No to Ressentiment, Yes to Puissance!


In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche offers a withering criticism of what he calls ressentiment, the habit among the oppressed to focus all their attention on their oppressors, to obsessively document why those oppressors are evil. Ressentiment defines the oppressed as good, but only negatively: we oppressed are good only because we are not them. Ressentiment largely ignores the oppressed and their qualities because it is consumed with detailing the evil of the oppressors. Nietzsche thinks ressentiment is bad because it causes the oppressed to become trapped in a destructive energy, an energy whose purpose is only to obliterate what exists, rather than to create something new in the world. But what’s worse is that ressentiment’s consuming obsession renders the oppressed totally blind to themselves, to their capacities, to their potentials, to their strength, to their power to act into the world and create something new. The oppressed blind themselves to what we might call, after Deleuze & Guattari, their puissance. The endless attention paid to the oppressors makes it seem like they are the only ones capable of acting into the world, the only ones capable of creative agency. But of course they are not the only capable ones. We (the oppressed, the mass of people) are capable too. But we won’t see that ability unless we wean ourselves off of the easy drug of ressentiment.

My sense is that a large majority of the left media is consumed by ressentiment, that it spends most of its time complaining about the evils of those in power. One particularly spectacular example is Jim Hightower’s obsession with the Koch brothers, but there are countless others. And so this media, just like the corporate media, pays very little attention to how people everywhere are using their power to creatively construct another world.

It frustrates me, even to the point of ressentiment, and alas I guess this post in mostly in that key. So enough of this post. Enough of ressentiment. Here’s to becoming obsessed with our own puissance instead.