Category Archives: Meditations

‘Man’s Actions Are Always Good’

Excerpted from Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche, section 102, 1878.

‘Man’s actions are always good’. – We do not accuse nature of immorality when it sends us a thunderstorm and makes us wet: we do we call the harmful man immoral? Because in the latter case we assume a voluntarily commanding free will, in the former necessity. But this distinction is an error. And then: we do not call even intentional harming immoral under all circumstances; one unhesitatingly kills a fly intentionally, for example, merely because one does not like its buzzing, one punished the criminal intentionally and does him harm so as to protect ourselves and society. […]

All morality allows the intentional causing of harm in the case of self-defence: that is, when it is a matter of self-preservation. But these two points of view suffice to explain all evil acts perpetrated by men against men: one desires pleasure or to ward off displeasure; it is always in some sense a matter of self-preservation. Socrates and Plato are right: whatever man does he always does the good, that is to say: that which seems to him good (useful) according to the relative degree of his intellect, the measure of his rationality.

‘How Do You Make Yourself A Body Without Organs?’

Excerpted from Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, 1980.

At any rate, you have one (or several). It’s not so much that it pre-exists or comes ready-made, although in certain respects it is pre-existent. At any rate, you make one, you can’t desire without making one. And it awaits you; it is an inevitable exercise or experimentation, already accomplished the moment you undertake it, unaccomplished so long as you don’t. This is not reassuring, because you can botch it. Or it can be terrifying, and lead you to your death. It is non-desire as well as desire. It is not at all a notion or a concept but a practice, a set of practices. You never reach the Body without Organs, you can’t reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit. People ask, So what is this BwO? — But you’re already on it, scurrying like a vermin, groping like a blind person, or running like a lunatic; desert traveller and nomad of the steppes. On it we sleep, live our waking lives, fight — fight and are fought — seek our place, experience untold happiness and fabulous defeats; on it we penetrate and are penetrated; on it we love. On November 28, 1947, Artaud declares war on the organs: To be done with the judgement of God, “for you can tie me up if you wish, but there is nothing more useless than an organ.” Experimentation: not only radiophonic but also biological and political, incurring censorship and repression. Corpus and Socius, politics and experimentation. They will not let you experiment in peace.

‘Thoughts on God And The Invention Of Religion’

Excerpted from The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, 1794.

It has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it, could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the work.

The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.

As several of my colleagues and others of my fellow-citizens of France have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?

‘State Your Opinions Openly And Fearlessly’

Excerpted from an essay by Sir Leslie Stephens, quoted in Upton Sinclair’s The Cry For Justice.

I, for one, am fully prepared to listen to any arguments for the propriety of theft or murder, or if it be possible, of immorality in the abstract. No doctrine, however well established, should be protected from discussion. If, as a matter of fact, any appreciable number of persons are so inclined to advocate murder on principle, I should wish them to state their opinions openly and fearlessly, because I should think that the shortest way of exploding the principle and of ascertaining the true causes of such a perversion of moral sentiment. Such a state of affairs implies the existence of evils which cannot be really cured till their cause is known, and the shortest way to discover the cause is to give a hearing to the alleged reasons.

‘Animals And Morality’

Excerpted from Daybreak by Friedrich Nietzsche, section 26, 1881.

Animals and morality. – The practices demanded in polite society: careful avoidance of the ridiculous, the offensive, the presumptuous, the suppression of one’s virtues as well as of one’s strongest inclinations, self-adaptation, self-deprecation, submission to orders of rank – all this is to be found as social morality in a crude form everywhere, even in the depths of the animal world – and only at this depth do we see purpose of all these amiable precautions: one wishes to elude one’s pursuers and be favoured in the pursuit of one’s prey. For this reason the animals learn to master themselves and alter their form, so that many, for example, adapt their colouration to the colouring of their surroundings (by virtue of the so-called ‘chromatic function’), pretend to be dead or assume the forms and colours of another animal or of sand, leaves, lichen, fungus (what English researchers designate ‘mimicry’). Thus the individual hides himself in the general concept ‘man’, or in society, or adapts himself to princes, classes, parties, opinions of his time or place: and all the subtle ways we have of appearing fortunate, graceful, powerful, enamoured have their easily discoverable parallels in the animal world. […]

