One thing that the religious fundamentalist and the secular scientist agree on is this: what is actually true matters. Or, as they say on the X Files, “The truth is out there.”
I’m not interested in denying that the world really has an objective way of being that is independent of human consciousness. In fact, I think that it does. But in lately reading and thinking about Nietzsche, it has dawned on me that there is, nevertheless, an interesting middle position between:
- “postmodern subjectivity” (truth does not exist; it is relative); and
- “objectivism” (truth exists, and it is each rational individual’s moral obligation to find out what that truth is, and get in accord with it).
Here’s the third possibility (and I think it was Nietzsche’s):
- The truth may be out there, but—pragmatically—it doesn’t matter. What you do with your life is open. It is coherent to live in self-deception—or absorbed in an imaginative project, Don Quixote-like—and as far from the “Real” (whatever that is) as you can get away with.
In other words, if God (or the universe) isn’t talking on the matters that concern us most—such as whether God exists or not, and who (objectively) we are and where we are—then it is a completely coherent position to will your life: live it aesthetically and absent metaphysics (no big Truths, no big Shoulds, no predestined big Future to align yourself with). Put yet another way: if we are not in the midst of a practical project—like, say, building a house—and so trying to shape nature (Francis Bacon: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed”), then we needn’t spend our time worried and obsessing about truth (in the big sense of how the universe really is). We might, rather, spend our time making an aesthetic project of whatever contingent materials are at hand to us and leave large metaphysical quests alone.
Here’s a perfect illustration: the below clip, from a Twilight Zone episode, depicts a man who is obsessed with trying to find out the truth concerning his existence—where he has been flung. He has been cast into a world with some other people, and he wants to know what is going on. Nietzsche, I think, would say this to the man:
There is an objective answer to your flungness, but since the answer is not forthcoming and is intractable to you, you might use your time otherwise (perhaps, for instance, in “getting it on” with the pretty ballerina).
Here’s the clip:
Now here’s the spoiler: They are dolls in a barrel, and they are waiting to be distributed to poor children at Christmas time. The dolls were flung in the barrel by random donators (and there just aren’t many people walking past the barrel and giving, so there are only five dolls in there).
In short, the truth was very specifically “out there,” and yet it would have been thoroughly coherent for the dolls, in the short time that they had together, to have ignored the search for Truth and relished in constructing with one another their own reality. They might, for instance, have removed their essentialist clothing markers (I’m a clown, I’m a soldier, I’m a ballerina) and had an orgy—or done something else with their lives. Each of them was free to make of their individual lives:
- an aesthetic project (“I will“); or
- a metaphysical/moral project (“The truth is out there; I will find it, and align my life to it”).
Nietzsche said, at the beginning of Beyond Good and Evil, that “Christianity is Platonism for the masses,” and he thought that Platonism was the great mistake of Western cultural history. For Nietzsche, Platonic-style metaphysics—with its truths, its shoulds, its eschatologies—needn’t get in the way of our Promethean freedom and imaginative creativity: our I wills.
Is Nietzsche right? Does making our way to truth—to our metaphysical “home”—matter?
Nietzsche loved music. Perhaps the hint is there: