In Frederich Nietzsche's works, when he discusses a 'parasite,' he is indicating the following:

a complete lack of nobility of disposition when someone prefers to live in dependency, at the expense of others.

When he tries to use nature to emphasize how this dialetic has evolved from primal life to the human species, he rightly uses leeches, and in a folkloric sense, vampires-- note that they do exist in real form, as vampire bats. These creatures, in his philosophy, are similar to slaves and their 'slave morality,' which aims to deprive the masters of their 'strength,' much like how the same creatures feed off the blood and protein of a prosperous organism in order to survive.

Forwarding to modern day science, one can acknowledge that his works are from an earlier time in which knowledge on parasites was more scarce. Scientific movements in today's age have discovered drastic forms of parasitism, such as those found in the Leucochloridium paradoxum and Toxoplasma gondii; these kinds of parasites directly control the minds and movements of organisms, especially through the infection of their central nervous systems.

Nietzsche never would have possibly predicted such parasites to exist; their behaviors go beyond the common notion that a parasite "sucks resources for nourishment." At the same time, however, he would not be surprised in the slightest, since in his philosophy, power is the drive of life. Nevertheless, for Nietzsche, this kind of parasite would pose a great threat to people who are individualistic rather than herd-like, more so than blood-sucking parasites.

The remaining question is how Nietzsche would apply the concept of a 'mind control parasite' to the construction of the human species. If slaves and their slave morality represent blood-sucking parasites, what would represent mind-controlling parasites?

Now, the idea of a person being able to erase another person's set of identity, values, will, and beliefs-- all of which construct individuality-- and replacing/parasitizing it with another set, whether it be through drugs, torture, or indoctrination, or all of the three, is still merely a fiction. However, agencies such as the CIA have experimented with it, especially in the highly famed "MK Ultra" plot.

On a less personal level, we can look at previously existing totalitarian regimes, most if not all of them practicing the "all for the state, nothing against the state" mindset. Politically and culturally, this is how one can come close to mind control. Although a society that is exactly like the one featured in "Nineteen Eighty-Four," (which is the closest to the idea of mind control in totalitarian states being possible) is to this day just a fiction, the current state of various political factions around the world employ tactics similar to those described in the book, including the dominance of distorted linguistics.


2 Answers 2


Although Nietzsche uses the term 'leeches' and 'vampires', this isn't in the context of a 'mind control parasite'. And whilst he also uses the term 'parasite', he certainly doesn't ascribe it powers of 'mind control'. Whilst N often uses hyperbolic and metaphorical language in his writings, I don't think I have come across that specific term and that you have put it in quotes suggests that you had read it somewhere in his work. Can you say where?

In Thus Spake Zarathustha, Z stumbles across a man lying down in a swamp with several leeches on his arm and when Z asks him is he studying the leech, he tells him no, he is studying only the brain of the leech. He says to Z:

"I am the conscientious in spirit ... and in the matters of the spirit there may be none stricter, harder and narrower than I ...Rather know nothing than half-know much better to know nothing ... A hand-breadth of ground - on that one can stand. In the conscience of science there is nothing great and nothing small ... That of which I am the master and the expert is the brain of the leech. That is my world ... that is my realm. For its sake I have thrown away everything else. For its sake, everything else has become indifferent to me. And close to my knowledge lies black my ignorance ... Where my honesty ceases, I am blind and want to be blind."

Z is parodying the scientific and objective spirit. This had already been down by Swift in his Gullivers Travels where he pokes fun at Balnibarbins for an eight year research project to extract sunbeams out of cucumbers and attempting to turn human excrement back into food. Nietzsche's aim here is to describe and dismiss what he considers a failed form of his 'higher type'.

In aphorism 260 of Human, all too Human, he writes:

260: Prejudice in favour of size: Men clearly overestimate everything large and obtrusive. This comes from their unconscious insight that it is very useful if someone throws all his strength into one area, and makes of himself, so to speak, one monstrous organ. Surely, for man himself, a uniform cultivation of his strengths is more useful and beneficial, for every talent is a vampire that sucks blood and strength out of the remaining strengths; and excessive productivity can bring the most gifted man almost to madness. Even within the arts, extreme natures attract notice too much, but a much lesser culture is also necessary to let itself be captivated by them. Men submit from habit to anything that wants to have power.

Again, it's hard not to hear Nietzsche reflecting on himself here, even if he does not name himself. His language is hyperbolic as though he has thrown "all his strength into one area". And here he also recognises - rather belatedly - that strength is not always all its cracked up to be. It can turn 'vampire' sucking out life and vitality.

The quote you refer to is also from Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human:

Parasite - It indicates a complete lack of nobility of disposition when someone prefers to live in dependency, at the expense of others, merely so as not to have to work and usually with a secret animosity towards those he is dependent on - such a disposition is much more frequent amongst women than men, also much more excusable (for historical reasons).

This appears unobjectionable, but of course there are many situations where peiple are dependent, children, the elderly and the sick. One would think Nietzsche woukd exclude these from being parasitical dependents. But no, for he also refers to this term in The Genealogy of Morals, where he writes:

A moral for doctors - the sick man is a parasite of society. In certain cases it is indecent to go on living. To continue to vegetate in a state of cowardly dependence upon doctors and special treatments, once the meaning of life, the right to life has been lost, ought to be regarded with the greatest of contempt by society. The doctors, for their part, should be the agents for imparting this contempt, - they should no longer prepare prescriptions, but should every day administer a fresh dose of disgust to their patients. A new responsibility should be created, that of the doctor - the responsibility of ruthlessly suppressing and eliminating degenerate life, of ascending life, demand such a course ... one should die proudly when it is no longer possibly to live proudly. Death should be chosen freely, - death at the right time, faced clearly and joyfully and embraced while one is surrounded by one's children and other witnesses.

