Saturday, July 4, 2009

Nietzsche VII: The Overman at the Evolutionary Crossroads

If the will to power is embedded in human nature, we do not transcend it even when acting in accord with the moral law. Niestzsche's comment that "When the great man screams, the small man comes running with his tongue hanging out from lasciviousness" captures that view. True, "the small man's" desire to take "the great man's" place is not a dictate of the moral law. But the moral law is a way for "the small man" to level the power differential with "the great man." And so as we have noted, Nietzsche's overman was above the moral law and its stultifying effect on human greatness. Morality does not bring out our better selves, it imprisons them. Morals are based on a lie that denies the foundational struggle for power at the base of all nature, including human nature.

So goes the Nietzschian harangue. And if we translate Nietzsche's will to power into the view that each living organism by nature "seeks" the life strategy that has the best chance of perpetuating its genes, Nietzsche can be said to have a present-day defender in Richard Dawkins (THE SELFISH GENE).

But as noted in the last post, human beings are not just creatures embedded in a given environment. We are also creatures that modify our environments. That changes a lot. The old rules cannot be applied to the new reality. What does it mean to successfully colonize one's environment, if those doing the colonizing are also those overseeing and judging the merits of doing so? One possible outcome is that we will see ourselves as "weeds" in our own "garden." We oversee ourselves; go "meta" on ourselves; create our own good and evil, relative to our "garden"--the little corner of the world where our creative effort is directed. As noted in the last post, rather than being a primitive, simplistic myth that humanity has outgrown, the garden of Eden mythos is profoundly germaine to humanity's defining relationship to its world: we are creators of it as well as creatures in it. And that, I argued, is the foundamental message of Genesis 1-3. (And one need not be a theologian, or even a theist, to see it.)

That said, the Nietzschian/Dawkins point that it is foundational in human nature to seek a life strategy that optimises the chances to passing on our genes--construed as the evolutionary version of the will to power--hits a crossroads with a being that can become a weed in its own garden: will we sacrifice our lower selves for the sake of our higher--the weeds for the garden--or our higher for our lower--our garden for our weeds? It's a universal human dilemma; no other animal faces it; and the metaphor of the garden expresses it exceedingly well.

It was C. S. Lewis, to my knowledge, who first (in 1943) pointed out that Christianity functions like our next evolutionary step:

"People...ask when the next step in evolution--the step to something beyond man--will happen. But on the Christian view, it has happened already. In Christ a new kind of man appeared..." (MERE CHRISTIANITY, 62.)

Nietzsche's overman is still embedded in nature when humanity needs to transcend it--to go meta. But to go meta, when that implies that our old nature may have to be sacrificed when the new nature differs with it, that is no moot endeaver.

The solution to the possibility of sin discovered in the garden? Well, one must turn one's back on the desire to act out of the same impulses that motivate our lower natures: power and all that we can have because of it. We must learn to act from a position that values the good of not just ourselves but everyone who shares our environment. We must learn to serve, and to serve even sacrificially, or we are not acting with the best interest of our garden in mind... In that case we are acting like a weed in our own garden. Or a wolf in sheep's clothing.

I think that the King of the Kingdom of God would have to turn his back on the motivations that would have him replace human leadership without transcending it. He would have taught us that Nietzsche's overman missed the turn on the evolutionary road that really leads to a new kind of human being, and one fit to be "over" other men.

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