Nietzsche did not believe in “self ID” in the slightest. The concept of the Übermensch is about self-mastery, of self-overcoming, of developing, of dynamic becoming. The self is not a given predicate, simply “there.” As such, identity is not something essentialised or fixed. Those who espouse gender self-ID hold the opposite to be true. Young people who suffer gender dysphoria (of whatever degree) are told by the ascetic priests of gender ideology that they are victims, rendered powerless because their “identity” has been defined by their cisheteronormative enemies; to resist such power structures they must rush to define themselves, assert as an assumed preliminary to all further thought and action their identified self. But Nietzsche knew that identity is not, and can never be, the facile and politicised starting point of life’s struggles. It is by contrast the distant end-point of those struggles, the faraway goal, unobtainable for all but the truly courageous. Self-identification is not self-realisation. It is therefore fundamentally un-Nietzschean.
‘Self-identification is not self-realisation.’ Indeed, because for Nietzsche one must take account of the body, and without accepting the facts of the body that one was born with, welcome or not, one can never wish to have the eternal recurrence. (My earlier post gives more detail.)
Plus one. Thank heavens someone has actually read Nietzsche rather than – at best – skimming and cherry picking.
As an aside, I’ve always seen Nietzsche, as with many other interesting writers, as something of a provocateur. Whilst some would regard what he wrote as his final position, I’ve always considered it a thesis, a departure point for further discussion and consideration. He’s just not that pedestrian.
Woke morality is so obviously a grotesque caricature of Christianity. If any of its adherents had a shred of self awareness and an ounce of learning they would be able to see it.
“I’m a cult member” No cult member ever.
It is also a virulent attempt to overthrow Christian morality in so many ways: Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, Foucault – all militant atheists….
…angry men shout hateful obscenities at women, silence those whose words are deemed unacceptable, and whip up a mob…
Postcard from Kabul. Or from saarf lunnen.
Or Bristol or Manchester or, very shortly, Brighton!!
I think you are misrepresenting transhumanism and what I wrote in “A Letter to Mother Nature”.
“And this philosophy similarity should alert us to the fact that the trans movement — broadly understood as the overcoming of Mother Nature…” Before quoting this, you expound that rather postmodernist part of Nietzsche’s thinking — one I do NOT subscribe to — that there is no truth, there are only perspectives. Therefore, you can become another sex (or another species? or a building? or a planet) merely by seeing yourself as such?
On the contrary, transhumanism says we can become something beyond human but not by wishing it or believing it or seeing ourselves differently. It is a core part of transhumanism that we only go beyond human by the use of technology to physically change ourselves. The first part of the article seemed consistent with this but in the part quoted above, it went wrong.
Even if you don’t subscribe to that postmodern view, the article’s claim that transhumanism and gender mobility are offspring of the same modern ideas articulated by Nietzsche is still consistent and valid.
Only if you’ve never read Nietzsche and don’t believe in the existence of time.
The early parable in Zarathustra shows the townsfolk aren’t interested in any hermit’s “triumph of will”. So this article’s hand wringing is futile. Are they more interested in trans this or that now? Or are people just the same townsfolk who want to watch the high-wire act.
Yes, Hans, you are one of the baddies.
That’s a great sketch, but I don’t get the relevance.
Transhumanism is monstrous. You’re a major proponent of it. Therefore, Hans, you are a baddie.
Great to see someone quoted in an article responding, it adds enormous value.
Thank you Giles for an interesting article – I’ve learned something new, thank you Max for clarifying your position.
Good work Unherd!
I find Max’s contribution ungrammatical and hard to follow.
Ungrammatical how? True, it may be a little hard to follow if you don’t note where I’m quoting.
“…But for Nietzsche, the truth is what I assert it to be. Here, then, is where Donald Trump or Boris Johnson intersect with the woke Left…”
And, with the C of E of course.
i consider truth to be a kind of skeleton for the mind giving form and structure to the psyche.
I’m going to comment in my ignorance before I read the other posts which I’m looking forward to doing. Having heard Nietsche mentioned and referenced so often I thought I would try to read a bit of his works so I’ve got one of his books (in English translation of course) on my kindle. Its called “Human,too Human” a good title. We are all that. Some of it is written in that flowery 19th century way so you have to analyse it a bit to get his meaning but some of it is very plain and simple. I was amused to read his idea that in the future when science had found out EVERYTHING about the material world and there were no more annoying mysteries left then not only could mankind chuck out God along with all mythologies and fairy tales but people would all be supremely happy.
