Man and Supery-dooperyman
|(Emma's theme for next week's Disability Blog Carnival is Superman. I found it hard to connect this theme to disability, so the hurried and somewhat tardy result is a little odd. One of those it's my blog, it's up to me how silly it gets posts.)|
I've never got on with Nietzsche. He is a basically a 19th century gangsta rapper; he thinks he's really hard, he's brimming over with contempt for his fellow man, but ultimately he is so inadequate that he probably thought that sportswear and chunky gold jewellery were a stylish combination (and 19th century European sportswear, the effect would be far worse). In case you are unfamiliar with his work, Nietzsche's rap would have gone a little like this;
I'm a moustachioed mother from the mean streets of Röcken,
My old man was a pastor but my faith in God got broken.
I'm not hanging in the Ghetto as I'm not too keen on Jews,
Basically, my ethics are whatever I choose.
What they call "morality" is all born out of fear,
Love and compassion can kiss me on the rear.
Human beings aren't equal; that's obvious to see,
And guess who is the best of all? That's obviously me!
I matter more than others, because I am so great,
Most people live in suffering because they're second-rate.
Whereas I am really clever and I am really strong,
And nothing that I do or say could ever be wrong.
Even if I'm violent, and shoot up all my foes,
Even if I beat up my bitch and sleep around with hos
(Although to be quite honest, my love-life is a farce,
And when I talk of women, I am talking through my arse.)
I'm sorry about the language, but foul words like arse crop up all too often in the rap music I listen to - that hardcore rural English rap as opposed to the effete American urban variety. I mean, drive-by shootings in anything that goes faster than a tractor is for sissies.
Betrand Russell said in his History of Western Philosophy in 1946 that, despite his own distaste for the chap, Nietzsche's philosophy had come into force in Europe as much as those of his liberal and socialist peers. On the positive side, Nietzsche's ideas did influence various artists and philosophers - notably the Existentialists. The assertion that God is dead was a pretty amazing one, however banal it may appear as a sentence.
However, Hitler had the hots for Nietzsche, and whilst you can't say that Nietzsche was a Nazi, he might be seen to beckon in that direction. Anyway, this was about Superman. And disability. Somehow.
Nietzsche strongly believed in hierarchy, valuing those qualities associated with being a good warrior-hero; strength of will, a certain sort of courage, physical qualities as well as ruthlessness and guile. Romanticised if not actually romantic. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a tedious rant which I recommend you avoid, he talks about the Übermensch, translated as Superman or Overman. He writes;
The most cautious people ask today: "How may man still be preserved?" Zarathustra, however, asks as the sole and first one to do so: "How shall man be overcome?"
Man is weak and we must rise above weakness. Thus begins an idea which has persisted in medical science and cultural attitudes ever since. It's not just about saving life and making life more comfortable, it is about making man himself better.
A desire to improve oneself, one's life and one's society is ancient and widespread and entirely commendable. The only controversy is about how this might be achieved. The Superman is one particular take on this; he is innately superior, without weakness of any physical, psychological or intellectual variety. He is an uncomplicated product of what we would now call eugenics and the triumph of the will which Nietzsche is always harking on about; people doing what they want to do as opposed to what they feel to be right.
This may seem a scary and radical prospect, but are these ideas so far outside our experience? Certainly there is a strong argument that much of ante-natal screening and the elective abortions that result is not about the elevation of suffering, but the elimination of (perceived) weakness. Healthy people try to make themselves better than they really are with cosmetic "corrective" surgery and treatments and self-help gurus who promise them a competitive edge in every conceivable area of life. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, there is increasing talk of genetic "causes" for mental and physical ill health - or being responsible for "intelligence" and personality traits. Meanwhile, this is what we're concentrating in schools all the time; to be valued, one must have a very narrow version of intelligence that allows you to pass exams and which everyone will pretend you were born with.
Naturally, disabled people are left behind in this project for all manner of reasons. It is also a futile project, however seductive it has been for some. You cannot be a better person for being intelligent, or being able to run fast, or for being beautiful. These aren't things you (or your parents, or doctors or anyone) ever get to choose, but neither do they do you or those around you any favours without your own intervention.
So I have an alternative; the Supery-dooperyman (or in German, the Über-DüberMensch).
Thus spoke the Goldfish. Strength is not a thing that the Supery-dooperyman is born with, but something he develops through experience and demonstrates through his actions. Being clever or having physical advantages counts for nothing, but the Supery-dooperyman takes whatever talents or attributes he happens to have - however modest, however great - and makes the best use he can. The Supery-dooperyman realises that fear is not at the root of compassion, but often at the root of contempt; sometimes the greatest test of our courage comes in considering another person's point of view. The only valuable hierarchies are, as they are in nature, in a constant state of flux; the Supery-dooperyman understands the transient nature of all things, including himself. The Supery-dooperyman may do whatever he likes, but in order to do so, he knows he must not always do exactly as he feels - if you punch everyone who deserves it, you're unlikely to be in a physical state to enjoy more long-term interests.
If we could all manage that, we would have overcome a great deal.
Oddly enough, the only musical reference I can think of to Nietzsche is at the end of the chorus of Blur's noisy classic Song 2, when Damon Alburn sings "All of the time, 'cause I'm never sure why I need you/ 'Cause I, Nietzsche." Go listen; I don't tell a lie.