2016 Personality Lecture 08: Existentialism: Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Social Hierarchy

2016 Personality Lecture 08: Existentialism: Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Social Hierarchy


Okay, so we’re actually going to take a
step back historically. We talked about Carl Rogers last time as a
phenomenologist. So we started our brief foray into the ideas
behind phenomenology, but now we’re going to go back in time a bit and we’re going
to talk about the end of the 19th century, and we’re gonna discuss Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky,
and Kierkegaard in some detail, and the reason we’re going to do that is because those
three men – I would say more than anyone else in the 19th century – laid the groundwork
not only for what would become psychoanalysis and then later personality psychology and
clinical psychology, but they also described the broader social, political, and cultural
situation that modern people find themselves in now, and their thought is exceedingly sophisticated
and it’s really worth grasping because if you can get – you know we’re going through
these personality theories one at a time, and we’re making forays into biology and
neuropsychology, you need a structure underneath that. You need to understand a structure underneath
all that to slot in everything into because that way you can understand it in more detail,
and so, partly because ideas develop historically, you know, so an idea’s a seed and out of
the seed, other plants grow and so forth, and the plant grows and so farth and branches
off. If you can get back down to the origin point,
then you can often understand the entire structure more straightforwardly, and also these three
men, they’re so brilliant that it’s a joy to encounter their thinking even though it’s
very, very subversive – seriously subversive. So, we’re gonna start with this diagram
which you’ll remember. Okay so think about this from the Piagetian
perspective, like we made the point that as the child points itself, let’s say, together,
it starts by practicing micro routines – micro motor routines – and those are accompanied
by perceptual frameworks and also they’re incorporated into a motivational value system
because they’re motivated actions, and then the child practices sequencing those micro
personalities, we’ll say, together to make ever more and more complex and ever more and
more integrated macro personalities. So that’s basically what this diagram describes. We were looking at it from an adult perspective
so, you know, if you’re going to be a good person, you can decompose being a good person
into sub parts of being a good person, and – so being a good person is an abstract ideal,
but as you move closer and closer to the point where goodness is manifested in action, you
move closer and closer to actual movements in the world. So the abstract category, good person, is
actually made out of you can think about it as a very complex melody of motor actions
and perceptions, and perception is very tightly linked to motor action because whenever you
perceive anything, you’re doing it in part by actively investigating the world. It’s partly why your eyes are moving around
all the time, and if you’re listening you move your head, and you know, to touch something
you have to actively investigate it so it’s always an activity of exploration. Now, in some ways when you think about the
child piecing its being together from the bottom up, you can think about that as a biological
process unfolding, you know, and you can think of the child as crawling and then learning
to walk as a biological process unfolding, but that’s an oversimplification because
human beings exist from day one in a very, very social world. And so what that means is the way that those
behaviors or micro personalities start to organize themselves is always under the influence
of the society in which they’re embedded, and so you know, Piaget talked about the child
as being – as having reflex, basic built in reflexes at birth, and that those reflexes
are then elaborated up into more and more complex structures, but you can think that
even the elaboration of those basic reflexes, even right from the beginning, like there’s
a rooting and sucking reflex which you can elicit from a child by tapping on the side
of its cheek when it’s very newly born, and it’ll start to try to put what’s tapping
in its mouth, and that’s part of the reflexive process, the built in perceptual motor unit
that allows the child to begin to suckle. Now the thing is though, what it’s suckling
isn’t a static and objective entity. It’s a person, and part of breast feeding
is the establishment of a relationship, a complex relationship because it’s also not
only a feeding relationship. It’s a caring relationship. It’s a relationship that’s based on tactile
interaction. There could be nervousness associated with
it, and often is especially for a new mother. It’s a very complex dynamic social act,
and so what that means is that right from the beginning, in order for the baby to engage
in that process properly, it has to allow its initial reflexive movements to be modified
by social necessity immediately. So for example, if a baby is breastfeeding,
it can’t bite, and you know it doesn’t have any teeth so being bitten isn’t necessarily
a catastrophe, but it’s not pleasant. So what will happen if the baby bites the
mother is that the mother will pull away and startle the baby, and the baby will cry and
you know, the mother will be at least startled by the error. So the baby has to learn to – it has to learn
to be civilized in some sense right off the bat. Now you know, when Freud was talking about
the process of socialization, he tended to concentrate more on toilet training, you know,
because he thought of that as the first place where the – the first major place where the
id of the child, which Rogers would regard as an organismic, as the organismic experiential
domain is brought under control of the superego, right, because the baby, obviously its fundamental,
biological function is to relieve itself, but that has to come under very very strict
social control, and it’s a complex form of learning, you know. It’s basically the acquisition of all voluntary
control over what was here before an involuntary reflex essentially, and so that can go well
or it can go badly and it can go very badly. So I knew a family who had a daughter at one
point, and that daughter would only defecate in her diaper when she was three. So that meant she had full, voluntary control
over her bowel function but there was no way she was going to participate in the social
ritual that surrounded proper toileting. There was a war going on, like a serious war,
and that sort of thing happens well not infrequently, and of course you remember in the Crumb movie,
the mother – the boy is accusing the mother of giving them enemas and her, of course,
denying that any such thing happened which was something that made both of them roll
their eyes, and you know, they all laugh but it’s really not particularly amusing. So, anyways my point is is that even at the
micro level, the manifestation of what we’ll call micro personalities expands and organizes
into an environment that’s conditioned by social expectation. Okay, so then – then, and this is something
we haven’t talked about before. One thing you might ask is okay where does
the social expectation come from? Now, that’s a very complex question because
in some sense, that’s the same question as where does culture come from, and that’s partly
a complex question because you have to take into account evolutionary history which provides
the substrata for the development of culture, so that would be human biology. You’d have to take that into account, and
then you have to take human history into account, and what you don’t have to take into account
is not clear, right, because it’s very difficult to track the origins of the social routines
that make up the fundamental social contract, you know. We know how to behave properly, roughly speaking. We have a set of expectations, and a set of
wants about the way that other people are going to behave with regards to us, and they
return the favor, and everyone is participating in this, and everybody basically knows it
nless they’re very poorly socialized and you can usually tell that right away. You know, kids can tell that because if a
three year old is playing with another three year old, and one of them is poorly socialized
and so maybe has the behavioral repertoire of a fairly badly behaved two year old, the
other three year old, being socially sophisticated will, say, will not play with the first one. So, even though they might be perfectly happy
to play for a time with an actual two year old. So, it doesn’t take very long. It’s really at about the age of three that
children are already sophisticated enough to have embodied the rules that constitute
appropriate cultural behavior, and those rules – or they’re patterns exactly for the, they’re
not exactly rules for the child because the child couldn’t explicitly state them, but
they can act them out. Now you remember, now Piaget talked about
this a fair bit right, because he said that part of the way that the slightly larger micro
personalities, say of a two year old, are integrated into the broader social world is
through games that are played with peers and with older children, and the games are ways
that – like a game is fundamentally a negotiated…it’s a negotiated sphere of action and perception
that has a particular goal and the goal is defined by the players, and the sphere of
interaction is defined by the players and so then if you’re a good player, what happens
is that you become part of a higher order structure and the higher order structure is
the game. So if you’re playing soccer, all of a sudden
if you’re civilized, what you do is you manifest all those behaviors that are appropriate for
playing soccer, and you subordinate – voluntarily – subordinate your individuality at that point
to the higher order structure of the game that’s a communal agreement, so it’s a basic
social contract. So you practice being part of basic social
contract by playing games, and you can do that with games that are in some sense relatively
straightforward and regulated by strict conventions and articulated rules, so that’d be like
a soccer game, or you can do it in a more complex way and a less structured and less
articulated manner by engaging in dramatic play. So what children usually do when they’re doing
is that they’ll gather around a little group and they’ll lay out the drama so the drama
would be “We’re going to simulate x. We’re going to simulate a family.” And then everybody is assigned a role, and
so you’re supposed to act out your role, but exactly how you’re supposed to act it out
