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Master-slave dialectics, or a reasonable fascimile

Started by CPXB, November 14, 2005, 11:58:55 PM

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There was a discussion of My Life With Master in Actual Play and someone said that the game is Nietzschian, saying that the master was a superman and when it was pointed out that the Master in MLWM isn't a Nietzschian superman the retort was to the effect that the Master would think he is.  Victor Gijsbers said the discussion was interesting and I should repeat what I said there on this forum where more free ranging MLWM stuff ought to go.  So, I said in response to Victor's comment (with some very brief editing):

The Master might think he's the superman, but he's wrong.  The Master is, well, the master -- self-centered, egotistical, small-minded, brutal and powerful.  The interpretation of the master being identical with the superman is a literally fascist interpretation, which came about only after some serious editing of Nietzsche's works.  Nietzsche, himself, is clear that the superman transcends the master-slave morality altogether, whereas the Master in MLWM  wallows in his mastery, in the self-satisfied feeling of his own power over other people.  The superman consciously rejects what the Master in MLWM is, and that some self-deluded "Master" jerk thinks overwise doesn't mean that he's actually going along with what Nietzsche wrote.  I'm reminded of the bit from A Fish Called Wanda when Wanda is talking to Otto about how, yes, apes can read philosophy, they just don't understand it.  The Master is very much like Otto.

MLWM actually defies a straight Nietzschian analysis.  The Master could be a Nietzschian master, but just as possibly it could be a Hegelian master.  Heck, even a Marxist one -- it would be an interesting MLWM game where the Master was a capitalist and the minions the repressed proletariat.  While the game is obviously all about the master-slave relationship, and obviously Nietzsche is a big part of any discussion about that relationship, I don't think the game is "about" a Nietzschian master-slave relationship, specifically.  One could certainly CHOOSE such a relationship for the purposes of a specific game, but it doesn't have to be that way.
-- Chris!

Victor Gijsbers

I feel a tension in your post, but that may be due to my misunderstanding you. The tension is this: in the second paragraph, you state that the Nietzschean Übermensch "transcends the master-slave morality altogether". (More about this later.) Yet in your third paragraph, you seem to say that one might play My Life with Master with a Nietzschean master, thus making it about the Nietzschean master-slave relationship. I don't see how both could be true.

Regarding the first point, I'm not sure one can say that the Nietzschean Übermensch transcends the master-slave morality. In fact, I do not think Nietzsche has the concept of a "master-slave morality". He has the concept of a master-morality and the concept of a slave-morality, exemplified by the respective conceptual contrasts good-bad and good-evil, but these two are two extremes. They do not together form a 'master-slave relationship'. The morality of the Übermensch, as far as he can be said to have a morality, is surely a master-morality. This means that he judges things by their value for life, not negatively by how dangerous they are.

Regarding the second point, could one play My Life with Master with a Nietzschean Übermensch as the Master, exploring Nietzsche's philosophy as one plays? My first reaction is: no way! The dependency of the Master upon the outsiders, and upon the minions; the Master's giving all the dangerous jobs to the minions; the Master's eventual downfall through love; the Master's incapability of sincerity and love; the Master's self-chosen incarceration in a crumbling castle - all of this goes against the very spirit of Nietzsche.

Nevertheless, the idea is intriguing, the more so since whereas the Master-minion relationship from the Gothic horror tradition is obviously wrong and pathetic, the Nietzschean political-moral ideal of the free spirits mildly ruling the masses is, though hardly something I'd like to embrace, not pathetic. It would be incredibly interesting to try and explore this political ideal. (Which, by the way, plays only a very minor role in Nietzsche's writing. I think The Antichrist is the only text in which he gives us a description of the ideal state, being normally far more concerned with personal ethics.)

To do so, one would need a Master who is an Übermensch, and minions who are humans - not freaks. We must be able to identify with these humans, while at the same time it should be one of their 'Nietzschean vices' that brings down the essentially benevolent rule of the Master: their resentment, their envy, their revenge. Actually, I have no idea how to map this onto the rules of My Life with Master.

