Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Passing By

My reading of Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra has now progressed to the third part.  One of the chapters that piqued my attention there is "On Passing By."  The "punch line" here is:
… where one can no longer love, there one should pass by.
This triggered a memory of a quote from the French anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, which back in 2008 I was fond of citing in a variety of political settings:
There is nothing worse than to pass unnoticed ….
In this case, however, it is time to fill in that ellipsis:
There is nothing worse than to pass unnoticed: thus, not to salute someone is to treat him like a thing, an animal, or a woman.
In other words both Nietzsche's "passing by" and Bourdieu's "passing unnoticed" amount to the same act, which I have also called "objectifying the subject."

From this point of view, what appears as little more than neglect on the surface may actually serve as a precursor to violence.  While reviewing the episodes of the first season of Caprica in preparation for the beginning of the second, I was struck by one exchange between the Adama brothers, Joseph the lawyer and Sam the hit man.  Joseph asks Sam how he kills someone;  and, after considerable resistance, Sam finally spits out, "Tell yourself it's not real."  In other words create the mindset that you are only manipulating objects, which, in a sense, is precisely what is happening in the virtual world that figures so heavily in the plot line.  Today the BBC ran a video story about the coming release of "Saw II: Flesh & Blood," the second video game to spin off of the series of movies of the same name.  Presumably, this too depends on the player telling himself (herself?) that "it's not real."

The question, however, is why we have such a history of creating such situations for ourselves, whether it comes to the "objectification" of slaves, Jews in concentration camps, or terrorists hiding in caves.  (What is the drone if not the ultimate instrument in a video game?)  Nietzsche seems to suggest that this comes about "where one can no longer love;"  but he never takes on the question of either why or how one comes to the loss of that capacity.  Perhaps he saw the loss of love as one of those inevitable forces of nature, no different in category from a devastating flood;  and through his own objectifying lenses he saw those forces as being of little consequence in the grander scheme of things.  Can we be just as objective, or is it time to recognize that there are consequences that, too, cannot be passed unnoticed?

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