Preface: This will be my first post digging into Nietzsche. Nietzsche is incredibly deep and it is easy to spend hours on one passage. However, there is usually a point when it clicks. A point when I understand (on some amateur level) the profundity of his ideas. So don’t feel inferior if you have to read his quotes five times for some intro level of understanding, you are in good company. And it is well worth your time. So let this stand as my simple interpretation. It should by no means be considered the only interpretation nor a correct interpretation.
“All psychology so far has got stuck in moral prejudices and fears.” – Nietzsche
Nietzsche believed we had not even come close to honestly broaching the spectrum of psychology. That we have only been playing on the surface of an ocean with tremendous depth – “insofar as it is permissible to recognize in what has been written so far a symptom of what has so far been kept silent.” He states, “A proper physio-psychology has to contend with unconscious resistance in the heart of the investigator.” This approach to psychology depends on the reciprocal nature of the opposites. It requires a temperament that treats the “wicked” drives with the same care and righteousness displayed to those “good” drives. This view is a complete and total acceptance of evil, of suffering, and of all that would fall under the ever-changing umbrella of ‘bad.’ “If, however, a person should regard even the affects of hatred, envy, covetousness, and the lust to rule as conditions of life, as factors which, fundamentally and essentially, must be present in the general economy of life (and must, therefore, be further enhanced if life is to be further enhanced) – he will suffer from such a view of things as from seasickness.” Here, Nietzsche warns this understanding is not to be taken lightly. For he is asking us to level what we have grown to assess as good and evil. Unification of opposites is no small request! However, if one can come to terms, it provides a new arena for advancement and understanding of the psyche.
Speaking from a perspective of appraisement, good deeds must stand in contrast to evil deeds. There is simply no ground on which to discriminate good if one does not maintain the the polarity, evil. I would like to make this idea more concrete. First, examine yourself. Your emotions. How do you currently feel, right now? Comfortable, tired, restless, joyful, depressed, excited, etc. Now consider how you felt 24 hours ago. Realize there is some sort of line connecting how you felt yesterday to how you feel right now. This is not to say you can’t dramatically change moods or you can’t remain relatively emotionally constant, but to point out the connection of your emotional states through time. Now realize this line does not only connect the two simple states you identified 24 hours apart. It connects the continuum of emotional states you exist in from moment to moment. If you were somehow able to assign a number to your overall emotional state every hour, with 0 being the absolute worst most horrible, depressed state imaginable, and 10 being pure bliss, you could construct a table of values. Then if we connected those discrete points you would have a crude visual representation of the emotional ride you had been on for the last 24 hours. It might look something like this.
Now take this same idea and extend it over two days, a week, a month, a lifetime. We are simply zooming out from the above graph.
The y-axis of ‘Emotional Rating’ is completely unique to you. My graph may have a value of 10 at some point in time because I had a great night of sleep (big sleep guy). Another day my 10 might be because a loved one’s cancer went into remission. And maybe your 10 is simply because you were able to have a hot meal today. Our emotional states are completely relative to our experience and perceptions. They are subjective. There is also a concept of emotional inertia or momentum. This is the idea that it is easier to make a ‘good’ choice after a previous ‘good’ choice; likewise it is easier for a ‘bad’ choice follow a prior ‘bad’ choice. In our graph this would be represented as an event’s likelihood to affect our rating. If your are currently at a 10, some minor annoyance may not have the emotional valence to drop you down to a 9. So you keep cruising right along at 10. On the other hand, if you were trending down from 7 to 6, that same minor annoyance may shoot you down to 3. Graphically, this is giving weight to the derivative of our emotional rating curve.
This is a laborious explanation in order to drive home the point that your present state is unique, incredibly complex, and also relative. Here is the pay off of this exercise: Think of another person. Maybe in your house, maybe across the world. Now realize their “Emotional Rating” graph is equally complex and unique to them, but also connected to yours through time. At every point along your graph, billions of people are experiencing their own unique drama. Your particular rollercoaster of a graph is built from your range of emotions but it is only the smallest slice of the world’s emotions. We each exist at every point in time, holding space in another’s world. When we are at a 10, having the day of our lives, there are millions of people across the world experiencing 0’s, trying to see just the smallest of touch of hope. Fighting to feel the tick back up the scale.
Let’s close with a return to Nietzsche and an abstraction of our graphs. Nietzsche claims when we approach psychology from this perspective, “we sail right over morality.” Now imagine our graph, but the y-axis is no longer ‘Emotional Rating.’ Now the 0 and the 10 simply represent any pair of opposites. For example, 0 = ‘Good’, 10 = ‘Evil’ , and all numbers in-between represent the spectrum of possibilities between the polarities. You could do the same exercise, assigning values to different aspects of your experience. The unifying principle remains. While you may be experiencing a 10, someone across the world is experiencing (at the same time!) a 0. This is why we all exist for each other, we hold space for each other. We hold the 10 while someone else is experiencing the harmony of 0, hoping to one day experience the 0 ourselves. The existence of the 0 requires the existence of the 10. Good requires evil. In this new psychology we must appreciate and equally value the complexity and different requirements of our existence. We cannot favor the 0 nor the 10, good nor evil. In this way, “we sail right over morality.” The psychologist who “makes this sacrifice…will at least be entitled to demand in return that psychology shall be recognized again as the queen of sciences, for whose service and preparation the other sciences exist. For psychology is now again the path to the fundamental problems.”
All of the above quotes come from aphorism 23 of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, Walter Kaufmann edition. Thanks for reading.