Now, of course, a nihilist Master who has embraced the Will to Power but lacks the positive qualities of Zarathustra - that is very possible. A Hegelian Master... what would a Hegelian Master look like? A Marxist Master (as in: a Master as described by Marx), that might work almost out-of-the-box. Instead of 'Love', use 'Class consciousness'. Instead of 'Reason', use 'Unity'. Have the minions be proletarians forced by the capitalist Master to spy on and report, beat up or otherwise mistreat the proletariat so that they'll keep listening to the Master and keep working in his huge, unsafe and unhealthy factories. You'd need to rewrite the 'Horror Revealed', perhaps to 'Anti-revolutionary sabotage'; but the endgames could remain essentially the same.

There you go: My Life with a Capitalist Pig.


I think that Nietzsche is explicit that the master, with his thoughtless power, creates the conditions for the slave morality -- that the slave's ressentiment is an reaction to the slavery the master imposes.  That is certainly a relationship, I think.

However, Nietzsche is repeatedly clear in both Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil that the superman -- I would use the other word but it's a pain to get an umlat with American keyboards, hehe -- is . . . well, beyond good and evil, beyond the morality of either the slave or the master.  The superman has <I>overcome both the master and the slave.  Right now, I don't intend to break out any books, but he repeats it so often that anyone familiar with Nietzsche could easily find passages to this effect.  It is as clear, I think, as Nietzsche ever gets.

In my opinion, the conflation of the master with the superman comes because in some places it is fairly obvious that Nietzsche has an aesthetic preference for the master over the slave.  This combines with people's native preference for the master to reinforce in our minds that the master is "better" than the slave, though (IMO) a careful reading of Nietzsche will show that he has a lot of contempt for the brutality and stupidity of the master, just as he has contempt for the back-stabbing strategems of the slave.  Indeed, and this is what I got out of On the  Geneaology of Morals, our language (largely a master construct) is designed to make the master look good -- all the words for goodness stem back to the master.  So it is <I>hard given the natural constructs of language to make the slave sound "good" because all the words for the slave are "evil".  Yet, time and again, Nietzsche criticizes master morality, referring to the brutality and stupidity of the master and he repeatly praises the slave (his description of Jesus in The Antichrist is about eight very glowing pages long).

But could one play a game of MLWM with a Nietzschian superman as the master as you describe?  With the benevolent superman being brought down by the common folk?  In the context of this specific game, I'd say "no".  To me, MLWM is about the horrors of tyranny.  A just Master, that was not willing to use violence and degradation to accomplish their goals, seems antithetical to the game.

Uh, wait.  Hehe.  I just got how it MIGHT be done.  Master and minion are game terms.  The "minions" could be the supermen, serving the people, who are cruel and petty and full of ressentiment, and would be, collectively, the Master.  That might work, but it would be the players playing the supermen. 

(For the record, I'm not a Nietzschian.  I'm a socialist.  I think Nietzsche is hopelessly idealistic, and I completely repudiate the very idea of aristocracy, which is what his philosopher-king system of government would manifestly be.  I'm not arguing from the position of a true believer, here.  I don't think that a government of "free spirits" would ever get off the ground as anything other than a brutal oligarchy that would be fertile ground MLWM games -- such, again, as the Nazis who used Nietzschian rhetoric to mask that they were one more sickeningly evil absolutist tyranny unlike anything Nietzsche wrote about, or at least wrote about kindly.  My original point was in large part that just because someone cloaks themselves in the rhetoric of a philosophy doesn't make they practice that philosophy, be it Hitler cloaking himself in Nietzsche, or Stalin cloaking himself in Marx or modern politicians cloaking themselves in Christianity.  Saying you're a follower of Nietzsche, or Marx, or Jesus doesn't mean your actions have even the slightest correspondence to what they actually taught.  I think that's how it would be with a "Nietzschian state" -- that the tyrants would cloak themselves in a philosophy they didn't understand to justify their crimes.  And I think we all agree a MLWM game set in a, say, Nazi death camp would be quite in keeping with the spirit of the game.  Which would be your game with a "Nietzschian superman" without any of the positive virtues attributed to the critter by Nietzsche, though if a player wanted to remove Nazism from the game to avoid all the weird discussions that get brought up by Nazism that'd work, too, of course.  But it wouldn't be, really, Nietzschian, any more than Stalin was a Marxist.  Which is probably more political philosophy than the Forge needs, but what the heck, hehe.)

