Evil Compassion

If we immoralists do harm to virtue? No more than anarchists do to princes. Only after they’re shot do they again sit firmly on their throne. Moral: one must shoot at morality. –Nietzsche

There is a necessary — but only because morality is so stubborn in its “necessities”! — link between evildoing and the exploration of the human possibile, for such research inevitably breaks with is expected from standard behaviors and outlooks, from whatever is predictable based on a known arrangement of the world. Where humans are increasingly dispensible and submitted to the harshest homogenization of character, the pursuit of the possible demands insistent and thoroughgoing insubordination, an active combat against all aesthetic and moral conditioning, and a rigorous skepticism regarding the validity of every horizon and every rule. There is then no way to avoid doing violence to the known patterns and, moreover, to those with whom one interacts intimately — those whose patterns one often surveys with discomfort, and regularly with disgust. It follows that there is no way to avoid feeling guilty for this exploration and the rejections, the recoil from the comfortable, that it implies, though this “transgression” only is one from the side of regulation, whereas from the side of exploration, it appears a liberation, albeit one at the limits of conscious control and always risking a measure of criminality and abuse — for it means experiencing, “the terrible cleavage which separates [us] from everything that is customary or reputable.”

Unless of course one has been disabused of their adherence to cultural “meaning-well,” to the paranoid and backward glances that seek common recognition and approval, and has replaced complacent irony with an irritating battle for truth. Such a one begins not from disenchantment, negation, and critique, nor from some will to infringement, but from an affirmative existential ingenuity that reckons with its highest chances within the circulating All constantly being revealed — the main playground of interaction and intervention,  the one thing worthy of its Dionysian faith. It was Nietzsche’s ambition to harden his readers against all flimsy forms of sympathy for humanity, understanding that “man” was an undefined animal: a promise, a transition, a bridge toward another form of life acutely aware of its own eternity — its own style of arrowing into the unknown, its refusal to believe in the flimsiness of that uncourageous being so inhibited in his language and his manner, so caught in dull desires and fears: the modern liberal man. Instead: an explosive clandestinity whose every artifact is dynamite, ready to release its mercurial energy and spark off new paths; a posthumous tenacity that knows how to overflow and waste itself forever; an “evil compassion” that knows the depths and correct consequences of pity…

What is nihilism? It is to believe that the limits of a situation, and thus the limits of what is possible for us in it, are known with certainty, that they could never stretch beyond these supposed “limits”; in other words, that determinations of the given (its coordinates, its variables, its layout of finite beings) are adequate to determine action, or constrain it absolutely (this bias in fact liquidates the possible, turning it into nothing more than an extension of “reality”). Nihilism is then an excuse to not experiment with morality; to not disrespect boundaries and cross limits, sensible or conceptual; to not challenge norms of thought, presentation, behavior; to not work in the strong poetic sense of the term, where work implies singularization of and participation in the general intellect or a generic truth; in short, to not make of oneself an unbending antagonistic element in the world that is in no way and nowhere identical to anything that is. But we know that such denials of potentiality lead to interminably confused comportments, leaning now towards cynicism, hatred, and hopelessness, now towards a frantic and paranoid fixation upon every global horror from terrorism to populism, now towards a freewheeling acceptance happy to dance out its frustrations, a facile generosity that pontificates about love’s power, all modes of an insidious “let it be” attitude that binds us to the so-called present and accustoms us to the monotonous run of a lost citizen: a beetle who sometimes sparkles in the sun like an opal but for the most part buzzes around in darkness, ignored — unless of course it infests something…

Nihilism is a belief in the sufficiency of any determination of what is, of how it is, of how one is, of what the future will be, in short, of what can or even might be (known, created, changed, destroyed). To turn one’s back on this presumed sufficiency of the thought-world necessarily leads to offense — but offense is not the goal, nor the non-nihilist’s point of pride; it is rather an effect of the search for future causes, for novel grounds of creativity not legitimated by any given situation or horizon of sense — causes that remain essentially unknown and suspended in their sufficiency, thus in constant contact with their own evental conditions, their own force of potential and means of invention. In Nietzsche’s words: “Excess force in spirituality setting itself new goals.” Bataille adds the following: no one can go to the limit of the possible on their own. Our behavior toward friends must be motivated: to shake them from their torpor, their sufficient egos and work-projects; to violate their good sensibility of self; to reduce their attachment to the appearing world to a minimum; in short, to declare war on them for them — for the war we believe they are on the verge of realizing they are. Such prodding gestures, which are never guaranteed to suceed and indeed seem futile from the point of view of worldly “effectivity,” must be as politically charged as they are symbolically challenging. They must be flexible enough to enter individuation processes without alienating the target audience from the generic potency of their life-world. In the end, the most basic sufficiency to be denied is that of ‘myself’, of being qua being, of any totality of consciousness whatsoever — for this alone can genuinely open the floodgates of creative expenditure.

