Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nietzsche on Pleasure and Displeasure

"Displeasure" and "pleasure" are the most stupid means imaginable of expressing judgments; which naturally does not mean that the judgments made audible in this manner must be stupid. The abandonment of all substantiation and logicality, a Yes and No in the reduction to a passionate desire to have or a rejection, an imperative abbreviation whose utility is unmistakable: this is pleasure and displeasure. It originates in the central sphere of the intellect; its presupposition is an infinitely speeded-up perception, ordering, subsumption, calculating, inferring: pleasure and displeasure are always terminal phenomena, not "causes."  -Nietzsche, The Will to Power, A. 669
 This is why I love Nietzsche; I laughed my ass off when I read that first line. But going on:
The decision about what arouses pleasure and what arouses displeasure depends upon the degree of power: something that in relation to a small quantum of power appears dangerous and seems to require the speediest defense, can evoke, given the consciousness of greater power, a voluptuous excitation and a feeling of pleasure.
All feelings of pleasure and displeasure presuppose a calculation of utility and harmfulness to the whole; in other words, a sphere where an end (a state) is desired and means for it are selected. Pleasure and displeasure are never "basic facts."
Exactly. This is very praxeological thinking. We know, somewhere in our minds which center on elevating ourselves in the world, that little things with no biochemical reason to incite pleasure still manage to make us feel great. If you get twenty bucks back from your cellphone company because you overpaid your bill, then okay, that's nice. If you get twenty bucks back from your cellphone company because you think they screwed you, and you've been haggling with them for hours on the phone in order to set things back to the way it should be, then you've won a victory. It's much more satisfying. We love it when our side wins, in football or politics or just when we argue in a bar, the group we identify with having unquestionably risen in esteem and power. The material benefit are totally secondary; a good steak is good, but it's great when we get it for free or get it because we won a bet. We live our lives in the sphere of power; we want our bills paid off, even if we've been running on automatic Billpay for years and we haven't wasted any amount of time handling said bills for as long. The greater income on its way and its material benefits are nice, but it doesn't fully encapsulate what it means to be debt free. And owning our own business has a satisfaction all its own, even for all the stress it creates; we know full well in all these situations, a burden has been lifted, a dependency or obligation relieved. An inequality of power has been righted, and it's not the point to reach for a position of equality, so long as we know the scales have tipped in our favor.

Sexual predation always come down to questions of power. Maybe some fully disconnected asshole guys do it just for the sensation of busting a nut, but for most part, it always seems to be a power game gone horribly awry, the subtle dynamics of affection meaningless in their eyes. Feminists recognize this, with the correct moral assumption that the sexual playing field is forever rightfully turned in favor of the woman. They decide. Can a decent man ever be satisfied having acquired sex by means other than through the desire of the woman for him? Aren't force or rohypnol comparatively unsatisfying and, in the end, far more frustrating for how he had to circumvent her preferences in order to get what he wanted? Didn't he want it because it meant that she wanted him? It has to be that way. Women have tremendous power over men. Their expectations can be completely ridiculous and the situation can be totally unfair to any observer pretending to objectivity, but men want women on the assumption that they will be wanted back, empowered by her desire. Women seem to want the same thing... "He's MINE! Mine mine mine!" Men hear this and say, "Baby, calm down..." Smiling all the way to the bedroom.

Pleasure and displeasure are subjective, dependent on the values of the individual experiencing it. Trying to boil down any sort of ethics based on it requires codifying experiences into "pleasurable" and "displeasurable" in a way that never works. There are always exceptions, one person's situation invalid to the next; there is no "objective" pleasure. There is only empowerment, and our evolved sense of what is good and bad came from the empowerment of past experiences. We enjoy sex and food because the acquisition of sex and food is valuable and empowering to us. We did not evolve to pursue these desires. These desires evolved in us, to empower us, assuring our continued existence. To say that we should pursue some fixed understanding of what is pleasurable is to halt the evolution and give in to a simple-minded Epicureanism that has signified the decay of hedonistic societies before ours. It has to be better to think, decide, pursue, and achieve, putting yourself into what you value and taking every stress and pain as a down payment on the future. The conflicts of interest don't just make the entire mess far more sporting; they make life life.

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