Several criticisms of Nietzsche tend to go for the psychological or moral side of his philosophy. His critics attack him the basis of “he thinks he is better than everyone else because he understands this or that…” This can not be further from the truth. Even some historians pointed out that Nietzsche’s psychotic breakdown period drew connections to his writings where he constantly criticized his own weakness and failures as the basis for his philosophy. I want to do justice to his metaphysics and ontology rather than his moral statements. Many know him because of his concept of The Eternal Recurrence. For those who watches Todd May’s lecture of Deleuze’s interpretation of The Eternal Recurrence, it has an ethical interpretation and an Ontological one.
The Naive Interpretation
The naive interpretation of Nietzsche is where one confuses his ontology for his ethical one. They often think of the will-to-power as earned or attainable. This is because ethical choices leads to rewards for being good or consequences for being bad. The Naive interpretation attributes ressentiment, bad-consciousness, and the ascetic ideal to the feeling of impotence caused by the powerful imposing their authority. As opposed to those who hold the power to enslave the weak, the powerful is the cause for evil. Especially when referring to murder, rape, and torture, to the naive interpreter, these are caused by the powerful or the weak’s impotence to hold up. Here, the reactive powers (ressentiment, bad-consciousness, and the ascetic ideal) are assigned a psychology; a response mechanism to being downtrodden. Reading On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche made it clear that he despises the English psychologist so much so that he mentions it at the very beginning of the book.
The other is the Narrative interpretation of Nietzsche where the reader understands the will-to-power through a series of moves. The “narrative” moves comes from the 3-structured polemic on On The Genealogy of Morals. The polemics are well structured pieces of prose that takes the reader on a series of thought. One can read it forwards and backward and derive clareboyancy from reading the book unconventionally. I will explain these interpretations by first going over the naive interpretation then explaining the narrative interpretation. In fact learning the naive interpretation is essential to understanding the narrative interpretation as it is embedded in it.
Ressentiment: The Naive interpretation
The naive interpretation goes like this… Two hypothetical tribes come unto contact with an unconquered tribe and the strongest tribe conquers both. The dominant tribe becomes the master class and the losers become the slave class. When Nietzsche reaches the the transvaluation of values in the middle of the first polemic, the naive interpreter can develop pity for the slave class, then hope in their overthrowing of their oppressor’s values. The values which belonged to the master class were defined as “good” then flipped to “bad” by the slaves. “Good” in ancient Greece or Ancient Rome did not have any moral connotation to it. Good was equivalent to clean, nobel, dominant, masculine, and powerful. Most importantly, “good” was the ability to assign and interpret meaning and not the consequences for utility. Or as the psychologists would say, “‘good’ is good because it is useful, it helped to serve society grow and function well.” The “bad” or slave class had no choice but to work in the shadows or learn to love secrets and work in dark corners. In a way, the naive interpreters are right, the slave class did not have freedom to make their own choices. But they’re wrong to say that they did not hold will-to-power. Both master and slave class hold equal will-to-power. With it, the slave class enacted that “spiritual revenge” on their masters because of the their weakness that infected the whole majority of society with ressentiment.
So then why if both classes held the will-to-power does one class (master class) dominate the slave class? It has to do with the slave class self-deprecating themselves. We’ll get to this when we get to the narrative interpretation. The naive interpretation continues into the second polemic and it has to do with how the slave class will identify themselves. The slave class re-identified themselves to be anything but their oppressors. The consequence is that the slave class pretends to enjoy what they do have and pretend to not enjoy what they don’t have. All they can do is resent the master class “have’s” at a distance. The slaves pretend to be fine with “have nots.” Already the naive interpretation develops a psychology of “sour grapes.”
Bad-consciousness: The Naive interpretation
Nietzsche asks the question where does guilt originate from. To the Naive interpreter, it came from the master class enforcing their power over the slaves. Spontaneity, potency, abundance laughter, over-indulgence, wealth, aggressiveness, joy, eccentricity, sexual fitness and availability, freedom, vigor, and demonstrative extroversion, all these life-affirming values would have to be compressed and buried deep inside the poor slave if he is to exercise power over their master’s values. Already it stinks of psychology. And not the good kind. The naive interpreter has to say that his heavy load of compressed life must be negated, rejected, and then purified to be washed clean. The ritualistic symbolism of baptism represent the washing of the dirty soul as a filthy, degenerate and impure human for the very fact that he was born. Thus the beginning of the Christian conception of the soul was born.
Before I get to the narrative interpretation and the materialization of the soul, I have to explain how the slaves managed to self-flagellate their symbolic souls. Nietzsche said that the start of society happens somewhere at first instance of trade. There’s no reason to trade an apple for another apple if one can trade an apple for two oranges. Trade is where people can measure oneself against another, that is to say, one can show their surpluses of life outward as a status symbol. It’s easy to fall into the trap of utility-psychology of this hypothetical society, arguing for fairness in commerce or organizing society into a fair state. Trade is a science and a useful one to the naive interpreters. It can be studied, tuned, and worked on in favor of a prosperous society. A society’s success is based on one’s commitments and obligation to fulfill his or her commitments. Those who break their commitments or promises are punished by those who control it.
