Tag Archives: love

Love and Plastic

loveorplastic

Someone tossed, or the wind blew, a plastic shopping bag into Grand Army Plaza, and the bag came to rest at the feet of this sandwich board. Since then, the wind has probably carried the bag elsewhere, to other streets or into the trees, where lots of bags like this one get stuck.

Wherever it may have gone, this bag will outlast by far whatever gathering of love and soul the sign in Grand Army Plaza advertised.

Paul reassures us in 1 Corinthians that love will endure — that it will bear the weight of the world and outlast all things, πάντα ὑπομένει; but plastic is perdurable, and takes an awfully long time to disappear. Long after those who may have gathered here are gone, this bag will remain.

It’s Lonely at the Top – Nietzsche, Mother Teresa and Non-Coercive Leadership

I returned to my old paperback copy of Zarathustra recently, this time in connection with some work I’ve been doing on the topic of non-coercive power, or what I have been calling the power of asking. I’ve been developing some thoughts around this mantra: The power of asking will always be greater than the power of command. So it seemed to me I ought to come to terms with or at least try to deepen my understanding of what Nietzsche says in this book about command, or coercive power.

I was specifically interested in the pronouncement made in “The Stillest Hour” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 2, chapter 44):

‘…You are one who has unlearned obeying: now shall you command!’
‘Do you not know who is most needed by all? The one who commands great things.
‘To accomplish great things is difficult: but more difficult is to command great things.
‘That is what is most unpardonable in you: You have the power and you do not want to rule.’

It’s a chapter of Thus Spoke Zarathustra that has attracted a lot of important commentary, from Jung’s seminars on Zarathustra in the 1930s to Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign seminars in 2001-2. It’s a crux, a point of departure, and it’s also a spot where I might have to take my leave of Nietzsche. How are we to read the injunction here to “command” anew, or to “rule” according to one’s “power”, after one has “unlearned obeying”?

It’s an easy rhetorical move to make, from obeying to commanding, but it seemed to me it also might involve a serious misstep — to unlearn obedience, only to take up, or institute, command.

Put aside for the moment the questionable judgment of “what is most needed by all,” and the ethical as well as the political consequences that judgment, or others like it, could have and historically have had. I am equally wary of the emphasis here on doing and commanding “great” things, or at least wary of misreading it. The pursuit of “great things” (Großes) tends to invite and encourage, or at least excuse, all sorts of abuses.

To wield coercive power, to direct or to command great things may indeed be difficult, even more difficult than doing great things; but it is harder still, I think, and it is really the more urgent project, to unlearn obedience and command and to learn, instead, the practice of non-coercive power.

If that means scaling down from great to small, then I’m happy to start small and, if need be, stay small. I’m not suggesting we stop dreaming and doing great things, taking on big challenges, imagining great enterprises, but in most cases I am inclined to urge and apply something like the rule of Mother Teresa: “don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love…. The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.” (That much misquoted line, by the way, is from her “Instructions to the M.C. Sisters,” October 30th, 1981, as cited by Brian Kolodiejchuk in Come Be My Light.)

Here, I imagine, Nietzsche might wish take his leave of me, or at least Nietzscheans and devout Catholics alike will cry out in exasperation or horror at the unholy coupling I’ve just imagined. But I suspect that when all is said and done, these two points of view can be reconciled, or at least they are not so far apart as they may at first seem. Consider, just for starters, the answer Zarathustra receives when he objects that he lacks the lion’s voice for command: “Thoughts that come on dove’s feet guide the world.’”

More on that another day. Here I want only to point out the thing that was on my mind this morning: that is Zarathustra’s sadness as he takes leave of his friends at the close of the second book. My Stillest Hour, Zarathustra’s “terrible mistress” — “or something,” which speaks to him “voicelessly” — has “ordered” him to to leave. He obeys. Yes, obeys; he announces at the start of the chapter that he is “unwillingly obedient,” unwillig-folgsam. He comes to his friends deeply troubled and unhappy; and after he has recounted the conversation with his mistress he is overwhelmed:

when Zarathustra had spoken these words, the force of his pain and the nearness of the parting from his friends overwhelmed him, such that he wept loudly; and no one knew how to console him. That night, however, he went away alone and left his friends.

