Repost Nietzsche’s imperfect shamanism

Nietzsche’s approach to philosophy is, above all, shamanistic, as Bataille recognizes in ON NIETZSCHE, where he speaks of Nietzsche as being someone subject to intellectual confusion in a way that brought out novel and divine perspectives.  I do, of course, paraphrase.

His writing clearly invites a mode of personal transformation. However, viewed as a form of shamanism, is an imperfect shamanism, which doesn’t really guide one to get to the bottom of the questions of existence experientially. There is too much incitement in his texts to emotionally embrace the values of the philosopher, for a completely investigative approach to be permitted.  His barbs and jibes about gender (for instance) are rhetorically loaded and emotionally appealing to many.

That his approach to philosophy is shamanistic all the same should not be in any doubt. His ethics, far from being non-existent or fascistic (two very superficial interpretations) are based around mastering one’s self. But, one does not begin to do so, unless one has already doubled one’s subjectivity, so that part of it becomes the master and the other part is the self that is mastered. It is this doubling of the Self that is quintessentially shamanistic, and the key to all shamanistic practice and insights.

That which Nietzsche condemns is that lack of self-awareness.  Without its ethical correlate, self-mastery, one would would not be able to develop the range of ethics that would be proper to one who one really was able to ascend the full ladder of one’s being, which means ascending the ladder of human knowledge through awareness of spiritual hierarchy (starting from inner awareness and developing outwards). Notably, the ‘Tarantulas’, those who wreak vengeance in the intellectual sphere, are condemned in Zarathustra not just for the principles that guide them to pursue their goals, but because of the evidence given by their characters, as viewed on a shamanistic level: They lack the right to do what they are doing since they have no internal reference points — that is, none of the self-knowledge that would come from shamanistic practice. Rather, they are completely “at one” with their behaviour in a negative cultural dimension, which means that it is behaviour without ethical considerations. As no genuine ethical dimension has ever been part of their experience, they are mere actors of values (know-nothings).

Here is the evidence he supplies for their lack of true knowing:

Their jealousy leadeth them also into thinkers’ paths; and this is the sign of their jealousy–they always go too far: so that their fatigue hath at last to go to sleep on the snow. [my bolds]


Note: it is not just their jealousy leading them to act as intellectuals that is problematised, but that from the shaman’s perspective (whereby the subject must necessarily double itself up to find its own self-appropriate ethics), that there is an inherent incongruity between their choice (to pose as intellectuals) and their ability to self-regulate their own choice. They are not masters of themselves as intellectuals, and so lack the right to claim this status. The incongruity between what they claim the right to, and what they actually have the right to, marks them as unethical. This is all a shamanistic approach to ethics.

Nietzsche’s approach to ethics is shamanistic, but that which he does not do, in his writing, (although the outlines of what it means to shamanise, alone, are pointed out in Zarathustra), is to tell his readers of how to get to the bottom of their beings, to the point where they can create this mode of shamanistic doubling, for themselves, and thus develop, on the basis of this psychological doubling, their own inner co-ordinates for an ethical life.

There is a reason Nietzsche’s variety of shamanism does not give us sufficiently knowledge about shamanistic means of self-development. Shamanism has traditionally been at home among hunter-gatherers and those of the lower socio-economic orders of various societies. The first principle of shamanistic knowledge and transformation is that one has to be thrown entirely onto one’s own devices, to help one’s basic survival. This kind of experience is very much more likely for you if you are living in the wild, or you are made a victim of the vagaries of class society (due to being found at the bottom of it). But Nietzsche wrote for those who were at least of the German middle-class.

Few from the ruling classes of society would have need to get to the bottom of their own psyches in the way that is necessitated for shamanistic thinking. The facilitation of a self-directed approach to ethics would thus have been far from these ruling types, in particular, due to their lesser need for a shamanistic approach (that leads to ethical self-governance) at all. They could more easily just rely upon brute power to keep up a comfortable social status, on the basis of principles that had no relation to self-knowledge.

On a practical level, self-knowledge is not so necessary for a ruling class type of person as it is for those who lack the material power to rule, and so must draw from the very depths of their beings to survive at all. But it was to the latter type of person that Nietzsche’s discourse would have had the most genuine resonance, for it is this type who is always on the verge of being shamanised. Instead, Nietzsche alienated this type of person, and chose to speak to those self identified “aristocrats” whose place in society would have provided them a comfortable buffer against shamanisation. This is why Nietzsche has been so badly misunderstood — interpreted exoterically and “comfortably”, rather than from the position of being in the throes of extreme discomfort (leading to self-doubling), which, in our capitalist age of false values and beliefs, is the only position from which one can make ethical decisions at all (now I sound Kierkegaardian!)

Whereas he intended to represent an approach to ethics that would have been more rigorous than any that are in conventional use today, instead his writing seems to have encouraged upholders of the status quo, fascists and misogynists, to think well of themselves — and to do so without any of the irony present in Nietzsche’s own way of thinking.  This failure is because they didn’t get where they wanted to be by their own efforts.   There was no attempt to grapple with the issues of life independently, but rather to take wisdom as cheaply as one thinks one can.

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