In praise of sublime Greek violence

Nietzsche turned 26 as the Franco-Prussian war was raging (above). He saw this bloodshed as a failure of culture. So he started thinking more deeply about culture and its most fundamental mandate: dealing with human violence. And he arrived at some very interesting insights.

He did this by weaving together two strands of his thinking:

  1. the nature of violence in humans, and
  2. the nature of ancient Greek civilization

This is a great example of the benefits of cross-fertilization between areas of expertise. That’s because Nietzsche was not yet what we would call a philosopher. Instead he was, by training and profession, a philologist, which at that time in Europe basically meant a classicist — somebody who studies antiquity, which in turn mainly meant studying the Greeks.

Nietzsche absolutely adored the Greeks of the classical era (as we do here on The Hannibal Blog). He believed that they were the first to elevate humanity by transcending violence. Here is how.

(This is based on pages 139-141 of Julian Young’s excellent philosophical biography of Nietzsche, which I am currently reading.)

I) Violence

First, according to Nietzsche, the Greeks were honest about the human instinct to violence, and that’s a great start.

The Greeks knew that they were just as capable of violence as the barbarians. (Just read Homer’s account of Achilles’ wrath, or Thucydides’s account of the rape of Melos.) So they accepted that violence was simply part of human nature. The question was what to do about that knowledge.

Pause here for a moment:

a) 19th-century context

In Nietzsche’s own time, this was already a radical interpretation. First, European academe (of which he was part) basically viewed the Greeks as serene and enlightened über-thinkers, as beyond violence. And second, European society (of which he was also part, at least at the outset) had adopted a Christian morality (which Nietzsche would later in his life set out to debunk) that considered violence sinful and tried to eliminate or even deny it. So Nietzsche was already being politically incorrect.

b) Our contemporary context

While no longer politically incorrect, this view is still controversial today.  Which is to say that we are still arguing about whether we are at heart peaceful, like our cousins the bonobos, or violent, like our other cousins the chimps. (Video via Dan.)

In any case, the Greeks recognized the chimps in us humans, but then went a crucial step further.

II) Agon

That step was to redirect and sublimate whatever violent energy there is in humans.

Rather than denying or suppressing human aggression (what Nietzsche would later call the “will to power”), the Greeks purified it through the filter of culture.

The result was agon — strife or, better, competition. That’s agon as in agonize, agony, protagonist and antagonist, et cetera.

Classical Greece was perhaps the most agonistic — meaning competitive — civilization in world history, surpassing even modern America. Everything was a competition:

  • poets such as Homer and Hesiod competed with words,
  • playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides competed with their tragedies — literally for an award given out during the Dionysian festivals at which their plays were performed,
  • Socrates and Plato competed with the Sophists, and the Sophists with one another,
  • orators like Demosthenes and Aeschines competed with their rhetoric, and
  • athletes competed at the Olympic Games.

The result was beauty such as this discus thrower, sculpted by a competitive artist of a competitive athlete:

Agon pervaded every single aspect of Greek culture. It was the nasty goddess of strife, Eris, reincarnated as “good Eris”. Bad Eris had started the Trojan War. But Good Eris, according to Hesiod,

drives even the unskilled man to work: and if someone who lacks property sees someone else who is rich, he likewise hurries off to sow and plant… Even potters harbor grudges against potters, carpenters against carpenters, beggars envy beggars and minstrels envy minstrels.

You can choose to see infinite parallels in our own time and lives. For example, culture succeeds when Good Eris enters a courtroom in an adversarial justice system such as America’s. Culture fails when Bad Eris takes her place.

In the name of peace, may humanity study the Greeks and learn to ‘agonize.’

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95 thoughts on “In praise of sublime Greek violence

  1. I turned 26 as the Hutus were busy chopping hundreds of thousands of Tutsis to pieces with machetes. Over here, we were all spell-bound by Kurt Cobain’s recent suicide and the O.J. killings.

    In the name of peace, may humanity watch Ghosts of Rwanda, probably the most chilling documentary regarding the nature of human violence I’ve ever seen.

