M. van Halderen
Animal All Too Human: The Gradual Decline of Human Animality and its Rediscovery
Nietzsche postulated that because we are the sole species disconnected from our instincts, we are concurrently the vilest. This essay analyses this seemingly paradoxical assertion by following Nietzsche’s thought on the roots of what made us humans, no longer animals. First, the questions how civilisation has made humanity gradually forget their instincts, and how the dynamic between humanity’s consciousness and instincts contributed to this process will be discussed. As we humans conceived our consciousness to be more sophisticated than our animal instincts, the instincts were supressed, and all human characteristics holding some animality were condemned. Hence humanity followed a path through which it actively separated itself from animals. This was done through propagating the ‘good and evil’ moral system, which eventually replaced the older ‘good and bad’ moral system. This essay will analyse the shift of these two moral systems as mainly described in On the genealogy of morality (2007). Then, this devolution of morality will be linked to how Nietzsche believes humans are ‘sick animals’, namely as we ourselves created the concept of evil, after which a clarification on how this established a slave morality and a bad conscience will be given. Finally, the essay ends with a concluding note following Nietzsche on why we should try to rediscover our true instincts, our true nature, by cautiously ordering and embracing them.
“Error has turned animals into men; might truth be capable of turning man into an animal again?” (Nietzsche, 1996). In his work Human, all too human: A book for free spirits (1996), by means of Circe, an ancient Greek goddess of magic whose potions could metamorphose humans into animals, Nietzsche typifies his inclination for going back to our primordial, animalistic bedrock. Nietzsche believed that humanity should open up and rediscover its true nature again, thus reconnecting with its instincts, with its “driving force” (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 225).
Since before one could imagine, we humans have identified ourselves as different, as better than all other sentient life. There is an infinite amount of ancient legends about our celestial genesis which position us humans at the epitome of existence, and these convictions still hold now in our contemporary ‘enlightened’ society. So, for the time being, we tend to believe we rule the globe as the sole apex of evolution, as the single being capable of morality and rationality through the gift which has transcended us beyond our instincts, through that what we call our consciousness. Thus, it is no surprise that many of us regard humanity as superior in every way. But are we really?
Nietzsche challenges this conventional belief; for instance, in his book the Antichrist (2004), Nietzsche states humanity is “absolutely not the crown of creation . . . man is, relatively speaking, the most botched animal, the most morbid, the animal which has strayed most dangerously from its instincts — of course, with all that, also the most interesting!” (Nietzsche, 2004, p. 112). Hence, following Nietzsche, because we are the sole species disconnected from our instincts, we are concurrently the vilest. This seemingly paradoxical assertion raises the question: how did the supposedly cleverest species grow to be the most suffering one? In this essay I will follow Nietzsche’s thought on the roots of what made us humans, no longer animals; and will give Nietzsche’s views on this issue. First, I will explain how civilisation has made humanity gradually forget their instincts, and how the dynamic between humanity’s consciousness and instincts contributed to this process. As we humans conceived our consciousness to be more sophisticated than our animal instincts, the instincts were suppressed, and all human characteristics holding some animality were condemned. Hence humanity followed a path through which it actively separated itself from animals. This was done through propagating the ‘good and evil’ moral system, which eventually replaced the older ‘good and bad’ moral system. I will analyse the shift of these two moral systems as mainly described in On the genealogy of morality (2007). Then, I will link this devolution of morality to how humans are ‘sick animals’, namely as we ourselves created the concept of evil, after which I will explain how this established a slave morality and a bad conscience. Finally, I shall end with a concluding note following Nietzsche on why we should try to rediscover our true instincts, our true nature, by cautiously ordering and embracing them.
During the primordial condition of human life, our instincts were our most powerful drive, as we were still “semi-animals” (Nietzsche, 2007, p. 56). The minds of these ‘semi-animals’ underwent a drastic change when wilderness became civilisation; during this process, humans’ sense of collectivism became a necessity, creating norms and laws they ought to adhere to, or they would suffer reprimands. Thus, humans became not solely ruled by their instincts anymore. During the dawn of civilisation, humans forgot they were animals, so they could become what they were not yet, namely a being ruled by morality and rationality. This transformation of the human animal to rationality and morality is based on gradually intensifying the forgetting of humanity’s animality, the “relaxation of his memory” (Nietzsche, 2015, p. 157), as depicted in aphorism 321 of Nietzsche’s Daybreak: Thoughts on the prejudices of morality (2015). Hence, forgetfulness goes hand-in-hand with civilisation, as forgetfulness of humanity’s animal origin created the possibility for morality and rationality, and as such civilisation’s continuance requires the forgetfulness’ perpetuation (Lemm, 2009, p. 17).
