Mankind a Bridge

Writing broadens your horizons. Recently it broadened mine to nanotechnology.

I already had a vague idea of what nanos are – gleaned mostly, I admit, from science fiction. Those sci-fi writers have crazy ideas, some of which are borrowed from scientists.

A good number of scientists are hoping to create artificial photosynthesis. “Yes,” you may say, “but what for, artificial plants?” The idea is to build artificial life forms, much like simple bacteria, that will use artificial photosynthesis to produce fuel for human use. Yes, there are people being paid to try and do that.

By far the strangest aspiration for nanotech is to enhance humanity out of existence. If some people can dream of nano-medicine that will restore the whole body, other people can dream of nantechnology that will enhance it. And when nanotechnology meets cyber technology – when science manages to integrate machines with the human body – the limits of biology are broken.

Some might worry that too much nano-altering and cyber-enhancing may eventually destroy humanity. For others – transhumanists, they call themselves – that is their plan. “Humanity,” Max More wrote, “is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway.” And the Transhumanist FAQ explains: ” ‘Posthuman’ is a term used by transhumanists to refer to what humans could become if we succeed in using technology to remove the limitations of the human condition.”

“Transhuman” is a new term, but something in the idea sounds very old. I think it once went under the name “Superman”.

Before he was a movie, before he was a TV show, even before he was a comic book, Superman was a nihilistic dream. The dreamer was Nietzsche, and this is how he told it:

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.

Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were ye apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes.

Even the wisest among you is only a disharmony and hybrid of plant and phantom. But do I bid you become phantoms or plants?

Lo, I teach you the Superman!

The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman shall he the meaning of the earth!

I conjure you, my brethren, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak unto you of superearthly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not.

Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!

Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and therewith also those blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin, and to rate the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth! …

What is the greatest thing ye can experience? It is the hour of great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becometh loathsome unto you, and so also your reason and virtue.

The hour when ye say: “What good is my happiness! It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency. But my happiness should justify existence itself!”

The hour when ye say: “What good is my reason! Doth it long for knowledge as the lion for his food? It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!”

The hour when ye say: “What good is my virtue! As yet it hath not made me passionate. How weary I am of my good and my bad! It is all poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!”

The hour when ye say: “What good is my justice! I do not see that I am fervour and fuel. The just, however, are fervour and fuel!”

The hour when we say: “What good is my pity! Is not pity the cross on which he is nailed who loveth man? But my pity is not a crucifixion.”

Have ye ever spoken thus? Have ye ever cried thus? Ah! would that I had heard you crying thus!

It is not your sin- it is your self-satisfaction that crieth unto heaven; your very sparingness in sin crieth unto heaven! …

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman- a rope over an abyss.

A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.

A transhuman might be kinder than Nietzsche’s “Overman”, part of whose strength was that he did not pity the weak. George Bernard Shaw’s Superman was. But whether kind or cruel, whether created by nanotechnology or the Life Force or evolutionary progress, they all dream of the Superman. They all dream of going beyond humanity.

And it’s a dark dream, where God is dead and mankind is only a bridge, and the earth is weary of superearthly hopes.

God is Dead

“God is dead.” Who hasn’t heard that? Nietzsche proclaimed it, one of those godless Germans of the nineteenth century who had such impact on the twentieth. I always thought it was triumphalist; they’d crow if they didn’t sneer.

So I was surprised when I read Don Veinot quote it in context:

God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife – who will wipe away the blood from us? (The Gay Science)

This, from the atheist that Nietzsche was, is startlingly plaintive. There is no sneering or crowing here. Nietzsche’s point – as explained in two different sources – is one countless Christians have made: Take away the God of the Bible and moral chaos ensues. “If God is dead, then anything is permitted.” Nietzsche took that truth and drew the conclusion that made him Nietzsche. The quotation continues:

What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we now have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

God is dead, so what atonement and what sacred things shall we now invent? God is dead, and now we have to become great enough to live without Him. God is dead, and so we must become gods ourselves.

And we are back, again, in the Garden, dreaming of pulling ourselves onto God’s throne.