  2. Not to be too contrarian but weren’t the Spartans also Greek? And wasn’t Sparta a martial society? I am not steeped in Greek history so I could use some clarification on this. Is this about the ascendancy of Athens?

  3. Thoughtful piece Andreas. I think I’m going to have to pick up that biography.

    For anyone interested in the beauty of greek sculpture you may be saddened to learn what I just discovered recently. Those gorgeous white marble statues were actually covered in garish primary colors like some technicolor nightmare. I wish I could unlearn that; sorry to spoil it for others in the name of historical accuracy.

    • I learned this many, many years ago… back in elementary school. The explanation I was given was that most statuary or sculptures were routinely painted to appear “lifelike”. When the Romans expanded into Greece, Greece was in decline, and weather and lack of maintenance had stripped much of the paint and gilt from the sculptures. Older sculpture was in great demand back in Rome as status symbols. Clever local Roman entrepreneurs began creating unpainted statues to sell to the wannabe’s. And the pattern was set. I do not know if that is true but it seemed logical then and still does.

    • I know. Awful. They did it to their temples, too. So the Acropolis was really parrot-colored.

      Amazing that they created such gorgeous shapes, and then distracted from them color. As though they were not aware how gorgeous the shapes were and thought they needed enhancing.

  4. Sublimating our aggression in competitive activities is certainly better than allowing aggression to be expressed in violence. But the line between the two is a very fine one. One can easily see how the more commendable form can easily regress into the baser form. So there needs to be some kind of mechanism staunching the regression. Nietzsche rightly fingers culture as one of those mechanisms. Is our culture then, one that glorifies violence, able to protect us from the dangerous aspect of ourselves?

    • bang on jeff!

      furthermore is competition really the best way to sublimate human aggression?

      are we on point – A?

      what about some very aggressive exercises in co-operation 🙂

    • I would say that all cultures glorify violence in one way or the other. Well, there may be a tiny few that do not but I am unaware of them. Sporting events served two purposes in the ancient world, I think. The first was to hone and exhibit martial skills and the second was to satisfy the competitive streak and channel that energy into something which fed public’s pride in its culture and its young men. I am wary of the concept that it was to reduce violence within the society.

    • All true. But Jeff left off with a question:

      “Is our culture then, one that glorifies violence, able to protect us from the dangerous aspect of ourselves?”

      Quite possibly Yes, to a large extent. Modern America definitely has aspects of ancient Greece. Football, video games, etc to some extent sublimate violence….

  5. This is where I strive to add something clever or insightful in a desperate attempt to compete with other Hannibal Blog followers. The alternative is throwing dishes.

    • darn jenney,

      i logged on just for your wit.

      seriously, i think this should be a “hot” topic. Andreas threw out a big fish and “Quite possibly Yes, to a large extent” seems so unsatisfying.

      is our current paradigm of win at all costs competition, in sport in work in the courts of law protecting us from ourselves?

    • @Andreas

      Big fish is what I try to throw. If you ever think I’ve tossed a minnow, protest.

      What’s so wrong about tossing out a little bait fish? Or maybe some chum for the sharks?

  6. It seems like a certain part of our society is at risk of slipping back into unconstrained violence. This is the part that consumes the violent aspect of our culture, ie, American football, videogames, movies like “300”, etc. This aspect of our culture probably is not be the best way to sublimate aggressive tendencies. But should we not allow such vicarious violence? Of course our society should instead emphasize the arts, sciences, and business. But should we infringe on people’s choice to consume this “culture”? In the end it seems like education is the problem, not so much our culture.

    • Education is PART of culture, no? In any case, now you’re getting into the liberal/libertarian realm, by asking whether we should allow people to consume imitations of violence. Unless they actually take the extra step and become literally violent, we cannot stop them, methinks.

    • @Andreas

      Unless they actually take the extra step and become literally violent, we cannot stop them, methinks.

      I would prefer “should not” to “cannot”…

  7. Since violence is almost wholly a male thing, and since it’s testosterone which fuels male violence, a solution to endemic violence would the mandatory castration of all males above a stipulated age.

    • hilarious phil! ;0

      basically reduce the men to “sperm donor status”! ouch.

      uh, i’m probably the only one laughing?

