Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality


Why does man, 
according to Nietzsche, 
“suffer of man, of himself?”

Kierkegaard's Sickness Unto Death and the Fear and Trembling of Abraham



"Is despair an excellence or a defect? Purely dialectically, it is both.” 

-Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard writes under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus that despair is the “sickness unto death.” Despair emerges from a “misrelation in that relation which is for itself also reflects itself infinitely in the relation to the power that established it”(43). Humans fear death because they misrelate the limitations of their finite existence with the infinite possibilities that exist before God. This misrelation without God leads an individual to either neglect or wrongfully focus attention on the existence of a self which they realize is either finite or infinite. This misrelation, while a defect that manifests itself as despair, also reveals the existence of a self, which can be turned into an excellence.
To Kierkegaard, consciousness of self means that “consequently to be able to despair is an infinite advantage and yet to be in despair is not only the worst misfortune and misery—no, it is ruination.” (43). While despair confirms our existence as spiritual beings, Kierkegaard outlines that despair is a “sickness of the spirit” that manifests itself in three forms: “despair not to be conscious of having a self, despair not to will to be oneself and despair to will to be oneself” (42).

“Despair not to be conscious of having a self” is ignorance of existence of the spirit. Kierkegaard considers this a misrelation of the finite to the finite. He says pagans and non-Christians enjoy earthly pleasures that are balanced by the earthly fear of sickness and death; their despair stems from an inability to see the world and themselves as infinite possibilities of the self. While Socrates argues that sin is ignorance, Christians believe that we do not know sins until we accept Christ and have faith in God. Even though in ignorance a person can be happy, Kierkegaard argues that they are still in despair because they have misrelated their existence and do not know the truth of the existence of a self (73).
The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (1590-1610)
Oil on canvas made in 1603.
“Despair not to will to be oneself” is a misrelation between the self as it currently exists to the previous concept of lacking consciousness of an eternal self, desire for an idealized future self, or a wish to have a completely different self. An individual relates their seemingly “temporal” self to a comparison of their “eternal” concept of themselves, whether past, present, or future (81). The comparison never resolves the despair because they never consider their current self as worthy of the eternal self of which they are now conscious. “Despair not to will to be oneself” either concerns itself with finitude or “despair over the earthly,” where the self cannot understand the unknown concept of eternal beyond life on earth. “Despair over the earthly” would be why one fears death or any other problems with existence on earth (87). “Despair over the earthly” leads one to fear their concept of a finite self as a weakness, and believes itself therefore unworthy of the eternal or God. Conversely, one can also despair over the infinite existence of an eternal self wishing for finitude or at least, another self.

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Rembrandt (1606–1669) 
Oil on canvas made in 1635 
“Despair to will to be oneself” is to accept despair as a reality for the self but attempts to alleviate despair by acting upon the self. In despairing to will to be oneself, a self will “bestow infinite interest and significance upon his enterprises” despite the fact that their finitude makes them essentially “imaginary constructions” (100). The self pays attention to itself becoming its own “imaginatively constructed god.” However, even in the effort to strengthen the self through this process the self nevertheless is in despair. Kierkegaard outlines an even more intense form of this despair that becomes “demonic” as the self reflects upon itself in a way that rejects the nature of existence (103). The demonic self blames eternity for harming his quest to become the “infinite abstraction of the self” which he believes has now become so “concrete.” The self wills its despair to define its existence and in defiance rejects the God which offers him forgiveness (105).

Despair is a problem of either necessity eliminating a self’s ability to see possibility or possibility undermining a self’s conception of necessity. Understanding the synthesis between these concepts of self requires belief in God in Anti-Climacus’s religious opinion to understand that “actuality is the unity of possibility and necessity” (66).

However, this unity reveals the paradox in the human condition stemming from despair. Reflection upon the self reveals that despair is the result of misrelation to the synthesis of the self reflecting upon itself. The despair continues even when a self recognizes that it exists “before God.” Realization of self acknowledges the freedom given to the self but also leads us to reflect on the possibility of our misuse of this freedom, which without God will lead us to despair. However, just because despair reveals this synthesis does not mean that the synthesis itself is the cause of despair.

Kierkegaard implies that the “sickness unto death” is man’s creation. God only reveals to us that we are living in the sin of despair but he did not create the sickness. Kierkegaard acknowledges that despair is default for self-conscious beings but he argues that this consciousness makes them realize that it is a sin to be in despair before God. However, this realization and existence of sin is not an absence of virtue. To not acknowledge this sin would be a defect but Kierkegaard argues that with faith in God, Christians can overcome this sickness and make it an excellence. He argues that sin is not action but rather a state of mind that can be corrected. He argues that in order to do this we must reject the sin of despairing over sinfulness, we must reject the sin of refusing to believe in forgiveness and we must reject the sin of rejecting God’s teachings.

Sacrifice of Isaac by Adi Holzer (1936-present)
Handcolored etching made in 1997. 
Anti-Climacus's religious viewpoint is that being in despair over the self can only be resolved in embracing the absurdity of faith in infinite possibility through God. He says, “If only the abstract idea of despair is considered, without any thought of someone in despair, it must be regarded as a surpassing excellence. The possibility of this sickness is man's superiority over the animal and this superiority distinguishes in quite another way than does his erect walk, for it indicates infinite erectness or sublimity, that he is spirit” (43).

