Superhuman vs. Superman

NEW – September 1, 2022

Battle of images in the war for reality

The events taking place at this historical moment go far beyond the accepted and elaborated scientific and ideological concepts and their understanding and even the most “targeted” forecasting requires their significant expansion and inclusion of such methods of assessing and cognising reality, which, at the moment, are usually associated with the sphere of religiosity and mysticism.

The historical period in which you and I live is characterised by a high intensity of many key processes that determine the direction of human development.

The totality of these processes can be called the “war for reality”, and I will stick to this term in the future.

The “war for reality” is going on in many different directions and levels. One of the key areas is influencing the moral, psychological and emotional state of society, the formation of reactions and behavioural patterns that are beneficial to one side or another.

This influence takes place on many different levels, from the confrontation of philosophical schools, to pop culture, and the big question is which “duel” is more important.

A special place in this confrontation is reserved for Russia – both geographically, historically, and civilisationally. The fact is that the events taking place in recent years can be considered a demolition, or a deep reformatting of existing civilisational projects, and it is at least short-sighted to assume that we are talking about a conditional “western” and “eastern” project. The archetypal notions of an “energetic West” and a “motionless, self-absorbed East” are hopelessly outdated, and they could not once be attributed to Russia in its pure form in the historical perspective. Rather, we can talk about a confrontation between the conventional model, based on the archetypes of entire peoples and their communities, a civilisational project that originated around the beginning of the 19th century and is now quite clearly formed and the non-national project of “corporate civilisation”.

If to focus specifically on pop culture, then one can see, rather, not the “struggle of archetypes”, but the “struggle with archetypes” – a confrontation between the main, let’s call them “heroes of corporations” and traditional archetypes.

This is not just a confrontation between economic and political systems. The confrontation between images of the future and variants of reality, which seems to have ended with the collapse of the USSR, is becoming more active. Or, if one prefers, civilisational projects. And no civilisational project can be carried out if there is no understanding of its basis, if it is not clear what we are building.

The conditional “corporate” project is based on the image of a superman, or a group of chosen people, which is nurtured not only by pop culture, but also by quite serious philosophers and ideologists. It is appropriate to recall the most famous representatives of this “pop project” – Superman, Batman, Captain America, Neo (Mr. Anderson) – the hero of the film “The Matrix”.

What can be at the heart of the new civilisational project that, by all accounts, Russia is trying to build – the heart of the “northern civilisation”? What should this project be like? What mistakes have already been made in confronting “corporate civilisation”, what should be avoided?

Let’s try to understand and outline at least the most general features of possible solutions.

Supermen – a brief dossier

First of all, let’s try to identify the main common features of the most popular comic book characters, images, if you will, new archetypes that underlie a huge number of pop culture products, from the comics themselves to movies, books and computer games.

First of all, it is the idea of being chosen, separated from the rest of humanity, and Messianism. Superman exists solely to fulfil a certain mission. As a rule, it is formulated quite generally, at first glance, it is a fight against some evil.

But in this mission, this confrontation, there is almost always a very interesting moment – this is a personal confrontation, evil always takes on the clearly defined face of the antihero, who, as it turns out, opposes, or takes revenge, not so much on humanity as on the hero himself, whether it’s Superman, Batman or someone else.

Another very striking feature of the world in which the superhero operates is the amorphous and impotent nature of humanity. In fact, there is no humanity at all, the entire civilisation is just a background for a personal confrontation between two figures – a superhero and a supervillain. The maximum that is allowed for a superhero is a loyal assistant in the supporting roles, a direct heir to the squire of the feudal era.

The next important point is that all the forces of the superhero are aimed outward. To repel the attacker’s personal evil. Technically, for protection. A superhero never creates anything. At maximum – trying to somehow reduce the damage caused. The superhero is not independent, they exist only as a reflection of the “supervillain” (by the way, this is often emphasised, remember the common phrase of the villain of almost any action movie in the final dialogue with the hero – you and I are the same, you are the same as me).

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Also, an extremely important point, in principle, determining the reality of “superhero” existence, more precisely, the existence of humanity in this world, is its immutability. In the world of Batman or Superman, it is impossible to defeat evil, one can only temporarily overcome its specific manifestation. This is a world that constantly functions in the “Ragnarok” mode. It is looped, does not involve development, it is an Ouroboros that continuously devours itself.

Finally, a superhero is not really a human being. Either they are not human initially, like the same Superman, or in order to become a superhero, they must overcome the “human, too human” in themselves, as the hero of the Matrix does. In order to acquire their abilities, they must, in fact, become part of the machine world again, and symbolically, return to the bosom, to the origins, to their inhuman illusory life.

Needless to say, in these versions of reality, man and humanity are assigned, at best, the role of an assistant, and, as a rule, just a victim somewhere in the background of the events that are taking place?

Herculean force

The archetypes that could form the basis of a “traditional” or, if one prefers, “northern” (as opposed to the West and East) civilisational project should be fundamentally different. Not the opposite, we’ll talk about the dangers of “mirroring” a little later, but different.