    • Actually, violence is almost wholly a YOUNG male thing. Has to do with evolutionary biology. Could we just give the 17-year-old lads an estrogen shot or something, to calm them down for a few years? That way, they could keep their jewels for their mellow later years.

  8. Everything was a competition is Classical Greece.

    how exactly did they decide “winner” and “loser” in a sculpture competition, and other non-athletic competitions?

    jenny… insert joke here.

    • @Phil (for setting the bait) and Dafna (for encouraging me):

      Phil, please know that I have assembled a group of concerned women to meet your proposed solution with violent opposition.

      True, within minutes, the collective had rejected the use of violence in any form as unladylike. However, we have other potent tools at our disposal: whining, wheedling, bitching, cajoling, nagging and shamelessly employing our wily charms. We may also resort to crying.

      We will not take this lying down! 😉

    • @ Jenny and Dafna

      My suggestion actually is serious. The innately violent male is a luxury our world can no longer afford. His psychology therefore has to change. Since his reading tomes by dead Greek and dead German philosophers won’t likely do this, his being castrated is the better option.

      With innate male violence surgically removed through castration, there would, for starters, be no more wars and no more rapes and no more unwanted pregnancies. In this way, and in other undreamed ways, our world would truly be transformed.

      There is, of course, the little matter of how the next generation would be produced. This would be looked after by having the male about to undergo castration, have a sperm sample taken, which would be stored under his name in a sperm bank.

      Should he subsequently meet the Beloved of his dreams, and wishes her to bear his children, and she says yes, she would be inseminated with his stored sperm.

      All this said, I don’t expect my eminently reasonable suggestion to bear fruit soon, if ever, because the male still runs things, and likely always will.

    • @Phil

      Has it crossed your mind that the problem may not be testosterone? It does not cause all males, or even the majority of them, to behave in a violent manner. It is a factor, not a cause. It is true that a reduction in testosterone also results in a reduction in aggressive behavior. But aggressive behavior is not always a bad thing. It is part of the reason that we take risks. It gives us test pilots, astronauts, entrepreneurs,football players, firemen, policemen, and capable soldiers who risk their lives to protect the rest of us.

      Your solution is, to be blunt, too simple. Sort of like that extra chromosome thing that was once thought to be behind criminal behavior. We are complex creatures and there doesn’t seem to be universal answers to any of our possibly inherent problems.

    • @ Phil

      Did it ever actually occur to you that your “solution” to violence is violence? Leave it to a male to think that is a good idea. Do you think males are just going to willingly agree to be mass castrated? To solve homelessness we could just execute the homeless too or when they freeze we could stack their bodies and build igloos to house other homeless. Jonathan Swift would be “proud” of your modest proposal.

      If I were you I’d also consider reading or watching A Clockwork Orange.

      @ morally sober commentators

      I think increasing trade is an practical path to reducing violence – opening markets healthily blends cooperation and competition.

    • @Andreas

      The world is so inter-connected through trade now that any attempt to invade and take over a 1st World country would through the world economy into the abyss. This was true even during the Cold War.

    • @ Andreas,

      Yes it appears I may have suggested trade has a bit more peacemaking power than I should have. I wouldn’t rule out its effects completely though. P.R. Goldstone of MIT found that trade can have both positive and negative effects.
      Nonetheless, some patterns emerge. Trade highly concentrated with a single partner correlates with conflict, as does a marked difference in states’ respec- tive dependence. At the same time, however, high levels of trade with the aggregate international market correlate with cooperation. The nature of the traded goods matters—trade in commodities with substantial strategic applications (e.g., oil or high-tech capital equipment) is most conducive to conflict.
      So I guess we should liberalize trade as much as possible rather than focusing on PTAs. He also goes on to explain how if the relative “losers” from trade have political power that is more likely to lead to conflict and vice versa. Some other studies do however find that when countries have democracy, increased economic interdependence, and participation in intergovernmental organizations they do have a reduced risk of war. Isn’t that the lesson of the European Union anyway?