The beginnings of justice, as of prudence, justice, moderation, bravery – in short, or all we designate Socratic virtues, as animal: a consequence of that drive which teaches us to seek food and elude enemies. Now if we consider that even the highest human being has only become more elevated and subtle in the nature of his food and in his conception of what is inimical to him, it is not improper to describe the entire phenomenon of morality as animal.

‘Free Love And True Companionship’

Excerpted from ‘Marriage And Love’ by Emma Goldman, published in Anarchism And Other Essays.

Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root. […]

Some day, some day men and women will rise, they will reach the mountain peak, they will meet big and strong and free, ready to receive, to partake, and to bask in the golden rays of love. What fancy, what imagination, what poetic genius can foresee even approximately the potentialities of such a force in the life of men and women. If the world is ever to give birth to true companionship and oneness, not marriage, but love will be the parent.

‘What Is The Sign?’

One of the clearer, more lucid statements in this book – which is saying something, eh? I will never understand the impulse to obfuscate good ideas within ridiculous prose, but it often seems to me that few theorists of the Continental school had any sense of style… *grin* Anyroad, this may be a useful entryway for those intrigued.

Excerpted from: Of Grammatology, by Jacques Derrida.

The reassuring evidence within which Western tradition had to organize itself and must continue to live would therefore be as follows: The order of the signified is never contemporary, is at best the subtly discrepant inverse or parallel — discrepant by the time of a breath — from the order of the signifier. And the sign must be the unity of a heterogeneity, since the signified (sense or thing, noeme or reality) is not in itself a signifier, a trace: in any case is not constituted in its sense by its relationship with a possible trace. The formal essence of the signified is presence, and the privilege of its proximity to the logos as phonè is the privilege of presence. This is the inevitable response as soon as one asks: “What is the sign?,” that is to say, when one submits the sign to the question of essence, to the “ti esti.” The “formal essence” of the sign can only be determined in terms of presence. One cannot get around that response, except by challenging the very form of the question and beginning to think that the sign is that ill-named thing, the only one, that escapes the instituting question of philosophy: “What is …?”

‘Man Is Condemned To Be Free’

This perspective of Sartre’s strongly influenced my sense of personal responsibility. If I have no excuses — if I cannot blame my parents, my nature, a deity, a government, a system — then I must act such that in every moment I reflect the reality that I would choose. While I do not deny determinate factors in the world — I did not create my genes, I did not choose this war — they are not relevant to my responsibility to choose who I am, nor what I do. If I acknowledge no excuses, then I must create myself through my actions and my choices — as I believe we all must, though most will swiftly abdicate this responsibility…

Excerpted from: Existentialism is a Humanism, by Jean-Paul Sartre.

When we speak of forlornness, a term Heidegger was fond of, we mean only that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish God with the least possible expense.

About 1880, some French teachers tried to set up a secular ethics which went something like this: God is a useless and costly hypothesis; we are discarding it; but, meanwhile, in order for there to be an ethics, a society, a civilization, it is essential that certain values be taken seriously and they be considered as having an a priori existence. It must be obligatory, a priori, to be honest, not to lie, not to beat your wife, to have children, etc., etc.

So we’re going to try a little device which will make it possible to show that values exist all the same, inscribed in a heaven of ideas, though otherwise God does not exist. In other words — and this, I believe, is the tendency of everything call reformism in France — nothing will be changed if God does not exist. We shall find ourselves with the same norms of honesty, progress, and humanism, and we shall have made a God an outdated hypothesis which will peacefully die off by itself.

The existentialist, on the contrary, thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky said, “If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible.” That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can’t start making excuses for himself.

If existence really does precede essence, there is no explaining things away by reference to a fixed and given human nature. In other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom. On the other hand, if God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct. So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses.