Well we are there. Science has pretty much mapped the material world and we’re not happy I mean in a collective sense,and we invent new mysteries because we like mysteries. I’m afraid I’m a bit with old Nietsche in his distaste for the romantic idea of poverty. I know from first hand experience it is not a blessed state. And I do kind of see how showing compassion to the weak and needy does not always end well,those buggers no kidding,they can screw you over if you’re not careful,experience again. In fact now we have a culture where being a victim and an oppressed minority promotes you,we are all being screwed over. I can see how the Nazis were drawn to his writings and ideas.
This puts me in mind of CS Lewis and his speech “The Abolition of Man.” I think you might really enjoy it. Follow the link to a PDF of the speech. It doesn’t take long to read and is more than worth the time.
Quantum mechanics is pretty mysterious.
As is about 95% of reality
I think his point stands though, that lack of mystery in the workings of nature doesn’t seem to make people happier or more secure, nor does it at all seem to dampen the need for stories and myth. Among those who insist on science being the only access to truth the tendency is to make science a myth.
It’s a bit like the Freudian insistence that getting rid of sin and replacing it only with psychological phenomena would unburden people from guilt. The loss of sin mainly seems to have created a situation where there is no clear path to forgiveness or redemption, and guilt remains untouched.
I don’t think there is a lack of mystery, I think there is great ignorance as to the extent of the mystery.
That’s not the point. Though I disagree somewhat about people’s ignorance. Many people do not and never have thought that science can explain reality completely.
But the point I was making was that even when there are explanations, it doesn’t seem to result in people suddenly feeling secure in the world, as if their existence has meaning.
The genuinely weak and needy are not in a fit state to screw you over.
Science has not found out everything. Every time they figure out some big mystery it reveals several others beneath it. It’s turtles all the way down, I’m afraid.
My reading of Nietzsche was that he was being facetious about the supreme happiness. You always have to balance one thing he says with the several other things that seem to say the opposite. It’s the tension between them that he is interested in. You can never read him literally and understand him.
The idea that science has “…found out everything about the material world…” is an affectation; nothing more. Very popular with people who don’t go outside much and don’t handle materials at all.
Just a few years ago marine conservationists, while bemoaning the coming extinction of the Blue Whales, suddenly discovered an entire, unknown “nation” of them, thousands of individuals in dozens of pods. The largest animal to ever exist on Earth; they were happily swimming around in the southern Indian Ocean as they evidently have been for hundreds or thousands of years. Unknown, un-noticed by Science, despite all the satelites and the thousands of masters and doctoral degrees.
You’re aware of irony, I am sure.
We don’t even know what 30% of the material universe is made of – that’s a pretty big mystery!
I find Giles’ excursions into the realms of philosophy predictably end with a god-shaped conclusion. It’s as if the entire exercise were manufactured to do so, in “Here, look at this, i’m aware of these philosophical arguments but really i’m just a believer”
He doesn’t disappoint on this occasion, although he does raise some rather juicy questions around identity in the 21st century, whilst failing to explain why he believes ‘kneeling before god” answers them.
Nietzsche must surely be the most misunderstood philosopher, not just in the Western cannon but any surviving cannon. If his writings are the result of a fevered brain, they continue to remain a source of hot debate.
Beyond Good and Evil might be his most salient reference point. In masticating through the smorgasbord of morality before spitting it out, its not “truth” thar lies on the ground but our inabilty to come to terms with ourselves. Painful though it might be, the Ubermensch is no more than escaping the layers upon layers of self-deception.
Transhumanism could only be acheived by those who fully understand what it is they’re seeking to transcend, and why. It’s not so much a physical as a spiritual quest: perhaps even an attempt to escape spirituality itself.
And rather than outsourcing the issue by kneeling before god, it might be more worthwhile to simply kneel before a mirror.
Giles doesn’t disappoint – it is the conclusion we expect isn’t it? Without asking Giles, I expect when he kneels before God he places the ideal of the ultimate good before himself, which is capable of being known and more important than himself. A light to be guided by and which illuminates the worth of every UnHerd reader, rich or poor, wise and not so wise.