  9. If you take away football, I will crawl through this ipad and kick your ass – and Cheri will be cheering.

  10. Sorry you all, violence is not reserved to men. Women can be most violent and destructive when they set their minds to it. The Greek Amazones cut off their right breast because it was a nuisance when they shot arrows at their enemies. Catherine the Great was one of the most cruel leader, save maybe Stalin, that the Russians ever had.
    I witnessed revolts in girl detention facilities where the destruction was total. Did you ever see dozens of Tempera glass powder pots reduced to glassy dust on a cement floor. A sturdy guard had his right harm broken becauses he did not want to hurt a girl.
    Lately battered men have begun to come forward and seek help to protect them from abusive wives.
    Male violence is mainly physical thus easier to see but Jenny has shown how women resort to psychological violence big time and t5hat can be even more damaging if not physicaly visible.
    I don’t know what should be cut away from women but if we apply Phil’s solution to women we will shortly have a mangled society.

  11. Many years? Yes 79 of them. Many women? One, for the last 45 years. Others I have known through my work with dysfu8nctional families and their members…occasionally within my own staff.

  12. @ Dan

    “…….Did it ever actually occur to you that your ‘solution’ to violence is violence……..?”

    Surgically removing testicles is no more violent than surgically removing an appendix.

    “……Do you think males are just going to willingly agree to be mass castrated…….?”

    No.

    However, males are still conscripted into armies despite that they don’t willingly agree to being conscripted.

    As it is for conscription, why not also for castration?

    “…….To solve homelessness we could just execute the homeless too or when they freeze we could stack their bodies and build igloos to house other homeless……….”

    You are painting with too wide a brush.

    “…….,If I were you I’d also consider reading or watching A Clockwork Orange……..

    I’ve watched the film many times throughout the almost now 40 years since it came out. Beethoven hasn’t been the same for me since.

    @ Paul

    “…….violence is not reserved to men. Women can be most violent and destructive when they set their minds to it…….”

    I don’t doubt this. However, men commit 90% and more of violent crimes.

    • Phil, I have known several instances of boys and girls arrested together for assault and battery. The boy was accused and brought before a judge. The girl was refered to youth protection for behavioural problems. In schools, girls prod boys until they blow up…and become victims???
      We, as males, are still too macho to admit feminine violence and authorities willingly turn a blind eye to it.
      A mother or possible mother, a giver of life, violent? Unheard of and carefully hushed up in stats.

    • Surgically removing testicles is no more violent than surgically removing an appendix. Umm… the difference seems to be pretty obvious: People agree to have their appendix removed to save their lives; forced castration would be almost the exact opposite.
      However, males are still conscripted into armies despite that they don’t willingly agree to being conscripted.
      As it is for conscription, why not also for castration?

      For one, I’m not a supporter of conscription. You’ll notice the US and many other civilized nations stopped that practice. Also, to conscript someone you have to be willing to commit violence against them if they refuse. What would you do to someone who refused (which would be the sensible thing I might add) castration? Lock them in jail? And if they resisted that because it’d be a morally injust infringement on their human rights – you’d have to violently force them (gun point probably), would you not? Do you really think forcibly castrating men isn’t violent!? Or no more violent than removing an inflamed organ that can cause their death?

      On the homeless analogy to illustrate your extreme suggestion; I could make a case that my satirical suggestion is actually less appalling than your actual recommendation. After all, collecting frozen corpses would happen after their death, not while they are living. It’d mitigate future homelessness by providing shelter to the downtrodden. It’s even a green solution! No more environmentally unfriendly building materials – we are cutting down our forests at an unsettling rate after all – also our new “building blocks” are even organic!

      Look I almost never throw out the Nazi card. But this is literally a policy the Nazis used. Except that they used it EVEN LESS universally than you are suggesting.

      I’ll put down my broad brush if you put down your capacious scalpel.

    • @Phil

      Surgically removing testicles is no more violent than surgically removing an appendix.

      Except that one is voluntary, the other is forced. And “forced” is always “violent.”

      However, males are still conscripted into armies despite that they don’t willingly agree to being conscripted.

      As it is for conscription, why not also for castration?

      This bit of inanity ignores the protests and riots over the US draft in the late 60’s, not to mention the draft riots of the Civil War era and the numbers who fled to Canada or dodged the draft in the aforementioned 60’s.