is left open during the game, so you can riff and improvise, and basically what children
are doing when they’re doing that is acting out the family because, you know, they need
to get the family in their bones because being a parent isn’t a set of ideas about parenting,
it’s a set of behaviors. It’s a dance that you learn to have with
your children and with your partner, and it’s very complicated, and the rules go far beyond
what you could ever articulate, you know, cause you can ask yourself a question like,
“Well how should you discipline a child?” Well first of all, you can argue about that
forever, but second of all, you cannot actually elaborate a set of principles that will guide
your behavior in every situation where a child is likely to disrupt the social circumstance. So you have to be smarter than you can say
in order to be good at doing something as complicated as discipling a child, you know,
because discipline also means encouraging, right, because part of discipline is well
you shouldn’t do those things, but another part of it is you should definitely do more
of those things, and so it’s the inculcation of a moral code, and a lot of that is done
through nonverbal behavior and through providing a role model through spontaneous imitation,
and all sorts of things that aren’t verbal. Okay now, so Piaget talked about the game,
and then you could think that games become more and more complex and more and more abstract
and more and more like real life as you mature until they maybe the games transform into
what sociologists would refer to as roles. So the role you’re playing at the moment,
at least in principle, is student, and you know, it’s a game and it’s a game because
it’s a fiction in some sense. It’s a dramatic fiction in some sense. The only reason that it exists as a role is
because society is structured in such a way that enables this to – enables you to do what
you’re doing and to live at the same time. So it’s not exactly adaptation to the natural
world, in any sense of the word, but it’s also real life or maybe it’s almost as close
to real life as you’d ever get because almost everything that modern people do, and maybe
this is true for a long time into the past, is game-like in its structure. So the games just get more and more and more
– they’re more and more and more encompassing in some sense, but you can almost say that
it never comes to the point where what you’re doing is no longer playing a game. Now that’s a bit of an oversimplification
because there are games and metagames, but we won’t talk about the metagames at the moment. Okay so now, you can understand some of the
lower order games, and you can even understand some of the higher order roles like you could
basically articulate in some sense what it means to be a student. But if you go up the hierarchy because you
know, good person – a subset of good person could be good student. You can kind of articulate what it means to
be a good student, although you can’t fully articulate it, but if you go at levels above
that like be a good citizen or be a good person, it gets more and more difficult to fully articulate
because of course, it’s more and more abstract, and it encompasses more and more territory,
and so by the time you’re at the top of the hierarchy so to speak, “be a good person.” Well, it’s a much more phenomena than you
can articulate. It can’t be fully articulated. Now, I want to read you something that Nietzsche
said. Now you have to listen to this carefully because
there’s some very interesting things about the way Nietzsche writes. He writes aphoristically, and an aphorism
is a short statement, often only a sentence but more typically a paragraph, that’s very,
very densely packed with ideas, and I think you can say in some sense if you read Nietzsche
– and the stuff that I’m going to read from right now is from “Beyond Good and Evil”
– is that every single sentence has an idea in it, and it’s often an original idea,
and that’s a remarkable accomplishment. I mean, I’ve often gone through books and
marked – I usually fold the top of the page over – and marked where I think there’s an
idea worth keeping. It’s an idea I haven’t run into before so
it’s an original idea. And I would say in the typical book I read,
there’s none of them. There might be one or two, but with Nietzsche
there’s probably twenty on a page, and so it makes it – he’s packed a tremendous amount
of information into a very, very small space and he tried to do that and there’s a bunch
of reasons. One was, his health wasn’t very good, although
he was an early age genius. He was a full professor in Germany at – I
think when he was 22 or 23 which is impossible because you don’t become a full professor,
especially a hundred and thirty years ago, a hundred forty years ago in a German university
at the age of 23, it just isn’t impossible. But he was a spectacular genius, but his health
failed him so he had a very difficult time writing, and so what he did was spend an awful
lot of time thinking and a very short period of time writing, and so what that meant was
that he would take a tremendous amount of thought – genius level thought – and then
compress it into like a single sentence, or a single paragraph, and he said that he liked
to philosophize with a hammer, and in some sense – you know that hierarchy that I just
showed you, you know we talked about the idea that if you hit something disruptive in your
life that the magnitude of your response is proportionate to the elevation of the level
right. It’s much more damaging to be accused of
being a bad person, you know seriously, than it is for someone to complain about, you know,
on which side of the plate you happen to put the fork on. And I think you could say that you can sort
of think of those nested hierarchies of value as nested hierarchies of – they’re almost
like maps in a sense. They’re little units of ways that you know
how to maneuver in the world, and what that means is that as you go up the hierarchy,
the map is larger and larger and more comprehensive, and so if you blow up someone’s map of which
fork to put on the table, that’s not so bad. They can just rectify that in no time flat. It leaves 99.99% of their personality intact. But if you fail a crucial exam for example
and part of the reason that you’re a student is you want to go to medical school, that’ll
blow out like fifty or sixty percent of your personality, or at least it’ll feel that
way, and that’s because what’s happening is that the structure that you use to regulate
the relationship between you and the world has become damaged at a high level, and that
invalidates – like if you’re not a student. If you’re not a good student anymore, then
all of the subfactors that make up being a good student might be invalid, and you know
you might have put a lot of effort into being a good student, and so if all of a sudden
you’re not that, you have to ask yourself, well what exactly am I and where are all the
errors? Well that’s an extraordinarily difficult cognitive
problem because you’ve built that structure, who knows over what period of time. It might be fifteen years or something like
that, and you’ve been practicing building that structure, and it’s a huge part of
your identity because someone might say well what are you even? And you say a student. You know, they might say what do you do, but
they can easily say what are you? I’m a student. Well if you’re not a student, at least insofar
as you define student, then just exactly what are you? Alright so Nietzsche, you know, when he packed
a lot of information into a sentence or a paragraph, you have to be very careful reading
him. Jung is like this too because he’ll throw
some information at you that’s packed into a paragraph and it’ll be the kind of information
that disrupts high level structures. You won’t even notice it, and that’s because
it’s so subversive, and he wanted to do it. It was an aim of his. He had his reasons to do it. He would say that you have to be broken down
to nothing before you can be rebuilt. So it’s like a trip to the underworld thing. So, and I suppose that’s what philosophy
is. You don’t learn a new principle without allowing
old principles to disappear because you can’t have the new principle and the old principle
at the same time. So almost always any radical learning involves
the destruction of old habits and actions and perception, and that’s a kind of death,
like it’s an abstract death, you know, but that doesn’t make it not painful, and the
thing is if the abstract death is of sufficient intensity, it can drive people to suicide
because they regard killing themselves as easier than making the reparation, you know,
facing the anxiety and the suffering and going through the intolerably difficult task of
retooling. They may well regard that as more emotionally
threatening than death, and so – and that’s not that rare. I mean, suicide is rare, but it’s not that
rare. So, you know and it’s certainly a behavior
that everyone is – I suspect – is everyone here has known someone who was touched by
suicide in some way, you know. It might not be your family member or even
your extended family member, but the probability that you know someone who knows someone who
has committed suicide is extremely, extremely likely. So Nietzsche is a very dangerous, dangerous
thinker. The only person I know who kind of approaches
him in that regard is Jung, and Jung is actually less troublesome because a lot of what Dostoevsky
offers is destruction. It’s intelligent, brilliant destruction,
but he doesn’t really offer a solution. He sort of sketches out the possibility of
a solution, and he died young, and then in many ways what happened was that Jung picked
up where Nietzsche left off and tried to solve the problems that Nietzsche left unsolved. So it was Nietzsche for example – in some
sense along with Dostoevsky who really definitively announced the death of God at the end of the
19th century, and that left people in some ways bereft of belief, and we’re going to
talk about why that was so important in a moment. What Jung was doing was trying to – well he
was trying to rescue the father from the underworld in a sense. He was trying – he tried to go back to the
religious traditions that Nietzsche had described as fatally anachronistic and demolished by
the claims of science. He had attempted to go back to those religious
traditions and reassess them from a psychological perspective to pull back the necessary meaning
that was embedded in them so that people could reunite with their culture and in principle
not be so prone to pathological belief systems like ideology that tend to rush in when there’s
a gap. And you know, Nietzsche said very clearly,
and Dostoevsky knew this as well by the end of the 19th century, is that the death of
God would mean that people would turn en masse to rationalistic ideologies and that would
