On Nietzsche’s “Last Man”

Alright… I confess it. I fibbed. After promising some relief just yesterday from the daily bombardment of postings, here I am once again. But I did say, after all, that I would cease for a spell unless something of significance transpired, and that occurred sooner than I expected. Two events worth commenting upon, in fact: the resignation of Minister Peter Mackay from the Conservative government, and the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the inquiry into the Indian Residential School system.

As you know, I worked for a while as a communications consultant with the Aboriginal Healing Project, which was conceived as a project to overcome the destructive legacy of the Indian Residential School system and the collective trauma colonialism inflicted upon the First Nations. My “bridge-building” role in the project was to try interpret the European mind to the aboriginal mind and, vice versa, the aboriginal mind to the European, and additionally, to contribute something to healing the still open and festering wound caused by the Residential School system — the gap between the younger and older generations of aboriginal people. In that sense, my task could be described as addressing the problems of inter-cultural and inter-generational conflict and confusion.

Yesterday’s final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came as a bit of a surprise even to those of us who are familiar with the destructive legacy of the Indian Residential schools. We were aware that some 4,000 children had died while in the schools, but the Commission’s conclusion that it was closer to 6,000 children (and that even that was a conservative estimate) still comes as something of a shock. Those of us who were investigating the history and legacy of the Residential School system concluded that it was essentially a policy of “cultural genocide”, a kind of genteel or “respectable” form of genocide. The Commission of inquiry has concluded the same. It’s difficult to see how it could have concluded otherwise.

The destructive legacy of the Indian Residential School system — a policy bluntly expressed then as “killing the Indian in the child” — was, in effect, first practiced against the Scottish clans by the English, and was imported as a solution to the “Indian problem”. But in effect, it was an early implementation of that pernicious and perverse doctrine which is still known as “creative destruction”. The schools did not exist to in-struct, but to de-struct. That was their prime directive and it was carried out to the extreme in the inhuman (or “all-too-human”?) indifference shown to the extreme mortality rate of children in the schools, or the induced attitude of aboriginal self-loathing that afflicted those who survived that devilish policy.

The present government acknowledged that in an official apology and formal ceremony in Ottawa a few years ago, when it could no longer be denied or ignored. Even then, the actual sincerity of that apology was questioned. I still don’t give it much credit myself, since the perverse attitude which created the monster in the first place have not really changed all that much, if at all, since it is still encapsulated in the notion of “creative destruction”.

Lip-service, in other words. And amongst the “spiritual diseases”, this is the very worst. We mouth the words, but our heart and soul is not really in them. It’s all merely formulaic and pretense. We presume to honour certain values and we mouth the words “integrity”, “truth”, “transparency”, “honesty” but without any awareness as to their actual meaning, obliviously. This is that “trance-like” state that some people speak of. It is the spitting image of Nietzsche’s decadent “Last Man” (or as some translate it also, “Ultimate Man”).

And that brings me to the resignation of Mr. Mackay, and why I hold that these two events are connected. The Newfoundland Telegram didn’t hold back any punches in describing Mr. Mackay as a “serial liar”, and in a government that is rather given to deception and lip-service as its modus operandi. And yet, Mr. Mackay has been a “successful” politician presumably precisely because he is an effective prevaricator (due to his supposed “charm”). We call such people “con-men” normally. Yet, the very same people who have elected politicians like Mr. Mackay to high office repeatedly will speak glowingly about the need for “principle”, “integrity”, “transparency and accountability”, “truth”. We mouth the words, but we don’t seem to comprehend their real meaning. That’s lip-service. There’s sentience, but without consciousness; or, to put it differently, consciousness without awareness. We speak the words, but we don’t understand their meaning.

Jean Gebser referred to this as the “compartmentalisation” of the modern mind. It’s what George Orwell called “double-think” as the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in the mind. We recognise that when we say “lights are on, but nobody’s home” or “the left-hand not knowing what the right-hand is doing”. Lip-service is pretense and prevarication because there is no consonance between what we say and what we do. And more recently, this same situation of the “compartmentalisation” of the mind and dissonance has been called “symbolic belief”.  Rosenstock-Huessy called “lip-service” the disease of decadent ages — their specific form of nihilism.  Words flow, but without the power of conviction. They are insincere.

So, when the present government issued its official apology for the trauma of the Indian Residential School system and the policy of “cultural genocide” or assmilation, it was without any real insight into the meaning of these things. And it remains without insight. Lip-service is a degenerative disease of the social order. It’s the disease of the reactionary mind.

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3 responses to “On Nietzsche’s “Last Man””

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I might add to the above, the probable etymology of the word “sincere” is sin + caries, meaning “without decay” or “against decay”. That etymology tells you something about the disease of insincerity as a “spiritual disease” and as the specific degenerative disease of decadent ages. It is also, of course, connected to Nietzsche’s formula for nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”. Decadent ages are, consequently, also quite cynical ages.

    And we’ve become pretty rich in both these things — insincerity and cynicism. Those are the symptoms of an age that has become over-ripe, and has already exceeded its sell-by date.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    I believe in divine justice because no one can settle such inter-time horrid perversion without the all-knowing. Talking about it only causes us pain, even though exposing the truth is very vital in the way of correction. Every story has an end. Killing children remind me of the similar tale in the time of the Pharraoh as if history is a recurrent story with different characters. We are all in a state of constructive wait.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    There’s probably not even a week that goes by that I don’t find myself at war with this fake sincerity of the Last Man.

    Within the organization I work for, I’ve found that the most effective method of confronting insincerity is with patience and a quiet gathering of evidence against the insincerity that was perpetrated. It is one of those rare occasions, probably, that the mental-rational method works beautifully, as you set forth a long trail of evidence of actions taken in contradiction of the spoken words stated in meetings and various organizational venues.

    This is truly a “spiritual disease,” because there is no justifiable economic or physical reason for the insincerity. There was never a threat to begin with.

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