In fact, they already exist, they are laid in the foundation itself, and this project, in fact, is already in operation, but they need an appropriate manifestation, an execution suitable for the present day, mechanisms for their deployment in the future.

First and foremost, it is the active creative role of an ordinary person in the world they create. This idea is most clearly expressed in the works of N. N. Fedorov, devoted to the idea of a Common Cause and the return to the real, explicit, manifested life of all mankind, in its entirety, including the dead, a number of other Russian cosmists, as well as the great Russian scientist and philosopher Ivan Antonovich Efremov.

They are a vivid example of a fundamentally different approach to the idea of the development of civilisation. If you will, one pole is the idea of Superman, who is expelled from himself by Humanity, after which he remains only a grey mass, plunged into the abyss of hopeless observation of the endless battle of the superhero and supervillain, the other is Superhumanity, constantly improving its creative forces, spiritual and physical potential, living in an ever-evolving, ever-expanding reality.

By the way, this is another one-root difference of the “northern reality” – its constant development and, on the other hand, the end of the confrontation between good and evil, the victory of good. Remember the very first, most archetypal image of a peaceful life and long happiness? Yes, the end of Russian fairy tales.

This is a brief and succinct formula for the finiteness of evil and the development of the world.

I must say that such a finale is not only typical for Russian fairy tales, readers are invited to familiarise themselves with German, Italian, or Chinese fairy tales. Finnish and Karelian fairy tales deserve special mention – this is the whole magical world of a simple hardworking person.

A separate layer of archetypes that are laid in the foundation of the traditional civilisational project (again, let me remind you that this is not only about the Russian epic, the archetype is much wider), these are heroic epics in the Russian version.

If one looks closely, one can see that the image of a hero is not the opposite, but is radically different from the image of the superhero-superman.

First of all, a hero is a person, and acts in the human world, a hero is a part of this world, reality. Reality is not just a background for them, against which their personal battle with the supervillain takes place.

Yes, the older generation of heroes of the Russian epic can be considered not quite people, but it is in these epics that the motive for the development, renewal of the world, its continuous deployability is clearly traced – the older heroes leave, giving way to the next generation of defenders of the Russian land. At the same time, the older heroes are essentially examples that the next generation of heroes is striving for.

Here, by the way, there is another difference between the heroic image and the image of a superhero. A superhero is not only independent, cannot exist without their antagonist, but are also unchangeable. The image of a superhero is static, as if frozen at the highest point of its development.

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Heroes change, develop, literally gain experience. It is enough to recall Ilya Muromets at the end of his earthly journey leaving for a monastery, in order to prepare himself for the further “path of heaven”.

And it is precisely these archetypal attitudes that are laid down and developed in the work of Ivan Efremov, who unfolds before the reader a picture of a continuously developing humanity, the best representatives of which serve as an example for the aspirations of others.

In general, in the work of Ivan Efremov, the idea of the need for continuous development is very clearly traced, one of the results of which is a gradual increase, an increase in the level of normality in society. It concerns both the physical, moral, and mental average norm, which is very important. In fact, Efremov sets out a plan for the continuous improvement of society, turning it into a superhuman by modern standards, as opposed to blurring and, as a result, reducing the norm of normality that we see in our time due to the blurring of norms, both psychological and purely medical.

Danger of mirroring

On the way to creating our own civilisational project, forces that can be conditionally called “traditionalist-patriotic” are in danger, a trap into which Russian pop culture, even patriotic, sincerely striving for the development of national culture, has already fallen.

These are attempts to “mirror”, that is, to create something of their own, based on Western patterns. Superheroes are popular in the West – let’s create our own. So, for example, there was Major Thunder, based on the comics about the adventure of which they had already made a film consisting entirely of Hollywood cliches.

Such attempts, in my deep conviction, are doomed to failure. And not even because it is “imitation of the West”.

It should be very clear that the confrontation is not taking place along the “east-west” line. There is a confrontation between traditional, deeply rooted traditional archetypes and new models, new norms that are subordinate to the goals and objectives of the “corporate” civilisational project.

On the way to building such a project, its authors may face several serious traps, in each of which humanity has already successfully failed, getting out each time with more and more serious losses.

I have already mentioned the first one – these are attempts to mirror successful conditionally “corporate and civilisational” methods, from cultural projects to fashion styles.

For some reason, the authors of such initiatives believe that if one changes some decorative elements while maintaining the basic elements of influencing the consumer’s psyche, one will get a different result.

No, it won’t work.

Since all such “corporate cultural projects” are very clearly designed for a certain result, they should cause strictly defined changes in society, serve the goals of their beneficiaries. Moreover, they are part of more extensive processes running for specific purposes.

And these goals are far from those that the Russian and, more broadly, “northern” civilisational project should be focused on.

The fundamental goals, in the author’s opinion, are:

– building a civil society aimed at positive development, unlocking the creative potential of humanity;

– gradual moral and physical improvement of society through “raising the norm”;

– search for the main ways of positively developing mankind.

