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Acampora 2002 – philosophy professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York (Fall, Christa Davis, International Studies in Philosophy, 34.3, “Of Dangerous Games and Dastardly Deeds”, http://christaacampora.com/uploads/news/id18/Dangerous%20Games.pdf)
The agonistic game is organized around the test of a specific quality the persons involved possess. When two runners compete, the quality tested is typically speed or endurance; when artists compete, it is creativity; craftsmen test their skills, etc.. The contest has a specific set of rules and criteria for determining (i.e., measuring) which person has excelled above the others in the relevant way. What is tested is a quality the individual competitors themselves possess; and external assistance is not permitted. (This is not to say that agonistic games occur only between individuals and that there can be no cooperative aspects of agonistic engagement. Clearly individuals can assert themselves and strive against other individuals within the context of a team competition, but groups can also work collectively to engage other groups agonistically. In those cases what is tested is the collective might, creativity, endurance, or organizational ability of the participating groups.) Ideally, agonistic endeavors draw out of the competitors the best performance of which they are capable. Although agonistic competition is sometimes viewed as a "zero-sum game," in which the winner takes all, in the cases that Nietzsche highlights as particularly productive agonistic institutions, all who participate are enhanced by their competition. Winning must be a significant goal of participation in agonistic contests, but it would seem that winning might be only one, and not necessarily the most important one, among many reasons to participate in such a competition. In his later writings, Nietzsche appears to be interested in thinking about how the structures of contests or struggles can facilitate different possibilities for competing well within them. In other words, he questions whether the structure of the game might limit the way in which one might be able to compete. His study of slavish morality illuminates well that concern.

II. Dastardly Deeds

The so-called "Good Eris," described in "Homer's Contest," supposedly allowed the unavoidable urge to strive for preeminence to find expression in perpetual competition in ancient Greek culture. In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche seeks to critique Christianity for advocating a kind of altruism, or selflessness, that is essentially self-destructive, and for perverting the urge to struggle by transforming it into a desire for annihilation. Read in light of "Homer's Contest," Nietzsche's Genealogy enables us to better grasp his conception of the value of contest as a possible arena for the revaluation of values, and it advances an understanding of the distinctions Nietzsche draws between creative and destructive forms of contest and modes of competing within them.

Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals, a Streitschrift—a polemic, a writing that aims to provoke a certain kind of fighting—portrays a battle between "the two opposing values 'good and bad,' 'good and evil'." Nietzsche depicts slavish morality as that which condemns as evil what perpetuates the agon—namely, self-interest, jealousy, and the desire to legislate values— but rather than killing off the desire to struggle, slavish morality manipulates and redirects it. Prevention of struggle is considered by Nietzsche to be hostile to life: an "order thought of as sovereign and universal, not as a means in the struggle between power-complexes but as a means of preventing all struggle in general—... would be a principle hostile to life, an agent of the dissolution and destruction of man, an attempt to assassinate the future of man, a sign of weariness, a secret path to nothingness" (GM II:11). "The 'evolution' of a thing, a custom, an organ is [...] a succession of [...] more or less mutually independent processes of subduing, plus the resistances they encounter, the attempts at transformation for the purpose of defense and reaction, and the results of successful counteractions"(GM II:12). For Nietzsche, human beings, like nations, acquire their identity in their histories of struggles, accomplishments, and moments of resistance. The complete cessation of strife, for Nietzsche, robs a being of its activity, of its life.

In the second essay of the Genealogy, Nietzsche identifies the notion of conscience, which demands a kind of self-mortification, as an example of the kind of contest slavish morality seeks: "Hostility, cruelty, joy in persecuting, in attacking, in change, in destruction—all this turned against the possessors of such instinct: that is the origin of the 'bad conscience'" (GM II:16). Denied all enemies and resistances, finding nothing and no one with whom to struggle except himself, the man of bad conscience:

impatiently lacerated, persecuted, gnawed at, assaulted, and maltreated himself; this animal that rubbed itself raw against the bars of its cage as one tried to 'tame' it; this deprived creature... had to turn himself into an adventure, a torture chamber, an uncertain and dangerous wilderness — this fool, this yearning and desperate prisoner became the inventor of the 'bad conscience.' But thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness... a declaration of war against the old instincts upon which his strength, joy, and terribleness had reached hitherto (GM II:16).