Civilisational forgetfulness is not necessarily problematic, but Nietzsche recognises that civilisation is too assertive in denying human animality, resulting in a total negation of that which we came from and still are. Moreover, civilisation does not only negate that which it came from, but also that which it stands against; namely, the negation of animality induces the decay of culture. Indeed, civilisation and culture are not autonomous, but are dependent on each other and therefore inseparable phenomena. Whereas the process of civilisation strives for humanity’s moral and rational improvement, culture contrarily unveils that moralisation and rationalisation suppress human animality; hence, contrary to civilisational forgetfulness, culture serves as a “counter-memory” (Foucault, 1977, p. 160). Culture thus serves as a critical antagonistic force as it reveals that civilisational ‘progress’ is a false triumph. This reveal, in turn, paves the way for liberation from civilisation’s suppression through cultivation: a resuscitation of humanity’s “forgotten freedom of the animal and of the spirit” (Lemm, 2009, p. 12). Thus, it is culture which constantly affirms humanity’s animality, and therefore serves as a remedy against civilisation’s sickness, rehabilitating the beneficial contrast between what is human, and what is animal within. This vibrant antagonism between culture and civilisation is what needs to be preserved, as Nietzsche believes that “the sickening effect of civilization will eventually lead to the attainment of greater health under the rule of culture” (Lemm, 2009, p. 18).
After civilisation had almost entirely overshadowed and silenced humanity’s animality, civilisation attempted to theatrically reconcile this void with a narrative of humanity’s beginning, its formation, in which the subjectively decided ‘beginning’ of humanity dictates that which is yet to come by means of (a) God - the meaning of life. Following the origin story postulated as a means to preserve and comprehend civilisation, the world holds a “rational and moral order whose architecture is transparent to humans only when humans are conceived of as beings who are themselves inherently rational and moral, a reflection of their origin” (Lemm, 2009, p. 19). For the West this narrative is predominantly comprised of morals and religious dogma stemming from the discourse of Judeo-Christian practices, or as Nietzsche puts it himself: “the presupposition that things are, at bottom, ordered so morally that human reason must be justified - is an ingenuous presupposition and a piece of naivete, the after-effect of belief in God's veracity” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 262).
The idea that humans possess an inherent necessity to formulate the goal and meaning of life, which constitutes beliefs regarding their existence, is asserted by Nietzsche in his first aphorism of the Gay Science (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 29). In this aphorism, Nietzsche redefined the conventional perception of our consciousness in its entirety by demonstrating how it is not as indispensable to the perseverance of human existence as is conventionally presumed; consciousness is not an essential feature of what constitutes a human, rather it is the most recent evolutionary development, thus the most incomplete. According to Nietzsche, consciousness is fragile and poses a threat for mankind, as consciousness is too new of an appropriation to the human species, and as it still operates below its capacity due to this newness (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 37). Consciousness holds the potential to develop towards undiscovered heights, but this evolution is prevented by humans’ self-imposed illusions that falsely assume that consciousness is already as powerful and advanced as it ever could be, akin to a know-it-all adolescent revolting against its guardians. This deceit has restricted humanity’s incentive to continue developing their consciousness further, least of all apprehend it (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 37). However, the instinct, a deep-rooted, more powerful, and striking force, can curb the hazards of consciousness. If the unconscious governance and conservation of the instinct was not present, humanity’s existence would have been stopped in its tracks long ago, according to Nietzsche. There are widely recognised moral traits we are collectively conscious of, and hidden unconscious ones which hold a certain idiosyncrasy; these are driven by instinctual forces. Nevertheless, Nietzsche believes that the hidden ones are based on the same principles as the ones recognised in society, but they both grow in entirely different ways from each other, both following their respective paths, yet both have their effects on the individual. Nietzsche exemplifies this by saying we “have our diligence, our ambition, our acuteness - all the world knows about them - and in addition, we probably also have our industry, our ambition, our acuteness” (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 35). In other words, our instincts, too, hold their own capacity to induce life-affirming moral practices.