be murderous. They knew that was coming, and that’s an
amazing prediction. It really is an amazing prediction. It just shows you how thoroughly they understood
the structure. Okay, so I’m going to read you something
by Nietzsche and we’re going to return to the hierarchy so you can kind of understand
something deeper about the way the hierarchy is structured. Okay, now he’s talking about philosophical
ideas here, and he’s actually talking about articulated ethics. So, one way that you might think about philosophy
is that philosophers originate articulated moral principles, and that is often the way
that people think about especially moral philosophies. It’s like it’s the philosophers who come
up with the ideas, but that isn’t what Nietzsche believed. Here’s what he said instead. “Separate philosophical ideas are not anything
optional or autonomously evolving. They grow up in connection and relationship
with each other however suddenly and arbitrarily they seem to appear in the history of thought,
they nevertheless belong just as much to a system as the collective members of the fauna
of a continent.” Okay so, it’s a very interesting idea. So the first idea that he’s putting forward
is that you could — the best way to think about a philosophical system, say a philosophical
system of ethics, is as if its different statements are animals related to one another in an ecosystem. So he has a biological metaphor, in some sense,
for the emergence of the philosophical system. It’s quite an interesting way of thinking,
of course, and it makes sense because if a philosophical system of ethics – which is
a philosophical system that tells you how and why you should behave a certain way – is
about how you should act and you’re a biological being, then of course it only makes sense
that the concepts themselves which are guides to actions can logically be considered biological
entities. They’re abstracted biological entities but
they still have the same nature as biological entities, and that means, according to Nietzsche,
that they’re subject to the same rules. Now this is the sort of place where he foreshadows
Freud deeply. So Nietzsche says, “They nevertheless belong
just as much to a system as the collective members of the fauna of a continent. This is betrayed in the end by the circumstance;
however, unfailingly the most diverse philosophers always fill in, again, a definite fundamental
scheme of possible philosophies. Under an invisible spell, they always resolve
once more in the same orbit however independent of each other they may feel themselves with
their critical or systematic wills. Something within them leads them. Something impels them in definite order, the
one after the other, to wit the innate methodology and relationship of their ideas. Their thinking is, in fact, far less a discovery
than a re-recognizing, a remembering, a return, and a homecoming to a far off ancient common
household of the soul out of which these ideas formerly grew. Philosophizing is so far a kind of atavism
of the highest order.” Okay so, here’s the idea. There’s two fundamental ideas that are embedded
in this which actually Nietzsche differentiates. Alright I’m gonna read you another section
that illuminates the first one. “It has gradually become clear to me what
every great philosophy up till now has consisted of – namely, the confession of its originator,
and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography; and moreover that the moral
(or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which
the entire plant has always grown.” Okay so this is a very radical statement because
what Nietzsche is saying is that philosophies, even when they declare themselves rational,
are deeply personal, and they’re also necessarily embedded within a motivational structure that
is either pro-life or anti-life, something like that. So there’s no value free philosophizing. What there is is the expression of biologically
and culturally conditioned being, which is conditioned by, let’s say the same sort
of fundamental forces that Freud described in the biological realm, and then that’s
conditioned by the cultural processes that we just described in relationship to Piaget,
and then what the philosopher does is observe that all of those things are happening, allow
that to be articulated, and confuse that with his own thought. It’s a brilliant idea. Now here’s a way of thinking about it. Now, one of the things Piaget said was that
once children start to play games – when they’re young – collective games, you can watch the
children play the collective games, maybe like eight kids are playing marbles or something
like that, and then you can take the young kids out of the game and you can ask them
what the rules are, and what’ll happen is you’ll get a diverse set – a diverse and
paradoxical set – of articulated rules, and what that means is that the children can play
the game when they’re in the game and when they’re in the context of all the other people
because in some sense, the game is embedded in pieces in all of them, and as long as they’re
all there, that all works, but if you pull the child away they don’t have the intellectual
wherewithal to describe the patterns of behavior that make up the game, and that’s only to
say that they know things that they can’t say because you might say, well the game – the
rules of the game come first and then the game emerges, but that’s wrong. It’s the game comes first, and only after
that do the rules emerge, and of course there’s a reciprocal relationship between them because
once the rules are somewhat articulated, then the game becomes more structured, you know,
and then the rules can become more structured and so on. So the articulation changes the rules. What Nietzsche is saying is that the same
thing applies to societies. He says like, insofar as you can consider
society a collective game played by millions of people over vast spans of time, it’s
a game of games in some sense, and it emerged from the bottom up. It emerged out of biological impulses and
interpersonal and social interactions conditioning and shaping everyone’s behavior and perception. And that happened way before anyone could
articulate what those rules were. Now remember, when Nietzsche was writing,
there was no real sense of how old the Earth was or how old the universe was. I mean, people thought – even the radical
people thought – maybe in terms of hundreds of thousands of years, you know, and now we
know that the universe is 14 billion years old and that the Earth is 4 billion years
old, and that life has been plentiful for 3.5 billion years, you know. So the historical context within which we
originated has expanded by orders of magnitude since the last nineteenth century and so then
what you think that means is that the way that our games have been organized stretches
impossibly back in time. Now I already told you – I believe – the story
about lobster dominance hierarchies right. So even lobsters – that’s 400 million years
ago. Lobsters arrayed themselves in a social space
and they regulate each other, and that means the lobsters essentially have a lobster society,
and you know each lobster has biological predispositions that are quite determined. They’re quite – the lobster’s quite a deterministic
creature, but nonetheless, the way those biological predispositions manifest himself is conditioned
and shaped by the social surrounding, and so you think well lobsters started to play
games 400 million years ago and you know, as we’ve taken the tremendously long evolutionary
journey across that time, we’d been playing social games the whole time and that means
that the way that we interact with each other has evolved, and it’s even shaped the way
that our biology manifests itself because that’s how old culture is, and then out of
that as we became more capable of abstraction, and maybe that’s – you know, that’s something
that really took off probably seven million years ago with modern human beings emerging
about 150 thousand years ago because we separated from the common ancestor of human beings and
chimpanzees about seven million years ago. You can tell that by doing analysis of genetic
differences. So the brain expanded very rapidly after that
point, and our culture became more and more conscious and articulated and complex and
larger and more technological, you know. So it became, in some ways, more dependent
on social norms and less dependent on deterministic biological predispositions, but we’ve still
been doing that for a very long time. There’s good evidence that, you know, we
started using fire about two million years ago, and – forgive me if I’ve told you this
already but – you know if you look at a human being, and you look at a chimpanzee, there’s
a bunch of things you can see that are very different morphologically. The chimp is much shorter, much much wider,
and way more powerful. So like a normal male chimp is about as six
times as strong as the strongest Olympic athlete. So, don’t mess with chimps. They’ll tear you apart. They’re really, really strong and dangerous. But, the chimp is shaped sort of like this,
you know. They have a huge gastrointestinal system,
roughly speaking, and the reason for that is mostly what they eat is leaves, and leaves
have no color or content, and so they have to eat immense numbers of leaves, and leaves
are hard to digest so they have to chew them like mad. So the the typical chimp sits around eight
hours a day chewing, and then they have this tremendously long gastrointestinal system
because it takes that long to extract any nutrients out of leaves. Well, we circumvented that man, as soon as
we invented fire, and fire allows us to outsource our digestion because if you cook most things:
vegetables, but most importantly meat. If you cook them, they become much more bioavailable,
and it takes much less energy to digest them. So that way you can shrink your gut and grow
your brain, and so that’s apparently what we did because here we are, relatively slim
at least compared to chimpanzees. And so, fire popped up two million years ago. It’s a real cultural revolution, but you
know, that’s so old, that cultural revolution, that it completely reshaped our bodies, and
so this interplay between biology and culture has been going on for an unimaginably long
period of time, and it conditions everything we do. Now, here’s a complicated idea. Okay, so imagine a wolf pack. Now, a wolf pack is a pretty complicated social
group. It’s a fair bit like a primordial human
group which is why dogs have been with us for 25 thousand years. Maybe they were wolves that first started
to follow us around and scavenge, or more likely I think, someone went out – some primordial
hunter – went out hunting, killed a wolf female, found the pups, and brought one home for the
