08 June 2020

What Is the Post-Human?

Friedrich Nietzsche was the first (at least to my knowledge) to philosophize about I want to call the "Post-Human" in his novel (if that's what you want to call it) Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Zarathustra was written and published between 1883 and 1885. Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871) were in wide currency in European intellectual circles prior to its conception. There is no conclusive evidence, however, as to whether Nietzsche read these revolutionary scientific treatises, but there should be little doubt he knew of their impact.

There is tremendous disagreement about how to translate Nietzsche's term √úbermensch. Some translate it as Superman others as Overman or Uberman or Superhuman or Beyond-Man. And these translations have led many, including Nietzsche's sister, to misconceive the concept as something to be applied to Great Men or leaders or even comic book heroes.

It is clear from the Prologue to Zarathustra that Nietzsche had in mind an evolutionary concept. In §3 he has Zarathustra state: "Man is something that shall be overcome....Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape." And then in §4: "Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss." (Kaufman translation)

Humanity is a rung on an evolutionary ladder that leads from earlier branches on the simian limb of the tree of life to some unknown future form. Being is always Becoming. The foundation of existence is change. Nietzsche is asking us to think about where this change, this becoming, might lead. That is, what comes after humanity, i.e, the Post-Human. And this is the key to understanding the Nietzschean philosophy in Zarathustra.

Nietzsche's Zarathustra proclaims that God—as the traditional, central source of meaning, value, order, and morality in human life—is no longer a viable concept in the scientific age brought about by the Darwinian revolution. Humanity is thus doomed to nihilism—a meaningless, valueless, chaotic, amoral existence—absent an equally powerful new source of meaning. He finds this in the Post-Human.

All human life and activity should point to the Post-Human, should proclaim it, should make way for it, should strive to bring about this next evolutionary form of life—to the best of its limited knowledge and ability. That is the meaning of life for Zarathustra and thus for Nietzsche: Evolutionary Progress.

And though we cannot know what form this Post-Human, this New Being, might take, Nietzsche has Zarathustra speculate on some of the Post-Human's characteristics.

The Post-Human will bring its own meaning to life through an act of will. The Post-Human is the one who not only recognizes but joyfully accepts and even wills that his/her/its life should repeat itself just as it has unfurled/as it is/as it will happen over and over infinitely. This is the action of the self-aware, self-critical soul existing in an Eternal Present. It is Amor fati. It is an acceptance of the conditions of existence—the physical body and the real world, not a pining for some afterlife.

We might even say that it is the Post-Human willing itself into being that gives meaning and purpose to our own collective existence.

The Post-Human, Zarathustra speculates, will laugh in derision at the poor, pitiable state of our transitional humanity and will dance in a childlike celebration of his/her/its embrace of, nay, its creation of the fate that brought it into being.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good point -- that humans see ourselves as somehow above Evolution, as Americans believe themselves outside History. That we aren't evolving as we speak in response to our environment.

    And, hey; the bloog thing allows me to make this comment.