Bad conscience functions in slavish morality as a means of self-flagellation, as a way to vent the desire to hurt others once external expressions of opposition are inhibited and forbidden. "Guilt before God: this thought becomes an instrument of torture to him" (GM II:22). In that case, self-worth depends upon the ability to injure and harm oneself, to apply the payment of selfmaltreatment to one's irreconcilable account with God. It is the effort expended in one's attempt to make the impossible repayment that determines one's worth. xi The genuine struggle, that which truly determines value for the ascetic ideal is one in which one destructively opposes oneself—one's value increases as one succeeds in annihilating oneself. Slavish morality is still driven by contest, but the mode of this contest is destructive. It mistakes self-inflicted suffering as a sign of strength. The ascetic ideal celebrates cruelty and torture—it revels in and sanctifies its own pain. It is a discord that wants to be discordant, that enjoys itself in this suffering and even grows more self-confident and triumphant the more its own presupposition, its physiological capacity for life decreases. 'Triumph in the ultimate agony': the ascetic ideal has always fought under this hyperbolic sign; in this enigma of seduction, in this image of torment and delight, it recognized its brightest light, its salvation, its ultimate victory (GM III:28).

Slavish morality, particularly in the form of Pauline Christianity, redirects the competitive drive and whips into submission all outward expressions of strife by cultivating the desire to be "good" xii in which case being good amounts abandoning, as Nietzsche portrays it, both the structure of the contests he admired in "Homer's Contest" and the productive ways of competing within them. It does not merely redirect the goal of the contest (e.g., struggling for the glory of Christ rather than competing for the glory of Athens), rather how one competes well is also transformed (e.g., the "good fight" is conceived as tapping divine power to destroy worldly strongholds xiii rather than excelling them). In other words, the ethos of contest, the ethos of the agon is transformed in slavish morality. xiv

III. Dangerous Games

Moralities effect contests in two ways: 1) they articulate a structure through which the meaning of human being (e.g., excellence, goodness, etc.) can be created and meted out, and 2) they simultaneously cultivate a commitment to a certain way of competing within those structures. By cultivating not only a desire to win but a desire to compete well (which includes respect for one's competitor and the institutions that sets forth the terms of the engagement), xv we can establish a culture capable of deriving our standards of excellence internally and of renewing and revaluing those standards according to changes in needs and interests of our communities. This is the legacy that Nietzsche strives to articulate in his "Homer's Contest," one that he intends his so-called "new nobility" to claim. If the life of slavish morality is characterized by actions of annihilation and cruelty, Nietzsche's alternative form of valuation is marked by its activity of surmounting what opposes, of overcoming opposition by rising above (erheben) what resists, of striving continually to rise above the form of life it has lived. As a form of spiritualized striving, self-overcoming, must, like Christian agony, be selfdirected; its aim is primarily resistance to and within oneself, but the agony—that is, the structure of that kind of painful struggle—differs both in how it orients its opposition and in how it pursues its goals . Self-overcoming does not aim at self-destruction but rather at selfexhaustion and self-surpassing. It strives not for annihilation but for transformation, and the method of doing so is the one most productive in the external contests of the ancient Greeks: the act of rising above. Self-overcoming asks us to seek hostility and enmity as effective means for summoning our powers of development. Others who pose as resistances, who challenge and test our strength, are to be earnestly sought and revered. That kind of reverence, Nietzsche claims, is what makes possible genuine relationships that enhance our lives. Such admiration and cultivation of opposition serve as "a bridge to love" (GM I:10) because they present a person with the opportunity to actively distinguish himself, to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with what Nietzsche describes as "becoming what one is." xvi

This, Nietzsche suggests, is what makes life worth living—it is what permits us to realize a certain human freedom to be active participants in shaping our own lives. xvii

Agonists, in the sense that Nietzsche has in mind, do not strive to win at all costs. Were that their chief or even highly prominent goal we would expect to see even the best contestants hiding from their serious challengers to their superiority or much more frequently resorting to cheating in order to win. Rather, agonists strive to claim maximal meaning for their actions. (That's the good of winning.) They want to perform in a superior manner, one that they certainly hope will excel that of their opponent. In other words, the best contestants have a foremost commitment to excellence, a disposition that includes being mindful of the structure through which their action might have any meaning at all—the rules of the contest or game. Xviii

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