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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On the Cruelty of Gadhafi's Libyan Troops from a Nietzschean Perspective of Strength and Weakness in a Will to Power

Gadhafi, or any tyrant who violates the human rights of citizens, can be reckoned as weak rather than strong from a Nietzschean standpoint. Such an analysis could embolden (i.e. awaken) protesters around the world who remain under the subterfuge of a ruler's enforcement of his or her assumed dominance.

USA Today reports that “(t)roops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi may be torturing and executing rebel prisoners.” This is according to human rights workers and physicians near the front lines. Such treatment would constitute war crimes under the Geneva Convention. Physicians said the bullet wounds on one man's body weren't meant to kill, but to torture. "When you put a gun to his head, that's execution," said Mohammed Hussain, the head of intensive care at a hospital near the front lines. "When you shoot him here and here and here, that's something else. That's torture. They want him to feel the pain." This last remark struck me as particularly revealing.

What sort of mentality derives a feeling of pleasure from perceiving another person in pain? To what extent is it the other person feeling the pain that is pleasurable to the person watching? Alternatively, the inflicting of the pain could be pleasurable. The inflicting pleasure for the inflictor might involve the pleasure of having power, as in having control of another person against the other person’s will. Such a will to power is a principal motivator, according to Nietzsche. He avers that human beings are primarily motivated to feel the pleasure that comes with exercising power. Yet such pleasure is in the exercise of one’s strength rather than in cruelty itself.  It is the weak, who, in being driven to dominate beyond their innate strength, delight in cruelty as a means to enforce their domination. In other words, the weak who have an irresistible urge to dominate have to instill (or inflict) their dominance because they are not strong and thus naturally to be respected as powers.

Therefore, the troops loyal to Gadhafi were displaying their condition of weakness rather than their strength by devoting time and energy to being cruel.  With the strong, damage is incidental to the charge rather than intended; the strong relish their experience of strength in conquering and therefore they are not interested in cruelty.  That is to say, harm is a byproduct of the vanquishing by the strong, as the latter conquer out of their overflowing confidence of strength. This can perhaps be thought of in terms of stepping outside in the cold after building up a sweat from exercise—the excess heat radiates outward from one’s body such that one does not even feel the cold air. What is the cold to me?  Similarly, what are the parasites to me who fall by the wayside as I take the village?  Any intent to be cruel to a parasite would be a waste or diversion from the strong vanquisher’s self-confident feeling of power that naturally issues out in his or her strength. Only weakness with a relentless instinct to dominate would be oriented to cruelty as a means, for the feeling of pleasure of strength is not available or realizable.

For example, "Col. Gadhafi's militias are brutal," said Mustafa El Gheriany, media liaison for the Transitional National Committee according to USA Today. "They did that probably on purpose to scare our young men, to show them that they are not taking prisoners.” This motivation would be an alternative to simply wanting to inflict pain or to see another person feel it. Even so, the use of cruelty as a means is ultimately to impose one’s dominance, which means that the person’s strength is not sufficient. In other words, the person using cruelty to send a message has an urge to feel more pleasure from power than his or her weakness can proffer in itself.

Essentially then, human rights advocates point to the tactics whereby the weak who suffer from a hypertrophic drive to dominate seek to enforce, or take, beyond their native pith. This investigation can lead to the following questions. Why is it that certain persons of weak constitutions seek to dominate nonetheless, rather than simply to be content with whatever pleasure naturally issues from the power in the strength they do have? Furthermore, is dictatorship as a form of government a weak form in that autocrats do not simply lead, but are almost invariably oriented to efforts to enforce their dominance by intentionally inflicting pain on protesters?  It would be ironic were unarmed protesters in the streets stronger than the rulers whose dominance is being questioned or repudiated.  Indeed, such repudiation strikes at the core of the effort of the weak to dominate; hence such violence as was evinced by Gadhafi should be no surprise.

To the weak who are driven to dominate, the refusal of others to acknowledge the imposition or enforcement of their claim must be utterly intolerable. “How dare they!” the weak dominator is apt to exclaim even though the strong naturally rebuff the pretentions of the weak.  In fact, Nietzsche thought it remarkable that the weak are able to hoodwink the strong into taking the autocratic enforcement mechanisms seriously.  In the case of the mass protests, enough fortitude among enough unarmed protesters could simply overflow the boundaries invented by the tyrants. Were the people itself mobilized, the autocrat might realize that were the entire populous killed, he would have no one to dominate!  There would be no feeling of pleasure in exercising power over a dead city. The strength in the people as a whole lies in simply being able to say no, yet this strength is typically hid from the strong by the weak who benefit from the subterfuge.

Source: Greg Campbell, “Libyan Doctors Suspect Brutal War Crimes,” USA Today, April 12, 2011, p. 6A.

On Nietzsche applied to business, see: On the Arrogance of False Entitlement: A Nietzschean Critique of Business Ethics and Management, available at Amazon.