29 November 2007

Nietzsche's Superman

[Disclaimer: I have not read any of Nietzsche's works (Will to Power, Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spake Zarathustra, etc). My knowledge of Nietzsche comes from secondary works (like Will Durant) and his depiction in the popular media]

Let me try to set down Nietzsche's Superman (Ubermensch) theory in brief.

The human population can be divided into two groups:
1. A small minority (Supermen) who have exceptional ability, energy, ambition and intelligence.
2. The rest who are mediocre; the average and the below average; the ordinary people. Here after referred to as the 'masses'.

The 'masses' here does not mean the poor and illiterate people, although there is a great degree of overlap. A poor and illiterate man can be a Superman, if he has the qualities mentioned in 1. Conversely, many rich and middle class people (most of them, actually) belong to the masses.

To put it simply, Nietzsche did not believe that all men are created equal.

The world is not changed by the masses. It is changed by the Supermen. The masses are content with happiness. That is not such a bad thing in itself. The problem is this 'happiness' is defined in mainly material terms.

On the other hand, the Superman has nothing but contempt for material comforts and pleasures. His sight is set on higher things. He yearns for greatness, power, fame and glory. This is the stuff heroes are made of. Instead of happiness, he will find pain, discomfort, defeat, failure, fear and loneliness. But he would rather have these than the false contentment of the masses.

It is easy to see why Nietzsche is such a controversial philosopher.

Swami Vivekananda also believed in the concept of Superman. He said, "What is so great about being happy? If you give a cow enough grass to eat, it will also be happy. Then what is the difference between man and cow?"

But the crucial difference is Swami Vivekananda did not believe that Supermen have a right to exploit and oppress the masses. On the contrary, he believed they should serve the poor masses. Supermen are servants, not masters, of the people.

Accordingly, the Supermen will have to take a lot of crap from the rich and middle class masses. That is unfortunate, but unavoidable. They must endure this humiliation by keeping in mind their true purpose - which is to serve the poorest, the weakest and the most ignorant. Daridra devo bhava, deena devo bhava, mooda devo bhava.

4 comments:

kculon said...

Well summarized Psoma

Psomax said...

Thanks Chombu! I was a little wary of putting up this post. I wasn't sure how people would react. Talking about Nietzsche is the easiest way to piss off everybody :-)

roadtriplife said...

"Accordingly, the Supermen will have to take a lot of crap from the rich and middle class masses. That is unfortunate, but unavoidable."

Supermen get to be supermen by proving they are supermen ... ain't it easier to prove you are superman to the masses than to another superman? Now, I don't understand why it is unfortunate or unavoidable or taking crap.

Psomax said...

See "...they should serve the poor masses. Supermen are servants, not masters, of the people."