Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Evil of Equality

Is morality a handicap? Is equality actually an evil?

I ask these questions in reference to Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. After reading the first two essays and taking part in our class discussions, these ideas are what I have come to garner from Nietzsche’s work. He seems to be arguing that our system of morals is seeking equality—and he’s right—and that forcing unequal things to be equal is actually what is wrong with humanity. Our laws (at least in the United States) seem to seek equality for most, if not all people. Even simple laws such as a speed limit on the highway seek to equalize humanity, especially interstates with both minimum and maximum speed limits. Those with faster cars are expected to drive slower and those with slower cars are expected to drive above a certain speed or stay off the interstate. These laws are seeking equality in the way we drive. Nietzsche might argue that before the development of our system of morals, before we all became slaves, those with faster cars drove as fast as they could to demonstrate their speed, just like the strong display acts of strength to demonstrate that strength. However, because of our system of morality, those who are faster are told to move slower so they do not outdo the slower ones.

Is asking us to abide by laws that attempt to equalize us really just handicapping our natural abilities? This question came about when I started to see some similarities in Nietzsche and a short story by Kurt Vonnegut called “Harrison Bergeron.” The story is set in the future, in the year 2081, so Vonnegut seems to be suggesting that this is a kind of world our society is headed towards. Vonnegut writes, “The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.” If you’ve ever read this story, you know that most of the characters have been given handicaps to make them equal to everyone else. A man with a high intelligence is given an ear radio that he is required by law to wear at all times that sounds loud, obtrusive noises every 20 seconds or so in his ear to keep him from “taking unfair advantage” of his own mind. Basically, he is prevented from being able to think for too long so that he can’t actually use his intelligence to work anything out in his mind.

While obviously, our world has not yet come to these extremes, but what I feel like Vonnegut and Nietzsche are both saying is that what is really wrong is not that some people have more advanced abilities than others, but that they are not allowed to use them because of our morality that seeks equality of all people. So is morality really an evil?


  1. I would absolutely agree with you if you mean to say that the morality that we slaves have created (post-slave revolt in morality) is not evil, but bad, at least according to Nietzsche. What we find is that what was good is now evil, and what was bad is now good. So, in looking at it from a pre-revolt noble, we see that the slaves have, in essence, created a morality that upholds all that is bad (naysaying-ness, ugliness, etc.). While we may seek morality in our current vision of morality, Nietzsche would most certainly say that an equal society is a slavish one.

    I think what's really key here is the difference between bad and evil. I would think that what Nietzsche is driving at here is the viewpoint of the pre-revolt good versus the post-revolt good. Hopefully, I'll delve further into this for my blog post.

  2. I find it interesting in that the Übermensch seems a largely self-sufficient creature, while it seems equally clear to me that an Übermensch would be a master. A lone man is not as strong as the master, who can stand upon the shoulders of the slave. Perhaps therein lies some of the Übermensch's greatness (in "mastering" others).

    On another note, I feel a similarity in talking of Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith and Nietzsche's Übermensch. I am certainly neither one, and my distance from these characters shapes my understanding of them. I am tentative in even saying "understanding," as Kierkegaard tells us we cannot understand his Knight. Nietzsche finds in his Übermensch a similar unattainability, in that Übermenschen are men who shape their own values, the likes of which we have yet to encounter.

  3. I think that while what the slave class has done might have expressed it self as equalizing the population, i think that is not necessarily correct. because equality means that both sides are brought to the middle. Where as what the weak do is not act and make the strong limit their action, they just order the strong to quit acting completely. Not even order, so much as manipulate the social situation so that action is seen as bad. That being said, i think you are right in pointing out that the way that the strong not acting is seen as being equalized precisely because the week are competing with them.

  4. In response to Will's comment:

    I'm not sure that the Ubermensch would be a master of slaves. Mastering slaves usually involves a stronger force taking possession of a weaker one. However, Nietzsche explains that the Ubermensch has no interest in mastering those he is stronger than. He loves his enemies, because they are more like rivals than people he considers evil. He seeks to compete with them in order to express his strength.

  5. Just being picky, I don't agree that equality is really both sides meeting in the middle. I used this word specifically as the two groups being equalized, not compromising. To meet in the middle would imply compromise but equalizing simply means they are made the same. Having the strong brought down to the level of the weak counts as equality to me.

  6. Interesting that you bring up Harrison Bergeron - I think it illustrates something that's pretty fascinating about the leaders of the weak. In that story, when Harrison revolts, he's shot by the scary lady in charge of the whole society - clearly an act of some strength. She's also generally exerting herself over the population, as are the priests in charge of the slave revolt. I don't think these people qualify as legitimately "good," but I do think it's interesting that the "power" of the weak is contingent on those stronger people leading the charge.


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