Laozi, Nietzsche and Kropotkin: Are The Common People Good?

14 Jan

by  on January 14, 2014 in News

Pic: Hugh Rankin (PD)

Pic: Hugh Rankin (PD)

What say you, Disinfonaughts? Are the common people, and the uncivilized, good? Are they better off than those on high?

via Bao Pu 抱朴

I picked up Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals (1887) yesterday and found a passage which immediately made me think of Laozi. Here’s Nietzsche, writing about the origins of the concept of “good” :

… the judgment good does not originate with those to whom the good has been done. Rather it was the “good” themselves, that is to say the noble, mighty, highly placed, and high-minded who decreed themselves and their actions to be good, i.e., belonging to the highest rank, in contradistinction to all that wasbase, low-minded and plebian. It was only this pathos of distance that authorized them to create values and name them … Such an origin would suggest that there is no a priori necessity for associating the word good with altruistic deeds, as those [English] moral psychologists are fond of claiming. In fact, it is only after aristocratic values have begun to decline that the egoism-altruism dichotomy takes possession of the human conscience …

Nietzsche goes on to mention that he discovered that the etymology of the word good in various languages always contains the basic concept of noble, “in the hierarchical, class sense …” and that “this development is strictly parallel to that other which eventually converted the notions commonplebianbase into the notion of bad.”

Ancient Daoists would scoff at the idea that goodness is the domain of the aristocrats. Laozi suggested that the great Dao has more in common with the lowly, that which lies unseen, neglected, at the foundation. The Daoists avoided using the aristocratic-flavoured term Junzi, which can be translated as Princely Person, Superior Person or Gentleman, as a term for their ideal human.

Peter Kropotkin argued in Modern Science and Anarchism (1901) that “… a scientific study … proves that usages and customs created by mankind for the sake of mutual aid, mutual defence, and peace in general, were precisely elaborated by the ‘nameless multitude.’ And it was these same customs that enabled man to survive in his struggle for existence … Science demonstrates to us that the so-called leaders, heroes, and legislators of humanity have added nothing to history beyond what had already been worked out by the Customary Law. The best of them have only put into words and sanctioned the institutions that already existed by habit and custom …”

It seems to me that this resembles Laozi’s view, to which he adds the observation that making morality explicit, makes it forced. Forced morality is far from ideal, and creates more problems. Authentic “morality” has been “worked out” by the “nameless masses” before any philosophers, religious authorities or heroes spoke of them. [this morality is nothing more than local morality however, not universal or objective]

It seems that many (e.g., Daoists, Mohists, Legalists) felt the Ru, (which includes the Confucians) took themselves too seriously, were self-righteous, and looked down on the plebian, common people, the Little People (Xiaoren).

But, pages later, Nietzsche seems to think this view is appalling, as he blames the Jews and Christians for inverting the aristocratic value system as those who began this “grand and unspeakably disastrous initiative”: “It was the Jew who, with frightening consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value equations good/noble/powerful/beautiful/happy/favored-of-the-gods and maintain, with the furious hatred of the underprivileged and impotent, that ‘only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick, and ugly, truly blessed …’”

Zhuangzi gave examples such as crippled and deformed people, those who had lowly occupations such as butchers, and those of ancient times who were uncivilized, plain and lived at one with Nature as those who might be better regarded as “good,” or better off.

I could go on, but, I will not.

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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in African American News


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