      I thought you were being facetious when you first suggested this, now I am a bit appalled at the fascism inherent in the suggestion.

  13. Gentlemen, I remember some months back reading on Phil’s blog that A) all the people mentioned in his profile were but one, himself, and B) that he was astonished that people seemed to take his writing seriously. I guess he is always writing tongue in cheek and has much fun reading our comments on his own provocative comments.
    Unless for some reason he is a castrato, I doubt he would volunteer to become one. My guess is he would join us on the barricades.

  14. Setting aside, for convenience, enquiry into the link between testosterone and violence, female violence and conscription, would you agree, Dan and Douglas that the victims, say, of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Berlin and London were neither consulted nor gave their consent?

    And Andreas, do you say that sublimation eliminates raw human violence?

    • @Richard

      I am not sure what you are trying to say here. Victims of violence rarely give their consent.

      As to the particular victims you mention, tacit consent is thought to be given by vote (Germany – election of Hitler and the NAZI party) or tradition (Japan – following the Emperor). We all are subject to the consequences of the actions of our governments. That, of course, is also the justification used by al Qaeda for attacking civilian targets, as well as by terrorists since the late 60’s.

    • @Richard: “And Andreas, do you say that sublimation eliminates raw human violence?”

      No. I’m merely relaying Nietzsche’s admiration for a culture in the past that “channeled” or “redirected” MUCH OF (rather than all of) raw human violence.

      Put it this way: If an energy is simply THERE, whether we like it or not, why not put it to use for something positive, wherever we can?

  15. If, Douglas, it is permissible to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki without the consent of those who live there, why is it not permissible to castrate without consent? Similarly, if it is permissible to bomb European cities without consent in the supposed furtherance or defence of civilisation, why is it not permissible to castrate for a like cause? The nature of consent is a separate question.

    If, Andreas, we accept that competition and violence are different manifestations of the same human trait and that we are considering humanity in general rather than individuals, do you, through Nietzsche, say that competition, rather than violence, is one of the defining marks of culture? Is there a distinction between competition and healthy rivalry?

    Is Phil enjoying it, Paul? That he puts the devil’s case in order to make us think does not necessarily mean he is in league with him.

    • @Richard

      If, Douglas, it is permissible to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki without the consent of those who live there, why is it not permissible to castrate without consent?

      Well, first you would need to recognize what made bombing the cities mentioned “permissible” (as you call it). It is called “war” and targeting of non-combatants (i.e. civilians) is not permissible under the Geneva convention. What made the bombings permissible was the military industries in those cities and the inability at that time to make surgical strikes.

      Second, individuals were not targeted by the bombings. They would be in a castration plan.

      Third, the efficacy of a wholesale castration program is highly questionable because testosterone is NOT the trigger factor for violence, it is merely ONE factor in the violence equation.

    • Without getting into the morality of specific bombings, battles, or wars – we don’t need the consent of those we’re fighting to use force to stop them from committing crimes against humanity. In a morally justified act of war, we’re not targeting innocent civilians (when we are or when we have: that would be morally wrong). Collateral damage is a can of worms I don’t want to get into now and doesn’t really seem germane to the discussion anyway.

      Universal male forced sterilization would be purposeful targeting of innocents. Not every male is a violent problem after all. It’s also ridiculous to punish people for the potential to commit crime, isn’t it? Not even the intent – the mere potential. Where does that end? Eugenics at best, probably. Disturbing.

    • Please explain your implied assertion this is a discussion about specific bombings, collateral damage and a just war, Dan.
      Are you able to define a crime against humanity in a way that separates warfare from other kinds of violence?

      Please explain your implied assertion that this is a discussion about international law, Douglas, and enlarge upon why individuals are not targeted, either intentionally or necessarily, in bombings.

    • @Richard
      Please explain your implied assertion that this is a discussion about international law, Douglas, and enlarge upon why individuals are not targeted, either intentionally or necessarily, in bombings.

      Because (a) you brought up the bombings of extra-national cities and (b) read the Geneva Convention.

      I really don’t like “red herrings”. You brought these issues up. I should have called you on the red herrings but didn’t, thinking you did it innocently enough.

