Nietzsche & Web 2.0

On: October 8, 2007
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About Carolien van der Vorst


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The current web 2.0 and the participatory culture are seen as the next big thing. Still, even after the participatory culture has proven to be able to build great things, Wikipedia amongst others, not everybody seems convinced of its value.

An interesting question would be to ask how philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would have felt about our participatory culture. At first glance, he doesn’t seem too impressed with the ability of the masses to create anything, except for chaos:

“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”[1]


Where James Surowiecki in his ‘Wisdom of the crowds’ is convinced that better results can be attained by large heterogeneous groups, rather than small specialized groups, Nietzsche would probably disagree:

“In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.”[2]

Important feature of the participatory culture are the many ranking systems. For example, posts on Slashdot are ranked by moderators. The more people ranking a certain post as ‘excellent’ the more visible this post will become. When it is generally agreed something is good, it will rise to the top. Nietzsche doesn’t seem to hold consensus on what is good and what is not, in high esteem:

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”[3]

Based upon these three quotes I would say Nietzsche wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about all the people working together and reaching consensus about what is important.

However, he might not have agreed with the many critics on Wikipedia either, who say that the quality isn’t what it’s supposed to be all the time:

“It says nothing against the ripeness of a spirit that it has a few worms.”[4]

And he also acknowledges the need to evolve and the fear people have of change. Not all things new are bad:

“What is new, however, is always evil, being that which wants to conquer and overthrow the old boundary markers and the old pieties; and only what is old is good. The good men are in all ages those who dig the old thoughts, digging deep and getting them to bear fruit – the farmers of the spirit. But eventually all land is depleted, and the ploughshare of evil must come again and again.”[5]

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[1] Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved on 06-10-2007. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/f/friedrich_nietzsche.html
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved on 06-10-2007. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/f/friedrich_nietzsche.html
[3] Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved on 06-10-2007. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/f/friedrich_nietzsche.html
[4] Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved on 06-10-2007. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/f/friedrich_nietzsche.html
[5] Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved on 06-10-2007. http://www.pitt.edu/~wbcurry/nietzsche.html

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