This past winter break, I read Oxford philosopher Malcolm Bull’s newest book entitled Anti-Nietzsche. It is far from being against Nietzsche per se, but rather an attempt to move beyond him. I’m hoping to relate his ideas on democracy and extraegalitarianism to my analysis of trolling. This post is an attempt to flesh out the ideas that remain from my reading notes… Hopefully it winds up as an enjoyable, if not meanding read—
Drawing from the thought of Heidegger, Bull sees a fundamental flaw in Nietzsche’s philosophy: “Nietzsche failed to recognize the Being of beings…[and] made Being a value… which is exactly what he wanted to overcome.” This might sound a bit disorienting at first, but remember what Heidegger is all about: the Being (think the “gerund” form) of beings (think “objects”). The authentic nature of ourselves, as searched for in metaphysics, is grounded in Being, yet an aporia arises because Being is groundless. It is only articulated to us in the experience of nothingness (via the sensation of ‘beings as a whole receding away’).
Okay, so Being is an incalculable aspect of genuine comportments to existence. If nothingness is so ‘integral,’ then we can begin to understand Bull’s fixation on nihilism. He claims that there is an “inexorable internal logic of negation/nihilism” wherein the “highest values devalue themselves.” I actually think the tetrad overlaps with some of this analysis. The tetrad forces us to consider obselescence as part and parcel with enhancement. To enhance, to expand, to define is to damage, to hurt, to do violence or nihilate something else. It is the humans, as “world-forming” creatures, who share in this relationship with nihilation. And, ultimately, Bull argues that to overcome nihilism (as Nietzsche did in fact desire) was to go against Being.
Next we get the first real glimpse of the political implications. Bull discusses “reading like a loser” which is the opposite of the reading technique that Nietzsche seduces the reading into (i.e. “reading for victory”). To “read like a loser” is to “interpret to one’s own disadvantage.” It is this Nietzschean “failure” that Bull wishes to cultivate, in which “surplus failures open a gap…egaliatarianism makes all equal at the level of the exploited, while to fail is extraegalitarian…it is less than zero.” It is this extra-equal space that only the “losing” and “failing” can create.
Bull claims that it is “fascism” when it is believed that only “particular human ecologies are ultimate sources of meaning.” His “subhuman ecology might sustain nihilism (via the unexploited lower types).” This is where his philosophy gets a little digressive and just plain bizarre, but his main point seems to be that the spirit of nihilism (or obselescing) is inherent and inevitable, but to follow Nietzsche’s call to overcome it for the Ubermensch is to, in effect, nihilate, or obselesce, a vast majority of beings.
Not only is this not egalitarian, but it likely means that we are indeed in danger, despite the tendency of readers to read like they are the Ubermensch. It is my interpretation that Bull is recommending a safer and more life-affirming direction of nihilism… one that paradoxically undermines life as secure. Instead of focusing on the ultimate enhancement for the ultimate technology, we ought to approach media and technology as an obselescing mechanism, not as a way of hating technology, but as a way of minimizing the violence done to those outside the sphere.
So, some might consider online trolls as a kind of “subhuman,” or a sort of “sick” person who “infects the strong” resulting in a “collective loss of energy.” While Nietzsche seems to favor the “uncompassionate strong,” Bull advocates a far stranger path—“the trajectory of the compassionate strong (who undermine themselves via pity) and the savage weak.” He wants an “inclusion of the unmediated failure of the weak… [a kind of] denial of the individual will via an abolition of differences.” By taking the weakness of the troll into our internet relationship, we can experience a “dissolution of principles of reality into the manifold of interpretations.”
Alright, this is confusing and very, very abstract, but that’s never stopped us before (…right?)! It is in this “inclusion which undermines the law” that “nihilism turns back on itself because value-positing/interpretation goes on infinitely, yet nihilism can’t go beyond it without also continuing to interpret.” And this inclusion of “failure” is an act of accepting the “failure to interpret”/create the steadfast differences which Nietzsche believed valuation necessitated.
So, Bull ultimately argues that “failure creates extra people and requires the counter-interest of the strong to sustain them.” Instead of a bourgeoisie egalitarianism, Bull favors a “move from egalitarianism to inegalitarian distributions,” but from beyond the limit of the bottom (i.e. “outside it from below, yet always returning”). It is this kind of “passive revolution” that Bull predicts would be a permanent and healthy manipulation of the inevitable act of nihilism. “By leveling down we can pivot to leveling out…opening up equality to those below the existing threshold.” It becomes an expansion of the proverbial “desert,” yet an entirely “open world.”
If there is indeed a necessary human activity of nihilating, whether it be via obselescence or language, perhaps the best way to sustain a healthy amount of change and equality is by realizing equality is not possible. but by becoming unequal by dipping below, rather than trying to “overcome,” we might create the most equal, or extra-equal world.
Trolls, to me, represent the obselesced comment re-emerging. The opinion of the lowest common denominator—perhaps lower than even that–might be the very one that ought to be embraced. The space that such an opinion creates, the feeling that an obselescence gives us, the acceptance of “failure” and appropriating it, might in fact be the healthiest means towards advancing democracy…..
Okay, this is confusing and it is late. Hopefully I can continue to flesh out his ideas as I practice my own “trolling” this week. Watch out, world! The “under-mensch” is coming, and he is bound to fail!