      We, in the US, have something called “due process” which is mentioned in the 4th Amendment of our Constitution. We can’t even castrate sexual predators without their consent because it would be seen as “cruel or unusual” punishment which we are also protected from by our Constitution. These two things would seem to make a mass castration plan illegal in the US. Further musing on this, I think a Congress enacting such a plan would result in a revolt.

      Now, could we go back to rational and reasonable debate about violence in society?

    • @ Richard

      Please explain your implied assertion this is a discussion about specific bombings, collateral damage and a just war, Dan.

      Are you serious!? Thank you Douglas for already answering; this apparently needs to be hammered in a bit. (1) I specifically said this IS NOT a discussion about those things.
      “Without getting into the morality of specific bombings, battles, or wars” “Collateral damage is a can of worms I don’t want to get into now and doesn’t really seem germane to the discussion anyway.” Honestly, did you even read what I wrote? (2) I only brought those things up because YOU started talking about them. I was trying to respond to your ridiculous comparison. “If, Douglas, it is permissible to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki without the consent of those who live there, why is it not permissible to castrate without consent? Similarly, if it is permissible to bomb European cities without consent in the supposed furtherance or defence of civilisation, why is it not permissible to castrate for a like cause? ” Honestly, did you even read what you wrote?

      I’m not even going to respond to the other question. As you noticed, it just isn’t relevant. Phil has decided to stop making productive comments.
      “That’s for me to know and for you to find out.” “It’s difficult to please everybody.” “You’d find it boring.” I assume (or maybe “hope” is the word) that Phil realized his position is utterly indefensible so he’s ducking any responsibility to respond to my interrogation of his reasoning. I’ll hold out some faith that he’ll just admit his advocation of such a horrific policy was immoral and wrong. Can you at least concede that the policy would be violent, as I originally sought to point out? “Did it ever actually occur to you that your “solution” to violence is violence?”
      Phil, it isn’t a bad thing to recognize that your idea, which you probably just tossed out off the cuff, isn’t as moral or peaceful as you first estimated.

    • I do admit, Dan, that I was hoping later to justify my comments, but in the immediate context I was seeking, politely, to redirect your focus on to the issue of consent. Never mind.

  16. I didn’t expect that my suggestion that all males be mandatorily castrated to bring about a violence-free world would be debated as seriously and thoughtfully as it has been in the above comments.

    The issues raised may therefore deserve of wider currency.

    So, Andreas, how about you suggesting to your employers at the Economist that this topic be the subject of one of those future on-line debates which the Economist periodically stages?

    • I can foresee all the people jumping at the chance to advocate universal forced castration now!

      Sorry Phil, not sure The Economist would be able to find someone serious enough for their platform who’s had their sense of morality sterilized.

      I have to ask, why haven’t you (I’m know I’m making a bit of a presumption right now) had yourself sterilized/castrated? We have the technology to freeze your sperm as you brought to our attention before. I’m seriously interested in these answers – feel free to have a go at my previous arguments as well. Forgive my rhetorical shots, as you seem to have noticed, I and others are seriously considering your modest proposal and I really do find it ethically extreme and abhorrent, but I’d like to pry into your thought processes a bit. Oh, and have you considered the tailor-made-for-you phrase: “The Ends Don’t Justify The Means”?

  17. @ Dan

    “…….Sorry Phil, not sure The Economist would be able to find someone serious enough for their platform who’s had their sense of morality sterilized…….”

    Does the Economist know this?

    “……I have to ask, why haven’t you (I’m know I’m making a bit of a presumption right now) had yourself sterilized/castrated……..?”

    That’s for me to know and for you to find out.

    “…..I and others are seriously considering your modest proposal……”

    I’m glad to learn this.

    “……..I really do find it ethically extreme and abhorrent……..”.

    It’s difficult to please everybody.

    “…….I’d like to pry into your thought processes a bit……”

    You’d find it boring.