children to play with, you know. And that was the origin of the dog. I think it was something like that because
dogs are basically – they’re basically genetically identical with wolves. Now, the thing is, we can get along with dogs,
and the reason we can get along with dogs is that dogs have a social organization. You can call it a dominance hierarchy, that’s
a fair bit like the human social organization, and so you can see that part of what it means
to be human is the same thing that it means to be a pack animal like a dog or a pack animal
like our domesticated animals like horses and cows for example, which we can domesticate
partly because they’re social. So some of the structure of our social organization
is the same sort of structure that an animal dominance hierarchy has, like the chimpanzee
dominance hierarchy, for example. And so we know that chimpanzees and other
primates, monkeys for example, are acutely aware of the levels of hierarchy in their
social structure, and there are – I think it’s vervet monkeys. This is a very funny experiment. So imagine that the top vervet monkeys are
like celebrity monkeys, you know, and the bottom vervet monkeys are like dissolute street
people, and so then you take some picture of dissolute street people who are just at
the bottom of the hierarchy, and you take some pictures of celebrities, and you show
pictures to a human audience, and the human audience will look at the celebrities longer. Well, if you take the vervet monkeys, and
you take photographs of the top ranking vervet monkeys and the bottom vervet monkeys and
you show them to vervet monkeys, then the vervet monkeys will look at the top ranking
vervet monkey photographs more than the bottom ranking vervet monkey photographs. So in some sense, they’re transfixed by the
individuals who are higher up in the social order, and that makes sense, right, because
what you should feel – especially in a fairly aggressive dominance hierarchy – what you
should feel the closer you are to the bottom of the dominance hierarchy, the closer what
you should feel for whatever’s at the top of the dominance hierarchy, it should be closer
and closer to awe. Now, when people feel awe, they get chills
running up and down their back, their neck. Well why – the reason that happens is because
it’s an atavism. It’s a hangover from the time that you were
threatened by something awe inspiring, let’s say a snake or a bear or something like that. Your hair – your fur would stand up and the
reason for that is so that you look bigger, and you still see this happening all the time
with cats, right. Two cats will – normally cats face each other
this way, right. But if they start to fight, they turn sideways
and that’s so they each look bigger, and they puff up their fur and their tail, and that’s
to show the other cat that they’re really a lot bigger than the cat first thought. Now of course, they’re both doing that so
it’s a little bit pointless, but they’re just cats so you know, you can give them a
break, but the point is that they pilo erect, and that’s the same thing that happens, for
example when you’re listening to very powerful music and it deeply affects you and you get
chills. It’s like the hair stands up on the back
of your neck, and that’s a signalling of awe. Now the reason you should feel awe towards
something that’s higher up in the dominance hierarchy is because that thing has power,
like – well there’s more than one reason. A, that thing has power. You better be careful of it because it will
put you in your place, and fast. And part of the reason that dominance hierarchy
exists is so that everybody knows their place and they don’t have to be reminded of it by
being half killed on a regular basis, you know. So maybe you’re nine on a scale of one being
the top, maybe you’re number nine. It’s not so good, but number nine and not
hurting is a lot better than number nine and lying there bleeding on the ground, and so
what happens with dominance hierarchies is they usually arrange themselves in part by
power, but by no means only power. Everybody knows where they are, and pretty
much everybody stays there, and that even happens over multiple generations, say in
complex primate dominance troops. Status is heritable. So you know, there’s not much of a leap between
that and heritable monarchies among human beings. It’s a reflection of – you know, it’s
much more complex among human beings because it’s articulated and structured, but it’s
the same basic thing. Now, Nietzsche’s point was – so now imagine… Here’s another problem. So, imagine that… Okay so you’ve got a dominance hierarchy,
and it’s fairly stable, and one of the things that you wanna do is climb to the top of the
dominance hierarchy, and the reason you want to do that – there’s all sorts of reasons:
high quality mates – that’s the primary reason. That’s particularly true in humans if you’re
male because males are much more differential reproducers than females which means a lot
of males fail to reproduce completely, and some reproduce a lot whereas the typical woman
reproduces at least some. So that means competition is more intense
among men, and that’s part of the reason why dominance hierarchies tend to be tilted towards
male power because competition means more to them. The outcome is more crucial. So, now part of what happens is that as people
compete within the dominance hierarchy, what they’re doing is to try to figure out who
it is that is fit to be on top. Now, you might think that that’s a matter
of power, you know, and in fact your basic social leftie, social constructionists would
have you believe that was all there is to it, is that the whole dominance hierarchy
is nothing but a power system, and the people on top are there because they have power,
and what’s there is power, and by that they mean the ability to enforce their will on
other people. Well that’s a dopey theory, and the reason
for that is it’s unidimensional. We know that people are multi-faceted. There’s no single motivation that’s king. You know, for Freud it was sex and aggression,
and like if you’re gonna come up with a couple of potent candidates, those are two, but there’s
lots of other ones. People are playful and play is a primary biological
circuit, you know. We suffer. We’re hungry. We’re thirsty. We’re affiliative. Like, there’s a lot of biological necessity
driving the makeup of our personalities, and there are biological subpersonalities and
to arbitrarily call one of them the source of something as complex as social organization
is – it’s a false form of monotheism. It’s a crazy idea, and it’s the kind of
idea that only people who really don’t like to think would have because once you come
up with that idea, it’s all power, you don’t have to think anymore. Someone can say to you, “Well why is complex
phenomena X the way it is? Why is the economy arranged the way it is? Well, it’s so the people at the top can
maintain their power.” Well, yeah sure, but maybe that accounts for
ten percent of the reason. It doesn’t get close to a hundred percent. There’s lot of reasons why hierarchies are
structured the way they are and sheer physical force is one of them, but it’s unstable. So, Frans de Waal who was watching chimps
organize their dominance hierarchies in the Arnhem Zoo in Holland, noted quite quickly
that it was fairly typical, or at least possible, for the meanest, ugliest, strongest male chimp
to be the dominant guy. Sometimes it was the chimp who learned to
pick up a garbage can and whack the hell out of it with a stick because that intimidated
his enemies, you know. So there’s a bit of creativity there, but
what De Waal found was that the stable hierarchies were never run by barbarian chimp dictators,
and the reason for that was that coalitions of other males would take them out because
you think, well if you’re one anti-social, aggressive male, and you’re tough, it’s
like okay you’re tough, but three lesser, friendlier males who are bound together in
a friendship pact which chimpanzees form quite intensely. It’s like as soon as that guy turns his
back or has a bad day or gets hurt, they’re going to jump in there and tear him to pieces,
and that’s exactly what happened. So what De Waal found was that the stabler
chimpanzee dominance hierarchies were run usually by males, who were affiliative and
gregarious, who remembered their social obligations, so that meant with regard to their friendship
network, and who were also very good to the females and the infants in the troop even
if they weren’t his, and the idea there is that power is an unstable basis for the maintenance
of a dominance hierarchy across time because in some sense, even among chimps, you have
to have the consent of the governed because you’ll get a revolution otherwise. So you know, you’re going to get a revolution
if you put people, or animals, in a situation where they have nothing to lose, and so what
that means is there are constraints on how you can act while you try to move up the dominance
hierarchy system because if you’re too aggressive and selfish and you’re not grooming anyone
else, and you’re not communicating with the other creatures in the troop, they’re gonna
gang up on you and take you down, and so if you’re gonna maneuver your way up the troop,
you have to do it in a manner that’s civilized enough so that you don’t get everyone against
you. So what it means is to maneuver up a power
hierarchy, especially a complex power hierarchy, you have to be a lot more than powerful. So, okay now. So, now we’ve got this idea that there are
principles governing the movement of creatures up a dominance hierarchy, even among the animals,
and one of the defining characteristics that – one of the characteristics that necessity
makes delimit that process is that over time, the troop can’t let anybody climb the dominance
hierarchy who will destabilize the whole dominance hierarchy because then that’s it. Game over. So at the very least, you have to learn how
to climb up the hierarchy so that you don’t destabilize it while you climb because otherwise
you get to the top and there’s nothing left. Well, and animals know this. They know this instinctively. So for example, when wolves go at it, you
know, first they puff up and they growl at each other, and they put up their shoulders,
and like they get more and more aggressive until attack is imminent, and often one of
them will back up. There’s no fighting. No one gets damaged, and so that’s the typical
situation. It’s like one says, “Yeah okay, I’m
out of here.” And god only knows why that is. Often I suspect the wolf with the higher serotonin
level wins because it has less negative emotion, and serotonin levels go up as you move up
the dominance hierarchy. Now and then, they’ll actually have a fight
but the fight usually doesn’t last very long, and then the loser will roll over, show its
