“we dance in our chains” Nietszche

Zarath "The phrase dancing in chains is in Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter VII. "This world with which WE are concerned, in which we have to fear and love, this almost invisible, inaudible world of delicate command and delicate obedience, a world of "almost" in every respect, captious, insidious, sharp, and tender–yes, it is well protected from clumsy spectators and familiar curiosity! We are woven into a strong net and garment of duties, and CANNOT disengage ourselves–precisely here, we are "men of duty," even we! Occasionally, it is true, we dance in our "chains" and betwixt our "swords"; it is none the less true that more often we gnash our teeth under the circumstances, and are impatient at the secret hardship of our lot. But do what we will, fools and appearances say of us: "These are men WITHOUT duty,"– we have always fools and appearances against us! "  TS Wittig


I find this passage in "Beyond Good and Evil" to be expressive of much of human experience.  It captures something  I have been trying to express in several ways including "The Butcher’s  Cleaver."

The protracted process of the presidential primary season brings this very much to mind.  Perhaps the campaigns enjoy all this.  For me it would be a time in purgatory.

I would be interested in your thoughts on the subject.  pl

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21 Responses to “we dance in our chains” Nietszche

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    This phrase is also used in “Human, all too Human”, Book 2, page 140 in reference to great art as “danicng in chains”.

  2. Marcus says:

    The “dance in our chains” is the necessary “doing” to alleviate the misery.
    The END will always fall short of our ideal but the joy in doing the best we can takes the edge off of this depressing reality.
    The misery in these campaigns is the focus on the end, the goal, the ambitious, risk-averse script–tedium squared.
    The candidates that can express the “…almost invisible, inaudible world of delicate command and delicate obedience”, sense of their being are the ones more likely to show a glimpse of this “dance”–even through the handlers and script writers.

  3. john in the boro says:

    Having spent my life in a number of conventional roles–son, husband, father, and soldier, I have never played the role of an immoralist. Might be interesting, might be frustrating, might drive me crazy: F.N. had a few problems in that department. I have not read “The Butcher’s Cleaver” but the SST blog does engage the notion of duty in both senses—internal and external. Personally, I do not think it can be imposed from without: Nietszche would probably go along with that. But we all are subject.
    The presidential primary process is interminable. If, as Nietszche believed, suffering is inevitable and even beneficial, then, mission accomplished. Still, the primaries afford a welcome relief from the almost daily scandals involving the administration. And, it is refreshing to listen to comparatively talented orators. I am sure the administration, at least some, is breathing a sigh of relief at the decreased scrutiny even at the expense of relevance. So, let the games continue, I’ll check in about September to see how it’s going.
    As for the participants, they exercised their wills and entered the contest. They are doing what they want to do. The money, press, crowds must be like a junkie high for most of them (Fred does not seem to care much). For a year, more or more, the candidates get to sling mud, make up stories, embellish their personal triumphs and tragedies, and promise heaven and earth. Most of us know it’s all BS, but we’ll fall for it anyway (see Mendacity of Hope). Nietszche observes how mediocre we have become.

  4. J.T. Davis says:

    That’s where I find the first reference to it, Babak. It’s in the sequel (Book 2), The Wanderer and His Shadow. Neitzche’s recurring themes, eh? Like presidential primary season coming every four years.

  5. Mike Moscoe says:

    A very thought provoking way of expressing where we find ourselves these days, Colonel.
    As men of honor we are chained to our place by our own sense of duty and others expectations. We know that others dance away, accept no burden that isn’t their pleasure. We don’t. Is it our own fear or need for approval that binds us? Or is it something inside us, something that leads us to believe with our very life blood that if too many take the easy way out, too few stand the watch on the walls, that everything all of us have will come crashing down.
    As for these primaries, all I can do is shake my head. Are we actually making a choice? Or are we being stampeded first one way, then another with less and less thought and more and more reaction being passed off as substance? Seems that a lot of folks say this process needs fixing but not many say how.
    Mike Moscoe aka Mike Shepherd

