Malama Honua — Earth Day — "We Are All Mortal"

Aloha Jack! JFK arrives in Hawaii, June 1963

On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy reflected:

So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.1

Not a hundred years before (in 1885), Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed, in his magnum opusThus Spoke Zarathustra,” a certain pedagogy (teaching) phrased in distinctly ecological terms2:

When Zarathustra came to the nearest town, which lay on the edge of the forest, he found there a crowd of people gathered in the market-square, for it had been announced that a rope-dancer would be appearing.[i] And Zarathustra spoke thus to the people:

I teach to you the Übermensch.[ii] The human is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome it?

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves: and you want to be the ebb of this great tide and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome the human?

What is the ape for the human being? A laughing-stock or a painful cause for shame. And the human being shall be just that for the Übermensch: a laughing-stock or a painful cause for shame.[iii]

You have made your way from worm to human, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now the human being is still more of an ape than any ape is.

Whoever is the wisest among you is still no more than a discord and hybrid between plant and specter. But do I bid you become specters or plants?

Behold, I teach to you the Übermensch!

The Übermensch is the sense of the earth.[iv] May your will say: Let the Übermensch be the sense of the earth!

I beseech you, my brothers, stay true to the earth and do not believe those who talk of over-earthly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not.

Despisers of living are they, moribund and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them be gone!

Once sacrilege against God was the greatest sacrilege, but God died, and with Him these sacrilegious ones too. Sacrilege against the earth is now the most terrible thing, and to revere the entrails of the unfathomable more than the sense of the earth!

Once the soul looked despisingly upon the body, and at that time this despising was the highest thing: she wanted the body to be lean, ghastly, and starved. Thus she thought to slip away from the body and the earth.

Oh this soul was herself still lean, ghastly, and starved: and cruelty was the lust of this soul!

But you too, my brothers, tell me: what does your body proclaim about your soul? Is your soul not poverty and filth and wretched contentment?

Verily, a polluted stream is the human being. One must be a veritable sea to absorb such a polluted stream without becoming unclean.

Behold, I teach to you the Übermensch: he is this sea, in him can your great despising submerge itself.

What is the greatest thing you could experience? It is the hour of the great despising. The hour in which even your happiness disgusts you and likewise your reason and your virtue.

Malama Honua! Aloha! Happy Earth Day 2022!


Huelo Hale, Paumalu 2022

[i]       “rope-dancer”: Seiltänzer —rope-dancer” is more literal than the more idiomatic “tightrope-walker” because of the importance of the dance (Tanz) as Zarathustra’s preferred modus vivendi. The “rope-dancer” echoes the holy man’s saying that Zarathustra walks “like a dancer,” and suggests that this figure may also reflect an aspect of Zarathustra himself, as well as being a prototype of the one who goes over (and under) to the Übermensch.

[ii]      In view of the difficulty of finding a satisfactory translation of Übermensch, and since the term has by now become an English word, the term is left untranslated. The most literal translation is “overhuman,” which sounds too barbaric. The reason to prefer that, or “overman” (Kaufmann’s choice), to “superman” (Hollingdale) is the term’s initial association with “overcoming” (überwinden) and “going over/across” (übergehen). In the text as a whole, the over/across connotations outweigh the sense of “over/above” that is also connoted by the German über—but which would also be caught by the English “over.” One should also note the appearance of the natural elements of earth, water, and fire in what Zarathustra says after each of the three pronouncements, “Behold, I teach to you the Übermensch!”: he calls it “the sense of the earth,” “this sea,” and “this lightning.”

[iii]     The allusion here may be, rather than to Darwin, to a passage in the dialogue attributed to Plato, Hippias Major (289a-b): “the saying of Heraclitus that ‘the most beautiful of apes is ugly in comparison with the race of humans’ … [does it not mean that] the wisest of humans, in comparison with a God, will appear an ape?”

[iv]     “sense”: Sinn, which also means “meaning.” But since die Sinne are “the senses,” it is preferable to bring out this association between the earth (nature) and the body. It is interesting to note that an earlier mention of the word Übermensch occurs at the beginning of Goethe’s Faust, in a speech to Faust by “the spirit of the earth” (der Geist der Erde: Faust I: 461, 490).

Painting by Setsulo Aihara. Ostensibly of Zarathustra (Nietzsche’s alter ego and prophet of Earth redemption, the “renatuaralization” of humankind, & the next stage of human evolution: Übermensch), it was her husband, Graham Parkes — my former philosophy professor, dissertation advisor, and guide through the corpus of Nietzsche’s philosophy — who sat as her model. His visage is clearly apparent here; as is the influence of Albrecht Dürer’s famous self portrait (see below: which was created in 1500, just before his 29th birthday).


In both my doctoral dissertation (2005) and book (2011), entitled “The Untimely Educator: An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Education,” I argue that, given the concern he shows for natural relations of dynamic interdependence and holism as they pertain to a healthy and flourishing view of and to life, Nietzsche’s philosophy and political education are essentially ecological. The goal here (for Nietzsche) is the institution of a new, post-humanist and otherwise environmentally-responsible cultural order grounded in a “re-naturalized” ethics.

Moreover, based as it is on the will to power ontology, Nietzsche’s attempt in education to politically reconstitute culture fits with a conception of a regime centrally — and soley — concerned with the cultivation and practice of virtue that “remains true to the earth.” The leading norm for a such a culture, Nietzsche’s new teaching on virtue, would therefore necessarily reflect the needs of a naturalized caste of human beings, the “philosophers of the future” and Übermenschen whose “higher spirits and their tasks,” in Nietzsche’s words, “complements nature.”

With a view to Nietzsche’s writings and teachings, I show by argument and evidence that modern politics and morality are responsible — directly and indirectly — for the destruction of nature, the dissolution of “high culture,” and the “degeneration of the species.” Precisely because these decadent, essentially nihilistic political and morality are no longer vital or functional, they must, according to Nietzsche’s pedagogical enterprise, be replaced with a new, Earth-redeeming politics crowned by a new, Earth-redeeming nobility. Both confronting the crisis in morality, politics, and society and affirming the interdependence of all living things — specifically including humans — with nature, Nietzsche promotes the idea that humankind can no longer afford to abuse the earth.


[1] Cf. BGE § 218.