For explosive beings, personal life seems to fall into shatters because it stops looking after itself and its preservation — but again this is only an effect of the search for intenser causes and new goals; it only looks “necessary” from the perverted and hegemonic perspective of person-moralities. The latter will always seek to calm the nerves and restore harmony; it will seek psychological explanations or hide behind historical details; it will try to dismiss the ennerving quality of every artefact that does not readily fit within a universalizing frame. Whereas a veritable theater of cruelty emanantes from whoever has loosened the grasp of these shit-based economies of presence, in comparison to which the nothingness of opening toward “possibility beyond measure,” this infinite “dance inside out” (Artaud), actually looks quite scrupulous and discreet. Their efforts, dedicated to a humanity of-the-last-instance, could only be labeled “evil” by those already programmed beyond hope by the lie of “lifetime value” — of beetlehood. For the beetle can hardly do more than “dance on its own,” swear it’s only human, and imagine a world in which everyone “lives for today”; its only salvation is the ephemeral moment it respiritualizes or reinvests with selfhood and deep meaning however it likes; its dreams are calculated like pathetic bucket lists, or else flow through pipes corroded by a thousand cliche-chemicals and market additives; its imagination stretches no farther than the known kerfuffle; it contrives to brainstorm what should be done but only generates an endless commentary that transforms no one because it fails to transform itself in the process; it could not stand to be resurrected, and so it dies tomorrow…

Who is this beetle, the addressee of all this “vitriol”? Can its accuser really be so “conceited”? We couldn’t bear to see such a monster in person; he must be seething! — So speak the last men and blink, thinking they have heard yet another resentful, critical discourse. Why? Because they deal in packages whose dimensions are knowable and dish out judgments that are just as small and compact; because they have no nose for expressive tendencies, for vectors of futurality, for the sort of effort and offensiveness necessary to let man pass beyond his moral prejudices; because he can only see anger and prohibition and limitation here; because he does not know how to put the shame he legitimately feels to good use; because he can only view action as a minor modification of fate and happiness in his own sphere and, looking for a recipe for health and happiness, has no idea how the displacement of the certainty-center can “change everything”; because he is a nihilist who feels little more than remorse and resentment in himself, who knows nothing but his beetle shell, who believes in gravestones and lacks all sensitivity for “impossible symbolic exchanges” (Baudrillard); because, finally, he does not yet understand the necessity of evildoing — of demolishing the democratic fetishes and familial fantasies that hold humanity hostage to figures like the town drunkard, the disgruntled customer, the angry voter, the husband snoring in his man cave, the woman dissatisfied with her looks, costumes so imposed by the culture industry that those who wear them cannot help but identify with them and worry about their figure, their image, and their happiness, thinking it’s all on them, without any idea of how to disengage or disrobe — indeed, who are we addressing if not these nihilists of blind passivity who suffer the paralysis of one seized in a night terror?

Yet let us not wake them too soon. Let us not sympathize with their hurt so mechanically. Let us not console them with easy words of consolation and morale-boosting, for we know what deep slumbers that could unleash. For we know it is a disservice to stroke a weak conscience and sooth it with gracious, premature words. Let them instead burn in the purgatory of their own unambition; perhaps they will understand that at stake here is an evil one does to oneself in seeking alternative causes — that such evil might even prove to be compassionate, the only way to respect humanity and honor what it could be.

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5 Responses to Evil Compassion

  1. Rex Styzens says:

    This deserves an adequate response, but that could only be 3 or 4 volumes of commentary. I have to settle for noticing how you demonstrate that philosophy still has something to say to current events. The ambiguity of the concluding sentence is a delight. The specifics of the preceding text provide the fire. Very satisfying in a tremble.

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