Erasing the Race Toward Race

Erasing the Race toward Race (A cautious conception of a ‘superculture’)

            In what is arguably the most radical science fiction short story ever written, Theodore Sturgeon presents a super-race. Not alien, but rather a humanity evolved through culture. In ‘If all men were brothers…’, the author has his protagonist himself evolve, at a personal level, from a normative presence in a mediocre and decadent society to an acceptance of this higher form of being. At first, contact with these superior humans prompts a profound dysphoria, physical illness, and ethical revulsion. For here is a world in which love really is love, including that incestual, wherein beauty is superlative and omnipresent, and where joy is almost matter-of-fact. Sturgeon clearly presents his principal character in this way to act as a vehicle for what he imagines the reader’s own experience, and possibly also that reader’s reactions, to be. Indeed, a reevaluation of all values has taken place, and beyond this, such a process is understood as the only way in which humanity could, in fact, evolve.

            Fiction is not fact, but it is based upon factual experience we humans share. Part of this experience is reflected in discourse. The heroic confrontation between the person and the institution is an enduring performance, cliché at the worst, yet inspiring at its best, appearing in serious analyses such as Herbert Spencer’s The Man versus the State, or Pierre Clastres’ Society against the State, and in popular culture renditions such as Rush’s 2112 or the WW1 drama The Monocled Mutineer and scads of others. Yet today we seem to be shying away from this self-conception, perhaps preferring to invest ourselves into alternative collectives based upon those we deem like us. Anonymity breeds anomie, to be sure, and the response from we social animals are attempts to create community for ourselves. Such forays range widely, from the dispirited desperation of those who are taken in by cults, to the somewhat less dangerous but also more cynical sectarians, whose idea of community is decoying and networking under a moralizing curtain. But whether coven or covenant, I am being drawn up as a person who is only a person within the context of presumed like others.

            Mixed messages abound. At once we are told to ‘be ourselves’, to become what we are, and DIY of all kinds is a pricey industry, suggesting that ultimately, we can only rely upon ourselves, or more darkly, to ‘trust no one’. At the same time, we must identify with something larger than ourselves. King and country have faded in significance, though ethnic nationalisms countered by state apparatuses seem to be a renewed source of world conflict in our own day. Community is itself a challenging conception; what is its threshold? who has it and who does not and why? who is truly ‘like’ myself? And how would I recognize it if I were to choose, and upon which basis? My gender? My skin-tone? My socio-economic status? And so on. Generally, such life-chance variables are said to coalesce in community, of whatever sort, giving us a yet stronger impression that what we are as a human being must be based upon these widely shared similarities, rather than upon our much-vaunted and once sovereign selfhood.

            But how can both of these be true at once? I am an individual, and yet I am nothing outside of the group. My culture creates me and yet it also limits my personal growth. My society nurtures me and then I am imprisoned by it, in it. Many phenomena attest to this contradiction and how it is being experienced, especially by young people. The outlandish, even outrageous forms performed by some of our fellows, could be seen as attempts to valorize the self in the face of both cultural limitations and societal limits. The conflict between self and society is a recent one, beginning only formally in the 18th century. But it is also the most contemporary expression of a much more ancient dualism, that of the one and the many. This deeper division animated all of creation, for even the pantheons of large-scale faiths were not exempt from it. When monotheism began to supplant these older systems, the contrast between singularity and multiplicity did not vanish. If there was but one God, there were yet many manifestations thereof. If there was but one world, there were many regions, one species, many cultures, one consciousness, many minds, one state, many citizens. The fashion for ‘celebrating diversity’ is not as Whitmanesque as it is idealized to be, for in so doing, we rapidly lose track of what we share as human beings; our essence as living projects and the essentiality of the human condition.

            The presence of cultures, originally salutary to human evolution, is perhaps now getting in the way of further and future development. The loyalties to ‘race’ and ethnicity, to gender and genderedness, to identifying with structural variables as one would list résumé items, along with a more dated though just as sycophantic an adoration of 19th century institutions such as the State itself, precipitates both ongoing conflict but as well, and more profoundly, a sense that I am not myself without such uplinks, that I am nothing as the one, something as the many, that I am even immoral as the individual, but as a citizen and a group member, moral through and through. I fear not to judge others for there are many voices judging; there is no first stone in a landslide. I fear not hypocrisy, for how could such a thing afflict and infect everyone I know? I fear no evil, for in community only the good resides. Inevitably, a large part of group identification entails definition by negation. I may not know exactly what I am, but I do imagine I know what, and thence also who, I am not. This represents the point of no return for the self. At this vanishing point, the event that occurs upon such a horizon betrays my existence and in whole cloth. My humanity, so disturbing to me in its fragile mortality, is shuffled off, in favor of the living death of the self.

            The brute fact of a human like myself being stronger collectively, whether in politics or logistics, in practical intelligences or yet in the gene pool itself, belies the more serious factuality that in reality I am strongest at home in my ownmost existence. This singular selfhood is presented as the vehicle through which, and in which, I confront that same reality of my shared condition. I do share my essence with others, but not through any of the identities that I imagine have such suasion. They are, from the existential and phenomenological fulcrums of the human condition, mere window dressings, and to flaunt their flagrant flaneur as if it were my truest self is nothing other than an ethical fraud. Worse still, the joke is on me alone, for in finally being forced to face down mine ownmost death, I belatedly comprehend that I am nothing, and have been nothing more than a unit in a measured machination, capable of action but incapable of acts, pretending to agency under the guise of being an agency, and indeed one possessed by the sole goal of its own reproduction, without a thought to those persons who make it up.

            Each human culture today is this fraud. Is there an evolutionary process by which the best of each may be amalgamated into a single superculture, a way in which to express the one and the many as the same thing? This idea is not new, but the only serious attempt prompted an epic disaster. The Reich’s ideal was to remake culture through art, remake the person through the model of the artist. But the Nazis too narrowly defined both art and culture, and yet more so, what could constitute personhood. Next time round, if you will, such conceptions must be widened extensively, though no doubt not universally. There does exist anti-culture after all, ‘degenerate’ or no, in the same way in which one might speak of there existing an antipathy to being cultured, which is most commonplace, ironically given impetus by E. B. Tylor’s all-embracing coinage of anthropologically defined culture as society itself.

            The Reich’s modernist idol, Richard Wagner, expressed the desire for a new culture in immoderate tones, telling his virtuoso musicians; ‘you are perfect human beings; all you need to do is lose your Jewishness’. His own evolutionary goal was no less parochial, reanimating Nordic mythos and presenting it as somehow as a future rather than a long past apparition of dubious merit and import. But if we take any specific cultural identity to be a mere exemplification of that which thwarts further human evolution, we can avoid vindicating the artist for imagining that life should be as art already is while at once realizing the pith of the artist’s insight. Yes, we do need to lose our cultural loyalties, and desperately so. And if the cult of Kultur was not the answer we needed, then or now, the sense that becoming cultured in the wider sense – overcoming our provincial loyalties – and in that deeper – undertaking the confrontation with the tradition that each culture presents us with – is nevertheless the only manner through which cross-cultural conflict will cease. That politics manipulates our archaic loyalties is to be expected; but the real issue, jaded and jaundiced, is our petulant possession of both.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.