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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


The first thing I thought after reading the section "On Science" in Nietzsche's THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA, as mentioned here, was that it described not only the attitude of science toward human motivation, but that of ideological critics as well. Such critics, like the "conscientious man" of ZARATHUSTRA, represent humankind as being in a perpetual state of insecurity. Rather than seeing the struggle of "temporary master" and "temporary slave" as inherent to the nature of man, the ideologue constantly rails against the struggle, as if it should never have existed in a just world.

Such extreme rectitude might be admirable, except that the ideologue is willing to lie for his alleged cause. Nietzsche wrote that "no one lies so boldly as the man who is indignant," and in my June essay ULTRALIBERAL LYNCH LAW I took exception with Noah Berlatsky choosing to scold Joss Whedon for the high crime of showing a fictional black man shot with tranquilizer darts, as if this was a tacit endorsement of the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

I had planned to explore this fear-based attitude in general terms. But by a wild coincidence, I stumbled across a recent HU post, in which NB and his followers were complaining about superhero movies in their usual manner. Bored, I happened to follow a link therein-- and lo and behold, it led me to another HU post in which another Berlatsky was willing to tell an all too familiar lie:

It is worth recalling, in this regard, that the superhero idea is a variation on the notion of the ├╝bermensch, popularized by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra. 

This was followed by a lot of typical twaddle about the eugenics movement and the Ku Klux Klan, all of which were fatuously linked to superheroes, but I didn't bother to read that part. I've read so much of this drivel that I could probably write my own version that would round up all the usual suspects-- patriarchy, whiteness, both vigilante law and duly constituted authority. But I decided to see whether or not Berlatsky II could in any way justify his calumny against Nietzsche:

Can you list even one characteristic that Nietzsche’s ubermensch– as he represents it in the book, not in popular distortions of the philosopher’s idea– holds in common with the superhero, aside from loose similarities in terminology? 

Of course he didn't bother to do so, so I responded once more:

The really funny thing is, you don’t even need to defame Nietzsche– whose opposition to tyranny and anti-Semitism is right there, in his books– to report accurately that a lot of people, including the philosopher’s sister, took over his work and used it as a justification of tyranny and anti-Semitism.
But then elitists, as much as regular comics-fans, like their “origin stories.” You must have someone to castigate as the origin of all the troubles. By so doing, of course, you subscribe to the same logic as your perceived enemies, but hey, it’s never stopped you guys before…

I've said before that I know this sort of Internet wrangling is tedious to most if not all readers. Still, the synchronicity amuses me, that I'd just finished re-reading ZARATHUSTRA and then happened across an essay written months ago, in which the author spun forth a lie that was old when Frederic Wertham popularized it. 

I should add that when I read ZARATHUSTRA again, I naturally studied the ways in which the book defines not just the *ubermensch,* but all topics that might relate in any way to the superhero concept that has so often been conflated with Nietzsche. Had I found any one-to-one correspondences, readers can be sure that I would have been ecstatic to find Nietzsche to be one of the ancestors of the 20th-century version of "the superman"-- though I'm sure I would never have been foolish enough to believe Nietzsche to be the primary originator of the trope.

In the end, though, Zarathustra does not define his "overman" in terms of a fictional hero's willingness to fight evil or protect the vulnerable, although he does evoke those tropes in a very minor way. The definition of the overman is "self-overcoming:" though he is born into a society in which most of the people subsume their wills to the greater good-- sometimes called "the Spirit of Gravity"-- the overman is one who can smash the society's "table of values," which is the only way anything new can be created from the old and outworn. Nietzsche does not speak of using actual violence to overthrow society-- which is more than either the Left or the Right can claim-- though he does speak of war in praiseworthy terms:

Ye shall love peace as a means to new wars—and the short peace more than the long.
You I advise not to work, but to fight. You I advise not to peace, but to victory. Let your work be a fight, let your peace be a victory!
One can only be silent and sit peacefully when one hath arrow and bow; otherwise one prateth and quarrelleth. Let your peace be a victory!
Ye say it is the good cause which halloweth even war? I say unto you: it is the good war which halloweth every cause.
War and courage have done more great things than charity. Not your sympathy, but your bravery hath hitherto saved the victims.

At the same time, Nietzsche makes clear that the virtue of heroes is not an end in itself. and is likely to end catastrophically for the virtuous man:

I love him who loveth his virtue: for virtue is the will to down-going, and an arrow of longing.
Not only is this not the language one uses to extol a Superman, it's not even appropriate to describe Superman's real ancestors; characters like Samson, Heracles, and King Arthur. Nietzsche is interested in war and violence only as forces within humankind that must be overcome by the overman-- not indulged in, like the Nazis to whom Frederic Wertham compared the philosopher. The overman was Nietzsche's solution to the vagaries of rule by the mob or by the tyrant:

Therefore, O my brethren, a NEW NOBILITY is needed, which shall be the adversary of all populace and potentate rule, and shall inscribe anew the word "noble" on new tables.

The only thing that moves the "Neopuritan nannies," as I'm now calling them, to dislike Nietzsche is that he doesn't join with them in defining the world in terms of "the good and the just," while the nannies can define things in no other way-- when they can be bothered to define them at all.


ADDENDUM: Just in case this newest volley goes, uh, missing-- I just posted this on the thread referenced earlier:

Who said Nietzsche was pure of heart and could do no wrong? Not me. But I believe that what he actually wrote is more important than what latter-day ideologues have chosen to make of it.
"Ranting" in your world= asking an essayist to back up his statement. Good to know.
Nietzsche didn't defend the common herd and I never said he did. I'm the one defending "the common herd of superhero fans" from the allegation of elitists who won't let anyone, not even Joss Whedon, into their social justice sewing-circle unless he demonstrates lockstep conformity with their set of values.
Now that kind of elitism, Nietzsche scorned even more than he did the common herd.


"I mention Nietzsche exactly once above, so it’s worth saying that this piece was not meant as a critique of Nietzsche or a deep investigation of his philosophy. The specific reference above is about how the ubermensch concept is linked to Eugenics."
Originally I asked for one thing: a justification of this statement:
"It is worth recalling, in this regard, that the superhero idea is a variation on the notion of the ├╝bermensch, popularized by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra.” 
This was indeed a brief mention of Nietzsche. But I couldn't address the main body of the essay, all the rhetoric about white patriarchy etc., or I'd be here the rest of the year, and neither of us wants that. HOODED UTILITARIAN is like a bag of spicy potato chips that I know in advance will disagree with me, so I've resolved to try to minimize any comment to matters of fact-- as in, is there any strong factual linkage between "the superhero idea" and "the notion of the ubermensch" as it was "popularized" by Nietzsche? 
I also stated my belief, in the original CT and elsewhere, that Nietzsche's notion had been bastardized. I didn't think I'd convince anyone of this, but I wanted to see whether or not anyone would acknowledge at least the bare statement of fact that not everyone agrees that Nietzsche's ubermensch is coterminous with the beliefs of eugenics movements, the Nazis and whoever else. You've kinda-sorta done that, so I consider that a miniscule victory, and so won't bother further interrogating the still dubious connection between eugenics and pop-fictional superheroes.
Thanks (equally sarcastically) for listing Gershon Legman as an authority whom you credence. 

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