Although viewpoints and ideas between Kierkegaard's pseudonyms differ, Johannes de Silentio's example of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac embodies Anti-Climacus's argument about how God helps us turn despair into an excellence. The infinite misrelation between the possibility of teleological suspension of the ethical and necessity of an absolute to god could have led Abraham to despair. He could choose to ignore his responsibility or despair over the consequences of defying the universal or despair over his despair to defy God for himself. Instead, Abraham embraces the absurdity of the task he has been asked to perform and acknowledges his actions as sin through his “fear and trembling.” He has faith in his absolute duty to God, becoming a knight of faith. Instead of despairing over actuality's absurd possibility and dreadful necessity, Abraham's acknowledgment of his sin combined with his faith in forgiveness of the self before God allows him to overcome the defect of despair through embracing the eternal excellence that will heal the “sickness unto death.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Philadelphia's Reaction to Mayor Nutter: The Politics of Permits, Policing, Sexual Assault, and Civil Disobedience

While Mayor Michael Nutter's comments about reevaluating the city's relationship with Occupy Philadelphia have sparked media attention for the movement, it remains uncertain what the confrontation between city government and the Occupy movement will look like going forward.

Occupy Philadelphia hosted a press conference on Monday, November 14 at 1 p.m. at Dilworth Plaza to respond to Mayor Nutter's allegation that the movement was no longer cooperating and communicating with city officials.

Nutter said in a news conference on Sunday that, “The people of Occupy Philly have changed and their intentions have changed. All of this is not good for Philadelphia. We must change our relationship with them.” He said that "it is abundantly clear that 'Occupy Philadelphia' is in violation of the terms of its permit which requires it as an organization to observe our city ordinances ," posing safety hazards and sanity issues along with reports of thefts and violent assaults at the protest, . Nutter said that “misconduct is not free speech. The behavior that we're now seeing is running squarely against the needs of our city that also represents the very real 99 percent. As Mayor of Philadelphia, I represent the 99 percent also.”

Jody Dodd spoke on behalf of the movement's Legal Collective and attributed the failure of communication to the city's lack of sufficient information about the terms of the occupation's permit, affecting the General Assembly's decision to stay stationed at Dilworth Plaza.

“The original members of the Legal Collective have been joined by additional people committed to working for economic and social justice,” said Dodd. “We have not changed. The mayor's attitude has. We do, however, agree with the Mayor that we can and will continue to maintain open lines of communication to further the work of Occupy Philadelphia.”

On Sunday, November 13, Mayor Nutter announced he would be increasing police presence at the Dilworth Plaza after arresting a man for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a tent at the protest.

Amanda Geraci spoke on behalf of the Women's Caucus, responding critically to the mayor's approach to addressing the problem of sexual assault. Geraci said, “We are concerned with the contradictory statements that the police and the mayor have made to the media about their support for the occupy movement, while simultaneously withholding support for situations of physical and sexual violence. The recent demonizing and vilifying of the Occupy movement in the media is a scapegoating of the problems and violence that plague our communities and cities daily." She also noted that in the last two weeks there had been 28 other sexual assaults in the city and asked rhetorically why Mayor Nutter had not held press conferences for any of those incidents.
Geraci added that the city's solution to problems at the protest reflect what they perceive to be the flawed solutions and expectations of the Philadelphia Police Department's broader strategy in the city.

They argued that just as in the city neither increasing police presence nor expecting people to police themselves is a viable solution to crime problems. She cited examples of “stop and frisk” policies as unfairly

With regards safety and security Geraci said the movement is “met with statements from police, such as follows; ‘That’s not our job. Get your men to handle it.” Geraci noted that compliance with the police in leaving the plaza was not entirely necessary, citing Rosa Parks and Philadelphia's own Cecil B. Moore as examples of those who fought injustice and inequality using civil disobedience as a tactic.
Mayor Nutter argued that by blocking the renovations at Dillworth Plaza, “Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians in a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families.”

Mayor Nutter argued that groups such as the “Radical Caucus” are “bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations.” He called the actions of the group “intolerable” and accused them of “not acting in good faith.” He said, "We do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philadelphia.” Mayor Nutter asserts that he supports the Occupy Philly issues related to “unemployment, poverty, bank lending, homelessness, the rights of people to express themselves.

Philadelphia Police Officer Joesph Sposa disagreed with the idea that police and protesters could not cooperate while noting that confrontation would be beneficial to the movement's media coverage. He said, “I support the Occupy movement's message about the abuses of Wall Street but these people are expecting a direct confrontation for publicity, that's why all these reporters showed up today.” He noted how this reflects the way media coverage of crime in the city lives by the rule of “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Though the General Assembly has voted to stay at Dilworth Plaza, Protester Michael Baus noted that even though Occupy Philadelphia voted on Friday to stay, leaving the plaza remains a choice for individual protestors to make for themselves. Baus had no prepared remarks but announced on the microphones that he understands there will be differences of opinion at the protest, saying “We as the people who are staying also hope that we get that cross support of the people who are going to leave. This is a movement, and in a movement you are going to have discrepancies among the people who are your allies.” When asked whether he planned on staying he said “I plan on staying. I don't think I'm going to get arrested.”