Man Needs What Is Most Evil in Him in Order to Achieve What Is Loftiest In Him
Beyond Good & Evil
The essential point is: the greatest perhaps also possess great virtues but in that case also their opposites.
I believe that it is precisely through the presence of opposites and the feelings that they occasion that the great man, the bow with the great tension, develops.
But Nietzsche’s idea here is not an old one. Indeed Heraclitus, perhaps the greatest of the pre-socratics, wrote more than two millennia before that:
We must know that war is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away through strife.
We could define evil as something that is exceptionally cruel or perhaps morally bad. Indeed, the connection between cruelty and evil is a close one. We can further categorize cruelty as a form of evil, as its most widespread manifestation. Or perhaps evil is but a sublimation of cruelty?
Let us take some examples to illustrate this evil and cruelty into its purest and rawest form as seen throughout human history.
Hunter-Gatherer state or high quality and pure but low impact evil
Let us start from the very dawn of our species. From its first emergence, c.a. 200kyrs ago up until about 12kyrs ago homo sapiens lived in a hunter-gatherer state, whose main defining trait we can say is that they forage for their food and are therefore very mobile.
We don’t just have archaeological data on these folks but even live observations as many such communities survived well until modern times.
So how did the average human being live in those primordial ages you might ask? In rough bullet points:
- Small tribal groups (multi-male)
- Strong male bondings
- Competition for status
- Lots of inter-group conflicts
- Competition for females (ever wonder why males have bigger body sizes?)
- Violence towards females
- Size of about 40 individuals
- Primitive warfare has the same characteristic as with the chimps. The commonest form of combat is raid & ambushes
- Communities are constantly engaging in these hits and run raids
When it comes to violence some data from one primitive tribe coming into contact with western peoples showed:
- 56% of deaths of infants from 0 to 3 came from violence.
- 74% of deaths of children from 4 to 14 came from violence.
- 46% of deaths till the age of 45 came from violence.
- 50% of deaths from 45 to 60 came from violence.
One thing to note here is that “violent death” is almost certainly tantamount to a terribly vile and full-of-anguish death. The scope of violence back then was incredibly much more than what is seen today at the average criminal.
But we can be a bit more systematic and examine cruelty at these immemorial times in a twofold sense: Customs & Warfare.
Customs play a tremendous role in keeping these kinds of human communities in existence. They provide an invaluable, nay the sole compass in the face of constant despondency and peril. These customs, therefore are, as is to be expected, beyond simple, transitory definitions of Good or Evil. They are directed first and foremost to, as already said, keeping a community at bay and not at all at other, dandier human qualities which come into existence in later ages.
And what we find in almost all these customs is the glorification of cruelty in some form or other.
You can find a more elaborate example in the Inca’s sacrifice of small children but for our purposes here we can mention the U’wa’s tribe treatment of newly born twins: they simply abandon them in the forest or toss them into the rivers, the corresponding custom dictating that twins simply bring bad luck.
However, if we take a deeper look into this particular custom, it turns out that the area where these people live is poor in resources. So it then becomes clear that a mother, who might already be undernourished is probably going to have difficulty bringing up one child, and two becomes just kind of impossible. Hence custom dictates to do away with the burden of raising two children at the same time.
Again, customs are simply directed at keeping a community just barely into existence. If you have to sacrifice your twins for this purpose, then so be it. One can say without a doubt as Nechayev, the anarchist bordering on terrorism once said: The end justifies the means. And owning to the crudeness of these immemorial ages, the means is almost always abundant in cruelty.
And when it comes to petty tribal warfare, where tribes are extremely vile to each other, not only does such an act serve as a catharsis and highest expression of power for that little community that finds itself in constant endangerment (cruelty here viewed as the oldest festivals of mankind), but it also might moreover provide for more resources, which translates to better-surviving odds.
At any rate, that which we might call cruel and evil at this point is just, it is nature itself, it is expressed and worshiped everywhere and finds its rightful place in customs, Moores, and warfare.
Farmers or more growth and less intense but more impactful evil
At around 9500 B.C. something remarkable happened as humans switched to a more sedentary lifestyle: the advent of agriculture. A path that would eventually lead us to the tremendous pyramid of human knowledge of the early 21st century.
But with this newly grown strength and power in man, there also came an equally powerful growth in the quantity of evil, whilst the quality started to adulterate in its most frequent occurrence, i.e. it started to sublimate for the most part. Whole peoples, instead of the above-mentioned tiny communities, could now be wiped out from bloody conflicts.