  6. Charles I says:

    Of course we’re virtually captive in our liberal democracies. That’s the deal, the social contract at its core: submit to self-imposed restraints in exchange for some degree of predictability and security, or live free in your own anti-social state of nature – at war with the world in a struggle for survival every new day.
    The complexity and apparent limitless bounty of our chains, and the resultant stupendous powers of human agency that technology enables are at increasing odds. Each westerner, even the poorest, commanding the equivalent of dozens of slaves as they go about their everyday life – is nonetheless subject to the dialectic about to snap our chains, and deliver us from the current unsustainable “globalized” economy to a different state wherein we are less encumbered, but individually powerless against the entropy that petroleum – for a few centuries at most – APPEARED to overcome.
    Whatever “change” amounts to in the context of the primaries, and it appears to amount to a billion dollars and some sloganeering, our putative “changers” are hostage to the money system and subject to the tender mercies of the current foxy, Murdochian manner of public “debate.”
    There is no forthright honest appraisal of the pickle we’re in, God forbid anyone in power speak the truth about the real nature of challenges to our civilization ahead – or the real nature of what we rely upon to face those challenges. That would affect the markets too much. Besides, the market is all the change one needs. Don’t forget your chump change when you buy that Chinese-made big screen plasma tv, chump.
    The spectacle of big oil having to fess up to absurd overstatements of actual proved and probable reserves that the chains of bonus and shareprice imposed, passed virtually unmentioned on the big screen. It is the tip of a titanic iceberg.
    No Saudi royal will admit that the price of American protection here and now has been the abuse of the oilfields detrimentally impacting the total recoverable, and hence, their ability to continue to pay for protection from the nation they terrorize. Maybe swapping the Dahran(sp?) base for one in Doha was the tell that America’s Saudi chains were rusting away.
    Questioning one’s own King’s wardrobe is painted as treason in a climate of hysteria.
    So like the icebergs, the candidates float along existing currents of power, 7/8 of their true nature concealed from view. Hillary shows a little tried and frustrated emotion, and the talking heads are musing that this is a humanizing ploy, rather than a spot of humanity squeezing out through the links.
    The primaries and the whole drawn out exercise are one long opportunity to plant a foot in one’s mouth, or “plant” it in someone else’s, ala swift boat, etc, banana peels aplenty that Power can deploy in a miasma of fear and ignorance. This ensures the primaries are less about opportunites for change than they are about the refinement of the candidates into a hollow shining vision of the mansion on the hill composed entirely of nothing more substantial – albeit pleasing – than photons marching across our screens.
    Indeed, that’s what the primaries are – screens, to screen out reality and project a warm fuzzy on the tv screen whist the band plays on, rather than to screen out all who refuse to look our chains in the eye and call them by name.
    Plus, its a fine chance to have the public purse subsidize all manner of media gibberish, pound the big lies til they’re muzak that just won’t go away, and much more importantly, to fund the debate changers – the PACs, think tanks, churches and sundry snake oil salespeople.
    Whoever survives that purgatory to triumph in the penultimate market will have to be mighty nimble and light on his/her/its feet to dance America’s way out of the chains that the Flatheads have imposed upon all of Creation. We could have quietly, perhaps extra-judicially, dealt with the actual 9/11 criminals, kept bombing Saddam and starving his children, refused to countenance and pay for Israeli intransigence, and in that brief post-9/11 window of opportunity found more felicitous fetters less pathological than the ones to which we now appear irredeemably bound. Iran volunteered to help, indeed did help in Afghanistan at the outset, yet it is China that now cosy’s up to the Iranian’s fossil fuels as 43 hurls threats and insults in all directions.
    Where once there was an opportunity for multilateral crises management, – for a vestige of the international social contract – fast paced events and mutating threats we ignored as we fed them no longer afford the time for response and defense by committee. Instead, America stands alone, free at last, at war with all until they submit to the bonds of freedom and democracy – so long as it doesn’t interfere with the American way of life – or my ability to drive to the cottage.
    I noticed a correspondence with the current admin’s(and the Israeli’s) manner of public debate in the plaint above that:
    “But do what we will, fools and appearances say of us: “These are men WITHOUT duty,”– we have always fools and appearances against us! ”
    with the hubris of the current true believers.
    The hoi polloi are too ignorant and unsophisticated(which in the Sophist’s day is a good thing!) to comprehend the vanguard’s imperative mission of liberty and freedom for all who will submit. Congress, Come on down!
    Debkafile today celebrates Israeli preparations to challenge the apparent verities of the NIE that might more closely bind Shrub to reality, so as to focus Bush’s eye on the bouncing ball. Tho he’s not much of a reader, Georgie can carry a tune if you just sing it for him once first, and he’s very good at staying within the bounds of the script.
    Misbegotten “appearances”are not what they appear, fool. For good measure, the soupcon of disparagement – the ad hominem rebuttal, the spit in the eye, the anti-semite Scarlet Letter that no one is ever called upon redress, let alone expand into a reasoned argument. The unshriven who rattle their chains once in a while when not completely diverted by bread, circuses, preachers, bogeymen and the almighty dollar are “fools” – or in 43land – terrorist sympathizers, traitors and godless cretins.
    Dance on!

  7. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    “Qoheleth” , in my opinion, is the answer to Nietzsche. Both “Qoheleth” and Nietzsche looked into the abyss. “Qoheleth” made it. Nietzsche blinked.