A wonderful, brilliant insight. His pen drips with genius. How could we have been so blind all these millenia? Sick people are parasites and the sicker they are, the more parasitical they become. Get rid of them. Better, make them get rid of themselves. It's cheaper and less labour intensive.

Nietzsche wasn't writing about natural philosophy or the philosophy of logic but about how we ourselves are to live, hope and dream. Thos is why he is a moral philosopher, even if he calls himself the anti-moralist. Such philosophies have to be lived for them to mean anything and by the author if the philosophy has to have any degree of authenticity behind it. Well, life, a word that Nietzsche loved and praised gave Nietzsche a chance to just exactly that - to live out his philosophy. He famously became mentally ill at the age of 45 in 1889 and then lived in the care of his mother until her death in 1897. And then with his sister until his own death in 1900.

He was sick for ten years, dependent first on his mother and then on his sister. Did he think 'it was indecent to go on living?' Did he think he had a 'complete lack of nobikity of disposition' living dependently on his mother and then his sister? Not for a few weeks, here and there - but for a decade? Did he think he should 'die proudly when it was no longer possible to live proudly'? It's hard of course to know what he thought in that state. But the facts speak for themselves. No 'proudly' embraced death for him 'faced clearly and joyfully'. No jumping off cliffs. No shooting his own brains out. Or cutting his wrists. It seems he would rather prescribe medicine that he would rather not take. So much for his doctoring.

  • Often he who howls the most has the most insecurity. Perhaps his rants about power and vitality came from deep insecurity in those areas. But in making loud proclamations he burdened himself with a lasting manifestation of his own emptiness, thus perpetuating his torment. Sometimes, seeing the futility of a pursuit requires actual failure. But when failing takes too long, time runs out. The solution may be not in filling one's void, but in understanding it.
    – Michael
    Feb 19, 2022 at 7:13
  • I prefer my take on his hypocrisy, above, but yours is more amusing
    – user63148
    Nov 16, 2022 at 8:07
  • +1 for the extensive quotes
    – Nikos M.
    Mar 9 at 17:51

This question obviously is highly speculative, but I think it can be answered with a certain degree of certainty.

Firstly, in what sense is the moral slave parasitic? I think it is best answered when we consider the origin of the master-slave dialectic, ie. Hegel. Doing so, we come to realise that there is a mutual relationship that goes both ways: While the 'master' role in the beginning strives to be autonomous, as soon as there are 'slaves' following them they are bound in a...let's call it calcifying structure of power where them being a master relies on them not breaking out of what the slaves chose to be the moral principles they follow. Thus, the nature of the structure is that the truly powerful (in the sense of autonomous/sovereign) individual actually loses that absolute power as soon as others follow them and they, in turn, gain a certain amount of power as the power of the master begins to rely on the belief system the slaves came to adopt from them.

In the light of this, how could we characterise the mind-control kind of parasitism? They would, essentially, gain power and change the role from slave to master, but at the same time would remain part of the same dialectical system that restricts their power as they would only keep their power as long as they remain true to the established moral code of that community.

But, as the moral ideal of Nietzsche is absolute moral sovereignty, we can see that neither the slave role, nor the master role are able to accomplish that. Thus, the true Übermensch has to remain true only to themselves and must not be dragged into a dialectical system of power where they are forced to adhere to something they formerly said or did. An Übermensch literally has to stand above the Will to Power (German über transl. above) and transcend the dialectical structures of power (lat. transcendo = to climb/overcome/stand above).

In that sense, a totalitarian regime and its agents is no better off than its subjects in terms of the kind of power Nietzsche actually advocated. They have to remain within the bounds of the narratives they created, even if they, on an individual level, disagree with (some of) them, or they would lose the kind of power they own. What they basically oversee is that real power (moral autonomy/sovereignty) transcends the relational power they strive to maintain in giving in to the Will to Power. Much like Schopenhauer's Will to Life makes us believe we have to follow our urges to be happy while giving them up would lead to true salvation. It is not a coincidence that the two concepts are named alike.

  • A certain cognitive or moral inertia appears to emerge soon after a mass of individuals conglomerates. Once in motion, essentially all members are taken for a ride. Whether top-down (standard) or bottom-up (mind-control), the true master is the collective mind out of everyone's reach. In joining the body, each hand forfeits freedom. Even this comment may be an example of a hand joining the body.
    – Michael
    Feb 18, 2022 at 9:00
  • I think you should answer more often. I've asked about three thousand questions on Nietzsche, when all I should have asked is whether there is anything interesting and I suppose easily digested on him and "others". Obviously not a "moral" relation, but what does Nietzsche want to replace the will to power with? Self sovereignty is the easy answer, but then that's not obviously a relation
    – user63148
    Nov 15, 2022 at 21:15
  • 1
    @crazed If I were to condense Nietzsche's practical philosophy into a single sentence, it would be "The only relation that matters is that to yourself."
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 16, 2022 at 7:02
  • OK @PhilipKlöcking thanks.
    – user63148
    Nov 16, 2022 at 7:28
  • given the vast literature on him, i'm surprised there is so little said about 'others' @PhilipKlöcking but i suppose i can go with what you said. may as well
    – user63148
    Nov 16, 2022 at 7:34

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