And tis’ indeed what has happened time and time again during our history. Let us just sketchily examine the history of Europe as an example.
A bootstrap invasion happened, starting at about 7k BC, to Europe from Anatolia, through the Balkans: The Early European Farmers. Genetic research indicates that they almost completely replaced the old inhabitants of Europe, the Western Hunter-Gatherers. And as we now know the nature of these raids, this replacement must be understood as having involved the greatest possible degree of cruelty imaginable.
Then, at around 4k BC, the people of the Kurgan culture, located in the Pontic steppe around the Caucasus, launched a massive, implacable expansion eventually replacing and settling by 1000BC, the local populations in almost all of Europe, Anatolia, Iran, and North India. These were the Proto-Indo-European people.
The expansion of the Kurgan culture, again, should be thought of as a series of essentially hostile military incursions, which slowly but surely replaced the native peaceful, matrilineal, though possibly egalitarian, cultures of old Europe. As Marija Gimbutas writes:
The process of Indo-Europeanization was a cultural transformation.
It must be understood as a military victory in terms of successfully imposing a new administrative system, language, and religion upon the idegenous groups.
The Roman empire itself experienced countless barbarian invasions during its history and therefore annihilated countless such tribes. Or perhaps take the innumerous nomadic tribes of Central Asia with their equally innumerous raising and falling confederations and empires (e.g. 1, e.g. 2) due to mass migrations and invasions where whole or half peoples would be frequently wiped off the face of this Earth.
This leads us to the following conclusion from Nietzsche regarding the development of every higher culture thus far:
Human beings whose nature was still natural, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey who were still in possession of unbroken strength of will and lust for power, hurled themselves upon weaker, more civilised more peaceful races, perhaps traders or cattle raisers, or upon mellow old cultures whose last vitality was even then flaring up in splendid fireworks of spirit and corruption.
In the beginning, the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their predominance did not lie mainly in physical strength but in strength of the soul. They were more whole human beings.
What seems to be the case is that this barbarism is somehow and in the long run — in the long run, I say — sublimated into high and rarefied human beings, in short, genius.
Four Examples from Modern Times
A pretty good example, by the help of which we can especially look into the pre-historic human spirit, are the extremely vile serial killers. Dahmer and Bundy are to be sure such two prime examples. Studying the way how they felt and acted provides tremendous insight into what was potentially the rule for inter-group conflicts during most of our history. This is a type of human being who revolves around the application of an extremely vile (and disgusting by modern standards) type of cruelty.
The second example comes from the Srebrenica genocide during the course of the Bosnian war of independence.
According to one survivor, a Serb told a mother to make her child stop crying, and when it continued to cry he took it and slit its throat, after which he laughed.
The third comes from the Mauthausen concentration camp and its infamous “stairs of death”. Called so because prisoners would be forced to carry heavy blocks of stone weighing up to 50 kg up the 186 stairs and the fall of one prisoner — an all too frequent occurrence — would typically cause a domino effect with prisoners falling on top of each other all the way down much to the great amusement of the guards.
The SS guards would often force prisoners — exhausted from hours of hard labour without sufficient food and water — to race up the stairs carrying blocks of stone. Those who survived the ordeal would often be placed in a line-up at the edge of a cliff known as “The Parachutists Wall”. At gun-point each prisoner would have the option of being shot or pushing the prisoner in front of him off the cliff.
Finally, Daniel Day-Lewis’ breathtaking performance in the final scene of “There will be blood” gives us a more lively example.
Evil, Cruelty & Loftiness
We saw so far evil and cruelty into their purest form and most abundant degree. Incidentally, we also saw that human beings have a build-in program inside of them that can leave up extremely foul consequences in its wake. It would be at the very least plausible for me and for you to have been that average German, which was employed in a human-killing industry during Nazi Germany.
The next step that must now be understood, is that exactly this kind of cruelty becomes sublimated in later fairer, more peaceful, and advanced cultures until it has finally grown into 1001 other drives and passions; that almost all of those drives of which we are made up today, probably diverged out of this one drive to cruelty.
One has to keep in mind that we are separated from the advent of agriculture by almost 12kyrs and that this has been indeed ample time for the human psyche to go through many stages of sublimation.
But the important bit here is, again, that they all grew out of opulent cruelty.
Take the drive to greatness as one such exemplification. Every human being who achieved anything of consequence has had not only to have it but in great abundance as well.