  8. Will says:

    As sung by the great Amerikaner Don von Henlein
    frum der song Hotel Kalifornien
    “Her mind is tiffany-twisted, she got the mercedes bends
    She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
    How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
    Some dance to remember, some dance to forget ”

    Welcome to the hotel california
    Such a lovely place
    Such a lovely face
    They livin’ it up at the hotel california
    What a nice surprise, bring your alibis
    Mirrors on the ceiling,
    The pink champagne on ice
    And she said ’we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’
    And in the master’s chambers,
    They gathered for the feast
    The stab it with their steely knives,
    But they just can’t kill the beast

  9. Cieran says:

    As an engineer, I’ve sworn never to admit that I’ve enjoyed reading Nietzsche (or Arendt, or Weber, for that matter). So I’ll approach this question from the hopefully-related standpoint of Charles Eames, one of the great designers of all time…
    Eames asserted that the beauty of a design lay in its constraints, so that the design objective provided the underlying function required, but the aesthetic qualities of a good design were derived directly from side constraints such as cost, constructibility, etc.
    If Nietzsche had been an industrial designer like Eames (now there’s a thought! Would he have designed an Uber-coffee-maker?), he might have written the same referenced phrase intending to describe the oft-maddening effort of trying to dance towards one’s goal while satisfying multiple conflicting constraints that are as inexorable in their grasp on the designer as are real chains.
    Of course, a good design space always has plenty of elbow room remaining after all the side constraints are satisfied, and hence beauty is something that one can find within that space. But a truly ugly design results when there are so many different constraints that no real solution remains, e.g., the infamous case of “design by committee”.
    So what does this have to do with the primary season that is now upon us?
    Well, the designers of this country satisfied the objective of creating a functioning republic, subject to the side constraints of keeping the church out of the government (and vice versa), protecting a man’s home as if it were his castle, etc., etc. And great designers all, they managed to make the resulting foundation documents beautiful as well as functional.
    Our founding fathers definitely knew how to dance!
    But with the ever-increasing constraints placed on our modern republic via myriad special interests, campaign marketing needs, foreign entanglements, budget woes, and other various chaining-and-restraining forces, we are now reduced to finding our optimal political solutions in a highly overconstrained setting, where all the resulting outcomes are ugly (or worse).
    So we are voting in these primaries not for magnificent Jeffersonian inventions, but for answers that are more likely along the lines of Rube Goldberg.

  10. Now that N.H. has demonstrated that the “Long War” of the primaries will be just that (although we will know better after Feb. 5th)it again allows events to be in the saddle for a while (maybe always). There are some stirrings foreign and domestic that might easily take the stage during 2008 ( a perhaps not outlandish example might be a Mexican revolution) but what interests me is what the President and Congress tries to accomplish or does not accomplish in this election year. There is an argument that the real policies of the Bush/Clinton years (1989-2008 or longer)is stasis and minimal governmental intervention (collapse of regulation of financial institutions and methodologies) except for warfare wherein the US leadership and military fail to see its inherent revolutionary nature. That this argument can be rebutted by events but perhaps only after 20 or 30 years of reflection seems accurate. Essentially, 3 of the 4 leading candidates for both parties at this point will continue the war throughout their Presidential terms, if elected.The US is trapped in its own paradigms. We are truly, dancing in chains. It may be what we think we know but don’t that will kill us and not make us stronger. Is there any concensus on “Why They Hate US?” Is it accurate?

  11. jonst says:

    Well Michael Moscoe, congratulations for declaring yourself, and others, “men of honor”! And others, so the implication must be, men ‘without honor’. Leaving aside the gender issue for the moment, it is good to someone separate the the wheat from the chaff with declarative accuracy. I’ve always had a hard time at it myself.

  12. My subconscious is telling me that this story is somehow related to this topic:
    Two men wheeled a dead man through the streets in an office chair to a check-cashing store and tried to cash his Social Security check before being arrested on fraud charges, police said.
    Pair wheel corpse to store to cash check
    Exactly how it’s related, I cannot say.

  13. “Exactly how it’s related, I cannot say.”
    CWZ, a few thoughts come to mind…
    The two guys are Hillary and Barack (or McCain and Romney) wheeling the body politic through the streets of America in an attempt to fraudulently collect on their promise of ‘Change.’ Or it could be Bush and Cheney, wheeling the body of a victim of 9/11 through the streets of DC, whipping up a frenzy for war with Iraq (Iran?). Perhaps it’s a couple of K Street lobbyists, pushing the corpse of the US Constitution up to the Capitol building, only instead of trying the cash a check, they are eagerly handing them out to whatever congress critters will eagerly do their bidding?
    CWZ, you are quite right; The image of 2 down and out guys pushing a 3rd, dead, down and out guy down the street of a major city to the check cashing store, in an effort to get some quick cash, sums up quite well a lot of what I have been feeling of late regarding America. I used to think I lived in a democratic republic (with all the faults and problems of that form of government contained therein). Over the past few years however, I have come to the sad conclusion that my country doesn’t exist anymore, and was replaced by a chickenshit empire.
    SubKommander Dred

