UNBOXED: Nietzsche & the Tightrope Walker between Morality & Nihilism
Nietzsche, the great mustachioed one, said that if we want to be great individual, revolutionary thinkers, we each must take an individual stand between the twin dangers of morality and nihilism.
Morality, the dogmatism, laws, traditions, and rules of the cultures that surround us, can prevent us from thinking critically and improving ourselves and our culture. However, if we question everything, this can lead to excessive skepticism and doubt, nihilism, such that we believe in nothing and do not have the courage and passion to take an individual stand and create new meaning and truth.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche uses the symbol of the tightrope walker to stand for the individual who balances between opposite sides. We must have the courage to learn from the morals, rules and dogmas, as well as question them freely and critically, taking from them what we each individually choose for ourselves. We can each use dogmatism and skepticism as we want to to create new truth and meaning, transforming the old. This became central to Existentialism, and then later Poststructuralism and Postmodernism.
All new thinking is dangerous and risky, but if we are afraid to think for ourselves, we do not take the risk that could pay off and be revolutionary. The history of religion, law, philosophy and science is made by great individuals who take the leaps that inspire everyone else. Those who think outside the box are the ones who get to change the box.
Nietzsche inspired other great thinkers to question reality. Heidegger said we can be boxed up by our use of time and technology. Sartre said we can be boxed up by social roles and social class. Fanon said that we can be boxed up by racism, institutional and internalized. Foucault said we can be boxed up by institutions that divide the normal from the abnormal, the criminal from the legal, and the sane from the insane.
By learning from these skeptical thinkers, we do not get a recipe or rulebook as to how we should be great individuals or what we should choose to do. Instead, we see how we are boxed up, so that we can think outside the box and about the box, to choose how to think and how to live.