Zarathustra will “go as a shadow of that which must come: thus will you command, and thus lead the way.” But to command and to lead he must “mellow.” As his mistress tells him, his fruits are ripe, but he is not ripe for his fruits: “so,” she continues, “you must go back to your solitude.” To deprive himself of all human society may, in fact, prepare Zarathustra to command great things; but it’s painful to leave his friends. So painful that he weeps — loudly.

Exile may be the price Zarathustra must pay to overcome himself and lead the way. It’s lonely at the top, and Zarathustra’s mountain is no exception. But it’s also worth reminding ourselves of less romantic and heroic ideas of what it means to lead.

Unlearn obeying and then, the most difficult thing of all: unlearn command. If we practice non-coercive leadership, we can learn to create and share power with others, without reverting to command or obedience, and without taking our leave of those we love.

On Machiavelli, on the house

One would think Silvio Berlusconi had read Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. Having risen to power through sheer financial might and the application of political muscle, Mr. Berlusconi should never have expected to be loved. But the Italian Premier is as much a creation as the creator of his television empire: he mistakes his power for popularity, or at least he thinks that one should translate to the other.

Why do they hate me so much?
Berlusconi asked his father confessor, after learning that his attacker, Massimo Tartaglia, had gained an enthusiastic following on Facebook and around the social web. Could it simply be that this prince of the television world really doesn’t understand the way the Internet now works, how its communities form, the fascinations that take hold and bring people together — in a moment, for a moment?

Or was it a Machiavellian ruse to garner sympathy? An old prince suffers a beating at the hands of a crazy man then confides to his father confessor with dismay that he just doesn’t understand what he did to deserve this, doesn’t understand what those young people have against him, knowing full well that the father confessor will make this confession public. “They” become the heartless enemy, without pity for the battered prince, or reverence for old age; “they” become the source of everybody’s grief.

It seems to have worked. Judging, at least, from the editorial pages, public opinion in Italy has shifted back in Mr. Berlusconi’s favor. And now another Facebook community has formed, denouncing Mr. Tartaglia’s gratuitous act of violence and shaming his supporters. Maybe Silvio Berlusconi will get a little love after all.

Be that as it may, the whole incident, which has already faded from the news, led me back to chapter 17 of The Prince, where Machiavelli argues that it is better for a prince to be more feared, than loved. “For love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment, which never fails.” The trouble, however, is that in making oneself feared, one risks incurring the hatred of others.

The prince will avoid hatred if he “abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women,” Machiavelli writes. Roba and donne — the stuff and women of others — are untouchable; touching them, taking them, is a violation Machiavelli tellingly calls rapina — rapine.

As I read it, this is all about respecting the integrity and even the sanctity of the house, where both women and property are kept. (And forget your twenty-first century prejudices long enough to remember that in early modern Italy, women belonged to the house, even when they ventured forth from it.) The prince may more readily take someone’s life “when there is proper justification and manifest reason for it” than violate the house:

Above all [the prince] must abstain from taking the property of others, for men forget more easily the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Then also pretexts for seizing property are never wanting; and one who lives by rapine will always find some reason for taking the goods of others.

You can probably follow J.G.A. Pocock’s lead from this passage to later thinking about property and liberty from the depredations of princes. Whether any of this helps to answer the question Mr. Berlusconi put to his priest I’ll leave for others, with more knowledge of the Italian scene, to decide. A quick Google search for Berlusconi and rapina — which I hoped might shed some light on the issue — yields only a story about a bank robbery in Torino last February where one of the robbers wore a Berlusconi mask. The other was disguised as Mr. Berlusconi’s senior advisor, Marcello dell’Utri.