concerts could come back early than expected, but they've all been postponed by a year now anyway, and there's no guarantee that they'll be able to go forward then, by any means. They are tied with stadium sports for the worst possible superspreadever events, I think. Sports are generally so much more important to most people that they will almost certainly get started first, but it is a bit tough because many venues host both so how do you do one without the other? Mandating masks and banning cheering may be attempted, but the problem with both events is that people can't wear masks and drink, and it's real hard to keep quiet even if you're trying. Sports crowds are generally much older, so the reverse could happen---young people adjusting to remote sports, and the older ceasing to attend. I don't know.

3) This is going on as I expected---not a whole lot of discussion of it, though. Starting to change a bit.

4) Going as expected, to the extent much can be expected here.

Getting a lot of resistance on these, so adding more:

1) Higher ed is done. Less from logistics than puncturing the illusion surrounding the ponzi scheme nature of it, as well as the current American dream narrative. Makes people reconsider assumptions, but mostly the money won't be there or won't be easily spent. Elite colleges for certain things will return---tech and humanities---most people will stop getting a traditional college degree and turn to other types of programs or focus on ones that don't require it. Credentialism will lessen in many areas.

2) Not as sure here, but pretty significant economic disruption as people can't pay bills and default on mortgages and try to save money. It seems like the real estate bubble should crash, but everyone pushes back on this. Obviously, will depend on the location, but office real estate most definitely. I don't see how this can't cause a problem with residential either. It makes people think of the future differently. This may be mitigated by government intervention, probably a much bigger and more controlling government, or it could lead to decentralization.

3) As a result of 2), I tend to think permanent (for my lifetime, at least) reduction in American standard of living and also probably life expectancy. We were at the peak of living standards and it was unsustainable, borrowed from the future and past in a way that cannot be repaid or regained, because much of it is actually related to ones perceptions psychologically/narrative, as well as other interlocking manipulations, and the whole thing will unravel now---the whole infinite growth and progress thing is not persuasive enough anymore. Nor is the post-truth/post-politics world. Return to object level. This will mean that people are much less obsessed with lengthening their life without any cost-benefit calculation---Boomers will probably be peak healthcare consumption for some time. Everyone else will see a future where people languish in nursing homes, and have a less rosy expectation, and be more aware of the fact of death. This awareness of the tradeoffs, combined with the impact of COVID-19 (assuming it doesn't peter out, but I imagine it will have some effect), will shave a few years off the average life span.

4) Massive inter- and intra- generational conflict. Appears to already be starting. Major problems between many Boomers and their kids. Their kids mainly dysfunctional and unable to break free of the assumptions they were raised with fully. Overly obedient for good reason. But ultimately will probably still wrench the wheel away from the leadership class eventually, as they aren't tolerable at this point. There will definitely be some capable factions out there regardless of the overall issues.

Adding a few more *possibilities*, not all of which I think are likely. I'm not as sure on some of the fundamentals as I once was, partly due to new evidence. The evidence remains poorly presented overall so I could be more off than I thought, but in most cases that would be true for almost everyone.

  • I'd been confident for a while much of spread was presymptomatic and aerosolized, with handwashing likely not doing much at all. I now think there's a small possibility something like fecal spread is involved, and that possibly the WHO is right about it being more about large droplets. But they could also be very wrong, and I think they probably are. Even then, one would think masks help slow spread in brief interactions, so they work well enough for anyone practicing social distancing indefinitely, but beyond a certain amount of exposure, the reduction in spread is probably hours or days. Raincoats work, but if you go swimming in one...
  • It seems like this may be way, way less dangerous for almost everyone than people think. Not saying it's not a big deal or just the flu. But even with protests and other things, it doesn't seem like we're overwhelmed. Cases are going up, but they *will* go up, until we reach some level of immunity. The question is how much death and suffering results. Many of the cases seem minor. I think there is a decent possibility that historians will remember 2020 as a major overreaction, but this is by no means clear yet. It could go the other way, but I really don't think it will seem scarier than cancer in a few years in terms of death risk. Not anywhere close. Longer term effects in some cases, I'm not sure. Some reports are worrying. But the long-term effects of the shutdown, social and economic, may end up overwhelming such concerns. I'm very concerned about how things are going to go in the next few years---what the heck are we going to do about all the people who lost health insurance and jobs? And many more probably will soon. I don't see anyway historians consider lockdown anything but a major mistake, certainly past the two-week point. Even if the idea behind it seemed sensible, that idea seems to have rested on assumptions that were obviously mistaken and can't be easily excused among our leaders (worrying about hospital crowding but not thinking about how that connected to sending infected patients to nursing homes or the hospital as a major source of spread during lockdown, and also making so many people lose their health insurance and hospitals lose so much revenue that the healthcare system itself may end up in even bigger trouble in the long-term.)
  • Still don't think vaccines will make much of a difference, if we get them. Not happy with the IMO misleading messaging on this. UV lights in public buildings seem more promising than anything I've heard so far.
  • Most of the world seems to be returning to normal, dropping containment as a strategy, though relatively quietly---the U.S. seems to be an outlier here. I have a feeling Europe will have largely moved on from the virus itself in a year, with the most vulnerable taking precautions. The economy will be the focus, out of necessity. Idk what the heck will happen with the U.S.
  • It seems like some people may have more immunity than we thought, but it doesn't seem immunity lasts long at all. Still, some degree of herd immunity will probably help a lot and and subsequent cases may well be milder.

Add: vaccine won't do much, for reasons I've posted elsewhere.

The people it would make the biggest difference for would probably be too high risk to take a vaccine that wasn't heavily tested overtime, and may not be able to risk such a vaccine at all. They would have to rely on herd immunity. The feeling of psychological security it would offer lower-risk people may have some impact.