How I Killed Nietzsche’s Superman with Clark Kent

image credit: The School of Life

The following is an excerpt from New Genesis: Hyperspace Revelations now available on Amazon:

“God is dead.” — Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125

The Übermensch, or Superman, is a concept the 19th century German philosopher Nietzsche created that described a future individual who would overcome the values of the masses and create his or her own values based on a desire or will to power. In Nietzsche’s book The Genealogy of Morals, he describes two types of moralities: master and slave. Nietzsche famously attacked Christian values as being slave-morality or the values of the oppressed, some of these values being shame and humility. Slave-values were propagated while these masses lived under oppressive regimes. It was one way to empower themselves and collectively organize against their rulers. Master-morality is its converse, which includes values such as pride and strength. The importance of Nietzsche’s philosophy was to reveal that our sense of right and wrong is not all together natural. Good and evil are social constructs, he argues.

To Nietzsche, slave-morality has a genealogy or history that leads to Judaism which was under the rule of the Roman Empire, most importantly during the time of Christ. The Roman Empire had a different, more master-morality or code of ethics — that of the great Olympic pantheon. As some have argued, this pantheon goes back further than even the Greek to proto-civilizations where the highest god was Pan instead of Zeus. Nietzsche preferred this diversity of gods that the pantheon presented because it allowed the population to choose its own set of values from a plethora of gods. It was Christianity that, for many socio-economic reasons, became popular because of the rise of the merchant class. Democracy worked well with Christian values.

Christianity with its monotheist God later defeated the polytheist pantheon in terms of belief amongst citizens and was even adopted later by the great Roman emperor Constantine who, before a great battle, famously saw a vision in the afternoon sky: a bright symbol with the words “by this sign conquer.” It was a symbol that, to Constantine, resembled a cross.

In the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche also introduces the dichotomy of the Apollonian vs. the Dionysian or the rational and ordered vs. the creative and chaotic. Based on the Greek gods, these concepts represented to him the duality of man’s nature. He later regretted making such a clear dichotomy or opposition between the two concepts. Nevertheless, more often, Nietzsche chose to appeal to Dionysus. Man had gotten too self-policing by taking on the slave-morality of Christianity, which at the time had become the dominant force in the Western world and, arguably, not the democratic version it was intended to be. Dionysus, or the Dionysian, was a way out of slave-morality and back to a will to power or production of greater men such as the mighty warriors and leaders as told in Greek and Roman history and folklore. Nietzsche, in some ways, was not only fighting slave-morality but what he saw as the fascism of the Christian church. He was a dreamer. The idea that the masses could take on such other values was something Nietzsche himself knew was idealistic at best. What Nietzsche was actually fighting was what many had called the “truth” at the time –– blind faiths that did not recognize how these truths were created by men. The Übermensch, as an alternative solution, is a high goal or North Star a person should try to work towards — it is a rare individual who rises out of the herd, as Nietzsche liked to say in reference to the bovine masses.

Unfortunately, this Übermensch has been interpreted in many erroneous ways. The Nazis famously used Nietzsche’s philosophy as part of their ideological platform, particularly because Nietzsche was a fellow Aryan-German. Today, American white supremacists, who are sometimes linked to the fringe of 2017 Trumpism, shout Heil Trump! at their rallies. They, too, refer to Nietzsche as being an important part of their philosophy. Many of these American white supremacists have abandoned their traditional Christian values and taken on ancient polytheistic Norse religions in which they worship Odin and Thor. They claim these warrior Norse gods represent a stronger, European master-morality that is more equipped to battle an America that they believe is leaving them behind. This worship of Odin is not limited to America, however. In 2011, the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, a fascist nationalist, killed 77 people with bombs and guns in an inexplicable massacre. In the courthouse after his sentencing, he defiantly shouted that he committed the atrocities in the name of Odin.

Mass Murderer, fascist, Odinist Anders Behring Breivik

The grave mistake these people make is that they completely misread Nietzsche and his idea of the Übermensch. Nietzsche wrote how perturbed he was at the Aryan-racial nationalism and growing anti-semitism occurring in Germany during his time. The Übermensch, in fact, is the opposite of a fascist and nationalist. He would never associate himself with the politics of the herd. The Übermensch is strong, but as Nietzsche claimed, the Übermensch is a lone wolf who acts not on vengeance like a slave but from a noble position of power. Mercy, Nietzsche claimed, comes from great abundance of spirit or power –– not weakness. The Nazis and White Supremacists then, by acting collectively in terms of the common denominator of skin color or race, are the very herd of slaves that Nietzsche described. There is no nobility when one acts from a place of being wronged. The Übermensch acts without regard to the “oppressive powers,” harnessing his power from a daring free-spirit. The “wars” Nietzsche spoke of were in terms of values. His philosophy, as most academics are familiar with, was naturally disordered or Dionysian. Nietzsche later wished he had been an artist and not a philosopher. He saw the problem with ideology and explanation. Who would hear him clearly? Only the fortunate.

