Sublimation and the Transcendence of Cruelty

A psychological account of cruelty is in itself not a justification of cruel behavior, but rather an explanation of the attractions of cruelty, and consequently of its prevalence in human life. But Nietzsche argues further that our tendency to be cruel and to dominate is universal and ineluctable, and therefore should not simply be dismissed as an immoral and avoidable aberration. To show a tendency to be natural and necessary seems tantamount to justifying it, and Nietzsche has been understood as both excusing and recommending cruelty. His analysis of cruelty is not, however, tantamount to a simple acceptance and approval of cruelty.

Nietzsche's emphasis on "sublimation," the process through which fundamental and unavoidable drives and desires are able to find less objectionable and more powerful forms of expression and satisfaction, points the way to an ideal resolution of the problem of cruelty. It opens the possibility of removing the more objectionable aspects and forms of cruelty without unrealistically denying cruelty's essential place in the inventory of human traits and desires. In locating the impetus of cruelty in a drive toward the sense of power achieved in overcoming the will of others, it allows for the satisfaction of the drive in types of behavior that are less repugnant than some of its cruder and more abhorrent expressions.[17]

To the extent that any human need or drive is construed as an instance of a broader one, it is conceived as admitting the possibility of alternative expression or gratification and thus of sublimation. Inasmuch as Nietzsche presents cruelty as an instance of the will to power, cruelty is presented as amenable to sublimation into other expressions of the will to power—some of which do not entail making others suffer. Correspondingly, to the extent that cruelty is a uniquely gratifying form of the will to power that involves dominating the wills of others, it cannot be replaced by just any experience of power. Yet substitute gratifications are possible in which others are dominated but not humiliated, and in which the opponent is made to suffer some sort of defeat but not any further physical or psychological pain.

Nietzsche had long emphasized and approved of the importance to the ancient Greeks of the agon , the contest, as an essential mechanism for furthering human development and happiness. Victories of the will over other wills occurred in the athletic games and artistic competitions of ancient

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment