What is slave morality and is there anything wrong with it?
This idea was first established and explored by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his book, ‘On the genealogy of morality’. Nietzsche has a peculiar way of coming up with arguments and often demands that the reader leaves behind categorical reasoning on the origin of morality, thereby concentrating on the historical implications of the word itself and how it evolved. He expects us to shun the very grounds upon which our reasoning substantiate and instead look at a matter with as many different perspectives as possible. According to him, morality is generally treated as something belonging to transcendental ideals, be it God, tradition, customs or something beyond questioning or reproach. However, a close look might suggest that a concept itself can occupy different meanings at different times. As such, to suggest that morality is an ultimate reality is prejudice and he starts off his first essay by criticizing the English Philosophers for their lack of good judgment and constantly dwindling into emergence of morality (Nietzsche, 1887).
Nietzsche categorizes the above as an ascetic model whereby humans have forgotten their aggressive instincts, i.e. to be human, and instead see themselves as impotent or lost in the abyss of ‘nothingness’, which he was critical about indirectly in his essay. Slave morality, in essence, originates from a negative approach towards everything and being denial of one’s own subdued nature. This in turn leads the subject to experience everything around him as being wrong or ‘evil’ and instead look upon slave-like qualities as being purer than the rest. He believes that we should move beyond good and evil to approach the maxim, which is what he terms as master-morality. In this framework, going back to previous civilizations and studying what the words (good and bad) actually meant back then, i.e. etymology, he comes up with the model that the good is what people saw in noble attributes like strength, aristocratic, honesty, courage and so forth. Whilst the bad in a person is which makes him/her weak, cunning, manipulative, vulgar, timid etc. Slave morality, according to Nietzsche, is born out of two main elements – namely bad faith (consciousness) and resentment (of others).
In today’s era, mankind have solemnly hooked themselves on to a rather dependent-culture where one is glued on to the television or needs an iphone to appear ‘cool’ in front of his friends and foes. Nietzsche instead looks at a self-righteous model of an Übermensch, or ‘overman’, which through his ‘noble qualities’ is bound to have more cardinal virtues than his counterparts. He explains this exemplary man in His book “Beyond Good and Evil” as follows,
“At present it belongs to the conception of ‘greatness’ to be noble, to wish to be apart, to be capable of being different, to stand alone, to have to live by personal initiative; and the philosopher will betray something of his own ideal when he asserts: “He shall be the greatest who can be the most solitary, the most concealed, the most divergent, the man beyond good and evil, the master of his virtues, and of super-abundance of will; precisely this shall be called greatness: as diversified as can be entire, as ample as can be full.” (Nietzsche, 1886)
The ‘overman’ gets what he wants, how he wants because he is not the one to shy off from his base human instincts and thus, in the historical context, their words were the basis for deciding what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’. Whilst, on the other hand, slave-morality alienates ‘everything’ apart from itself and Nietzsche uses the example of the priestly caste to explain his stance. The ‘holier-than-though’ attitude amongst contemporary religious zealots does tend to go out of hand when they look at others with eyes of resentment, as if to say their ‘better’ than the rest. One might argue that this was due to their sense of justice for all but if that was truly the case than attempts would have been made to bridge the gaps rather than fueling oneself with hatred of others. This in turn makes them less focused or assertive on the present situation at hand and their energy is diverted towards despising those living the ‘good’ life, i.e. eudamonia. But truly, if one ponders, then it makes sense that you are what you become, in most scenarios, and there is no point in playing the blame game which diverts your attention away from yourself and away from the present.
However, at the same time one must realize that master-morality itself may not be the answer to slave morality. It has been seen throughout history for those in power to see the one’s under him in contempt. Nietzsche might argue that this is a sign of ‘victory’ or triumphant and those living in self-defeat actually loathe their superiors, yet the affects of both the actions are the same where both parties become equally guilty of spreading elements of mischief and disunity. In his second essay, Nietzsche uses the example of punishment to support his claims of how earlier civilizations used it as a mean of bringing your enemies under a leash, or public entertainment or even a creditor-debtor model whereby the debtor fails to pay his dues and is then punished instead for the creditor to get some ‘returns’ from it. A bit over the top one can say but nevertheless such frame of mind is still prevalent. And this is what makes Nietzsche a dangerous writer as his work has been used by the Nazis to support their ‘Master’ race claims resulting in deaths of thousand innocent.