If i maintain that belief in a god is nought but a sophisticated method of self-deception, it’s simply the result of my own personal journey. I’d therefore appreciate it if those who do kneel before their god didn’t seek to proselytise, for therein lies so many of the ills of the world. Thanks.
So many of the ills of the world result from NOT believing in God.
The West’s current terminal collapse among them.
If the aim of believing in God is to cure the world’s ills, then I submit, Prozac, or a lobotomy, or CRISPR alterations to your being, might be at least as effective.
Are you able to specify which actual day-to-day ills of the world would be cured by belief in a Bronze Age deity from the Transjordan which is younger than recorded history?
I’m taking it as a given that you’re not referencing Odin or any other god, of course. Because if one were to say that so many of the world’s ills result from NOT believing in Odin, then that would just be silly…
Why do we let religious people away with statements like this, let alone uptick them?
Nietzsche would indeed have understood the current craze for self-ID, but only in terms of the priority his philosophy gives to studying how deluded or mistaken people can be. And one of the delusions he highlights is belief in a soul, separate from the body. His disbelief in a Christian soul, buttressed by his materialism, could certainly be extended to current widespread belief in gender-souls. The essay quotes Nietzsche on people who are victimised, or feel victimised. And what does Nietzsche say they do? They find priests who will help them overturn current values. There are indeed many gender-priests available for this.
The quotation at the start of the essay, that everything is an interpretation, can be used against self-ID. So you feel you were ‘born in the wrong body’? That is just an interpretation of a feeling or experience. And above all, if everything is an interpretation, there is no rationale for expecting others to go along with how we self-ID; they might, for example, be strongly perceiving the sex, rather than ‘gender identity’ of a person. The view that everything is an interpretation pulls the rug from under the gender-priests, who are hoping that everyone can join in with the new gender religion and believe all self-ID claims.
One thing this article does not mention is that Nietzsche was an incurable misogynist. Notable.
If you grew up under the thumb of his aunts, sister and mother (in that order) you would be too.
But how is that relevant ?
It’s hard for the “free-spirits” and “free-thinkers” to remain consistent across their beliefs. Difficult, when your beliefs change more or less at whim.
The words of Hannah Arendt, from her 1971 essay, ‘Lying in Politics’, may help illuminate things here. The idea that technology can transform human men and women into something that they are not is just as much a lie as the belief that one can transform one’s identity by an act of the imagination or will. But that is not to say that transhumanist technology cannot kill, that is to cause a man or woman to cease to be who he or she is. The transhumanist idealists may not know quite how dangerous they are. Heaven help us.
“A characteristic of human action is that it always begins something new, and this does not mean that it is ever permitted to start ab ovo, to create ex nihilo. In order to make room for one’s own action, something that was there before must be removed or destroyed, and things as they were before are changed. Such change would be impossible if we could not mentally remove ourselves from where we physically are located and imagine that things might as well be different from what they actually are. In other words, the deliberate denial of factual truth — the ability to lie — and the capacity to change facts — the ability to act — are interconnected; they owe their existence to the same source: imagination. It is by no means a matter of course that we can say, “The sun shines,” when it actually is raining (the consequence of certain brain injuries is the loss of this capacity); rather, it indicates that while we are well equipped for the world, sensually as well as mentally, we are not fitted or embedded into it as one of its inalienable parts. We are free to change the world and to start something new in it. Without the mental freedom to deny or affirm existence, to say “yes” or “no” — not just to statements or propositions in order to express agreement or disagreement, but to things as they are given, beyond agreement or disagreement, to our organs of perception and cognition — no action would be possible; and action is of course the very stuff politics are made of.
Hence, when we talk about lying … let us remember that the lie did not creep into politics by some accident of human sinfulness. Moral outrage, for this reason alone, is not likely to make it disappear.”
Hannah Arendt, Lying in Poltics (retrieved from https://www.themarginalian.org/2016/06/15/lying-in-politics-hannah-arendt/)
Voters crave the lies, flourish in them. They bring us hope, the idea that government will “do” something for us. The old movie, Bulworth, has a great scene when a liberal senator goes to a Black Church meeting and tells the truth, the crowd can’t stand it, makes them look like dupes and fools to believe the lies.