A Hegelian master is a plain aristocrat, really.  I often say that Nietzsche is a carnival funhouse mirror of Hegel.  The main attribute of the Hegelian master is that the master is willing to die rather than submit to the will of another, the prime attribute of the Hegelian master is a lack of fear of death.  The slave, who clings to life, submits to the master, which is where the fun starts because once the master has slaves, the master is a dead end.  The master doesn't do anything other than fight, and the slaves (through work) learn about the world and grow.  The ultimate end of the struggle of history would be when the slave learns to fight back against the master, to establish a political order (which would be ultimately divine, a reunification of divine intelligence and spirit) that doesn't need violence to perfect it (to Hegel this was democratic republicanism) and thus cause an "end to history" (not meaning that time would stop, but that big historical events would end -- no more wars, famines, upheavals, etc., etc.)  This is obviously ripe for MLWM.  The old style absolutist aristocrat, with his libertine habits (imagine the European courts in the 19th century with their elaborate decadence and casual use and abuse of the lower classes), with minions who emboding a democratic spirit?  Works for me.

Marx is a leftist Hegelian, so the Marxist master also works straight out of the box, but instead of being a decadent aristocrat he's a corrupt capitalist and the workers are the oppressed proletarian, yeah.  ;)
-- Chris!


Next time, I swear I'll read through my post before posting it, yeesh.  *winces at errors*
-- Chris!

Victor Gijsbers

Interesting. I was assuming that you used 'master' to refer to the Übermensch, but you're using it to refer to the old-style aristocrat. I'll have to rethink the issue.

(By the way, I don't think your identification of the Nietzschean Jesus in the Antichrist with the slave is plausible. The defining characteristic of the slave is resentment, whereas Nietzsche's Jesus is utterly free of resentment. He has learned to love even his own death, and would fit without much problems in the Zarathustrian catalogue of 'higher men'.)

As to My Life with a Capitalist Pig, in addition to the changes I described above 'Self-loathing' should be changed into 'Greed', and 'Weariness' into 'Estrangement'. That makes it complete as a piece of Marxist propaganda. :-)

(For the record, I'm not a Marxist. Maybe I'm a Nietzschean, but not really when it concerns political philosophy. Nietzsche is a brilliant thinker when it comes to personal ethics, but his Platonic description of the ideal state in The Antichrist leaves me with the same feeling of disgust I have when I read Plato's in The Republic. It doesn't fit very well into the rest of his philosophy either. Personally, I have no idea what the ideal state looks like, but for now I'm a member of our Dutch Green party.)


I think that Nietzsche is clear that the master and the superman aren't the same thing.  I mean, we have master races, right?  Masters are already out there, but they aren't supermen.  If Achilles and Odysseus were supermen, why are we where we are at?  Because they were aristocratic masters -- brutal and stupid, so self-involved that they can't even imagine that they're hurting others, causing as a reaction the ressenitment of those who do not share their values -- but not supermen.  At least, that's my interpretation.  The interpretation that equates masters with supermen is, I think, a real stretch even given Nietzsche's style of writing that encourages multiple interpretations.

