Once you had passions and named them evil. But now you have only your virtues and passions of pleasure. . . .. . . Ultimately all your passions became virtues and all your devils became angels.Once you had wild dogs in your cellar, but ultimately they transformed into birds and lovely singers.Out of your poisons you brewed your balsam; your cow, melancholy, you milked—now you drink the sweet milk of its udder.And now nothing evil grows anymore out of you, unless it is the evil that grows from the struggle among your virtues.(Thus Spoke Zarathustra I “On the Passions of Pleasure and Pain”)
Giving us a preview of how he will perform his “genealogy of morals,” Nietzsche traces above where our virtues and notions of goodness come from. According to him, what we now deem as good, or as virtuous, or accepted, or proper—all these present valuations can be traced back to what they once were: great passions.
At issue then here is how these originally wild, dangerous passions were transformed from something devilish into something angelic, beautiful. Or again, how our original and individual passions became sublimated—that is, neutralized and modified—in favor of the herd, so that it may be understood and be accepted as the new norm. And when a passion has been set as the norm or the standard—what is to be considered good or virtuous for all—then the original danger, fire and passion of these virtues become extinguished or frozen, turning into lovely, sweet yet fixed goals.
Take for example the virtue of knowledge.
In the past, speculation was at times a dangerous endeavor, as that meant having to question authority, dogma or law, the common sense of the people, etc. (think of Socrates, Galileo, Eckhart, etc.). Or as I imagine, if education was not literally dangerous, it was at best counter-intuitive for men and women because other things needed to be tended to—play, work, bodily pleasures, rest, etc.
The will to know in the beginning was a drive which only resided in those courageous individuals who dared to know and to ask; or in more practical terms, as in ancient Greece, education was reserved only for free men, those who had the leisure (and perhaps nothing better to do with their time).
But what has happened in the course of history? Education has evolved to become accepted as the norm, a requirement for everyone, taken to be “what is best” or “good” for children. And what then was the result of this reversal from education being something exclusive and daring, into a basic right and claim? Now even those who do not wish or cannot afford to study have to earn degrees “at all costs.”
Also, since education is now a requirement ideally for all, what one is to know has been made generalized and evened out (e.g., content of subjects, curricula, degrees). Everyone today knows the same things, everybody can do what everybody else does. In spite of all “specializations,” the student will nevertheless be like any other old student. (Precisely: because if you do not know what everybody else should know, you fail.) Thus the uniformity of our graduates today. Thus schools becoming at times “factories” which produce future employees with skill sets that match the prescribed proficiencies required by employers and companies.
What was once an individual and perhaps a dangerous undertaking then, could today be an all-too-common good for all. And whenever an activity is deemed to be good for all, it then loses its sparkle and its own real value: education has now become a means to a happier life, a step and not a goal, a labor and not a joy.