throat to the winner, which is quite a behavior because wolves tear the throats out of their
prey, and the top wolf will back off, and you know you think about it. That’s unbelievably sophisticated morality. There’s echos in there of the New Testament
in junction to love your enemy because that’s exactly what the wolf is doing, and you know,
it doesn’t know this because it can’t articulate the rule, but what it’s doing is acting
as if even the thing that attacked you is valuable in its own right if its a part of
your troop. And you know, you can see there the ancient
biological origins of the idea, you know, of the equality and value of each individual. So these things have deep, deep, deep, roots. They’re not arbitrary. They’re not arbitrary, and no one invented
them, and that’s exactly what Nietzsche is saying here. “To understand how the abstrusest metaphysical
assertions of a philosopher have been arrived, it is always well and wise to first ask oneself,
what morality do they or does he aim at? Accordingly, I do not believe that an impulse
to knowledge is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse, here as elsewhere,
has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument. But whoever considers the fundamental impulses
of man with a view to determining how far they may have here acted as INSPIRING GENII
(or as demons), will find that they have all practiced philosophy at one time or another,
and that each one of them would have been only too glad to look upon itself as the ultimate
end of existence and the legitimate lord over all the other impulses.” So what is he saying there? Well, you know, Nietzsche makes this explicit
in passages that are related to this one. He viewed the human being as a collection
of subsouls, and the subsouls were grounded in their existence in biological underpinnings,
and that was the case for every human being and that made us roughly similar. It certainly made our groups roughly similar,
and so these – each of these biological subsystems conceptualized as a subsoul was something
that had its own viewpoint, had its own rules, had its own games, and they jockey for precedence. You know, you know that because sometimes
you’re sitting there reading and you’re trying to concentrate on a higher order goal like
completing your classes, and you know, some biologically determined subsystem pops up
and says you know, “This would be an excellent time to go have a coffee.” You know, and you might do everything you
can to not allow that thing to take over, but often it does and often that’s despite
what you think you might actually want to do, and then later you’re all upset about
it because you’ve procrastinated yet again, but you know, Nietzsche viewed the psyche
as a place – you could almost think of yourself as a set of abstract, it’s like your brain
is a set of animals, and the animals are all dependent on one another but each animal needs
to be bossed from time to time, and each animal wants to be bossed more often than it should
be, and then you know, the higher order cortical systems are there to figure out how to sequence
all the other animals so that they all get what they need without interfering with each
other across large spans of time in the presence of many other people in a manner that’s sustaining. It’s very, very complicated. Okay now, so let’s go back to the hierarchy. So, you have the hierarchy and over time – now
remember, this hierarchy stays there for a very long period of time, and remember as
well that the people who climb to the top of the hierarchy are much more likely to leave
offspring than the people who don’t, and so then what that means is that the hierarchy,
in part, is one of the primary selection forces operating on humanity, and what that means
is that we evolve towards the thing that can most successfully evolve the dominance hierarchy,
and so that means that we evolve towards the thing that has the best probability of ruling
properly, and that that’s not just cultural. It’s cultural because it’s the continual
interplay between culture and biology going back, we’ll say, four hundred million years
or more. Okay now, but it’s even more complicated
than that, and this is – one of the things that you have to understand if you really
want to understand what Nietzsche meant by the death of God because that’s his most famous
pronouncement. “God is dead and we have killed him, and
we’ll never find enough water to wash away the blood.” So he wasn’t announcing that in triumph. He was announcing it in terror. Okay now, imagine this. So as human society becomes more complex,
and as our brains become larger and larger so that we could track larger social organizations,
and we can organize more complex communities, what happens is that heretofore isolated tribes
of people come together, and then they have to engage in conflict and negotiation, and
partly what they’re in conflict about is what is the way that you should act, and what should
the values be. Now there’s an old mythological idea that
the gods fight in heaven to see who is the dominant god. Well you can imagine all of these individual
tribes, they had their ideals, and those were creatures of their imagination, but those
were imagined representations of proper behavioral patterns, and they saw those as transcendent
and superordinate, and so then tribe A would come into contact with tribe B and the gods
would clash, and out of that and all the death and destruction that went with it, the two
tribes would integrate, and maybe that would take, you know, hundreds of years, and the
religious system that sat above that which was the representation of the dominance hierarchy
would also transform. So you take tribe A, and then you take tribe
B, and then you take tribe C, and then you take tribe D, and they all accumulate across
time and sort out and articulate and represent all of their beliefs, and what happens is
that this tribe has a game, and this tribe has a game, and this tribe has a game, and
then if you put all of those games together, they tilt so that a metagame emerges out of
it. It’s like – if it’s fortunate – the best
of all three games gets put together in a larger game, and it has to be the best because
otherwise it won’t work. The thing will fall apart right, because if
your family unit isn’t functional, it’ll disperse, and you know maybe people will die because
of it. It has to have the – it has to be iteratable. It has to be playable across time without
falling apart from internal pressure, and without getting wiped out from the outside. So it’s very tightly constrained. So then let’s say this happens over tens
of thousands of years. We could say, well it happened in the Middle
East because we know that. As Mesopotamia came together, for example,
it was the aggregation of multiple tribes and all of the gods of those tribes, and we
know the Mesopotamians organized all those gods into one god, his name was Marduk, and
that the story that they tell about the aggregation of the gods into one is the story of the gods
getting together, and voting on which of them should be at the top, and then we know that
the Mesopotamian emperor was charged with the responsibility of acting out that top
god, and that that’s what made him a good emperor, and he got reminded of that every
year with the New Year’s ceremony. He had to tell all the ways that he hadn’t
been a good Marduk and then he’d get punished for it, and then they would reenact the battle
of the gods and recreate this Marduk character. Okay, so you can understand how that might
have come about. Now you can say that the idea of that emergent
ideal, that wasn’t rational. It was the consequence of conflict and cooperation
in the real world across time. The representations of that were, you know,
we might think about them as narrative representations or if they’re deep enough, even as mythology. We can think about those as the soil from
which religious presuppositions emerge, and so what happens is that what you have at the
top of the dominance hierarchy as your representation of the good person is no different in its
totality than the idea of the sovereign god that has emerged across thousands and thousands
of years of human history. So the whole structure has this thing at the
top, and it’s regarded in imagination as divine. It’s the consequence of the – it’s the
consequence of the battle of representations of morality in imagination across thousands
and thousands of years, and that’s a reflection of the actual conflict and restructuring of
societies across all that time. So then you have this thing at the top. So we can say in the West, in Western Europe,
that thing at the top is Christ, and that’s the dying – the dying, and the revivifying
hero. We talked about reasons for that. That’s the thing that can go to the underworld
and then come back up. Okay, that’s at the top. What happens when it disappears? Well, we’ll turn to Dostoevsky for that. This is from “Notes From Underground.” So this is someone who’s in the underground,
and that’s where you go when your value systems collapse. “I am a sick man. … I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease,
and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never
have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently
so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can’t explain who it is precisely
that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot “pay
out” the doctors and extract revenge by not consulting them; I know better than anyone
that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it
is from spite. My liver is bad, well–let it get worse!” Now, he’s a civil servant — a low ranking
civil servant, and he’s retired because he got a little bit of inheritance. He says, “When petitioners used to come
for information to the table at which I sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and I felt
intense enjoyment when I succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost always succeeded. For the most part they were all timid people—of
course, they were petitioners. But you know gentlemen what was the chief
point about my spite? Well, the whole point, the real sting of it
lay it in the fact that continually, even in the moment of the acutest spleen, I was
inwardly conscious with shame that I was not only not spiteful, but not even embittered,
and that I was simply scaring sparrows at random and amusing myself by it. I was lying when I just said now that I was
a spiteful official. I was lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with the petitioners
and with the officers, and in reality I never could become spiteful. I was conscious every moment in myself of
many, very many elements absolutely opposite to that. I felt them positively swarming in me, these
opposite elements. I knew that they had been swarming in me my