Psychologically speaking, such a drive might be explained as a sublimation of a desire to cause pain to one’s fellow man, according to that feeling that with one’s own abundance and shining one surely causes pain to one’s fellow men who are not nearly as great as oneself in comparison. Indeed, Roosevelt as deep into our civilization as the 20th century lamented: Comparison is the thief of joy.
But perhaps the ancient Greek philosophers might serve as a prime example here. These were men who were frequently in deadly enmity and competition with each other and wished the other party was, no more, no less, obliterated out of existence (most importantly their lives’ work). They frequently produced all their works as a means of proclaiming themselves more superior than the other party. Hence competition here is viewed as a tool that spurs humans to excellence.
Thus cruelty and evil have played and still play a focal role in the development of our species. Nietzsche indeed instructs us:
Almost everything we call “higher culture” is based on the sublimation of cruelty, on it becoming more profound: this is my proposition.
That “savage animal” has not really been “mortified”; it lives and flourishes, it has merely become — divine.
The idea is, as I am trying to impart by these adages (so as to keep this essay short and in a lack of such great explanations myself), that man’s capacity for what we might frown upon and consider as evil, cruel, and the likes actually plays a focal role and goes hand in hand with his greatness.
A Possible Explanation
So far, I’ve been putting up already known knowledge. While Nietzsche might have been the first to articulate it with such prowess and elegance, many great thinkers have reached more or less the same conclusions.
And with the continual development of neuroscience, one cannot wait to find out the real, deep reasons as to this most awe-inspiring contrasts of our species.
But until then, here is my non-falsifiable hypothesis.
It's about the existence of the power law.
I believe, as with other domains (and for exactly the same reasons perhaps), that similarly what matters is the existence of this power law into our inner world of drives (passions). It doesn’t matter so much as to what these drives are, as they can always be sublimated generations down the line, what matters rather is that a power-law hierarchy exists in them.
We might define a drive as an instinctual need that simply needs to be discharged and consumes energies in this process. The point essentially is this: One has a fixed amount of energy during one’s lifetime which simply has to be used.
Ok, so then drives are certain instinctual needs that use up this energy that is at one’s disposal. And finally, one’s drives must follow a power law if one is to achieve anything of significance.
For instance, one can be an extremely envious person, who doesn’t want to see any other individual excel oneself, and perhaps this one drive consumes 90% of one’s energies. What will typically happen is that somewhere down the line, in one of the great-grandsons of this consumed-by-terrible-envy great-grandfather, and after innumerable other certain conditions are met, this drive might be sublimated to a drive to science, say physics*.
Again, the important bit is that this drive to physics that now consumes about 90% of this person’s energies developed out of and took the place of the old drive to enviousness from the ancestral past. But without the former, the latter would have scarcely been possible.
A Unity of Opposites
The above-mentioned unity of evil & loftiness is part of the greater picture of the unity of opposites. Indeed, it is by strife and necessity that we have reached this highest of pinnacle point in our development so far.
And this is, incidentally, the second reason behind the necessity of vices and the likes: they directly spur the development of their opposites, of those virtues which we consider human excellence. For instance, one of our mightiest drives as a species is the drive to complete and total laziness, that is to say, that unless there is something poking us, we’d rather eat, drink, have sex, party and travel the rest of our days.
Another example: if it wasn’t for the entrenched autocracy that is now in power in Albania, there wouldn’t be now forming a generation of chosen and capable people: the Albanian emigrants (who, as irony could have it, might potentially finally serve to demolish the current detrimental regime in the country).
And to conclude with an awe-inspiring passage from Nietzsche:
You want, if possible — and there is no more insane “if possible” — to abolish suffering. And we? It really seems that we would rather have it higher and worse than ever. Well-being as you understand it — that is no goal, that seems to us an end, a state that soon makes man ridiculous and contemptible- that makes his destruction desirable.
The discipline of suffering, of great suffering do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?
That tension of the soul in unhappiness which cultivates its strength, its shudders face to face with great ruin, its inventiveness and courage in enduring, preserving, interpreting, and exploiting suffering, and whatever has been granted to it of profundity, secret, mask, spirit, cunning, greatness — was it not granted to it through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering?
P. S. above I mentioned a ‘drive to greatness’ as well as a ‘drive for science’. This is just a crude generalization for the drives that great men usually have and that enable them to pursue their work to the greatest and highest possible degree.
Thanks for reading.
As always, constructive criticism and discussion of any kind are highly appreciated.