Why pay taxes if the government can’t do anything for you ?
The Federal Government has certain duties; War, Defense, Interstate Infrastructure, Immigration and adjudication of disagreements between the states.
The States have their obligations, Roads and Infrastructure, Law Enforcement, Higher Ed, Some targeted regulation, certification of Lawyers, Doctors, Teachers, etc. Environmental concerns within the state and so forth in a limited way.
For me, they owe me nothing except carrying out the above functions in a prudent and measured way. Pay my debts? Give me “free” stuff. Be my mother? No. That is how this State has grown to the Leviathan it is today.
“God is dead and we killed him.” This is Nietzsche declaring the advent of nihilism. “There will never be enough water to wash away all the blood.” Nothing matters. Everything is permitted. There is no such thing as guilt. Ivan Karamazov was driven into madness by his apprehension of these same things. The idea that there is a medication for Ivan’s ills is the kind of wishful thinking to which we are now driven. We cling to “black lives matter,” for if that is so, then it cannot be true that nothing matters. Donald Trump is Captain Ahab. “There shalt be no abyss.”
Interesting. But I’m not so sure. Alexei Karamazov might profess to have at least a partial answer? I thought that that was at least part of what Dostoyevsky was trying to say, that is that Ivan, despite (or perhaps because) of his cleverness, did not and could not know it all – and that was at least part of the tragedy? Cf 1 Corinthians 3:19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”
Goodness knows what Dostoyevsky would make of the intellectual, political and moral morass in which we find ourselves now.
You of course are right. Ivan sees too much, doesn’t he? What is the reason for God’s injunction that we not eat of the tree of knowledge? That we not eat the one fruit for which we long most of all? Why would God even allow an Ivan to pop into existence? Why is life for him only a “nightmare?” What Alexis says at the end, to the group of young boys, especially the young progressive who has sworn off “flying at necks,” seems to me eternal. “Ah, children, dear friends, do not be afraid of life! How good life is when you do something good and rightful!” The rest of it is so achingly joyful, one can hardly get through it.
“— is not necessarily a Left-wing or progressive idea. It could just as easily be purloined by the Right. Wearing black balaclavas”
Why be so coy Giles ?
And why “could”, don’t you mean ‘has’ ?
And why ‘balaclavas’ ?
At least the colour seems to be right !
“ angry men shout hateful obscenities at women, silence those whose words are deemed unacceptable, and whip up a mob.”
And why ‘just “angry men”, why not ‘angry women’ too, or maybe screeching is more acceptable, or less impactful, than shouting (words like ‘TERF’ for example)
I think we can all be pretty certain who the most likely candidates are, can we not ?
There, certainly, seems to ‘one’ community who might fall into the category of right wing, or even the ‘hateful’ ‘f’ word (not reproduced in full because of the censorious nature of the algorithms), and they aren’t necessarily white skinheads with bova boots and braces ! It’s just, unfortunate we can’t say so, or admit it, because they happen to be the wrong ‘colour’ or ‘religion’.
Very interesting article as arethe comments readers here have made about it.Well done everyone
Though it’s been done before and will need to be done again and again, thank you Giles for uncoupling the trans movement from ‘progressive’ politics.
Fascinating. I do wonder whether Nietzsche desired the object of his logical process, or was shocked by what he saw? This is the result, when those old values fail.
One scary consequence of Fraser’s line of thought is that in a post-truth world, left and right don’t have much meaning. The modern left thinks it is immune because it champions the victim. In reality victim status is celebrated, and some are more equal than others. The real poor and powerless may be pitied, but are generally ignored.
‘Here, then, is where Donald Trump or Boris Johnson intersect with the woke Left.’ Yeah, right. Course they do. Got to get it in, your chums expect it.
The Will to Power. Written after the insanity set in. I think the same applies to the contemporary enlightened mind.
I assumed enlightened is implied to be in quotes, stated in sarcasm.
The Will to Power was not actually written by Nietzsche. After his collapse in 1889, his sister Elisabeth waded through his Nachlass – the copious and inchoate notes that he left behind – and rearranged them to suit her own proto-Nazi agenda, publishing the result as The Will to Power, which certainly appealed to some Fascists. Nietzsche himself would probably have been horrified by the insane and hate-filled result. His actual last works grew ever pithier and sharper – suitable for a man who so admired La Rochefoucauld and similar French aphorists.