Nietzsche repeatedly analyses human drives and connects them with their influences on our consciousness. Our conscious motives have less influence on human conduct than our stronger subconscious drives. The driving and directing forces in human conduct are mostly unaligned; our behaviour is instigated by a driving force – our will – but its directions are mostly capricious, only after the deed we use our consciousness to rationalise and explain the ensuing condition – the direction or motive – so we are able to cope with our actions (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 225). Moreover, before we make sense of a certain encounter, it first unleashes several instinctual drives. These drives all represent a ‘one-sided view’ of the encounter, hence they confront each other, test each other out. After a concession amongst these drives has been established, at once they rise up and presents themselves to our consciousness; it is only at this moment that we consciously make sense of the encounter. This way, consciousness is a mere afterthought of a particular encounter (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 186). We humans are ignorant of the immense influence the subconscious drives have on our actions, as our rational and moral order necessitates us to perceive ourselves as rational and moral beings, otherwise the whole alleged foundation of society will collapse. Thus, that which we conceive of as ‘just’ and ‘virtuous’ - the afterthought - we suppose to be something fundamentally opposed to our instincts, while in actuality this “is only a certain behaviour of the drives towards one another” (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 186). Moreover, our true motives originate from the subconscious and operate below the supposed conscious ‘motives’, making them unconceivable and incomprehensible when solely relying on our conscious thought (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 225; Lemm, 2009, p. 19). There is nothing that beats the instinct, our subconscious powerhouse, as its strength has safeguarded humanity to stand the test of time. It is not our consciousness that constitutes the essence of being human, but our instinct! Yet, although it is a conspicuously irrational practice, humanity attempted to rationalise the urge to preserve the species via consciousness as a result of civilisation (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 28). Nietzsche postulates that one’s environment shapes one’s morality, calling this the herd instinct: an individual’s uncurbed imperceptive compliance to the community. It is evident that according to Nietzsche the herd instinct is quite the opposite of our primordial instincts due to its functioning and origin. Thus, morality relies on one’s environment, and is not universal but arbitrarily constructed (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 114-115). Through fear and shame imposed by others - through morality - the herd instinct restrains one’s exclusion of their community (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 62-63).
In the first essay of On the genealogy of morality (2007), Nietzsche opposes two moral systems, namely ‘good and bad’, and ‘good and evil’. The good in the former system contains humans’ affirmation of their own goodness, such as health, joy, and strength, and the bad contains human characteristics such as compliance, misery, and weakness. In this system, goodness stems from one’s own body; it is naturalised conception of morality. The latter moral system takes a different approach, as the powerless ‘good human’ holds ressentiment, is envious, and marks and revaluates the very same characteristics along which the good human distinguishes himself, such as pride, as evil. It is through the activity of marking evilness that the ‘good human’ demonstrates his goodness, as goodness is now defined as the lack or contrast of evil; goodness is now always in relation to what evil is not (Wallen, 2015, p. 452-453). Thus, in this system, goodness is based on an artificial conception of morality, which stems from the propagation of religious consciousness.
Noteworthy is that these two moral systems can be ascribed to practices in which we separate humans from animals. According to the ‘good and bad’ practice, humans are superior to all other sentient beings by means of particular abilities they hold, and animals do not, such as “speech, reason, laughter, political organization, and so forth” (Wallen, 2015, p. 453). Hence, humans possess more agency than animals due to these abilities, mostly due to the capability to historically order ourselves collectively by means of discourse. Humans hold goodness as we control animals according to our will, and animals hold badness as they cannot do anything about this fact; humans dominate animals.
The ‘good and evil’ practice, on the contrary, suggests that humanity distinguishes itself from animals due to its ability to identify the sin in holding beastliness, and consequently from the capability to transcend our animal nature. In this way, the animal does not form a dichotomy in relation to humans – as in the former practice – but the animal is rather positioned outside the whole moral sphere, as morality applies solely for humans. And it is precisely this conception which Nietzsche decries as human all too human, as he believes humans are not detached from the natural realm of morals. Nevertheless, in the ‘good and evil’ practice, animals, who never sinned in the garden of Eden, have no conception of good and evil, hence they are omitted from morality in their entirety; animals do not possess the choice between what is good and what is evil, and are, consequently, unaccountable for it, and thus neutral. Indeed, animals possess agency, but humans are solely subjected to morality in the ‘good and evil’ practice (Wallen, 2015, p. 453).