Of course, both the priorities and the wording of tasks and goals themselves should be the subject of extensive discussion and repeated refinement. However, in any case, at least initial working definitions are required, which I try to give, to the best of my understanding of the situation.

None of the above goals can be achieved using direct or mirrored methods of a “corporate project” simply because they contradict its goals and objectives.

The answer should be, as it is now fashionable to say, completely asymmetric.

Interestingly, attempts at such an asymmetric response to well-organised and conspiratorial “Western” and, in fact, corporate structures in Russian pop culture have already been made. Oleg Markeyev, a tragically early deceased Russian writer, tried to present this in his series of books about the Order of the Polar Eagle.

This is how he described the structure and essence of the Order of the Polar Eagle: “We do not call anyone, but we do not send those who find us away. By taking the oath of allegiance, we reserve the right of choice for those who join our Order. The right to choose is the Law. We are not afraid of betrayal, to change us is to change oneself. And this is death. We have no rewards or privileges. We don’t have orders, superiors, or subordinates. There is no charter, hierarchy, or bureaucracy. In fact, we don’t exist. Perhaps that’s the only reason we still exist. We discover Knowledge that gives strength, and Knowledge requires action. But each of us acts on the basis of one’s own essence. It is different for everyone, so it is impossible to calculate or anticipate the actions of the Order.”

Of course, in this case we have an artistically processed description, but the very principle of radically different methods of organising interaction, spreading ideas is described very clearly and can even be partially used in practice.

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Another extremely dangerous trap is the lack of a clear image of the future among conventionally “traditionally patriotic” forces, their obsession with narrow ideological tasks, and their immersion in the past.

A vivid example of this is the “cry of the soul” of Lieutenant-General of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (retired) and Candidate of Historical Sciences Leonid Reshetnikov. Here’s what he writes on his Telegram channel: “Well, here we are! In the ‘liberated’ Genichesk, a monument to Lenin was restored. Vladimir Putin’s words – we don’t need a ‘Ukraine named after Lenin’ – are simply messed up, and the fuss with red banners turns into honouring the destroyer of a united and indivisible Russia. You are giving the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic 2.0! Soon other ghouls will appear on the squares of the liberated cities. I am sure that all these outrages will come out sideways for us, Russia.”

A person who calls himself a patriot of Russia does not even understand that the red flag has long been associated not with communist ideology, the Victory Flag has merged with the archetype of the Russian Victory, with the image of the scarlet cloak waving behind the shoulders of the Russian Prince. The archetypes of the same plan include the rapidly popular image of the “grandmother with a flag“, the meaning of which for popular perception was understood even by a Chinese artist brought up in a different culture. He created a beautiful three-level composition, where the pole of the Victory banner helps an elderly woman to hold a young warrior in a Red Army uniform, with a machine gun from the Great Patriotic War, and above them raises the formidable Motherland sword from Mamayev Kurgan.

And at this point, it is appropriate to return to the thesis that was voiced at the beginning of the article – for the formation of a new civilisational project “a new northern civilisation”, combining and transforming the best traditional experience of both the East and the West, as Russia has done more than once, it is necessary to analyse the archetypes that are the basis of traditional society, cleaning up the sediments of postmodernism.

It is necessary to analyse and develop methods by which these archetypes can be “activated” again, “brought back into use”, and this should also be done at all levels, up to pop culture.

Similar attempts have already been made, including the already mentioned books by Oleg Markeyev, the work of Sergey Alekseyev, the book series by Yury Nikitin based on deeply archaic layers of Slavic mythology, and, in part, the multi-volume cycles by Vasily Golovachev.

We are ours, we are the new world. Shall we build it?

I must say that in one way or another, the search for a national idea, the basis of a civilisational project is underway. But almost all of them suffer from two disadvantages. The first is the lack of independence, the “Superman syndrome” in its explicit form. They cannot exist without external pressure, an external enemy.

But a civilisational project that is at least somewhat development-oriented cannot be based on a defensive ideology. This is always the “number two game”, the superhero’s addiction to the supervillain.

In addition, defensive ideology, “trench patriotism” are good for cementing society only in a relatively short historical stage and are extremely dependent on continuous momentary victories and improvements. A vivid example is the Russo-Japanese war of the early 20th century and the First World War.

The second, no less serious drawback, is the focus on the past. All projects known to me appeal to various historical episodes and symbols of the “glorious past”, while completely ignoring the need to extrapolate the extent of these symbols to the present and future. The Imperial double-headed eagle, “I’m coming for you”, ” Isn’t Moscow behind us?”, the red banner of Victory, Yury Gagarin, Buran and the peaceful atom are milestones of the past, steps of the ladder that still hold the descendants who have risen on them.

But we need new steps, new slogans aimed at the future, and creating this future.

The Russian world needs a completely self-sufficient, offensive, or, more precisely, mastering the surrounding reality, forming it, project.

But its construction is possible only with a deep study of the meanings and archetypes underlying already implemented projects, including those that are clearly hostile.

Maksim Makarenkov

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