Saturday, August 14, 2004

Was Nietzsche the first Islamist philosopher?

From Page 300 of The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama

According to Hegel, the universal and homogeneous state fully reconciles the contradiction that existed in the relationship or lordship and bondage by making the former slaves their own masters. No longer is the master recognized only by beings who are somehow less than human, and no longer are the slaves denied any recognition of their humanity whatsoever. Instead, each individual, free and cognizant of his own self-worth, recognizes every other individual for those same qualities. In abolishing the master-slave contradiction, something was preserved of each of the terms: both the master’s freedom, and the slave’s work.

Karl Marx represented one great pole of criticism of Hegel by denying that recognition was universal; the existence of economic classes prevented it from becoming so. But the other, and more profound pole of criticism, was that raised by Nietzsche. For while Nietzsche’s thought was never embodied in mass movements or political parties as was that of Marx, the questions he raised about the direction of human historical process remain unresolved, and are unlikely to be resolved after the disappearance of the last Marxist regime from the face of the earth.

For Nietzsche, there was little difference between Hegel and Marx, because their goal was the same, a society embodying universal recognition. He, in effect, raised the question: Is recognition that can be universalized worth having in the first place? Is not the quality of recognition far more important than its universality? And does not the goal of universalizing recognition inevitably trivialize and de-value it?

Nietzsche’s last man was, in essence, the victorious slave. He agreed fully with Hegel that Christianity was a slave ideology, and that democracy represented a secularized form of Christianity. The equality of all men before the law was a realization of the Christian ideal of the equality of all believers in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the Christian belief in the equality of men before God was nothing more than a prejudice, a prejudice born out of the resentment of the weak against those who were stronger than they were. The Christian religion originated in the realization that the weak could overcome the strong when they banded together in a herd, using the weapons of guilt and conscience. In modern times this prejudice had become widespread and irresistible, not because it had been revealed as true, but because of the greater numbers of weak people.

The liberal democratic state did not constitute a synthesis of the morality of the master and the morality of the slave, as Hegel had said. For Nietzsche, it represented an unconditional victory of the slave. The master’s freedom and satisfaction were nowhere preserved, for no one really ruled in a democratic society. The typical citizen of a liberal democracy was that individual who, schooled by Hobbes and Locke, gave up prideful belief in his or her own superior worth in favor of comfortable self-preservation. For Nietzsche, democratic man was composed entirely of desire and reason, clever at finding new ways to satisfy a host of petty wants through the calculation of long-term self-interest. But he was completely lacking in any megalothymia (desire for disproportionately high recognition by others), content with his happiness and unable to feel any sense of shame in himself for being unable to rise above those wants.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Michael Moore is a Mad Cow

From Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man by David T. Hardy and Jason Clarke

Page 43

One page 137 of Stupid White Men, Moore latches on to an easy means of stirring up fear and makes the most of it. This time around, it’s the facts about mad cow disease that will be bent to his theories. He writes, "Americans are not immune from this deadly disease. Some experts estimate that some 200,000 US citizens diagnosed with Alzheimer’s may in fact be carrying the alien protein and that their dementia is actually a form of mad cow."

Moore’s endnotes attribute this to an article by Deborah S. Rogers. But a careful examination of what she actually says reveals that mad cow disease is one form of prion disease, a family of fatal ailments spread by a mutant form of protein that has the capacity to convert and kill other proteins (such as your brain). Rogers contends that we shouldn't focus on mad cow disease when other prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), are already known here. Her figure of 200,000 referred to CJD, not to mad cow. Before we’re accused of splitting hairs, though, it’s more than a technical distinction: Mad cow disease can be spread by eating infected beef, but how CJD is spread, other than by contaminated transplant tissue and other surgical transmission, is unknown.

We’d be tempted to say that Moore stopped reading at the article’s title. Actually, he must not have gotten that far. The title is "Mad Cow Here? It’s the Wrong Question."

While we’re at it, it’s worth mentioning that Moore gives some paradoxical advice. He notes that burning does not destroy mad cow disease prions: "But when you burn them, the threat doesn’t disappear; you can’t kill them, as I said. The smoke and ash just carry them to another location...." But, then, he goes on to advise: "Make sure, if you have to eat a burger or steak, to cook that sucker until it’s black." Moore is wrong on both counts. Burning does destroy prions, cooking does not, so his cooking advisory is not well-taken. They’re protein, and cooked meat is still protein, but meat smoke is not. The truth, as usual, is something Moore serves medium rarely.