Nietzsche in a Nutshell


Once you perceive that you are flung into a cosmos in which God is dead (or silent), and your ultimate questions are unlikely ever to be answered, it’s time to stop worrying about who or where you are really—what the truth is—and just, say, make lion-man totems from pieces of animal bone (as in the image above).

That’s Nietzsche’s solution to the problem of life. Escape reality–the three dimensions of space plus the dimension of time–and live in the fifth dimension–the aesthetic imagination. Master your circumstances in accord with your imagination; create something or do something interesting regardless of what ultimate truth there might be “out there.”

If there is, after all, an ultimate truth, maybe it’s less interesting and less hopeful than the one that you can create in your imagination. It’s okay not to be adaptive to “reality.” It’s okay to live in a deception.

In fact, it’s preferable. And this is why Nietzsche was prone to mock Darwin’s interpretation of how life evolves: it’s too focused on an organism’s adaptation. Don’t adapt, says Nietzsche. Will. Struggle. That’s life. In the teeth of your suffering, creatively rule your circumstances. Make of your agony an ecstasy. Contra Buddha and Jesus, alleviating suffering is not life’s problem, the failure of imagination is. Embrace your suffering and fate, and bloom from where you’re planted. And don’t let even science dictate the parameters of acceptable thoughts and behavior. Don’t let anything do that. Nietzsche can get scary here, for he says bye-bye to Christian “slave” morality and its weak-tea child, secular humanism. Instead, be barbaric in your rule and reign, like the Homeric Greeks before that wussy Socrates came along.

So here’s Nietzsche in a nutshell: reality and adaptation to it are overrated. Don’t be “well-adjusted.” Overgo reality into the dimension of your own imagination and creative will.

Like Rod Serling did:

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.

Nietzsche would have admired the creator of The Twilight Zone, and perhaps even the hippie trippiness of the below Fifth Dimension song (though not its emphasis on the “slave morality” of universal human brotherhood and sympathy).

And this raises a question: Can hippies admire Nietzsche? Can they embrace his emphasis on Dionysian creativity even as they shit-can his proto-fascist Apollonian side? Should they?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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34 Responses to Nietzsche in a Nutshell

  1. I really enjoyed this post. But isn’t Nietzsche just willing a secular religion into existence and then labeling it philosophy?

    Kant did that too. But unlike Nietzsche, Kant based his secular religion on the Golden Rule.

    Nietzsche’s secular religion, like Marx’s, is a repudiation of Western Civilization, its ethics and all that it values.

    It’s no wonder that the greatest mass murders and mass societal collapses took place under regimes that embraced Nietzsche and Marx.

  2. syrbal says:

    I hover somewhere between Kant and Nietzsche. And actual the mass murderers (I assume you mean Nazis) were badly misinterpreting Nietzsche and obviously ignoring Kant. I think Nietzsche was onto something with a good deal of his repudiation of some of the allegedly vaunted “Western” values, to be honest. Most Western nations talk that talk, but do not walk the walk.

    And for mass murder and toppling civilizations, one could as easily lay that at the feet of people like Plato….with his men of “gold, silver, and iron”….because THAT was proto-fascism.

    • You are making excuses for regimes that were living, breathing expressions of Nietzsche’s philosophy: the NAZI and Communist regimes.

      Further, you are imposing a standard of perfection on Western Civilization that you do not impose on any other, especially the most murderous regimes.

      Still further, Plato did not implement his regime so he cannot be blamed for the evil committed by other men.

      The fact is that Western Civilization is the greatest, most advanced, most just, most prosperous, civilization in human history.

      It is the only civilization in human history that surpassed the slave and beast of burden with electricity, internal combustion, modern medicine and modern science.

      Western Civilization is the only civilization to develop an understanding of human rights that recognized the equality of one man to another regardless of his station in life.

      And all that came about because of Christianity, the dynamo religion that powered the rise of Western Civilization.

      • syrbal says:

        Nietzsche didn’t “implement” his regime either, so I’d have to ask why you hold him responsible for the actions of people who cherry-picked his writing to do the sort of evil he never would have agreed with at all.
        And oh, Christianity, the dynamo that marched with colonialism and the rapine of all the REST of the world? THAT dynamo? The religion that still is misogyny walking and talking in the lives of women world-wide? THAT dynamo? The one that seeks to moderate the use of medicine that you say is so good, because it can’t be having medicine put an end to “redemptive pain” in terminal patients? THAT dynamo? Right…preach that to someone who has less time in grade on this rock full of hypocrites.

