Sunday, August 01, 2010

Nietzsche on the Green Lantern theory

Every thoughtless person supposes that will alone is effective; that willing is something simple, a brute datum, underivable, and intelligible by itself. He is convinced that when he does something -- strike something, for example -- it is he that strikes, and that he did strike because he willed it. * * * The will is for him a magically effective force; the faith in the will as the cause of effects is the faith in magically effective forces.
-- Nietzsche, The Gay Science, # 127.

... Cf. Matt Yglesias on the Green Lantern theory of international relations:
Hawks seem to have convinced themselves that American military might is like a power ring -- capable of achieving anything if only we have sufficient will. There are no objective limits to our capacities, no sticky situations that need to be handled cautiously, no awkward compromises to be brokered, and no stuff we're just going to have to live with in the hopes that things will change for the better down the road. There are only goals, force, and will, and the only relevant question in any situation is whether we have the will to achieve our goals with force.

The tragedy of this theory is that, like all the really bad theories, it's never refuted by events. Sane people are a bit chastened by Iraq. Having watched the country make a very high-stakes gamble in Mesopotamia only to have it blow up in our faces, we're disinclined to do it all over again on the hopes that this time we've correctly identified which leader is the "real problem" and whose population will welcome us with flowers and sweets. To the hawks, though, the answer to every problem is more will, more force. So it stands to reason that the current chaos shouldn't make us cautious about further destabilizing actions. Rather, the current chaos actually proves the need for the application of more force, more will. The massive fallout from Iraq is, to the hawks, not the fault of the war's architects but of its opponents, who've sapped the nation's willpower -- willpower we desperately need to recover in order to address the negative consequences of the last deployment of will (and high explosives).
Is there only coincidence that the party which identifies itself more strongly with supernatural guidance ("magically effective forces") is also the party which subscribes to the Green Lantern theory?

... Leaving aside the irony that Nietzsche, the man who analyzed "the will" out of existence, is today misremembered as the preacher of the "will to power." The will to power, properly understood, is the will to misunderstanding, to fiction, to interpretation -- the will to imagine that there's a "will." "Thus an occasional will to stupidity," as N. notes. Cf. BG&E # 230:
... a suddenly erupting decision in favor of ignorance, of deliberate exclusion, a shutting of one's windows, an internal No to this or that thing, a refuasal to let things approach, a kind of state of defense against much that is knowable, a satisfaction with the dark, with the limiting horizon, a Yea and Amen to ignorance -- all of which is necessary in proportion to a spirit's power to appropriate, its "digestive capacity" ....
Fundamentalism is just such a state of defense. As N. discusses in book 3 of The Gay Science, such a will served the human race (if not every one of its members) for millenia; the "will to truth," to analysis and contradiction and uncertainty, is much more recent and by no means either a definite improvement or guaranteed to last. The Sarah Palins may yet be on the winning side.

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