Total normie take. Read the recent (2017) Penguin edition of ‘The Will To Power’. It completely exonerates Elizabeth of any “Nazi distortion” and repudiates Kaufmann for claiming so.
Recommended in this context: Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks
Dear Giles, I think you forgot to define what you actually think The Truth is – as in I am the way, the truth and the life. Not saying he’s right (I think he was) but you need to be clear.
As it happens, I think Nietzsche was right, not that god is dead, but we killed (whatever bloody gender it might be appropriate to assign to the universe) the idea of god.
There are relative facts (gravity et al) and there is the truth – of which nothing can be said.
Actually, I think it is wider than that.
… will and power over truth. If truth is simply a mobile army of metaphors […] then what counts as truth […] But for Nietzsche, the truth is what I assert it to be.
In the above, it seems to me the 1st two relate to the concept of truth whereas the third is an instance of the manifestation of truth?
Kill God, and you kill the West.
The essayist seriously fails to grasp the basics of Nietzsche.
Indeed. Nietzsche highlights delusion and misperception in humans, all of which is ‘human, all too human’. He would see self-ID in these terms, as interpretation / misinterpretation of our bodily experiences.
Reading this from Giles Fraser I think of Jorge Luis Borges’ wonderful essay ‘A New Refutation of Time’ (1947).
In it he meditates on the English Idealist philosophers, forerunners of Nietzsche.
On Berkeley who questioned the existence of reality (nothing but the perceptions of it). On Hume who doubted both causality and the self (a succession of events as in a theatre).
To these scepticisms Borges added his own. Time, itself, may not exist (no succession of events nor any simultaneity).
This bald summary of mine does no justice to the intricacy of Borges argument or to the many other writings he cites. Especially, only a reading of the whole can display its beauty and delicacy. It is, fortunately, online to be opened.
On the last page of the essay his tone shifts, he comes to the coda.
‘And yet, and yet…these (arguments) are seeming acts of desperation…secret consolations…our destiny is not terrifying because it is unknown.. but because it is ironbound,’
For those of us who are distant from our sauntering youth and walk quietly into old age, seeing its fences which constrict the body and rebuke the will, this essay written, perhaps, at the onset of his blindness is itself a consolation.
The last words of the piece…
‘The world, unfortunately, is real. I, unfortunately, am Borges’.
Where we used to maintain that reality provided us with certain givens, […] We used to think that biological sex was a kind of given;
Perhaps the importance of the process of establishing a “given” is missing? I am also not sure what “a kind of” established fact biological sex is.
I predicted this . . . 22 years ago, before Self-ID was a gleam in anyone’s eye.
First of all, I declare that Nietzsche went mad because rich-girl Lou Salomé dumped him. When are we going to solve the rich-girl problem?
Second, the idea that there is no truth, only interpretations, comes directly from Kant, do not pass go. Kant wrote that we cannot know things-in-themselves, only sense impressions that we conjure up into a Theory of Everything. Everything since then is just a descant on Kant.
Third, Nietzsche’s Death of God thingy says that when a god dies — as they do, from time to time — the result is decadence, nihilism, and finally the Revaluation of all Values as in Groundhog Day. Problem is that in the middle you get lefty stupidity, as right now.
Christopher, I quite agree with you about Kant being the primary source of postmodernism. You could almost capture matters with an equation: Nietzsche = Kant + Darwin. Nietzsche didn’t accept Darwinism in detail, but one thing I think he got from him is that our “higher” qualities, which Kant immortalizes, actually come from our “lower” nature.
That’s a pretty shallow take on a fascinating yet deeply flawed person and thinker who often contradicted himself. His pre post modernist subjectivism wasn’t a consistent view in his work. He stated structured ignorance is as hard to achieve as structured knowledge, thereby indicating he acknowledged an evident degree of shared objectivism. I think his words “human, ecce human” are as true to day as ever. However his statement that christianity is the biggest scar on humanity’s face is no longer accurate. Since FWN’s death the paradigm has shifted thrice, firstly Marxism then national socialism and now the NSDAP’s mestizo child, wokeism. Funniest thing for me is the writer and his woke opponents make an identical error in their analysis: they transplant the thoughts of a man in late 19th C Germany to present day Anglosphere without even realising how meaningless this is – go on Giles – get on with your mammoth hunt and leave thinking to the thinkers!
