On Thursday evening I sat in on one of Dan Fincke’s online courses on Nietzche, during which time we read part of Thus Spake Zarathustra. It was a very interesting couple hours and I learned much. I had never read Nietzsche before and only really knew of him from reading H.L. Mencken and I was struck by how similar their views were on a great many subjects. Dan is a terrific teacher, offering insights into the text that had missed me completely several times. And this passage from the book really spoke to me. He’s describing these three transformations, from camel to lion to child.
All these heaviest things the load-bearing spirit taketh upon itself: and like the camel, which, when laden, hasteneth into the wilderness, so hasteneth the spirit into its wilderness.
But in the loneliest wilderness happeneth the second metamorphosis: here the spirit becometh a lion; freedom will it capture, and lordship in its own wilderness.
Its last Lord it here seeketh: hostile will it be to him, and to its last God; for victory will it struggle with the great dragon.
What is the great dragon which the spirit is no longer inclined to call Lord and God? “Thou-shalt,” is the great dragon called. But the spirit of the lion saith, “I will.”
“Thou-shalt,” lieth in its path, sparkling with gold—a scale-covered beast; and on every scale glittereth golden, “Thou shalt!”
The values of a thousand years glitter on those scales, and thus speaketh the mightiest of all dragons: “All the values of things—glitter on me.
All values have already been created, and all created values—do I represent. Verily, there shall be no ‘I will’ any more. Thus speaketh the dragon.
My brethren, wherefore is there need of the lion in the spirit? Why sufficeth not the beast of burden, which renounceth and is reverent?
To create new values—that, even the lion cannot yet accomplish: but to create itself freedom for new creating—that can the might of the lion do.
To create itself freedom, and give a holy Nay even unto duty: for that, my brethren, there is need of the lion.
To assume the right to new values—that is the most formidable assumption for a load-bearing and reverent spirit. Verily, unto such a spirit it is preying, and the work of a beast of prey.
As its holiest, it once loved “Thou-shalt”: now is it forced to find illusion and arbitrariness even in the holiest things, that it may capture freedom from its love: the lion is needed for this capture.But tell me, my brethren, what the child can do, which even the lion could not do? Why hath the preying lion still to become a child?
Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea.
Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy Yea unto life: ITS OWN will, willeth now the spirit; HIS OWN world winneth the world’s outcast.
Three metamorphoses of the spirit have I designated to you: how the spirit became a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.—
Thus spake Zarathustra.
I love the idea of calling the dragon “Thou Shalt.” The camel must transform into the lion and slay the dragon, which represents the idea of morality as a list of rules commanded from above — thus the “thou shalt.” But then the lion must transform into the child and learn anew to think about morality. I think this parallels the transition from religion to atheism and then, for me, to humanism.
In order to construct a new set of values, one must first reject the “thou shalt” conception of morality, but that is not enough by itself. That’s the “holy nay” that he speaks of. It’s necessary but not sufficient. The next step, perhaps ironically, parallels the great evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer’s book and documentary entitled How Should We Then Live? Once we have rejected, said “nay” to “thou shalt,” what then? How should we treat one another? What are our obligations to one another? I find the answers to those questions in secular humanism, in the application of reason, compassion and shared humanity.
We had an interesting discussion about whether Nietzsche should be considered a humanist. Dan thinks he should in the broad sense and I would agree, but there is an anti-egalitarianism in his views that I think is decidedly anti-humanist, at least as I conceive of humanism. This is why I love having really smart friends who have experiences and knowledge that I don’t have. This, too, is an important part of humanism.