Nietzsche versus the Nanny State

neitzsche vs nanny state

Recently my wife Carol appeared on the radio program Equal Time for Freethought. The topic was the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, a “closely held” corporation (i.e., owned and run by a single family). The court agreed that the fundamentalist Green family did not have to violate their conscience by having to provide employees abortafacient methods of birth control (while happily providing 16 other methods that prevent conception rather than nipping it in the bud). I don’t want to get into that issue here, though I agree with the Court’s ruling. Instead, I want to focus on the reaction the other panelist had when Carol dared venture the opinion that advocates of the Nanny State are catering to a lack of moral fibre on the part of those dependant on it and thus reinforcing it. Instead, people ought to be taught to think critically, Carol said, to make good life decisions, and to learn self-reliance rather than being addicts co-dependant on a government only too happy to reattach them to the umbilical cord—rather like the human batteries in The Matrix, exploited by the Machines which keep them in a blissful coma.

Carol had uttered unspeakable blasphemy in the ears of today’s Liberals. It is impermissible to suggest that anyone is to blame for their disadvantages. Such a stance is understandable. Liberals rightly loathe the practice of “blaming the victim,” damning the poor for their poverty, as if they were simply lazy when in fact they are “lost and afraid in a world they never made.” An excellent dismantling of such cruel prejudice is available in the still-enlightening book Black Power by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton. For fear of allowing this aspersion ever to be cast again, Liberals jeer at any suggestion that the victim has ever brought it on himself. And I think their alternative is insidious. Carol was right.

I believe the Liberal approach closely reflects that of Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. This therapeutic ideology requires those who seek help to start by admitting their utter helplessness, their absolute powerlessness. Anything short of that would hold out false hope to the addict. One thus evades responsibility and the resultant guilt. Every Twelve Stepper takes refuge amid a plausibility structure of the like-minded. “If you won’t blame me for my failings, I won’t blame you for yours. Isn’t that great?” It would be dangerous for such a person and such a group to recognize any case of a person who simply (though not easily) broke with his addictions by sheer force of will. Such a case of moral heroism would tend to debunk their crucial tenet: an addict is helpless outside the womb of the group, and without dependence upon a “Higher Power,” which, a la Durkheim, is a mystification of the group. Its tangible avatar is your “sponsor.” In the case of the Nanny State, the Higher Power is of course the government itself, even the current President. But the government actually plays the role of the addicts’ enabler.

I cannot help seeing the whole business as a perfect manifestation of what Nietzsche called the Slave Morality. One seeks to escape responsibility by fleeing into the open arms of others who are happy to embrace an identity of mediocrity, victimhood, and mutual low expectation. Again, “If you don’t hold me accountable, I won’t hold you accountable.” We’re all “good” because no one is, or can be, good. And no one better expose the scheme! If anyone should recognize his own potential, presupposed in and presupposing his responsibility and guilt (Kant: “‘I ought’ implies I can.’”), and strike out on his own, recognizing himself as his Higher Power, the self-satisfied dwellers in the Platonic cavern will try to take him down, to persuade him that he is arrogant and that he is a doomed Icarus, sure to crash. Better to remain safe within the anthill of the happily mediocre. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra exhorted such potential Supermen not to suffer themselves to be stung to death by a cloud of biting gnats. Shoo them away and excel!

Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” was nothing sinister but only recognized the need for the Superman (why not you?) to cease acquiescing in the values of John Q. Public (what Heidegger called “das Mann”) and decide for himself. This marks a transition many people never make: the breaking with conventional moralism and the preachments of authority figures, the assuming of one’s own moral autonomy and responsibility.

To bring this back to the race issue, can there be a better example of the Slave Morality than the tendency of African-Americans to ostracize their members who manage to excel and to succeed in the larger society? Condoleezza Rice is an example, Colin Powell is another. Black school children are persuaded to think that to succeed represents a selling out to an oppressive White culture, and that anyone who does that is “acting White.” Race-baiters like Al Sharpton encourage such belief, implying that black failure is a badge of fidelity and authenticity. But it is instead the sickening spectacle of blacks internalizing the worst propaganda of the Ku Klux Klan: “Blacks must fail; just watch them fail. See?” But this is the Slave Morality, the huddling together of a frightened crowd under the umbrella of a creed of self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. “Don’t tell me I can succeed, because then I will have to feel guilty if I don’t try.”

African-Americans of this pathetic persuasion like to condemn successful black individuals as “Uncle Toms” or “house niggers.” But this is to transvalue values in the wrong direction, calling success failure so that if an African American acquiesces in failure and poverty he has “succeeded” and can praise himself to the strains of Gangsta Rap (though those rappers seem to have succeeded in Whitey’s world pretty well). If someone breaks out of this socio-mental ghetto and makes some money, he has failed! That’s just where the KKK wants them! I view someone like TV business guru Charles Payne as one who flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Payne was harassed and rebuked by neighborhood children for trying to do well in school. But he pressed on and succeeded. He is the Superman who shooed away the stinging gnats.

But it’s not just the KKK who wants American blacks to fester in defeat and failure. It’s the government, too. Obviously. They pretend to meet the needs of the helpless while enabling their dependence and, in classic Twelve-Step fashion, assuring their target group (ideally, everyone) that they are all helpless. It is like Bonhoeffer’s scathing remark that Christian evangelists in a post-religious age must circle like vultures, seizing on the feeble—and trying to convince everyone else that they, too, are feeble. Such Christians are like the peddlers of a medicine show elixir, trying to sell the audience the notion that they are sick with an ailment only their elixir can cure. And so is the government, as they actively seek to recruit more and more to the welfare rolls and to flood the country with the wretched of Central America. “We’re your friends! And you’re going to vote like your friends vote!” Why kill the governmental goose that lays the golden egg?

Who is the Superman? Are there only a few exceptional individuals? If they can be so characterized, then people like Charles Payne become exceptions that prove the rule. But that was the opposite of Nietzsche’s point. The Superman is anyone who resolves no longer to dwell among the indistinguishable, passive, unmotivated, and self-despising mass. Don’t get me wrong: certainly there are genuine cases, loads of them, of inescapable oppression and insurmountable odds. But I’d prefer to make that conclusion after I try to transcend my limitations, not before. And that’s when I take Camus’s Sisyphus as my model.

So says Zarathustra.

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