Giles’ essays are getting more interesting than they used to be, I think. Maybe it’s the wisdom of old age setting in?
I do wonder about his thought, at the end, that this idea about truth if taken up by the right could be even worse. I would certainly agree it could be taken up by te right, and has at times, and that would produce horrors. I am not sure they would be particularly worse than the horrors of the left.
But isn’t this superficially based on the old adage the farther left you go the farther right you end up? That the extremes eventually start to resemble each other? I don’t remember concluding what article asserts from Nietszche. It was all about overcoming human limitations, will, strength and being unapologetic while doing so. I can’s remember one’s identity being a focal point at all. Oh well, I guess Putin-incited divisions and culture wars are here to stay for a while before a new more rational central position can be found.
Nietzsche did not think that truth is “a plastic notion subject to our will.” What seems like truth may be subject to our interpretations, yes, but not subject to our will in the sense of arbitrary and idiosyncratic assertions. The interpretations are largely psychological and/or historical in origin. Nobody believes that their interpretations are mere interpretations that they are free to impose on reality. Maybe they’re foolish for not seeing through themselves, but they are sincere. Insincere people like Trump who offer interpretations without believing them are not postmodernists; they’re just liars. Nobody except ironists like Richard Rorty is a postmodernist to himself.
That’s why much of the criticism of transactivists falls short. They believe what they are saying. If you disagree, you’re going to have to do better that cast them as postmodernists. You would actually have to engage them and take apart their notions of sex and gender as Kathleen Stock does in Material Girls.
By the way, shame on UnHerd for featuring that grotesque picture of a transwoman at the head of the article. It makes it difficult to take the essay seriously, given how tendentious and cruel the picture is.
The rejection of absolute truth began with Hegel. A good discussion of this is in “Trilogy”, by Francis Schaeffer. Karl Marx expounded a garbled version of Hegel’s dialectic. Based on this essay, the same thing seems to be true of Nietzsche. Schaeffer says that Nietzsche squarely confronted the implications of his presupposition that there is no God, and it drove him mad. Nietzsche said, “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you.”
true – but if you do choose to stare into the abyss you will see much more reality than most – and just possibly will end up with a finely tuned ‘bullshit detector ” !!
I seem to be the only one to find it astonishing that a christian minister – ex hypothesi a professional supernaturalist/bigot – is a regular contributor to a website supposedly dedicated to honest and rational thought.
Wholly inaccurate. Nietzsche was not a relativist. Nietzsche believed in both truth and science, broadly understood, but was simply skeptical of the means by which access to truth was obtainable (aka Kant). Others have done a fine job characterising how Nietzsche is by no means a proponent of “self I.d”.
Only an intellectual could believe Nietzsche.
Brilliant article, thank you!
It’s just a rehash of Ergo et Sum. And just as flexible – you can abuse it to justify whatever you want.
Now we have AI I think philosophy should start doing some real work.
Robots are bits of tin.
Whereas we aren’t robots.
what brilliant clarity thank you for calling out the enemy, let us all pray we have for the power to resets.
Dragging in Trump by the hair of the head for a sideswipe is unworthy of you, Fr Giles, and does nothing for your reputation as a fair and clear-minded thinker.
Any truth that you derive from going to church is subjective. Whisperings in your imagination are lovely and convienient. Drugs produce similar escapes from reality.
“Nature is dead, and we have killed it.”
Transhumanism and wokism could have arisen only from Western thoughts. The triumph of the self, of the ego, pushing the boundaries farther and farther. The triumph of the absurd. This is not the ways of Dharma, the way of Tao. Who cares about the “right ways of living”, about moral duties, who among us in the West believe that striving to be the best servant or the best king are the same? “Not me!” “Not ME, not MMEE!!!” Finding your way in a world created from the limits of your imagination versus in a world you strive to understand. The arch of a madman shot out of a cannon versus the sage finding the pattern in the forest that is the path to the well.
Then again, we got to the Moon first and not the Hindus.