Undoing Nietzsche

Man of Steel asked the question of how the world would take knowing a superior being was in their midst. Friedrich Nietzsche trumpeted the coming of the Superman: in Thus Spake Zarathustra he said a woman’s greatest hope was she would give birth to a Superman. I don’t think it takes a lot of speculation how a superior being, a Superman would be received if his presence were discovered, and walking through this is interesting.

There would be a group that would welcome him (or her) with open arms in full, honest friendship, probably with a fan site right away and a convention within a year or two. Others would receive him in a half-hearted way, and still others would be indifferent. The doubters would be there no matter what, until they saw a miraculous act in person. There would be groups that would oppose him, either in thought or deed.  He wouldn’t be a shoo in for President. In other words, it would be the same kind of acceptance or rejection all of us find in life; we have folks who love us and hate us, are indifferent to us, and doubt we can accomplish anything positive or relevant. In that way, Superman would only be human.

How much Superman would have to use his special power is something that could get tricky. After all, if you’re indestructible, can fly into outer space, and all the other things, folks would expect you to use those powers often. Superman could easily become a one person universal rescue squad, particularly if he could blow apart hurricanes, seal earthquakes and quell forest fires with an icy breath.  (Let’s not go as far as speculate what short-circuiting natural phenomena might do to the Earth.)  A lot of rescue squads and firefighter teams could be disbanded. Hopefully, he wouldn’t need to sleep much; he’d be expected to be almost everywhere all the time. There could be some backlash when folks came up to him and said: “Why didn’t you stop that accident last week? Aren’t we important enough to you.”  Probably a lot more people would be standing in line to give him a hug, kiss or handshake for helping them, although how much time he’d have to receive this gratitude might be small.

There would be people who would expect him to be the leader of the world, which would also take up a fair amount of time. Also, some evil, rich genius such as Lex Luthor would be trying to dig up some Kryptonite to take him down. Not everybody would be happy he was around, particularly if they didn’t want people saved.  Just like any public figure today, I guess.

Would he have the attitude of a saint, is that a given?  It would depend a lot where he came from and who raised him.  Saturday Night Live did a great skit that wondered how Superman would have turned out if he’d been raised in Nazi Germany, where he was on the way to winning WWII single handed.  I don’t think it’s a sure bet that super ability would provide superior compassion, and he might not have much empathy for ordinary people.  Nietzsche would have no problem with that, but the rest of the world might.  Since Superman is practically indestructible, he might be indifferent to what others thought of him, after all, if no one can really hurt him, why should he care?  He might try to bend the world around his ego, once he was revealed, which probably wouldn’t be good for everybody.  If Superman behaved like a super star, the entire world surely would have to cope with all his foibles.

I think there is one example of a Superman in real life. He was born in a little, out of the way place in a backwater area over two thousand years ago and came on the scene rather quickly as a multi-talented teacher, healer, miracle worker, and inspirational leader. He wasn’t universally successful: many of the people who heard him speak didn’t listen to him, and there were legions of doubters.  Most people felt he wasn’t what they expected him to be, what they hoped he would be. He pinged the radar of the great powers of the world, and they decided he was a threat, so he was set up to be publicly humiliated and executed. Three days later, he rose from the dead and visited his followers, and millions of people since then have seen him as the most important person in the history of the world.  But he’s never found anything close to universal acceptance, or even universal respect.

Given how the fickle trends of popularity and acceptance can be, I’d advise Clark Kent to stay under wraps. He’ll at least get some privacy that way, and even some sleep, if he needs it.


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