Superman Myth: The Coming Super Individual
I teach you the Superman. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man? All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man? What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarthustra, translated by Thomas Common, Prologue 3, http://philosophy.eserver.org/nietzsche-zarathustra.txt)
The quotation above by Nietzsche calls humanity to strive to go beyond their present state, to crossover and become the Superman. When the futurists took up this project, they divided their task into three sub process: changing human environment, changing human physiology, and changing human psyche.
Changing the enviornment
Futurists thought it important to change the environment because there is too much competition in the natural world. Plants and animals that are not directly useful for human kind encumber the planet, and organic filth is unsanitary compared to the inorganic. If we can clean the planet of unwanted life, then we can enhance the species we select to keep by using "chemical fertilizers" and by special breeding and genetic modification. Futurists also saw a day when the earth would no longer be able to support human life even if the environment was cleansed of unnecessary life and if production of foodstuffs was assisted by chemistry.
J. B. S. Haldane. J. B. S. Haldane, a scientist in England, speaks to all of these concerns. In "The Future of Biology" (collected in Possible Worlds, 1927), he says, "We apply these principles in agriculture by using chemical manures and insects parasitic on those that attack our crops. But as we find the key chemical or key organism in a given association, we may be able vastly to increase the utility to man of the forests, lakes, and even the sea" (141).
J. D. Bernal. Similarly, J. D. Bernal, also a British scientist, put his faith in chemistry. He writes in The World, The Flesh & The Devil (1929, chapter 2):
All these developments would lead to a world incomparably more efficient and richer than the present, capable of supporting a much larger population, secure from want and having ample leisure, but still a world limited in space to the surface of the globe and in time to the caprices of geological epochs. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/bernal/works/1920s/soul/index.htm)
Changing human physiology
In the section the coming super individual, we saw that part of the Superman myth is to create a super race through eugenics. Eugenics depends on breeding and therefore involves humanity at the level of a race, but it aims at producing superior individuals. That is why futurists wanted to cleanse the gene pool and encourage superior individuals to mate and produce more offspring. Eventually, it was thought, such planned breeding would produce people with superior physiology and mental capacity.
But futurists were not content to rely on breeding. Foreseeing a day when we would have to migrate to other planets, J. B. S. Haldane predicted that we will have to alter our bodies radically.
"A few hundred thousand of the human race . . . determined that though men died, man should live for ever. It was only possible for humanity to establish itself on Venus if it were able to withstand the heat and want of oxygen there prevailing, and this could only be done by a deliberate evolution in that direction first accomplished on earth" ((J. B. S. Haldane, “The Last Judgment,” Possible Worlds, 1927,302).
J. D. Bernal discusses the first steps in altering human physiology. He speculates that we will need to preserve the brain but abandon the rest of the body, replacing it with a machine. Here's how he put it:
Sooner or later some eminent physiologist will have his neck broken in a super-civilized accident or find his body cells worn beyond capacity for repair. He will then be forced to decide whether to abandon his body or his life. After all it is brain that counts, and to have a brain suffused by fresh and correctly prescribed blood is to be alive - to think. The experiment is not impossible; it has already been performed on a dog and that is three-quarters of the way towards achieving it with a human subject.
But though it is possible that in the early stages a surgically transformed man would be at a disadvantage in capacity of performance to a normal, healthy man, he would still be better off than a dead man. Although it is possible that man has far to go before his inherent physiological and psychological make-up becomes the limiting factor to his development, this must happen sooner or later, and it is then that the mechanized man will begin to show a definite advantage. Normal man is an evolutionary dead end; mechanical man, apparently a break in organic evolution, is actually more in the true tradition of a further evolution. (J. D. Bernal, The World, The Flesh & The Devil, Chapter III, 1929.)
At one stage in the development of the mechanical man, Bernal predicts, the brain will live in some kind of artificial body: "Instead of the present body structure we should have the whole framework of some very rigid material, probably not metal but one of the new fibrous substances. In shape it might well be rather a short cylinder. Inside the cylinder, and supported very carefully to prevent shock, is the brain with its nerve connections, immersed in a liquid of the nature of cerebro-spinal fluid, kept circulating over it at a uniform temperature. The brain and nerve cells are kept supplied with fresh oxygenated blood and drained of de-oxygenated blood through their arteries and veins which connect outside the cylinder to the artificial heart-lung digestive system -- an elaborate, automatic contrivance" (chapter 3).
Eventually, according to Bernal, individual brains will be connected with others directily, forming a compound organism. "If a method has been found of connecting a nerve ending in a brain directly with an electrical reactor, then the way is open for connecting it with a brain-cell of another person. Such a connection being, of course, essentially electrical, could be effected just as well through the ether as along wires. At first this would limit itself to the more perfect and economic transference of thought which would be necessary in the co-operative thinking of the future. But it cannot stop here. Connections between two or more minds would tend to become a more and more permanent condition until they functioned as a dual or multiple organism" (chapter 3). Here we see how the planned evolution of the individual produces something like the super race, but more than that; it is a collective, almost a hive mind.
Olaf Stapledon explored possible scenarios of remaking man in his science fiction book Last and First Men. He describes successive humanities, many produced through planned experiments, some assisted by natural evolution. These "Men" adapt to different environments, including Venus and Neptune, and their physiology changes marketly to adapt to the new environments.
The fifth species of men are somewhat similar to the multiple organism described by Bernal, but they have not merged their minds yet. Stapledon says, "But in the fifth human species 'telepath' was only a means of intercourse between individuals; there was no true group mind" (173). The eighteenth species, also known as the Last Men, have achieved a group mind. Although humans had been able to communicate telepathically in early species, they now frequently wake up to a group mind. "When this awakening occurs, each individual experiences all the bodies of the group as 'his own multiple body,' and perceives the world equally from all those bodies. This awakening happens to all the indivduals at the same time" (224).
Changing human psyche
Certainly all these changes in humanity and the environment cannot be achieved unless the human psyche is altered. It must be altered is that we have natural aversions to some things, like vivisection and transgressing moral codes, but we must learn to overcome these aversions if we are going to push forward to the Superman. As Nietzsche put it, "Ah! Ever are there but few of those whose hearts have persistent courage and exuberance; and in such remaineth also the spirit patient. The rest, however, are COWARDLY. The rest: these are always the great majority, the common-place, the superfluous, the far-too many--those all are cowardly!" (Thus Spake Zarathustra, chapter 52).
J. D. Bernal saw this problem to be one of overcoming the constraints of the super-ego.
We might summarize Bernal's comments this way. The super-ego gets in the way. Instead of trying to bring the ego into line with the super-ego, we need to reprogram the super-ego so that it comes into line with the ego. The short version? These moral codes get in the way, so let's get rid of them.
In C. S. Lewis' satire of the Superman myth, he depicts this change in psyche as an attempt to create complete objectivity in a person by desensitizing him or her and destroying all emotions. This was the objective of Professor Frost's training of Mark Studdock in the last sections of That Hideous Strength,where Frost explains the ethics of the Superman myth: "Existence is its own justification" (That Hideous Strength, 1945, Scribner 2003, 292). Lewis also criticized this part of the Superman myth in The Abolition of Man, the final chapter, where he says that the conditioners will steop outside natural moral law, created their own versions of ethics to implant in their subjects, and in so doing will step out of the human race.