Last Men & Their Automobiles
Nietzsche seems to be right: we drift towards the perfectly boring and ultimately happy society. Modern vehicles are its precursors.
I hope you remember a movie “Demolition Man” (1993) with Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bullock (and those, who do not remember, it’s worth to have a look at). Year 2032. San Angeles city: an amalgamation of Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara after a huge earthquake. The city is an utopia where denizens praise pacifism and agree on a total control by a good and impeccable authority. Everyone is happy. Everyone is healthy. Everyone prospers.
People prefer wearing bright clothes and remain always clean. People never touch one another and have virtual sex regularly using the brain stimulating helmets. People never break speed limits or violate any law. The perfect society. The end of the evolution of the homo sapience.
As for the means of transportation, denizens of San Angeles own electric and low-emission vehicles. I stress the word “own” here. The cars are always clean and tidy. They provide ultimate security: a fast frosting foam flushes into the cabin and covers all passengers in case of an incident. The cars are fully independent: it is not a common thing to drive a car, but to be driven. There is no difference between driver and passenger, but owner and passenger. General Motors created even a concept-car for the movie: its royal perfectness Ultralite.
Actually, “Demolition Man” is not the unique attempt to present an utopia where everyone is happy. Friedrich Neitzsche (1844-1900) with his “Thus Said Zarathustra” should be mentioned in the first place. He introduced and explained the phenomenon of the Last Men *** .
Neitzsche – putting it into the mouth of Zarathustra – describes the Last Men as ineradicable creatures, who live long and claim to have invented happiness. They set no life goals and avoid challenges. They are not inclined for self-reflection and existence outside of their comfort zones. No dreams or passion, but the self-preservation in a habitual environment defines happiness of the Last Men.
The only aim in the life of the Last Men is to live this life as long as possible in a comfort. That's it. The Last Men, actually, are the epitome of denying the reality and opportunities which it provides.
I'm not sure whether I'll buy myself a Tesla. Surely, I admire this vehicle, the feast of technology, but have no much sympathy to it as to a product. The car makes the driver non-engaged. The car makes driving effortless. The car does not encourage “freedom of actions,” “going beyond borders,” “challenging yourself,” and being “creative.” Surely, you can turn all smart features off and enjoy immediate POWERRR, but this isn't the key thing Tesla is appreciated for. Hi-tech comfort and abundance of sophisticated equipment are usually ranked much higher by public opinion. This is the car which would be liked by the Last Men. It crafts the Last Men.
A friend of mine, Tomasz, has once wrote me the following: “I think the ongoing automation makes us become worse drivers. It actually transforms the drivers into passengers, often stowaways. For example, lane-keeping assistance systems. They are nice, but the car should be limited to 10 km/h as soon as they are activated. If they are always active, the driver doesn't care of steering (in practice it means an idiot behind the wheel). I was coming back today from a shopping-mall and the driver on Lexus almost hit my door (thanks God I managed to turn right). The problem is that she did not even notice that maneuver. Just as she did not notice other cars that had to break in emergency. You don't need to be a driver in Lexus cars today. Therefore, in my opinion, other people tend to buy big vehicles. For example, I don't need a 2.5 ton truck, but for the safety of my daughter I think of buying one.” Believe it or not, but I do find these fears quite rational.
In line with Nietzsche's philosophy, Francis Fukuyama (1952-) concluded in 1990s that the Western society is transforming into a society of the Last Men. According to Fukuyama, the “typical citizen of a liberal democracy was that individual who ... gave up prideful belief in his or her own superior worth in favor of comfortable self-preservation.” The liberal democracy we enjoy so much – and share it with others – effectively creates the best environment for the Last Men. Sounds depressing, isn't it? Fukuyama goes even further and states that the humankind faces the End of History. Liberal democracy is the ultimate social and political order, tested by generations, which does not envisage further competition of ideas. In other words, no existence outside of the liberal democratic framework is rational or acceptable. This is our fast frosting security foam.
And now is the right time to present you the Overman.
Nietzsche portrayed the Overman as the one who is willing to risk all for the sake of enhancement of humanity. Overman is a daredevil in a conformist society. He refuses to live a life with no meaning where the whole future is far less important than a moment of today's cloudless happiness. By doing so – through experiments, tests, violations, challenges – he imminently affects the lives of other people. He brakes their habitual environment for the sake of an unknown, but hypothetically better world. Overman is about contemplation, action, and self-overcoming.
If to look at the “Demolition Man”, the main protagonist played by Stallone is the Overman. He is not afraid to brake laws, drive fast, and drive '70 Oldsmobile 442 V8 through the lanes of electric vehicles. He is not afraid to swear loud. Or touch people. He challenges, provokes, and pushes (punches?) the Last Men society out of its comfort zone towards new discoveries. Surely, he is not loved by many.
If to look at our reality, Elon Musk is the Overman. He is the mastermind behind Paypal (one of), Tesla, and Falcon. He has visions and some steel parts in his body to follow these visions. Tesla became a “breakthrough” in the petrol-dominated world. Falcon revolutionized the world of “conventional” space exploration. Paypal... I think, I shouldn't comment anything here. Musk's ambitions and inventions make the world better, safer, and happier.
And here we have the paradox. The Overman creates new environment for the Last Men to flourish. And be joyful. And healthy. And prosperous. And drive new generations of vehicles with even lower emissions and even bigger reservoirs of security foam.
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P.S. Matt Parsons can be reached here: www.behance.net/Matthew_Parsons_SA
*** Disclamer: As the Last Man in Nietzsche's understanding was above all a male, I could do little in my analysis to get rid of the spirit of the 19th century social masculinity. This being said, I tried.