  18. @ Andreas,

    “… if we accept that competition and violence are different manifestations of the same human trait and that we are considering humanity in general rather than individuals, do you, through Nietzsche, say that competition, rather than violence, is one of the defining marks of culture? Is there a distinction between competition and healthy rivalry?

    i am interested in A’s response.

    i do believe that our current paradigm of win at all costs competition is synonymous with violence. it was one of jeff’s original points – “It seems like a certain part of our society is at risk of slipping back into unconstrained violence.” and yes, in a culture that glorifies violence, it does seem like competition is sometimes the only defining mark.

    so the alternative would be some form of “healthy rivalry” if such a thing exists? where the joy of competing can be just as satisfying as the joy of winning?

    please define healthy rivalry richard.

    as far as gonads going…. wouldn’t a more interesting question be, would one surrender theirs (after reproductive use) IF there were definitive proof it would lead to a non-violent state of being.

    • Thank you Dafna. For these purposes I’d say competition does not exclude the total destruction of your opponent’s ability to function and healthy rivalry avoids such extreme.

      For example, if a large grocery chain opens next to a small grocery business willing to make a loss in order to drive its opponent out of business and then raise its own prices, I would call that competition. If it seeks to make a profit and show how prices can be lowered by greater efficiencies and better service, then that is healthy rivalry.

      I agree with you about competition and violence.

  19. Since, Dan, we have not examined to a conclusion the relation of Phil’s proposal and consent, perhaps you will allow me to proceed direct to the object of that enquiry. That object is to ask you to say, if you will, why you align Phil’s proposal in particular with Nazism, ethical extreme and abhorrence and my consideration of it in general with support of eugenics.

    • @ Richard

      I suppose this is why I didn’t even want to bring up the Nazi example – another tangent. But I thought I was pretty clear: I linked to wikipedia explaining that Nazis forcibly castrated people. Is that really that difficult to make a jump between forced castration of particular groups to forcing castration of all males? Isn’t it actually more extreme? It’s not like the Nazis didn’t think they were acting toward a higher goal – they didn’t think they were evil. They just were. You may think forcing castration on all males is a good thing to prevent future violence, but as I’ve tried to argue: that is evil (or at the very least: violent – that was my original point, which I don’t see how that is in dispute).
      “By the end of World War II, over 400,000 individuals were sterilized under the German law and its revisions, most within its first four years of being enacted.”
      The connection with eugenics is clear (for one, that’s why the Nazis did it). Also, I was extending the logic of taking action against someone for the potential to do something. i.e. stopping males potential for violence before they have even committed any violent acts. Eugenics prevents the potential to pass on “abnormal” genes. The Nazis and other eugenics supporters wanted to “purify” humanity’s genetic makeup. Phil wants to “purify” male’s inherent nature by altering its “inherently violent” hormonal makeup.

    • @ Richard

      Did I say you have? I’m pretty sure I just directly answered your questions. If you’re confusing my “you may think” for saying “you think,” understand that I was making a rhetorical point. Reread the context. The “may” is the key word there. Feel free to substitute “one” for “you” if that makes it clearer for you.

  20. OK, so the question to me seems to be the following:

    “… if we accept that competition and violence are different manifestations of the same human trait and that we are considering humanity in general rather than individuals, do you, through Nietzsche, say that competition, rather than violence, is one of the defining marks of culture? Is there a distinction between competition and healthy rivalry?…”

    I guess I would say this:

    Competition is inherent in nature, not just in our own species. Males invariably compete for females, for instance. This often gets violent.

    Culture is therefore an overlay that CAN keep rivalries and competition “healthy” (meaning non-violent). Perhaps one culture can be deemed superior to another by the extent to which it does this. In the ancient world, Attic culture was therefore pretty impressive. Ruandan culture did rather badly more recently. Norwegian culture is on a roll. Etc.
    😉

  21. @ Dan, Richard

    To compare what I propose, to that which the Nazis did, is to compare chalk with cheese.

    The Nazis castrated selected groups of men whom they saw as totally different to themselves, and whom they did not like. I propose castrating people (men) who, as men, are not different to ourselves, and whom we don’t totally not like.

    Also, the intent of the Nazis was that they intended that the men they castrated not father any more children. What I propose contains the opposite – that men, by donating sperm before castration, can father children.

    These are huge differences, I’m sure you’ll agree.