      • I never said that Nietzsche implemented his regime. If you are going to redefine the meaning of my comments and then expect me to argue against your redefinition of them, any further commentary on my part is futile.

        The basic doctrine of Christianity is the same as that of Kant: Love your neighbor. Do good to your enemy.

        You further attempt to redefine Christianity with the leftist myths of colonialism and the absurd notion that Western Civilization is based on the rapine of the rest of world,

        All powerful regimes throughout human history gained riches and power through conquest and colonization. So this is another example of you setting a standard for the West that you do not set for any other civilization in history.

        Western Civilization through influence of Christianity and the development of capitalism and the rise of the United States put an end to those practices in Western Civilization.

        No other civilization went to war to end slavery. No other civilization developed capitalism and liberty to the point where colonization and cleptocracy were no longer necessary.

      • syrbal says:

        The same civilization founded slavery in the New World. And if you say Plato is innocent because he did not “implement” his ideals, you cannot convict Nietzsche for HIS ideals; some would say he was merely the Chris Hedges of his time, if rather more lyrical about it.

        It is no leftist myth, btw, that Hitler was Christian and always SAID he was and despised Goebbels attempt to graft distorted forms of paganism onto National Socialism. And the Christian churches, including the Catholic Church largely were supportively silent during the Holocaust. So preach that nonsense you are spouting to someone else….like I said, someone, perhaps, who hasn’t lived with Western Civilization long enough to see that particular emperor with no clothing worth wearing.

      • Civilization don’t pop out as fully mature. They develop over time. Consequently, your entire argument rests on you imposing your personal standards upon Christianity and Western Civilization.

        In short, you completely disregard the actual, real history of both Christianity and Western Civilization and then you demand that I argue against your own personal redefinition of reality.

        Western Civilization was nurtured into existence for nearly 1000 years during the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church.

        Likewise, mankind’s understanding of the Gospel teachings of Christ didn’t pop out fully mature.

        The the statement that Hitler was a Christian is obviously false. Since Christianity defines its most basic teaching as “Love they neighbor as thyself and love they enemy”, calling Hitler a Christian is stating a falsehood.

        The only way to believe what you believe is to believe what is obviously false and what is obviously not real. Believing in what is obviously false and unreal is an abuse of the great intelligence that God put within men.

      • syrbal says:

        If you start defining Christianity as only pertaining to those who get it “right” instead of those who SAY they believe, you have a huge problem. Possibly limiting true “good” Christians to Christ himself.
        Take your “God” and the circular reasoning and lack of knowledge of actual history and go preach to someone else. I don’t intend to waste more time explaining it to you.

      • Christianity defines itself. A person who acts counter to how Christianity defines itself, is not Christian.

        And that is the same with everything. Everything has a definition. If thing A is defined as having certain attributes, another thing B who possess different attributes cannot possibly be thing A.

        Hitler was a psychopathic mass murdering maniac. Therefore he was not Christian.

      • syrbal says:

        Right, sinners aren’t Christians now. As I said, we are back to Christ himself and a bunch of wannabees.

        Game and match.

      • You have just continued making false statements that are based on how you personally define Christianity, not how Christianity really is.

        Christian doctrine holds that man is prone to sin. Christians are people who chose to strive to do good and turn away from doing evil. So being perfectly sinless is not a prerequisite of being Christian.

        Hitler was a man who chose to do evil. Deliberately choosing to do evil is a willful rejection of Christianity.

        Therefore, Hitler was not a Christian since he rejected Christian teachings willfully.

      • syrbal says:

        Actually, I am not making false statements based on my personal definition or perception of Christianity; I’d say YOU are doing that. I am basing MY statements on history, oh, and yes, theology, a field of philosophy in which I tutored many, many students. Hitler broke the rules of Christianity…he sinned, he did not reject Christian teachings; he considered himself a true “defender” of his faith and was pretty much treated as so by Pope Pious during his lifetime.

        And with that, since you just keep accusing me of being wrong without bothering to present anything but your own opinion….I am done.

        The question of the blogger here was whether one can jettison some of Nietzsche’s proto-fascist interpretations and opt for the Dionysian elements; which is pretty much a description of my personal philosophy and life. And yes, I DO reject Christianity, but then, unlike Hitler, I do not call myself a Christian, either.

      • You can say anything you want. You can claim anything you want.

        But I have proven everything you have said here to be false. All you have done is respond with more falsehood.

        Your rejection of logical proof and your adamant belief in what is false means that you neither respond to reason nor understand the critical importance of understanding reality..

      • syrbal says:

        You have proven nothing except your own indoctrination.

