Thus Spake Greta Thun-Berg
The transcendent neoliberal capitalist order may be invulnerable to blows struck by the weapons of slaves. But it will disintegrate in the presence of a stronger master.
Critique — the practice of evaluation, discernment, and judgment — is the foundation of modern critical theory. Its low expressions reside in reproach and rebuke, manifest in the finding of fault — “We are good because we are not you.” Such critique — says Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morals —belongs to the morality of slaves.
What of the morality of nobles? The very opposite — a code that exists not to impugn but to affirm. Noble morality acts and grows spontaneously, seeking out its antithesis only in order to affirm itself more thankfully and more joyfully. Not “we are good because we are not you” — but! “See me, I am good! You are bad because you are less than I!”
Genealogy is Nietzsche’s interrogation of slave and noble moralities. Slave morality, he contends, is always contingent on an opposing, outer world—an ‘other,’ a ‘non-self ’ — an entity to critique! Indeed, without external stimuli, slave morality cannot act. So there it idles, in lowly and insuperable dependency — its actions mere reactions.
All noble morality, conversely, “grows from a triumphant affirmation of itself.” It is active and creative, suffused with power and energy. The noble’s negative concept, ‘low,’ ‘common,’ ‘bad,’ is but a derived, pale contrast to its positive basic concept, abounding in life and passion — “We the noble, we the good, we the beautiful, we the happy ones!’”
Slave morality conceives itself by its eternal “no,” but is this really an act of creation? — presence of absence is still an absence; don’t be fooled by foolish and wordy word games! The slave is always behind, always lagging, trying vainly to overcome by re-action what the nobles affirm through action. How futile — and yet this is critique? It has stooped this low!
Nietzsche traced the arc of the two moral doctrines. Slave morality has won out in the West, he thought — the church assured that noble morality was snuffed out, and a world of abnegation and asceticism born. We see, then, the sickly slave-moralists standing before us: the high priests of modern critical theory. And where is their reviled adversary — the affirmative master of our times? From the days of Reagan-Thatcher, its identity has become clear — and its doctrine, spreading, has blackened the land like a pool of oil.
Neoliberal capitalism: this is the new way of the world. Powerful and self-affirming, it not only sustains itself through its activity, but actually grows itself! — think compounding interest. Neoliberalism, the world-builder — in terms both physical and ideological, it has constructed our contemporary reality. So is this indeed Fukuyama’s infamous end of history? The end of the conflict between slave and noble morality? Or just another indefinite postponement — this time with the noble doctrine firmly installed — that Nietzsche foretold years ago?
And what’s this? Another dark workshop? — the university perhaps? Let us describe what we see… another false shimmering light! Look at those tools over there, forged in darkness yet still emitting a dull glow from the dirty kiln. Biopolitics, affect, feminism, speculative realism, posthumanism, ideology critique, performativity, semiotics… — and what’s that huge one? Marxism — oh yes this is an excellent view… we can see all the tools from here. And how well made they are!
But hark! — the mumbling and the whispering, the lies being told — they say their tools are weapons! And against this neoliberal beast they take up their arms, assailing it again and again. “This will be the blow to finally break through!” they think… Yet they are wrong. These poor slave moralists — the critical theorists of today!
As slaves, they toil in vain — they toil in their Critique! What is to be done? In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche traces the transformation of human spirit into camel, lion, and child. The camel bears the burdens of disagreement — these are many around the world. The lion confronts the Thou Shalt Dragon with its Sacred No. But even this is insufficient — the child is needed, that Sacred and Creative Yes. Now, the tradition of critique followed this very path— but it became stuck at the lion, locked in eternal battle with the dragon, the slaves in permanent revolt against the nobles! To establish their own noble line, the slaves must become children — they must create their own affirmative morality.
If critique is to rescue itself, it must create as a child does, and affirm as a noble does. Critique must become active. Otherwise it will always be reactive. The slaves will always lag the master, unless they become masters themselves!
But how can this be done? — the tools! Of course the tools — those long and vainly clattered against the master doctrine. The agents of critique, in thrall of delusion — we saw this in their dark chamber — forge their tools and proclaim them weapons. But tools are tools, not weapons — they build, they create, they make active, they construct! Keep the workshop running, we are in need of tools, but recognize them as such — build, create!
This is the challenge Nietzsche issues critical theorists in an age of neoliberal dominance: refutation is not enough, we need replacement! Our tools are sturdy, if used properly — not as weapons! Organize, collectivize, come together, practice, do, construct, create, affirm, replace. Critique can use itself to move beyond itself, to evolve from a negative discourse into a positive one. This is the only way the new master will ever be overcome. Creation from condemnation is not creation at all. However, condemnation that stems from creation is creative in full.
The tools — biopolitics, affect, feminism, speculative realism, posthumanism, ideology critique, performativity, semiotics, Marxism — are objects of value, wrought by human hands. They must not be abandoned. Understand: the transcendent neoliberal order is invulnerable to blows struck by the weapons of slaves. But it will disintegrate in the presence of a stronger master.
By cultivating alternate practices, alternate forms of social organization, alternate materialities, alternate spaces — new masters will emerge. This will be the result of critical theory’s having answered the Nietzschean challenge to re-reverse the evaluating gaze and direct its focus inward.
To say: Yes, this is good! Yes, this is better than that, which is bad! Yes, this is healthy and supportive of life’s flourishing! This is the true task of critique — to foster a positive spirit, to develop an affirmative praxis. Affirmation from negation brings a dull edge. Negation from affirmation has teeth! Refute refutations, Nietzsche writes, but as befits positive spirits, seek replacement, seek anew, seek to renew — and renew that you may seek!
To critique — so long as you remain a ‘negative’ discourse you will forever be futile. The No is no longer enough — it never was.
To neoliberalism — You are bad because you are not this good! But what is ‘this good’? — This is the point!