Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about the difference between the slave mentality and the master mentality, arguing that the masses display a herd mentality dictated largely by prevailing views of the relationship of the individual to society. This is the essence of the slave mentality and stands in sharp contrast to the mentality of the Ubermensch (“Superman”), who recognizes that true freedom lies in freedom of thought.
This does not necessarily lead to the idea that radical individualism in action is the highest ideal, because he warned of the dangers of moral relativism. He rejected the idea of an objective system of morality, arguing instead for a morality based on the recognition of the fact that one’s actions always affect others and so our personal morality should depend on considering these interrelationships.
Some would falsely equate moral relativity with utilitarianism, which argues for making moral decisions based on the greatest good for the greatest number. Such people tend to argue that such a basis for morality leads to self-serving decisions that in the end harm both society and the individual who behaves according to this principle. These are those most likely to embrace fundamentalist, authoritarian ideals that Nietzsche criticized in his work.
In typical seemingly paradoxical fashion, he argued that Christ was a proponent of the master mentality in the sense of promoting self-mastery. His famous pronouncement that “God is dead” meant that those who had constructed a model of God and reality that encompassed the belief in an afterlife had abandoned the Christian principle of enlightened self-interest in favor of giving in to control by those whose will to power was such that it was perverted into a will to domination.
He argued that the problem was in part biological, in part sociological and in part a willingness to ignore personal responsibility. The pursuit of freedom from fear leads to the acceptance of external authority of the state and religious leaders, as Erich Fromm argued in Escape From Freedom, his exploration of the aspects of human psychology that led to the Nazi rise to power. Put simply, the herd is willing to accept a loss of freedom of autonomy as the price to pay for accepting the slave belief in the necessity of submitting to powerful leaders. This is the essence of how the ideal of democracy becomes perverted to the self-imposed slavery of fascism.
The essential problem as I see it is the widespread popularity of radical individualism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Right wing politicians, aided and abetted by a corporate media have advanced the fascist agenda through convincing enough Americans that their defining cultural value is the right to do whatsoever they please without government intervention, regardless of the cost to society or other individuals.
This dangerous notion is the antithesis of real conservatism. I remember in the 60s the anger at the hippies and antiwar protestors who were attempting to change the social order faster than conservatives could adapt their thinking. The idea was expressed as a resistance to the “anything goes” attitude of the most far-out free thinkers.
A real conservative looks at history and sees a long tradition of Americans helping each other and being protected by reasonable regulation of the corporations that have bought and now control the US government for their own purposes. This corporate coup was made possible by the implicit understanding among brainwashed neo-”conservatives” that corporations were not only persons but our rightful rulers.
The jackboot of the corporate state is now on the necks of each of us. The responsibility lies not only with those whose thinking was radically changed by Reagan’s simplistic and radical idea of running government like a business. Putting corporations in charge required the acquiescence to the privatization of government functions and giving away our sovereignty to the WTO. Had there been more resistance from the Left in the early stages the transformation of US government into a corporate-controlled fascist entity might have been prevented. However, partisan Democrats did not do enough to challenge their own leadership when Clinton sold America to a group of international corporate terrorists by allowing the US to become a signatory to the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
The passive acceptance of this abandonment of the American worker was in large measure do to defensiveness caused by the relentless attack on Clinton when he did not conform to the Republican/fascist agenda. However, the larger reason was that Americans were satisfied with the economic achievements of the Clinton administration despite the long-term costs to America and emerging nations. NAFTA led to the outsourcing of jobs overseas, loss of tax revenues from offshores, the consolidation of power of transnational corporations, increased poverty in Mexico and a doubling of the illegal immigration rate after its passage.
The problem that America must face to regain its greatness and standing in the world community is one of combating the herd mentality that assumes that our only recourse as citizens is to invest all power over our lives to a few men and women who make decisions of policy and law that serve only the self-interest of a narrow group of corporatist whose interests are sharply divergent from those of average citizens and of American society at large. The slave mentality of the average American can only be challenged if enough of us reject identification with subgroups of society and instead embrace the recognition of our interdependence that is the basis for democratic society.
The tendency to divide ourselves into more or less discrete subgroups is not primarily biological but psychological. All decision making results from considering our core beliefs and deciding on a course of action that is logically consistent with those beliefs, to the extent that decision making is logical. In reality, most of our beliefs are based on emotional considerations. Therefore, our decisions as to what is best for society are usually colored by our belief in what is best for ourselves.
This feature of the herd mentality is the product of a fundamental fact of logic, which is the basis for how we view the world. To make a decision on the validity of a concept we must consider the validity of its opposite and decide between the two on the basis of our experience. To the extent that we allow our thinking to be influenced by emotional considerations that have nothing to do with the truth of either proposition we become susceptible to manipulation by those who would enslave us by promoting beliefs that are opposed to our true self interest.
This binary feature of logic serves a purpose when we are young in that it allows us to make hypotheses that lead to conclusions about the confusing world we are trying to understand. The assumptions by which we create the reality in which we live as young persons are thus characterized by simplistic assumptions heavily influenced by our parents, our peers and the herd mentality of whatever segment of society in which we are raised. The process of maturation should be one of challenging these beliefs as we mature and broaden our experience but too often, people are willing to live their lives constrained by this childish worldview.
Such black and white thinking has led to a model of social and political reality in which authoritarian leaders are rarely challenged. The slave does not question the Master. The only recourse is to beg the Master to care for its basic needs. In modern society this means that those involved in partisan politics are reduced to begging their chosen leaders to put their interests over those of the corporate Puppetmasters who are ultimately in control of the US government.
All this has led to what I refer to as America’s borderline split. In the extreme, those who rely on emotional reasoning are stuck in a phase of early mental development in which thinking is so heavily influenced by environment that there is no stable sense of self or sense of one’s relationship to other individuals or society. Such unfortunate souls are slaves to their emotions and subject to wild emotional swings caused by forces they cannot understand. They are referred to as having borderline personality disorder. This disorder is so rampant in the US that the American collective consciousness itself has become borderline.
The solution to the healing of America is to heal this borderline split by reaching out to each other with unconditional acceptance and teaching and learning from each other how our worldviews differ. By opening our minds to all possible realities we free our own minds and become capable of the self-rule that defines democratic society. If we value our children we must treat our fellow citizens as we would ideally treat our own children, with unfailing love and respect and with the best interests of human society in mind in all that we do.
This is the way that we can all become doctors who heal ourselves and teachers who will train us to change the world. If as Nietzsche’s proposition that God is a human construct is correct, then it is our responsibility to mold our collective consciousness so that God is no longer dead but alive in our personal lives and society. If he is wrong, we have nothing to lose by trying, for either way the collective consciousness is what ultimately determines our individual and collective destinies.
Dr. Rick Staggenborg