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  4. colinhutton says:

    “Western Civilization was nurtured into existence for nearly 1000 years during the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church.” You are delusional.

    • Actually what I am citing is actual history.

      Here are a couple of links citing the work of mainstream historian James Hannam Ph. D. from Cambridge. Christianity launched the scientific revolution The myth of conflict between science and religion.

      You can also go to mainstream educational outlets like The Great Courses from the Learning Company and buy university level courses on European and Christian history.

      They all say pretty much the same thing because what they say is what actual history says.

      What you are professing is simple Marxist propaganda.

      • syrbal says:

        If I were spouting Marxism, I’d know it. It was my JOB to analyze and keep up with Soviet actions in the 70’s. It has become very popular on youtube and elsewhere for people to label anything they don’t like as Marxism or Communism when it is nothing of the sort. The Great Courses is certainly not what I would call a mainstream educational outlet. Actually, I’ve seen Christianity labeled “Marxism” when the word Christ or Christian was left out of the descriptions… have been mis-taught and taught to fear.

  5. syrbal says:

    It actually got as much nurture from a bunch of pagan Greeks. And yes, for a thousand years, it taught people who to kill and what to get out of it, including the infamous 4th crusade against a Christian city in the next 1000 years. Basically, like most religions, it can claim both good and extreme evil as its history. But to make out as if it has no flaws and critics from Nietzsche to Hitchens aren’t hitting the several crooked nails directly on the head…now THAT is delusional.

  6. Can I just say I really like this post? And that I don’t find it unimaginable to connect Nietzsche to hippies? Nietzsche’s early fascination for Byron and the German romantic poets isn’t mentioned all that often, but since his ideas have been misinterpreted and misused countless times, for just about every infamous movement of the last century, I don’t think it would hurt to be associated with the more imaginative, literary kind of hippy. Sure, Nietzsche believed in self-discipline, but he made allowances for the Dionysian, I think.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Your point about Byron is a good one, and Nietzsche would have preferred the creativity of American hippies to the idiotic anti-semites of Nazi Germany, I’m sure. Nietzsche was not a fan of anti-semitism, and mocked it in his writings, but he liked creative people. And it’s largely hippie academics, who came of age in the 60s and 70s, who have given Nietzsche a second life via postmodern interpretation, existentialism, etc.

      Nietzsche was a genius and thought deeply about the chess moves remaining for Western Civilization post-Darwin, anticipating subsequent thought. In this sense, there’s no one more “Western” than Nietzsche. He is, arguably, the “palm at the end of the mind” of the West. (A Wallace Stevens phrase. Stevens was a Nietzsche fan.)

      • Leftism is omnipresent in today’s society. In includes but is not limited to Marxism.

        You express the leftist mode of thought. You redefine anything you need to, to get through to the next moment.

        So any discussion you have is really a discussion with yourself because you redefine the opposition and the topic at hand in whatever manner suits you.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Um, you’re projecting now. What worldview do you propose post-Darwin, and who do you think is its most competent intellectual defender?

  7. conservative says:

    The hippies creative? 🙂 Smoking pot, that’s made them creative? They were a bunch of rebellious infantile college students, ignorant of history, economics, religion, just about everything, and hence easy to deceive and manipulate.

    It’s no wonder there are serial killers and sick murderers and perverts. They too, want to escape reality.

    Really Santi, you don’t realize what a dangerous thing escapism is. Escape reality? Isn’t that what drugs do for you? Then let’s legalize drugs, right? Isn’t that what alcohool does?

    There are many who escape reality by pretending they are something or someone they are not. Transgendered individuals are just that. They dress up like the opposite sex and pretend to be something they are not. And instead of telling them to get real, society caters to their craziness and allows them to use the public restrooms of the opposite sex, and even treats them like the gender they are not. There is only other category of people who escape from reality and who pretend they are Napoleon and Caesar. But we don’t encourage and applaud them, we don’t go along with their insanity, we know they are crazy.

    Actually, this is what it all comes down to. The difference or battle between God’s truth claims and Satan’s truth claims. Satan wants us to live in a illusion, a false reality. The Lord God tells us what real reality is. This is the theme you will find in that presentation seminar on DVD, “The Truth Project”. Watch that and you’ll see that it’s exactly about this topic. The difference between illusion and reality. That’s what Jesus said, when he said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. If you don’t know the truth about who you are, why you are here and where you are going, then you’ll be a slave to any illusions sold to you.

    As for syrbal, he doesn’t have anything except the old Marxist crap about associating Christianity with imperialism and slavery.