whole life, and craving some outlet from me, but I would not let them out — would not
let them purposefully, purposefully would not let them out. They tormented me until I was ashamed. They drove me to convultions, and sickened
me at last. At last, how they sickened me. Now, you’re not fancying gentlemen, that I
am expressing remorse for something now. That I am asking for forgiveness for something. I am sure you are fancying that; however,
I assure you I do not care if you are. It was not only that I could not become spiteful. I did not know how to become anything, neither
spiteful nor kind. Neither a rascal or an honest man. Neither a hero, nor an insect. Now I am living my life out in my corner,
taunting myself with the spiteless and useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot
become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything.” “A direct person, I regard as the real,
normal man as his tender mother nature wished to see him, when she graciously brought him
into being on the earth. I envy such a man until I’m green in the
face. He’s stupid. I’m not disputing that, but perhaps the
normal man should be stupid. How do you know? Perhaps it’s very beautiful in fact, and
I am the more persuaded of that suspicion – if one can call it so – by the fact that
you take, for instance, the antithesis of the normal man, that is the man of acute self
consciousness who has come, of course, not out of the lap of nature but out of a retort. This is also almost mysticism, gentlemen,
but I suspect this too. This retort made man is sometimes so nonplussed
in the presence of his antithesis, the normal man, that with all his exaggerated self consciousness
he generally thinks himself a mouse, and not a man at all. It may be an acutely conscious mouse, yet
it is a mouse. Well the other is a man, and therefore etc,
etc. And the worst of it is, he himself — his
very own self — looks on himself as a mouse. No one asks him to do so.” And that’s an important point. “Now let us look at this mouse in action. Let us suppose for instance that it feels
insulted, and it almost always feels insulted, and it wants to revenge itself too. There may even be a greater accumulation of
spite in it than in the man of nature and truth. The base and nasty desire to vent that spite
on its assailant rankles perhaps even more nastily in it than in the man of nature and
truth. For through his innate stupidity, the latter,
the normal man, looks upon his revenge as justice pure and simple. Well, in consequence of his acute self consciousness,
the mouse does not believe in any justice of it at all. To come at last to the deed itself, to the
very act of revenge, apart of the one fundamental nastiness the luckless mouse succeeds in creating
around it, so many nastinesses in the form of doubts and questions adds to the one question
so many unsettled questions that there are inevitably works up around it a sort of fatal
brew, a stinking mess, made up of its doubts, emotions, and of the contempt spat upon it
by the direct men of action who stand solemnly about it as judges and arbitrators, laughing
at it till their healthy sides ache. Of course the only thing left for it is to
dismiss all that with a wave of its paw, and, with a smile of assumed contempt in which
it does not even itself believe, creep ignominiously into its mouse-hole. There in its nasty, stinking, underground
home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed mouse promptly becomes absorbed in cold, malignant
and, above all, everlasting spite. For forty years together it will remember
its injury down to the smallest, most ignominious details, and every time will add, of itself,
details still more ignominious, spitefully teasing and tormenting itself with its own
imagination. It will itself be ashamed of its imaginings,
but yet it will recall it all, it will go over and over every detail, it will invent
unheard of things against itself, pretending that those things might have happened, and
will forgive nothing. Maybe it will begin to revenge itself, too,
but, as it were, piecemeal, in trivial ways, from behind the stove, incognito, without
believing either in its own right to vengeance, or in the success of its revenge, knowing
that from all its efforts at revenge it will suffer a hundred times more than he on whom
it revenges itself, while he, I daresay, will not even scratch himself. On its deathbed it will recall it all over
again, with interest accumulated over all the years.” Now, the idea that Nietzsche and Dostoevsky
were developing was that the dawning consciousness in Western society of the mythological substructure
of the value system and the impossibility of conceptualizing that or proving the validity
of its structure from scientific means doomed it to – doomed the people who were encapsulated
in that system to formal disbelief in it, and what they concluded from that was exactly
what Dostoevsky just described which was that someone with that level of acute self-consciousness
and culture self knowledge would immediately become fragmented beyond belief, unable to
act, unhappy, resentful, and dangerous. And both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, in their
works, and Dostoevsky developed this idea mostly particularly in a novel called “The
Devils,” said that once that you had got to that point, which was inevitable if you
were smart enough to take seriously what was going on, it was only a tiny step to identification
with a murderous ideology. Now, some of the existentialists started to
work up what you might regard as a solution to this problem. And I’m going to read Kierkegaard’s solution. “It is now…” Kierkegaard was a Danish existential philosopher
and he lived earlier than Nietzsche, and he was, in some sense, you might think of him
as the first modern psychologist. He was the first person to conceptualize,
for example, of the separate entity of anxiety and despair. “It is now about four years ago that I got
the notion of wanting to try my luck as an author. I remember it quite clearly. It was on a Sunday. Yes, that’s it. A Sunday afternoon. I was seated, as usual, out of doors at the
cafe in the Fredericksburg Garden. I’d been a student for half a score of years,
although never lazy, all my activity nevertheless was like a glittering inactivity, a kind of
occupation for which I still have a great partiality, and for which I perhaps even have
a little genius. I read much, spent the remainder of the day
idling and thinking, or thinking and idling, but that was all it came to. So I sat there and smoked my cigar until I
lapsed into thought. Among other thoughts, I remember these. ‘You are going on’, I said to myself,
‘to become an old man without being anything and without really undertaking to do anything. On the other hand, wherever you look around
you in life, and in literature, you see the celebrated names and figures, the precious
and much heralded men who are coming into prominence and who are much talked about. The many benefactors of the age you know how
to benefit mankind by making life easier and easier, some by railways, others by omnibuses
and steamboats, and others by telegraph. Others by easily apprehended compendiums and
shortly recitals of everything worth knowing, and finally the true benefactors of the age
who make spiritual existence easier and easier, yet more and more significant, and what are
you doing?’ Here, my soliloquy was interrupted for my
cigar was smoked out, and a new one had to be lit. So I smoked again, and then suddenly this
thought flashed through my mind: “You must do something, but inasmuch as with your limited
capacities it will be impossible to make anything easier than it has become, you must, with
the same humanitarian enthusiasm as the others, undertake to make something harder.” This notion pleased me immensely, and at the
same time it flattered me to think that I like the rest of them, would be loved and
esteemed by the whole community. For when all combine in every way to make
everything easier, there remains only one possible danger, namely, that the ease becomes
so great that it becomes altogether too great; then there is only one want left, though it
is not yet a felt want, when people will want difficulty. Out of love for mankind, and out of despair
at my embarrassing situation, seeing that I had accomplished nothing and was unable
to make anything easier than it already was, and moved by a genuine interest in those make
everything easy, I conceived it as my task to create difficulties everywhere.” Same idea, in different words. “A traveler.” This is Nietzsche, and this is part of the
development of the answer to the conundrum that he raised. “A traveller who had seen many countries
and peoples and several continents was asked what human traits he had found everywhere;
and he answered: men are inclined to laziness. Some will feel that he might have said with
greater justice: they are all timid. They hide behind customs and opinions. At bottom, however, very human being knows
very well that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident,
however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse
plurality: he knows it, but he hides it like a bad conscience why? From fear of his neighbour who insists on
convention and veils himself with it. But what is it that compels the individual
human being to fear his neighbour, to think and act herd-fashion, and not to be glad of
himself? A sense of shame, perhaps, in a few rare cases. In the vast majority it is the desire for
comfort, inertia – in short, that inclination to laziness of which the traveller spoke. He is right: men are even lazier than they
are timorous, and what they fear most is the troubles with which any unconditional honesty
and nudity would burden them. Only artists hate this slovenly life in borrowed
manners and loosely fitting opinions and unveil the secret, everybody’s bad conscience, the
principle that every human being is a unique wonder; they dare to show us the human being
as he is, down to the last muscle, himself and himself alone even more, that in this
rigorous consistency of his uniqueness he is beautiful and worth contemplating, as novel
and as incredible as every work of nature, and by no means dull.” “When a great thinker despises men, it is
their laziness that he despises: for it is on account of this that they have the appearance
of factory products and seem indifferent and unworthy of companionship or instruction. The human being who does not wish to belong
to the mass must merely cease being comfortable with himself; let him follow his conscience
which shouts at him: ‘Be yourself! What you are at present doing, opining, and
desiring, that is not really you.’” That’s Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky, and existentialism. That’s the bare beginning of the thinking.