While at the same time total abandonment of a morality framework would not be the ideal solution we all should be looking for. It leaves a society broken down into many different ideologies and that can render it incompatible whereby the differences become a reason to ridicule others. During adolescence, it is common to feel that ‘knowing’ itself is enough and people at that age tend to negotiate their way towards things so that they reap the maximum benefit out of it. As such, any good and sound moral advice from the more ‘experienced’ seems like a joke whilst company of the ‘fools’ leave them insipid and dull. Of course, by all means, one shouldn’t just blindly follow a set of dogmas as they have worse consequences than not following one at all but at the same time it is not the right move to totally shun your rational self and instead be at your whims for most part of your life. At some point, one realizes that what they’re chasing is just a fool’s gold and leaves them more miserable then they were before. Nietzsche characterizes the nihilism he detests in contemporary society as weariness with humanity (Sparknotes Editor). And this can be seen well documented in today’s era by the gang wars, murder, knife attacks, rape and abuse of the weak (namely women, children and those from a poor background) that have destroyed families across the globe.
Coming back to slave-morality, a question arises in my mind is what is it that makes it so lucrative to those who unknowingly ascribe to this way of thinking? It’s crystal clear that those who knowingly promote it do so for personal motives and it makes sense when you see them controlling the ‘sheep’ crowd in whichever direction they feel like. Constant bombardment of emotional rhetoric have been employed to constantly feed the followers with wayward believes rather than any attempts being made to put things under context and how one can become a better human to begin with. Such tactics can also be employed for political control of an area and any democratic party that relies on people’s vote would tend to go down this road in order to gain the maximum benefits out of the whole scenario whilst the commoners are left to bicker amongst themselves. But for those simpletons, who easily ‘trust’ the information they get without verifying it, this does come as a way to vent out their frustrations and the model leaves them with a grimace that sticks to them for the rest of their life so much that some people have even forgotten how we humans have a cheerful disposition.
Sadly, religion has become a tool and has been stripped off the spiritual connotation that it was meant to entail. Life of a single human equates to nothing and nations have been swept away in this blood-lust for more power and control. Previously, humans used to wage war with arms and ammunition and now we’re faced with a war of lies and deception. The governments are somehow the focal point of this moral-blend whereby they decide whom, how and where to put their version of moral values into action. On the other hand, they’ll turn a blind eye to places which least bothers their interest or is being controlled by their supposed benefiters or ‘allies’ as they say it.
Even though Nietzsche does tend to go a bit extreme with his arguments and the way he approaches with an issue, often in an insulting tone and not giving any benefits of doubt to the one’s he is criticizing. Yet he identifies certain aspects of present-day society which have made it ghoul-like and what could be described as ‘uncool’ in present day linguistic. The weariness he describes about the modern world has left it chasing unattainable ideals and a wishy-washy state which divulges the concentration from issues that are affecting our day-to-day activities such as education, work, employment and so forth. And the ones to cash-in on this are the supposed forces of Justice that have ‘our’ interest in their mind and not of the multi-billionaire industry that supports them. Legislations are designed to make the greedy greedier and the weak weaker. The recent dip in the economy was the result of this imbalance in power and in the end the commoners were left to pay the price (Ferguson, 2010).
Slave-morality, in essence, has been part of each one of us and thus at some point in life we need to take control over our own affairs and get our heads together to work as a community. It’s easier to judge the rest with our own yard stick but when faced with the scenario one does tend to take an easier way out but yet are quick to condemn others for not doing the ‘right’ thing as they deem. This is of course in the general sense and in any ways not related to heinous crimes that are committed which have no basis whatsoever. My point being is that we shouldn’t fall for ‘big’ words, because there is a probability that they will be mixed with lies. That reminds me of a scene from “Law abiding citizen” where Shelton (Gerard Butler) convinces the judge that it’s his moral right to have bail (Gray, 2009). And when granted one lambasts at the judge for letting a criminal loose just because he used some ‘flashy’ words and quoted few constitutional reforms from a book written by human for human. Let us not become brain dead and accept things as we see them to be but instead verify things before believing in them.
Nietzsche, F. (1886). Beyond Good and Evil translated by Helen Zimmern. Dover Publications.
Nietzsche, F. (1887). On the Geneology of Morality translated by Carol Diethe. Cambridge University Press.
Sparknotes Editor, n. (n.d.). Sparknotes on Genealogy of Morality. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from Sparknotes.com.
Ferguson, C. H. (Director). (2010). Inside Job [Motion Picture].
Gray, F. G. (Director). (2009). Law Abiding Citizen [Motion Picture].
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Slave Morality Is there anything wrong with it?
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