Sunday, July 22, 2007

Distorting Nietzsche to Defame A murder

The North Shore Outlook recently ran piece on convicted murder Sebastian Burns. In discussing motive, reporter Sam Cooper distorts Nietzsche writings beyond all recognition.

"Motivation for the Rafay family murders was neatly explained by the well-documented devotion Burns and Rafay shared for German philosopher Friedreich Nietzche’s “superman” doctrine, which holds that a handful of intellectually superior men are justified to act amorally for personal gain. Furthermore, the boys’ motivation and crime had “unbelievable parallels” to the plot of one of the great novels of all time, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which had in fact influenced Nietzche’s thinking. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, a disdainful young law student, bludgeons to death a “useless and despicable” woman moneylender and her feeble-minded sister with the blunt side of an axe, simply because he believes himself a “superman.” He had planned to use profits from the murders to finance the beginnings of a career he imagined would eventually benefit society.

I wanted to make myself a Napoleon and that is why I killed her,” Raskolnikov finally confessed to a detective. That line eerily echoes what Rafay said to an RCMP detective in a wiretap following the murders.

“(Killing my family) was necessary to achieve what I wanted to achieve in life,’’ Atif Rafay said.

Where to begin? Nazis appropriated and distorted Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch. For this reason, most scholars studiously avoid translating Ubermensch as superman, least such a translation legitimate such readings. Nietzsche’s notion of the Ubermensch translated literally means “over man” and this is generally the preferred translation.

As for the notion itself, Nietzsche does not employ it outside of the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and it most certainly does not refer “a handful of intellectually superior men”. Indeed, the Ubermensch does not refer to class of people at all but rather a desired overcoming, when humanity has gone beyond Good and Evil. The same goes for “man”. To wit:

“Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Ubermensch – a rope over an abyss. A dangerous going across, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and staying still. …. I love him who lives for knowledge and who wants knowledge that one day the Ubermensch may live.”

“Alas! The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars. Alas! The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself. Behold! I shall show you the Last man.”

As for your comparison between Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov and Rafay, you are again hopelessly wide of the mark. At the beginning of the book Raskolnikov is a kind of Act Utilitarian on steroids and hence the references to Newton and Kepler. What about the following statement by Rafay suggests that he believed killing his parents would further the common good?
“(Killing my family) was necessary to achieve what I wanted to achieve in my life”.

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