75 thoughts on “2016 Personality Lecture 08: Existentialism: Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Social Hierarchy

  1. Does anyone know where I can start with these three (Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche) individuals? A list of works that can start me off?

  2. The prof's inspired me lately to finally pick up "Thus Spake Zarathustra" which has been on my shelf for a while. Fucking genius. It takes me ten minutes to read a page. I wanna pick up a highlighter but I know I would just highlight everything. Can't think of anything I've read but the Gospels that profess such a unique and intelligent moral system.

  3. What do you think is happening now in Europe with the radicalization on both left and right? The massive number of immigrants that is threatening the stability of the union, and the member countries. The polarization of the politics and peoples politic beliefs, all while the economic problems are growing bigger. I wonder … will democracy survive the multicultural project?

  4. I feel very lucky to have access to these lectures.. amazing food for thought and ah-ha moments… many thanks.

  5. Yes, but what about the "Iron Rule of Oligarchy"? Once your Family or clan is at the top, you really no longer need a "top" family to hold the power. They'd have never earned that on their own….people say Historically, time did get them after awhile, but the benefits of the power are so much greater now…or How I learned to LOVE the NSA

    How soon til they collapse the system and laugh at us killing each other over race and sex…. March 15th?!

  6. It seems that you're saying dominance hierarchies are necessary, but it is a mistake of the grandest proportions to deduce from the presence of such hierarchies that competition is the fundamental meaning(s) of life. Rather, they are just a tool, in a much grander scheme.

    No wonder Darwin was so reluctant to publish…misinterpretation would be so easy!

  7. Thank you so much Professor for making these lectures possible to all and the convenience of one's surrounding.  I've learned so much.  Please continue providing lectures.  You are helping so many people.

  8. Here's a great documentary on Nietzsche: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsTwCbHIWu4

    I didn't know his sister turned him into a prop and gave his walking stick to Hitler. That's EFFED.

  9. Ok, so here's what I'm having trouble with. You say Nietzsche's mistake is to believe values is something we will. But he sorta doesn't believe in free will, he says the will is made up of these sub personalities fighting it out with one another, and which ever one wins we then identify with as "our will." So when we "will value" is it not then something bigger then, at least, the conscious will doing it, or isn't Nietzsche sorta saying that?

  10. Some random thoughts on Nietzsche: The first chapter of Beyond Good and Evil might be the greatest single chapter ever written in the history of philosophy. However, I prefer The Gay Science as a starting point. It's much easier for beginners to read aphorisms, imo, than essays. Not to mention that the profundity of the aphorisms in The Gay Science is truly extraordinary. I would stay away from Nietzsche's later works (The Anti-Christ, Twilight of The Idols, and Ecco Homo) until a sufficient understanding of his middle works has been learned and internalized. I made the mistake of starting out with The-Antichrist during a time when I was a very angry, nihilistic person and thus merely read what I wanted into N (although that's very typical of alienated youth).

  11. I love your interest in finding connections and compliments between ancient and modern sources, as well as in integrating insights from science, psychology, psychotherapy, religion, mythology, etc. What is your take on Ken Wilbur's work?

  12. Fascinating. It is refreshing to me to see someone marry Philosophy and Biology. I did not go to a university but I still read as much as I can about both Philo (Russell) and Bio (Darwin) and I often find myself thinking in a sort of fusion of the two disciplines. This was very illuminating. Thank you so much for sharing it with us plebs.

  13. Jordan B Peterson I've been that mouse person described in your lecture. Your lecture about reality and the sacred helped me let go of the spite I felt for others, especially religious people. Obviously I was already transitioning away from that person to start with, or one lecture wouldn't have made the difference. You helped me widen my frame of reference to include the future. I have imbued my life with meaning and am less stressed. I'm thinking seriously about my future as well as contemplating where being complacent will lead. People around me are responding positively as well.

    Thanks from a random american

  14. I'm in the belly of the whale & can't articulate the spark needed to flame the fire. Thank Christ for men like Dr Peterson.

  15. I saw you confirmed the 2015 version has much material that did not overlap with the 2016 version. So I wanted to know whether the 2014 was obsolete or not? Or is watching all 3 years worth while?

  16. Here's my impression of Dr. Peterson

    >:( "It's like, good luck with that! Pathological bloody Neo-Marxists!"