I think it's ironic, too, that Nietzsche, who so loathed Plato, yeah, saw the perfect society as nigh indistinguishable from The Republic.  ;)  I, obviously, however, like Nietzsche -- I think he was spot on with language in a big way, and while the post-modernists and absurdists have abused deconstruction I think that challenging the bases and suppositions of language, thoughts, traditions and society with a view at least be *aware* of where these things we take for granted come from (if not to alter them) is a great, important idea.  A lot of the other stuff, the self-overcoming, I also like.

I think your changes to make My Life with a Capitalist Pig are stellar.  They made me laugh aloud.  ;)
-- Chris!

Victor Gijsbers

Quote from: CPXB on November 15, 2005, 12:16:00 PM
I think that Nietzsche is clear that the master and the superman aren't the same thing.

I absolutely agree with you. It's just that I imagined you wanted to use the Master (not 'master' in a generic sense, but the MLwM persona) to be an Übermensch, when that was not the case. So no disagreement there; far be it from me to endorse Power = Übermensch interpretations of Nietzsche!

So how to recast My Life with Master in Nietzschean terms in the way you envision? I'd say the minion's story should be one of self-overcoming, so they can't start out as supermen. Maybe we should use the allegory of the camel, the lion and the child from the first of Zarathustra's speeches. They start as a camel, and the game ends when one of them becomes a lion. (The child might be the most successful epilogue.) (All the terms are used metaphorically.) Instead of Love, you have Independence. Instead of Weariness, Nihilism. Or perhaps Seriousness. Instead of Self-loathing, Virtue.

Hm, but now I fail to see what the Master and the Townspeople should map onto. This is difficult.


Well, the Master would be the Master.  Recently on that thread that spawned this one, someone said that the Master is secretly TERRIFIED which is why he torments and abuses the minions so.  The *Master* is the Nietzschian slave -- a creature of vengence and undimmed hatred for everything that is beautiful, noble and strong who will do *anything* to conquer and destroy what it fears.   The actual form of the Master is irrelevant -- it could be a Gothic monster as easily as a prison warden, an aristocrat or a schoolteacher.

The minions are those who have the potential to be "free spirits".  What you'd change the names into depends on your view of what the superman actually will be.  Independence and Nihilism would work for me, but so could Love and Weariness (Nietzsche, himself, writes a great deal about weariness), or it could be Generosity and Spite, or Nobility and Resentment.  ;)
-- Chris!

Victor Gijsbers

Yes - but who are the townspeople? That's the question I can't see an answer to, right now.


I guess that would depend defining your definition of the superman.  I mean, if the minions are gaining "independence", as in your example, yeah, defining the townspeople would be mighty hard.  However, generally, I'm not really getting anything, either.  :p
-- Chris!

Mike Holmes

I just found this.

You guys make me afraid to post things here anymore. I was making an offhand, humorous, off topic comment in a thread about something else entirely, and you've gone and...

Mike: Funny thing!
You: Not true!
Mike: I was being satirical.
You: Yeah, but what you said couldn't be true.

This whole thread seems to be a refutation of a point that nobody has tried to make.

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Victor Gijsbers

Quote from: Mike Holmes on November 23, 2005, 06:03:58 PM
You guys make me afraid to post things here anymore. I was making an offhand, humorous, off topic comment in a thread about something else entirely, and you've gone and...

... had a bit of fun. :) Maybe weird fun for people who've read too much philosophy, but fun nonetheless. You're taking it too seriously; or rather, you're under the wrong impression that we are taking it too seriously. I hope you don't think I'm creating Marxist propaganda roleplaying games when I'm serious. :D


I'd like to see a serious game of Marxist propaganda.
AKA Jeff Zahari

Victor Gijsbers

I'd like to see a serious game about Marxism. But that's something very different: propaganda comes with answers, and is meant to stop thought. A good game about Marxism, on the other hand, would stimulate people to think about Marxist issues.


Okay, I'd like to see a serious game designed to elevate the class-consciousness of the proletariat and/or educate people in Marxist economics. Want to design it for me?
AKA Jeff Zahari