The noble traitor

From Nietzsche’s Human All Too Human:

Opinions grow out of passions; inertia of the spirit lets these rigidify into convictions. — However, if one feels he is of a free, restlessly alive spirit, he can prevent this rigidity through constant change; and if he is on the whole a veritable thinking snowball, then he will have no opinions at all in his head, but rather only certainties and precisely calculated probabilities. – But we who are of a mixed nature, sometimes aglow with fire and sometimes chilled by the spirit, we want to kneel down before justice, as the only goddess whom we recognize above us. Usually the fire in us makes us unjust, and in the sense of that goddess, impure; never may we grasp her hand in this condition; never will the grave smile of her pleasure lie upon us. We revere her as the veiled Isis of our lives; ashamed, we offer her our pain as a penance and a sacrifice, whenever the fire burns us and tries to consume us. It is the spirit that saves us from turning utterly to burnt-out coals; here and there it pulls us away from justice’s sacrificial altar, or wraps us in an asbestos cocoon. Redeemed from the fire, we then stride on, driven by the spirit, from opinion to opinion, through the change of sides, as noble traitors to all things that can ever be betrayed – and yet with no feeling of guilt.

I’ve read this passage a hundred times and it is never the same. A change in the whole of my understanding transfigures each particular insight, but whenever an insight is transfigured the whole is transfigured, too. This is the hermeneutic circle, the mandala, the wheel of Samsara… The illusion of the world is not “the world” but that there is an objective absolute. (The irony is that seeing the world as an illusion making a truer objective world is to fall even more deeply into the illusion.) There is only a true flux, and an enworlding, and infinite possibilities of alternative enworldings: practical, experienced transcendence.


Humans are happy in a young, freshly-enworlded world.


The conservatives are (were?) right in that we do need a world to be human. By “need a world” I mean we do need an ethos, we do need an ethic that perpetuates the ethos and we do need those particular beliefs which arise naturally and self-evidently from a coherent way of living and give some form to the phenomenal flux we are all thrown into at birth. However conservatives are wrong to think there is only one legitimate world – a world which we betrayed, lost and can recover only by reversing the clock and building backwards, from willful “faith” in particular beliefs (as if we really decide positively what we believe?), to a logical, systematic response to these beliefs in the form of a codified ethic, and finally to some sort of promised land earned by this effort, paid out to each of us after our biological death. This is not religious thought, and it is time we reject this view of religion: Fundamentalism is half-science. It accepts the constrictions of science (objectivity as the sole form of truth), but rejects science’s redeeming skeptical discipline. This discipline is what allows science to stay within its proper bounds and to relate civilly within philosophy’s more comprehensive understanding (which understands objectivity in relation to practice and meaning). Fundamentalism thinks it looks back at the past, but it looks back with blind modern eyes. It pretends to affirm the past; but its animus is the negation of the present.

Until recently, liberalism saw “world” as a threat to freedom. Each individual had her own perspective of things, her own meaning, her own ethic (preferably not codified) and her “own truth”. Who was to say finally what was the truth and what was not? The extent of the agreement: let’s agree to disagree, pleasantly, peacefully. Live and let live. Judge not.

Did liberalism take its skepticism far enough, though? If there is no ultimately determinable foundational objective truth does it follow that truth has no value? What happens when you become skeptical toward skepticism?


Is a world really founded on objectivity? The ancient Indians and the ancient Chinese believed the opposite. The world as we have it is only the result of a downward movement from above, manifesting as a holistic vision of life, then into a moral-practical response to that holistic vision (either spontaneous or imposed), and finally the meaning and practice condenses into things, facts, formulas, words, images – the objects of our lives. (The Triad: Heaven-Man-Earth.)

Does the Judeo-Christian tradition really see things differently? Consider the myth of the Tower of Babel versus the image of the New Jerusalem being lowered from the heavens related in the poetic vision of Revelation. Also, the Garden of Eden myth: mankind chose to objective knowledge of good and evil over the simpler Edenic being-in state of divine participation. They were immediately seized with the “self”-consciousness of the seen (the yin), veiled their nakedness with clothes, and, when confronted with their choice, they consummated the choice by hiding behind objects, blame and explanations.

If I am wrong, at least I am wrong interestingly. If you have been bored and if you think sanity might be over-rated: why not entertain a little interesting insanity?


As a designer, I accept the requirements of what I will design – but I do not accept the first-glance implications of the requirements. To immediately set to work systematizing before one has looked at the meaningful possibilities – that’s the reflex of project management – it is both expedient and predictable – but it leads to dull competence. To involve others in exploring meaningful possibilities is to think beyond one’s own horizons, to converse in the grandest style which does involve anxiety and suffering. It means epoche – suspension of determinate details – vagueness (a.k.a. bullshit) – or if you prefer: hope… love of collaboration… genuine inclusion… faith in dialogue.

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