Modern man loves to torment himself.
As Nietzsche argues in On the Genealogy of Morals:
It was that desire for self-torture in the savage who suppresses his cruelty because he was forced to contain himself (incarcerated as he was ‘in the state,’ as part of his taming process), who invented bad conscious so as to hurt himself, after the more natural outlet for this desire had been blocked…
While claims of the universality of this state might be difficult to prove, it certainly seems reasonable to imagine that it is not entirely uncommon for a modern person to occasionally feel guilt at some of their baser instincts.
And guilt certainly has a way of turning into self-torture, as anyone who has ever called themselves a terrible person can attest.
But how are we to solve this internal dissonance?
Is it truly sensible to inflict such pain and torment upon ourselves for acts or thoughts which are entirely natural?
Nietzsche calls this crushing guilt, “the most dreadful disease that has yet afflicted men.”
This suggests we should perhaps release ourselves from the “incarceration” of the state. We should refuse to be tamed by man or man’s God and pursue whatever acts we choose. There is nothing to feel guilty about. No punishment we should inflict upon ourselves. No bad conscious which should hold us back.
Well. That might sound good to some people – freedom and individuality being utmost concerns – but that doesn’t sound so good to me.
Perhaps I should not punish myself to the point of desperation for every passing thought I regret. But I should feel guilty for the mistakes I make. I should regret those misdeeds and aim to do better in the future.
So, no, I am not comfortable saying that man should no longer torment himself for perceived sins. Indeed, I would argue the opposite – I am in favor of self-flagellation.
Because, here’s the thing – in my experience, it is those who worry about being a terrible person who are the least terrible people.
Perhaps it is hard, perhaps it is torture, but the moment you stop questioning your own morality is the moment you have become immoral. If you are not concerned that you’re a terrible person, you probably are.
But this dissonance does not have to be torture. Nietzsche sees this pain as the mad hope of a modern man driven to unreason in the name of reason. As a desperate grope towards an unachievable and nonexistent salvation.
There is a middle ground here. The choices aren’t simply to abandon all moral pretense or face a life of despair.
Dissonance…for some reason is generally frowned upon. Perhaps it is too complicated, perhaps is too hard, I don’t know.
But I find myself at home there.
Yes, I’m a terrible person, and yes, I’m not a terrible person. Both those states exist at once. They aren’t mutually exclusive. And their coexistence isn’t something to fear. It doesn’t have to be a state of despair and self-torment.
Both those states exist at once, in a beautiful, elegant, balance in the universe.