When a creditor punishes a debtor, the creditor does so because of the debtor’s inability to pay off the debt. During the torture, the creditor can feel pleasure off the pain of the debtor’s suffering. The pleasure of watching someone suffer was the exchange of the missing payment. The debt must always be paid if society is to become resilient and reliable enough. Through torture and punishment, the creditor makes sure a memory is implanted into the mind of the debtor. The naive interpreter says, “ah! operant conditioning, a classical behavioral response. The punisher simply pairs up with pain with a condition to ward off unwanted behavior… See! The powerful abuse their power! The slaves are no more different than Pavlov’s dogs!”
The Ascetic Ideal: The Naive Interpretation
In the naive interpretation, a priest from the master race has to descend the slops to preach to slaves. The reason is the keep slave morality locked up and contained. If slave morality gets out, it could infect the larger population and cause an uprising. So the Priest becomes and ascetic prest. Asceticism is a practice where one abstains from pleasure and comfort for religious or spiritual reasons. The logic of the naive interpreter proceeds from before, if the master race contains the crowd, they can control these instincts for experiencing life. That’s why the ascetic priest preaches to the choir: the slaves already carry guilty or bad conscious, they were punished into submission because of their weakness and they denied themselves inwardly. The job of the ascetic priest was already made easier by this point. The slaves don’t want to feel or experience the pleasures of life, they want to be saved. The priest tells them what to do and how to do it. Guilty souls do not get saved unless they repent and purify themselves. They tell them that the carnal pleasures are “bad,” in the sense that the slaves made themselves bad, evil
The Narrative Interpretation: The Ascetic Ideal
Here is where we flip the hour glass and things fall into place. Because if the slaves created evil, then the priest can use this to their advantage. But what if the slaves wanted it in the first place? First we must understand what we have in front of us. Nietzsche only gave us half of the story if we read On the Genealogy of Morals from cover to cover. Early on, we sense Nietzsche give us clue on how the think genealogically. And that is when he said in his second polemic that the debtors actively seek their own punishment. In fact they welcome it. We can say, “of course they want it, the priest told them so, or “of course they want it, they turned themselves inwardly during their encagement process of negating life.
In any case, the end result was the overthrowing of the master class during the slave revolt. During rise of Christianity, the crucifiction of Christ marked the complete 180 degree flip of values. Good turned to bad and labeled “evil.” And bad turned to good and labeled “divine.” One could say “they had it coming.” But what if the slaves wanted someone to preach them? What if they desired it so much so that they welcomed in the priest to guide them and tell them what to do. One can argue, “of course they did, after generation of generation of torture, murder, rape, and suffering, they were intergenerationally traumatized.
The Narrative Interpretation: Bad-consciousness
We can say that the it is the fault of the master class for punishing their slaves into revolt. But the creditors did not punish their debtors out of revenge, but for the sake of restoring a balance. Maybe at the beginning, the slaves did suffer unjustifiably so. But as mentioned before, they welcomed their punishment. Why did they welcomed their own torture? Because they wanted to turn inward. They wanted to negate life and cage themselves into a weak and pathetic servant. They wanted to be guilty in a way to be saved. So they felt better after being flogged, whipped, burned, maimed, dismembered, slashed, suffocated, hanged or even killed. Nietzsche even said that life back then was brighter, greener, and more peaceful, not because of catharsis or psychological principle, but because both master and slave served with meaning.
This goes hand in hand with Foucault’s interpretation of discipline and punishment. Foucault’s accounts punishment is that torture happened in public squares and open spaces. A place where everybody can see the torture of the transgressor. The purpose of making torture public was to deter the population from committing the same acts of crime. When the population looked up to the torturer with sympathy. The scene was made into a sign of revolution. Punishment served the opposite effect. Now crimes could be committed for the purposes of being the one with the nose around the neck for everyone to see you. People got a hit out of watching public executions. Think of the French Revolution where the guillotine beheaded more and more people not less. Foucault said that torture moved inside buildings for only a select to see. But when internal revolution occurred because of it, torture and punishment moved into private cells.
The narrative interpretation: Ressentiment
We can sense from moving backwards that the slaves had supplied their own demand. They loved to be shamed and humiliated because they negated life. Like a disease, the world is infected with frugality, timidity, stoicism, limitation, moderation, purity, chastity, servitude, modesty, and forgiveness. They wanted more and more suffering for more repentance. All this for the hope of salvation of their souls because one day live they’ll live in peace and calm. They created heaven and hell from the very beginning and secretly wished their opponents to burn in Hell. They wanted a life that didn’t exist and negated the life they actually had. The infection that spread was the spirit of revenge. A creative revenge, a revenge where the master class would one day betray his own conscious and give up on life. This was the creative plan of the slave revolt The slaves created psychology. It is no wonder psychology is largely negative and filled with a sense of nihilism. Psychology steamed from the slave’s legacy. Nietzsche never choose a side, but it’s clear which side he despised and which side he feels a deep nostalgia for. But there isn’t any reason to suspect that Nietzsche’s life was somehow great or remarkable enough to despise christianity in his time. He was the son of a pastor and attended church regularly. He was constantly disappointed with life, love, and was constantly neurotic. If anything, he should show signs of being resentful of life. But held on to truth. He did something that the herd could not, stay truthful to oneself.