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The Self-Destruction of Nihilism

On technology, the Übermensch, and "the relentless destruction of everything that was degenerating and parasitical... passing into the service of an excess of life." (Deleuze)

There is an ongoing debate about technology and humanity, which sees technology as a nihilistic force that threatens human values. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have called for resisting or even stopping technological advancement in the name of humanism.

We find a most intriguing solution to this problem in the work of Nietzsche, especially as we find him in Gilles Deleuze's 1962 book, Nietzsche and Philosophy.

Nietzsche tried harder than anyone to understand nihilism, which he saw as the quintessential problem of modern life. His ultimate conclusion is that, rather than reject or resist the process of nihilism, we should rather accelerate nihilism until it becomes an active force capable of expurgating all that is negative and rotten in the culture.

In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche critiques the "higher man"—the noble individuals who are keenly aware of their culture's deficiencies, who even transcend their culture to live good and virtuous lives, but nonetheless remain passive and resigned. He calls this passive nihilism, which is better than lower forms of nihilism, but nihilism nonetheless.

When he introduces his famous concept of the Übermensch, the "superman" or "overman," it is precisely because what we need is something not human. Nietzsche is emphatic that the Übermensch is something beyond us, which transcends human limitations; the best we can do is to be a bridge to the Übermensch, to construct and walk a tight-rope to what lies beyond us. The idea is not to become a "higher man," but what Nietzsche calls "the man who wishes to perish." This man wants to sacrifice himself by turning his culture's nihilism into an active force that destroys what is negative—including what is negative in his own nihilism, hence the need for self-sacrificing. This process of active destruction, Nietzsche argues, leads to the possibility of authentic affirmation and the realization of a will to power untainted by resentment.

When we consider the fact that advanced technological systems process and compute more complexity than any human can, and that such systems come to have increasingly autonomous and even agent-like properties, it stands to reason that the overcoming of technological nihilism may only be achieved through an acceleration of technology. For Nietzsche, as well as our guide Deleuze, it is a matter of training affirmative and active forces through the creation and installation of new values. Not reversing negative and reactive values, but of learning how to machine value from scratch.

No technological system will "solve" the human predicament, but neither will the problem of technological nihilism be solved by naively "humanistic" means. Like the "man who wishes to perish," we should accelerate technology with a spirit of audacity and self-sacrifice, until technology begins to destroy everything that is degenerate and parasitical in technology.


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