    You can’t even make the distinction between Christianity and Christendom. Christendom might be associated with those things, not Christianity. And other religions did the same terrible things, including Islam and Hinduism, but don’t expect a leftist to say anything negative about them.
    And Hitler was a Christian. 🙂 Lol

    Is that why he chose a Hindu symbol for his organization? The swastika is a Hindu symbol, it’s on temples in India even today. Hitler despised Christianity because it had Jewish roots, he said Germans should return to the mythological religions of the Germanic tribes. Thor and all those gods, that you see in the movies today.

    I expected some more intelligent arguments than the old paranoid and shrill statements about all traditional Christians being colonialists and imperialists.

    If it wasn’t for some principles from the Bible, there would be no value for human life in the Western world, as it is. The old pagan religions and societies of Europe and other continents, didn’t have much regard for humans and their lives. They didn’t even believe in the sanctity of human life. God’s teachings through Christ, made the difference.

    • HyperB says:

      Thank you for demonstrating again that conservatism is just a failure to deal with reality.
      BTW, the FBI profile of serial killers is that of a right-winger raised in a conservative home by fundamentalist parents.
      Hippies don’t raise repressed axe murderers and closet basket-cases, and pot beats alcoholism.

      • conservative says:

        We can talk a lot about how postmodern liberalism refuses to deal with reality, if you like. Finding excuses for Islamic terrorists, for serial killers, for violent teenagers, and blaming the victims instead of the criminals. “They lived in poverty, they grew up in a bad neighborhood that’s why they do this” or “The US and England bombed them, it’s our fault, that’s why they hate us and react through terrorist attacks”.

        You’re accusing conservatism of something your “progressive” liberalism is doing all along.

        And where did you come up with that idiotic statement about “fundamentalist parents” raising kids who become criminals? From what I’ve seen and what any research can show, it’s the other way around. Parents who are crack heads, superficial thinkers who don’t believe in anything, alcoholics, rich atheistic people who offer their kids nothing but money, their kids end up becoming criminals or corrupt individuals. The parents of kids shooting other kids in public schools, like the ones from Newtown or Columbine, were not “fundamentalist” conservatives.

        You’re just another ignorant and hate-filled progressive who relies on pop culture for knowledge, and believes everything he hears from the official propaganda.

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  9. conservative says:

    silence of mind,

    I disagree with you, when you say that Plato can’t be blamed because his system was not implemented.

    Plato was a statist fanatic. He said children should be raised by the state, and should not even live with their parents. This is proto communism or fascism, if you will. It’s what every totalitarian system wants to do. To get control of the children.

    That’s the philosophy of the Obama administration. Eric Holder said that homeschooling is not a parental right or a constitutional right.

    Those of you who say that Nietzche can’t be blamed for Nazism. That’s what left wingers say that Marx can’t blamed for what the Communists did.

    It’s interesting how they never apply that to Christianity. They never say, Jesus Christ or God can’t be blamed for what some Christians did in the past. Let’s admire Jesus for some of the brilliant things he said, his insights into human nature, his love for people and the extraordinary things he did, including his sacrifice. That’s something the Nietzche-Marx crowd will never be open minded enough or tolerant enough to consider. They would rather admire and emulate some degenerate idiots from the 19th century, who hated themselves and basked in their toxic nihilism and hopeless “ideals”.

    What a pity.


    David Livingstone, William Wilberforce, Michael Faraday, did you ever hear of them?

    Livingstone and Wilberforce did everything to eliminate slavery. Faraday made some important discoveries in physics. So how can you say Christians have done nothing good in all of history?…

  10. Jeff says:

    Since when is it OK to imply that Buddhism is concerned with alleviating suffering? Huh? Classic western take on it, lumping it with the “religiousity” of the judeo-christian ‘form over essence.’ The rest is a good take, though.

  11. Spare Me says:

    …………..I’ve never seen anybody as FAR out of touch with reality and less refusing to face it than today’s conservatives. I only see more proof of it here.

  12. Mark Francis says:

    It is an excellent rule to be observed in all disputes, that men should give soft words and hard arguments; that they should not so much strive to vex as to convince each other.
    _ john Wilkins

  13. Matthew Blundell says:

    I had always enormous difficulty in trying to understand nietzsche’s philosophy but this has brilliantly surmised it for me.

  14. Lost In Time says:

    Interesting dialogue

    It would appear that many paths are present and accounted for.

    If a creator created and we are his progeny, a loving Father will guide those who want guidance and respect the free will of those who abstain. (Disclaimer: Until Armygeddon – then all bets are off.)

    If there is no creator and life is humanity’s whisper to all perpetuity…than God help us.

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