Nietzsche’s superhero was only relevant for the 19th century. It is a shame people still take the Übermensch so seriously. Our modern day Clark Kent Superman is much more interesting. DC's Superman has a different set of more realistic and complex problems: he flies into space with his superpower hearing, and all the cries from the people around the globe call out to him for help. Superman cannot rid himself of these voices in desperate need. What does he do? How does he decide? Surely, he must turn away from almost all the cries he hears — this inability to save them all is Superman’s greatest kryptonite that no desire or will to power can ever overcome. One thing is definite, however: he always saves Lois Lane.

Here, we will return to Nietzsche’s most misused and misunderstood quote:

“God is dead.”

Now, let’s examine this quote in its totality:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”
— Nietzsche, The Gay Science

What Nietzsche truly meant was that our belief or faith in the gods had died. As man grew in his knowledge of the universe, he had a difficult time believing in the magic of the old gods. The rituals, sacrifices, and prayers did not always come to the rescue nor were they as convincing as explanations of nature. As civilization expanded and became more sophisticated, a god-like first cause was not needed to explain the workings of the world. Now, modern men are left alone with no gods that they can truly count on. Can we find comfort in this reality?

The true Übermensch of today is the person who can bring belief back, one that all men can have faith in including all the masters, slaves, and atheists as well. This Übermensch goes beyond what is thought possible, creating a new era in terms of belief and ethos. What can he do today in the aftermath of the death of God and the rise of the rule of mob?

We do not know what created this universe or if there was a “creator” in the conventional sense. What we do know, through scientific observation, is that a great mysterious universe exists. If we were to worship this great creation of the universe, would it not be giving applause to a creator also? Why would our perspective of a supreme being have him be so in need of narcissistic praise? If a supreme being is really there, it would have been around for 14 billion years — there’s not much we can do to cheer him any more. But why anthropomorphize this power? This is the folly of men. Perhaps, praise, then, in reality, is understanding the universe in the right way: to appreciate it.

As we look to cosmology and the various explanations of the origin and ultimate fate of the universe, we still have little idea of how much of the universe works. Even with our most advanced technology, we cannot figure out an elementary and ubiquitous force called gravity. Currently our universe is being sucked into a black hole called the Great Attractor, which some have theorized to have another universe like our own on the other side but much more massive. Perhaps there exists civilizations there, too, wondering the same things we do: how did we get here? How did this whole universe start? As they look for this origin or creator, think about it, and possibly even discover it, they might get to the final lock or origin that sustains life on all planets and creates universes from the start: a giant pulsar or black hole sun (quasar). From this star, all the universe expanded out. As the cosmos is a collective network of stars and matter, we must wonder if the cosmos itself has a “consciousness.” Research has shown that brainless, “unintelligent” organisms like plants and bacteria, when working in groups, combine to have a collective intelligence that is smart enough to help the survival of its species. This consciousness, however, is merely a behavior.

If our universe has an intelligence or behavior, the first black hole sun can be thought of as a type of virgin-fertilized egg. That first black hole sun may have simply popped into existence and said, “Here I am. So be it. Let there be light.” In a second, more likely scenario, this black hole sun would have slowly matured, growing into a larger and larger network of stars and galaxies, gaining more and more intelligence as it expanded. There would have been no first words or commands at the Big Bang — only the babbling of an infant. What was before this black hole sun? Nothing can exist in nothingness. You can see how and why humans have created explanations about this nothingness and how this void allows for a free-for-all in creations of myths. When will we stop looking? This is the end of the Genealogy of Morals.

Carl Sagan was correct: We humans “are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” This “creator,” then, is not a being at all but just a thing without personality or judgment that does what it’s supposed to do: become what it is.

Before we get over our heads, let us remember that man is not the master educator of the universe. It is not a vertical hierarchy. As Sagan noted in reference to a photo taken of Earth by the very space probe he helped launch:

Photo of Earth taken by the Space Probe Voyager

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

You could say we are infinitesimally small in the grand scheme of things. We should be humbled by our location and size in the universe. Yet, let us not be merely slaves. If we exist, then the conditions of this vast universe must have allowed it. No energy is wasted in an efficient system.

In his quest to destroy the values of the herd, Nietzsche succumbed to the Dionysian, never fully escaping the binary. He reverted to the values and myths of the past instead of viewing society contextually. This mistake, of looking back to an idealized past, is the same mistake white nationalists make today. It creates a grand narrative of the “great battle” that doesn’t describe reality accurately.

As Superman’s story has carried out over the decades, his popularity has fallen dramatically. One reason for this is because the old stories of good vs. evil that Superman has traditionally been involved with are no longer convincing. Superman has been met with challenges where what is right and wrong has become more difficult to discern. His enormous powers of superhuman strength, hearing, and speed have sometimes created a burden especially when he has to make a choice between two bad choices. These ethical decisions are never easy. Clark Kent, on the other hand, has many more choices. He sees that no matter what he does, the good, bad, and the in-between keep happening. He can’t save everyone or even himself from this fact. He must choose when he wants to fly and realize that the myths he has told himself were the source of his existential conundrum. They must die.

***

Read more like this in the book New Genesis here:

Cosmos, Culture, and Society

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store