That is the idea I shall try to convey when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.

The existentialist does not believe in the power of passion. He will never agree that a sweeping passion is a ravaging torrent which fatally leads a man to certain acts and is therefore an excuse. He thinks that man is responsible for his passion.

The existentialist does not think that man is going to help himself by finding in the world some omen by which to orient himself. Because he thinks that man will interpret the omen to suit himself. Therefore, he thinks that man, with no support and no aid, is condemned every moment to invent man.

‘Effect Emptiness To The Extreme’

For the ending of this one, think not of the metaphysical allusion (as continuing without the body is nonsensical to me), but to the legacy one might leave from a life without judging others. It’s an interesting thought to explore — try it and see what it feels like. *grin*

Taken from section 16 of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Effect emptiness to the extreme.
Keep stillness whole.
Myriad things act in concert.
I therefore watch their return.
All things flourish and each returns to its root.

Returning to the root is called quietude.
Quietude is called returning to life.
Return to life is called constant.
Knowing this constant is called illumination.
Acting arbitrarily without knowing the constant is harmful.
Knowing the constant is receptivity, which is impartial.

Impartiality is kingship.
Kingship is Heaven.
Heaven is Tao.
Tao is eternal.

Though you lose the body, you do not die.

‘Does God Have A Future?’

Commenting on the birth of one ‘personalistic’ god in the last post brought this passage to mind.

Excerpted from the concluding chapter of A History Of God, by Karen Armstrong.

Those atheists who preached emancipation from a God who demands… servile obedience were protesting against an inadequate but unfortunately familiar image of God. … [T]his was based on a conception of the divine that was too personalistic. It interpreted the scriptural image of God’s judgement too literally and assumed that God was a sort of Big Brother in the sky. This image of the divine Tyrant imposing an alien law on his unwilling human servants has to go. Terrorizing the populace into civic obedience with threats is no longer acceptable or even practicable, as the downfall of communist regimes demonstrated so dramatically in the autumn of 1989. The anthropomorphic idea of God as Lawgiver and Ruler is not adequate to the temper of post-modernity. Yet the atheists who complained that the idea of God was unnatural were not entirely correct. We have seen that Jews, Christians and Muslims have developed remarkably similar ideas of God, which also resemble other conceptions of the Absolute. When people try to find an ultimate meaning and value in human life, their minds seem to go in a certain direction. They have not been coerced to do this; it is something that seems natural to humanity.

Yet if feelings are not to degenerate into indulgent, aggressive or unhealthy emotionalism, they need to be informed by the critical intelligence. The experience of God must keep abreast of other current enthusiasms, including those of the mind. …

Ever since the prophets of Israel started to ascribe their own feelings and experiences to God, monotheists have in some sense created a God for themselves. God has rarely been seen as a self-evident fact that can be encountered like any other objective existent. Today many people seem to have lost the will to make this imaginative effort. This need not be a catastrophe. When religious ideas have lost their validity, they have usually faded away painlessly: if the human idea of God no longer works for us in the empirical age, it will be discarded. Yet in the past people have always created new symbols to act as a focus for spirituality. Human beings have always created a faith for themselves, to cultivate their sense of the wonder and ineffable significance of life. The aimlessness, alienation, anomie and violence that characterize so much of modern life seem to indicate that now that they are not deliberately creating a faith in “God” or anything else — it matters little what — many people are falling into despair.

In the United States, we have seen that ninety-nine percent of the population claim to believe in God, yet the prevalence of fundamentalism, apocalypticism and “instant” charismatic forms of religiosity in America is not reassuring. The escalating crime rate, drug addiction and the revival of the death penalty are not signs of a spiritually healthy society. In Europe there is a growing blankness where God once existed in the human consciousness. …

Human beings cannot endure emptiness and desolation; they will fill the vacuum by creating a new focus of meaning. The idols of fundamentalism are not good substitutes for God; if we are to create a vibrant new faith for the twenty-first century, we should, perhaps, ponder the history of God for some lessons and warnings.