    • @Phil

      Your proposal takes away the opportunity for enjoyment, momentary though it may be, of the fathering process.

      I wonder, have you volunteered for the procedure?

    • Me too, Jenny! This fascinating debate was leading to an examination of the nature of aggression and an enquiry into why an advanced civilisation suddenly resorts to primitive brute force. Unfortunately, it has descended to pejorative. Your intervention is soothing, very feminine and welcome. I weary a little and will take my leave.

    • I surmise that chimpanzees jumping up and down and screeching furiously at each other are saying the same sorts of things to each other in their chimp language as were said in sadly all too many of the above comments.

      Given that well-nigh all the comments appeared to come from males allegedly human, they were as good an example as any of innate male irrationality and stupidity.

      I too am weary and will take my leave.

    • I can’t help but assume that you two consider my comments part of the screeching chimp “irrationality and stupidity” that has “descended to pejorative.” I won’t spend my time focusing on the hypocrisy contained in that sentiment. But can someone please point out (if it applies to me) my “primitive brute force,” my “screeching,” and my “irrationality and stupidity?” I honestly thought I was just seriously engaging in your actual proposal to forcibly castrate all males. If strong language can’t be used to discuss a topic such as that I’m afraid you may be more interested in the lack of critical scrutiny than true debate.

      Was it the Nazi reference? Is it really “pejorative” to point out a direct connection to a policy if I actually believe it is comparable? I’m not calling you a Nazi; I’m pointing out the policy you advocate is a policy that Nazis used (even if for a different rationale). Anyone is welcome to refute that and I’ll happily recant.

      I didn’t spend the time to engage each of your arguments line-by-line in order to make frivolous personal remarks. Phil, how did you go from believing your suggestion was being “debated as seriously and thoughtfully” to believing the conversation was more primal shouting than honest consideration laced with a bit of humor? Most of my strongest comments even came before you acknowledged it was being debated with sobriety even if with vigor. What changed?

      I apologize if I gave anyone the impression I wasn’t commenting with the highest intentions for genuine discussion. I enjoy a good barb but always wrap it around an earnest argument; didn’t mean to sting anyone’s integrity. I thought we were being Greek. All the best.

    • How bizarre. I’m with Dan on this: Following your debate with enormous interest, I also assumed that you were all “being Greek”.

      In fact, I still think you were. That was good debate. have more of them.

  22. @Richard and Phil: There are other conversations.

    I have heard (from the Cohen brothers) that there is a land where all parents are strong, and wise, and capable; and all children are happy and beloved. I don’t know. Maybe it was Utah. …

    🙂

  23. Andreas, my friend, Haydn would have been a castrato had not his father intervened. What then might so many of us have been denied!

    It is hard to attend a dinner-party at breakfast-time.

  24. If anyone is interested I posted our debate on my blog in a more easy to read format. You’re probably all sick of it by now, but I thought it’d be worthwhile to collect it all and structure it a bit more coherently. Took me a while to do, I hope everyone is satisfied with my timeline choices. Given the tangents, I had to jump in time a bit to make it readable in a linear fashion while making sure nothing was logically out of context. I also wanted my readers (the foolish ones that don’t always follow Andreas’s every post*) to have an opportunity to read what I thought was a very interesting debate. All the best.

    • What’s weird? The edits? The comments on this site don’t go in order, say latest to earliest or vice versa. They line up depending on who you responded to. So, for example, even if Phil said something after Douglas, Douglas’s comment might appear first. So if you weren’t following the conversation as it occurred it is very difficult to follow logically (unless you choose to check every post by date and time (who does that?)). Also, some conversations overlap because of tangential issues. So I did my best. Anyone is welcome to suggest better edits.

      Of course, if that’s not what you were referring to, but just me posting it at all, well that’s just a personal preference thing. I was interested in sharing the conversation to other viewer on the internet (that’s what blogs do, right?) This wasn’t a personal conversation either so I wasn’t worried about betraying any ethics of privacy.

      Or maybe you meant it is weird that some people don’t always read The Hannibal Blog. That’s most likely and I’ll assume that unless otherwise noted. Cheers.

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