Humans are ‘sick animals’, for they created the concept of evil, after which they deceitfully reversed their natural conception of goodness by convincing themselves that their own animal nature holds this evil (Nietzsche, 2007, p. 94-95). Humans are not only able to blame those around them for being evil, but also themselves: the ‘slaves’ revolt in morality’. This does not mean that slaves have a justification to rebuke their masters, but rather that the masters rebuke themselves for the mere fact of being a master; this is what Nietzsche calls a bad conscience, which turns people against their own nature, by letting them perceive that which gave them pride as necessarily evil, namely their own subconscious drives and instincts (Wallen, 2015, p. 468). Concurrently, the already present contempt of the oppressed to their masters has transformed into a bad conscience against themselves as well by the hands of priests; “‘I suffer: someone or other must be guilty’ . . . Somebody must be to blame: but you yourself are this somebody, you yourself alone are to blame for it, you yourself alone are to blame for yourself’” (Nietzsche, 2007, p. 94). Accordingly, the sick animal has acquired his sickness once he is ought to hold guilt towards his animality, it was in this moment that our morality becomes deep, becomes separated from that of animals (Wallen, 2015, p. 468); or as Nietzsche himself puts it: “I call an animal, a species, an individual corrupt when it has lost its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is detrimental to it” (2004, p. 104).
Thus, Nietzsche presents the distinction between the two moral structures to highlight and condemn the fact that the ‘good and evil’ system, the ‘slaves’ revolt in morality’, has overpowered the other, ‘master morality’ (Nietzsche, 2007, p. 20-22), a process induced by the birth of civilisation. Yet, Nietzsche never commends to blindly go back to the condition where ‘good and bad’ where prevalent. Instead, he endorses an ever-present ‘battle ground’ between the two opposing moral structures, in which none will ever be victorious (Nietzsche, 2007, p. 32). Moreover, Nietzsche does reveal a small appraisal for the ‘good and evil’ moral structure, as
with some justification one could add that man first became an interesting animal on the foundation of this essentially dangerous form of human existence, the priest, and that the human soul became deep in the higher sense and turned evil for the first time and of course, these are the two basic forms of man’s superiority, hitherto, over other animals! (Nietzsche, 2007, p. 16)The human/animal division in the phrase is paradoxical, as Nietzsche ironically mocks the distinction by placing humanity within the animal kingdom by calling humans ‘an interesting animal’, thus related to ‘other animals’. Yet, he really appears to underscore humanity’s exceptional abilities, such as ‘evil’ and ‘depth’, which make us so much of an exceptional animal worthy of study (Wallen, 2015, p. 455). Humanity is the single animal species which can do evil, as evilness is a human creation; humanity is the single animal species which experiences guilt for the fact of being an animal.
In conclusion, for Nietzsche our civilised condition, in the end, actually deepened our suffering. By demonizing our natural animal instincts due to morality’s bad conscience, our inner powers were “turned backwards, against man himself” (Nietzsche, 2007, p. 57). This led to a downward spiral towards greyness, gradually domesticating humanity by means of herd-instinctual fear and shame of the law and its punishments. This domestication eventuated in humanity’s full transformation from a free, strong, and guiltless animal, into a restricted, weak, tame, and guilty being, all in the name of civilisation (Academia of Ideas, 2018, § 8). According to Nietzsche, we have suppressed our instincts too far by depending too much on our consciousness, our most weak and imperfect organ (Nietzsche, 2001, p. 37). We have become contemplative beings who possess a tendency to stumble upon everlasting suspicion and negativity. We have lost the principal skipper which has guided us safely through the primordial world of nature: our subconscious drives. Being swallowed-up by the endless seas of mediocrity induced by the herd, along with Nietzsche I wonder aloud “nowadays, is - greatness possible?” (Nietzsche, 1998a, p. 107).
For Nietzsche the answer to this question is to urge individuals to try and find their true nature again - their true freedom - and reconnect with their profound driving force, as these hold great undiscovered life-affirming potential which have never led us down, even after our own betrayal of them. However, not all subconscious drives are good ones, as most are unrefined, some unknown, and some malicious, such as the “bliss of the knife” (Nietzsche, 2006, p. 26). Hence, Nietzsche endorses a cautious selection when asserting our drives. One should not blindly embrace all of them, but take responsibility and order them; incorporate those drives which line up with one’s natural creative soul, and banish those which do not (Nietzsche, 1998b, p. 64-65). Because our instincts will always be a part of us, we should, according to Nietzsche, accept our instincts and use them in a creative and constructive way, as in Greek culture, through “liberation from morality and relief through festivals” (Nietzsche, 2010, p. 359). It is this select group of courageous individuals who dare to negate the conventional norms of society, who negate the widespread trend of the “degeneration and diminution of man into a perfect herd animal” (Nietzsche, 1998a, p. 92), to contend their deepest instincts as more precious than their societal standing, and thus shamelessly and fearlessly charge them head-on, opening up a path towards true freedom and greatness. Is this the type of man Zarathustra sang his praises of?
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