This afternoon, I sat down to read through the portions of Human, All Too Human (Section VI – ‘Man in Society’ or ‘In Relations with Others’) that I had assigned to my Social Philosophy class, and once again, was struck by how acute and perspicuous so many of its aphorisms are–especially when it comes to anticipating the awkwardness and gaucherie and pretensions of our online social networks.
For instance, on the business of avatars, Nietzsche offers the following:
294 Copies. Not infrequently, one encounters copies of important people; and, as with paintings, most people prefer the copy to the original.
On the burdens of the kind of ‘friendships’ that are now increasingly common on social media:
296 Lack of intimacy. Lack of intimacy among friends is a mistake that cannot be censured without becoming irreparable.
On the kinds of knowledge and posturing that social networks encourage and facilitate:
302 Preference for certain virtues. We lay no special value on the possession of a virtue until we perceive its complete absence in our opponent.
305 Balance of friendship. Sometimes in our relationship to another person, the right balance of friendship is restored when we put a few grains of injustice on our own side of the scale.
303 Why one contradicts. We often contradict an opinion, while actually it is only the tone with which it was advanced that we find disagreeable.
307 When paradoxes are appropriate. At times, one can win clever people over to a principle merely by presenting it in the form of an outrageous paradox.
On kinds of humble bragging:
313 Vanity of the tongue. Whether a man hides his bad qualities and vices or confesses them openly, his vanity wants to gain an advantage by it in both cases: just note how subtly he distinguishes between those he will hide his bad qualities from and those he will face honestly and candidly.
On being embroiled in pointless disputation and flame wars:
315 Required for debate. Whoever does not know how to put his thoughts on ice should not engage in the heat of argument.
317 Motive for attack. We attack not only to hurt a person, to conquer him, but also, perhaps, simply to become aware of our own strength.
326 Silence. For both parties, the most disagreeable way of responding to a polemic is to be angry and keep silent: for the aggressor usually takes the silence as a sign of disdain.
On the provision of a performance space by social networks:
325 Presence of witnesses. One is twice as happy to dive after a man who has fallen into the water if people are present who do not dare to.
And its associated lack of privacy:
327 The friend’s secret. There will be but few people who, when at a loss for topics of conversation, will not reveal the more secret affairs of their friends.
We should not be too surprised; we import, into our online meeting spaces, the dynamics of ‘offline’ interactions that have always been visible to the acute observer of the social scene. As Nietzsche undoubtedly was.