  14. Mr.Murder says:

    Dionysus, the dance of passion, welded seamlessly within the the Apollonian.
    Persons of passion who apply meaning to their mortality and sublimate this reality with a greater embrace of fate. Forces acting upon those same characters across the span of time, all of which are assertive qualities of living within the present, also play historical parts.
    “My formula for greatness as a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different-not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it.” (EH II 10)
    This parallels classic mythology in the character of a trickster. Giving us detailed insight, shaping events with power and passion, and taken down by those same flaws that enable our celebration of such archetypes. All of which reappears within the woven fabric of social power brokerage.
    See also Barack Obama in this electoral cycle.
    He points out the conflict with the overall political infrastructure, and others express similar disdain, in the state of amor fati they are actualized so doing.
    For all the passion they arouse each is checked by the sense of place a value already assigned to the overall scheme of society. They forge identity before surrender to a greater identity, then develop consensus, on the eventual point at which policy settles.
    Political theater.
    The new hero tells us we must impose change, and then goes about doing so in the most conformative and conservative terms he can think of. People see this with a marked skepticism and thus become fatalists based on the flaws of our supposed hero.
    Which drives a static stasis that leaves few able to manifest their passions, whilst they check emotion in degrees measured, to be called mensch and master the societal circus going on around them.
    “To become what one is, one must not have the faintest notion of what one is.”
    Thus Hillary’s triumph of her own will.
    Obama is an example of eternal recurrence being foreshadowed, Hillary is its culmination.
    Yet one cannot actualize the existential self until one is cognizant of if. Only then can realization occur.
    If Obama is assured as we are led to believe, why has his policy been essentially milquetoast? If this is what he is, his vision, then it’s abundantly clear that he is diluted from any sense of purpose.
    Hillary is now coming to her realization mode. This means she could bring forth a wide spectrum of new and challenging ideas or at least find new ways to state previous ideas that build energy to implement change.
    “One repays a teacher badly if one remains a pupil only.”
    The voice for leadership is the most true form of change one can take part in. It takes persons speaking truth to power, not merely towing a heavily conventional premise, for one to be considered a true leader in the body politic.
    The extent to which is this is done today relies upon a pundit class to try and achieve or cultivate that response. It is fraying at its cracking foundations.
    Will one humor this demand and talk to it now in policy, or simply its most emotional catch words? The one doing so the most is being disregarded…

  15. Bob Hall says:

    My Dearest Colonel:
    “Well, I guess he had it coming to him. We’ve all got it coming to us, kid.”
    The Unforgiven

  16. Mark K Logan says:

    This thread came to my thoughts when I read a quote
    from Obama today. When asked how he is holding up under the stress, he related a phone conversation with his wife:
    Michelle: “We are not doing this again.”
    Barak: “Was this the wrong choice?”
    Michelle “No. I thought that this was the wrong time for this. But now I know that this was the right time.”
    Barak: “Why”
    Michelle: “Both of us are still almost normal.”
    Nevermind the clinking, I’m still moving babe?
    I marvel at McCains stamina.

  17. stonevendor says:

    Regarding the primaries: Amidst the nuttiness and media sound and fury I finally got a report of rational behavior. This from an email sent from someone (from outside of Iowa) working there for a candidate.
    “Or my best one ‘If you stand w/ Obama (instead of Richardson), I’ll use my new John Deere to plow your driveway for the rest of the winter.'”
    Imagine! You live in Iowa, your driveway is often covered by snow and by supporting a politician the snow disappears from your driveway. Like the man said, “All politics is local.”

  18. John Moore says:

    The human world seems real to us, but it is largely an illusion of the mind which is to a large extent an illusory construct based on training as infants. Just because we are taught about duties, responsibilities, and traditions, and that we should uphold them, doesn’t mean that they now have a basis in reality. Once upon a time, one or two thousand years ago, they may have been necessary, but what if we have outgrown them culturally, socially, and psychologically. These are the millstones or burdens that Jesus wanted to relieve us of. The Buddhists have similar language. An infant or small child has no concept of good or evil. He or she must be taught it. I’m not even sure that Buddhism defines evil the same way as Christianity since evil is seen as a sort of unconscious action by unconscious people.
    Combat is likely beyond good and evil for the most part. When your life is threatened, your mind will quiet and you will react without thought to save yourself or your friends. What did Churchill quip, “There is nothing like being shot at to focus the mind”. Likely he should have said, quiet the mind.

  19. I can’t dance.
    Is that a good sign?

  20. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Ah, but can you whistle? pl

  21. CWZ, no it is not. We all want to dance.

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