    Seriously: Great channel, thanks for doing this, I'm learning a lot. Also thanks for being a voice of reason in that whole SJW-debate.

  17. how has anyone failed to mention Johan Huizinga and his book Homo Ludens, or "Man at Play." A MASTERPIECE OF ANALYSIS ON HUMAN BEHAVIOR…homework for everyone who views this lecture and is admitting to themselves at this moment that they have no idea who the Dutch Historian from the early 20th century mentioned above is…Go…now…

  18. good lecture but his criticism of the left as schematising power structures into just wanting power and those actually in power as being more diverse, is his value structure. Its quite a commendable one, but how would it apply to our current situation? If we were to accept it as valid for our current situation and there was actually a presence of such an extreme right, one that only sees human life in terms of power, he just pulled the wool over your eyes. He did so by supplanting the diverse right as the right, not qualifying the current activities of the right at all. Sound familiar? That kind of smoothing over has been working for 'democracy' for a while. And remember, real democracy is a great idea. trust no-one- fox mulder. ps the constant conflict of left and right is summarised well by Iain Mcgilchrist.

  19. Few people know that Nietzsche is the glorious mustache not the man. Most of the works Dr. Peterson alludes to here can be attributed to it.

  20. Christ was not the perfect Western man – more like Nietzsche's perfect enemy. "God is dead", yes, but what killed him? Humans. How? Via Christianity: they sacrificed him (God on the cross) – in their quest for comfort. That is nihilism! Christianity was a nihlistic religion. It is directly responsible for the modern state of affairs as it empowered slave morality. Towards the end, the religious shell was cast off when no longer useful, and we are left with democracy, "equality", pettiness – the perpetuation of the nihilistic core.

  21. With over 30,000 hits, he better be getting money from Coca Cola to drink that Coke 0 with the label facing the camera at 26:58.

  22. If you haven't seen persistence hunting you should check it out. It expanded my understanding of the biological human as far as uprightness and the absence of fur for energy conservation and modulation. I used to think it was a funny thing that we had so much less fur than other apes.

  23. Did you grow up going to church? Your mannerisms remind me of a preacher big time, or is it in your biology. I wonder?

  24. Seriously incredible stuff, Mr. Peterson. You speak so genuinely, and so truthfully that it FORCES me to see my pathological problems. Thank you so much.

  25. The internet is strange place i make full circle, Some time ago I start know Your persona from identity politics videos/stance, and last week i play game NieR: Automata what make me to look after some philosophy. The game was about "human condition" end "existentialism" in me opinion one of best game of the year [2017] and make me cry in scenes looking like asteroids. and after round of some wikipedia links.. some youtube videos I get to some of Your lectures on this topic.its nice for me how game spark interest to search for philosophy and i end leasing this in background at work.

  26. i wonder if Jordan gives the students some of these statements of the philosophers to go think about BEFORE these lectures?

  27. “Reasoning led [Levin] into doubt and kept him from seeing what he should and should not do. Yet when he did not think, but lived, he constantly felt in his soul the presence of an infallible judge who decided which of two possible actions was better and which was worse; and whenever he did not act as he should, he felt it at once. (791)” Tolstoy, Anna K.

  28. You uploaded this just before my finals for Philosophy started last year, and Nietzsche was one of the main authors. My teacher pretty much left all the work up to me, with the exception of the names of his major works. If only I'd found you sooner, Dr. Peterson.

  29. you are incredibly inspiring and inspired me to look into psychology despite me being a computer engineering student ,from other part of world and exorbitantly motivated ..

  30. Both Dostoevsky and Nitzsche wrote about it.And both predicated what will happen.Well Hitler and Stalin happened.Thats when certain belives stop.
    Most people in europe are not religious. But they act as if God exists.They go to Church out of certain traditions.

  31. A whose perspective? Piége?
    At around two minutes… I keep hearing this name but I have no clue, how it's spelled, so I cannot ask our god Google for more information and I haven't yet heard Dr. Peterson name a book of this man the title of which could lead me to the man's name…
    Anyone?

  32. responsible, modest, merciful, forgiving, powerless consciousnesses fascinate bratty royals who no longer get to be exposed to real good people due to their corrupt palace opulence.

  33. Dr Peterson can you talk more about Zoroastrianism an indo European religion vrs Aberhamic religions. I like this guy and thought you may like his work as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTZ0FGcKPuE

  34. I think I understand most of what he says with reference to dominance hierarchies (so much interesting stuff) — and I guess he allows room for the many actual exceptions to such beliefs as "people at the top of the hierarchy being more likely to breed" —

    I think due to the way things are structured this is clearly no longer the case for humans — with reference to such things as the movie "idiocracy" : Every unfortunate unfit "dumbass" (just as a loose description, for lack of me bothering to think of a better word) who feels like it can breed, and breed a LOT, and they DO (probably a lot more than people who may be far more "fit" to breed, say, from a deep, un-opinionated biological standpoint)…. although maybe such dumbasses are at the top of a subset-hierarchy of dumbasses, and do not pass reference to larger structures, and the larger structures do not refer downwards :
    So : the way many things in society are currently structured is a bit of an upside-down pyramid, and will remain such, until the job-lot comes tumbling down.

    It's easy to see a lot of upside-down pyramids developing in society. For example, the cancer of management. There are many organisations with many more management and administration staff than the skilled people who actually do the work the organisation is purportedly supposed to do — and I note that many times in such organisations, competence is actually not the selector for climbing upward into such managerial and executive structures (see "Dilbert", and everything in reality which that cartoon reflects).
    Competence is a selector to a distinct point …. and then no longer.

  35. Nietzsche may be a "hammer" but I found Dostoevsky to be like a surgical knife – so eloquent, succinct and accurate in his distillation of "the mouse". It brought chills as his closely packed points hit home again and again. My list of "must reads" continues to grow.

  36. Can you analyze Charles Manson? Sometimes I really feel like I understand him, or at least his pain, and other times I think he's just trying not to make sense. Is that because he hates people who have faith/surety because he is so smart that he realizes his comprehension/understanding of life is not completely explainable and so requires faith? Or is he just a Satanist?

  37. This is amazingly useful in helping me work through my depression. Thank you, Dr. Peterson, you and your work will always be treasured.

  38. At 26:51. I have long admired Nietzsche's intellect and his diagnosis of the death of God, once I understood that it was more of a lament and a recognition that society was in serious moral trouble because of it. Hearing this statement of his, I'm struck by how Socratic it is (I'm more learned in Greek philosophy that 19th century). Socrates believed that all learning was remembering, that there is something eternal and shared about human cognition, foreshadows of Jung's idea of the collective unconscious.

  39. Dostoyevsky tried ( in his book the karamazov…..) to explain how people who love to listen to a big brother / church , etc. Are like children who do not like to be responsible ! They like to taken cared of, instate of having Freedom to choose , so did Nietzche who repeat after him : God is dead!
    They were not against God but against immaturity and irresponsibility of human beings !

  40. Just because other animals abide by certain structures naturally doesn't mean humans have to or that we don't have a choice but to stay within those structures. Like some animals, humans are able to not gaf about what another animal is thinking or feeling or rule they're abiding by. These ideas are just that, more ideas. Live your life by your idea otherwise you're stuck living by another's law.

  41. Nietzsche is jaw dropping! I have read this man for 30 + yrs and yet always there is more as I myself grow and learn. This is magnificantly facilitated by J.P. Thank you. An inspiring teacher.

  42. I cannot understand this fashionable but WRONG talk pushing back in time OUR ancestry. Australopithecus was a mere 4,000yrs ago. There may have been fire 2 million yrs ago but no intelligent life around to use it…..

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