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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 12/27/2004
Vol. 2, #153
Fortress of Solitude, January 2005
I used to think that because I had all these unique capacities when I transferred to earth that there would never be anything to worry about. I was stronger than the strongest man, faster than the swiftest, with senses beyond any human capacity. But growing up in Smallville, I quickly learned that super-powers can make for an empty life without certain guiding precepts about their use. I don't just mean moral precepts either. If you've got it all, it's easy to be moral. I mean precepts to guide me when morality has no answer.
Is this a good thing to do? Will it hurt anybody needlessly? I discovered that the answer to those questions was a simple "I don't know." For example, you do something to help somebody, or to stop some harmful predation, and sometimes, the outcome is totally unexpected and even harmful. Like you start a war to bring "the blessings of democracy" to a benighted people, and you wind up responsible for oceans of blood. You simply can't assume a "good" thing is always good. Nor can you impose a "good" on anyone unless you know what "good" really is in the situation. Because even good is a mysterious and often undefinable value, the shape-shifter of reality.
Do-gooders are sometimes among the worst and most harmful of the powerful. Because good can't be simplified or pinned down to a set of precepts. All the internecine conflicts of human history owe their horrors to clashes among the good.
So having super-powers really means, act with care. Act with great care lest you destroy what you set out to save. This is something that George Bush and his mentor, Cheney, really have to learn from the bottom up. Or perhaps they already know this. In which case, their motives have more to do with another kind of bottom from which they've sprung. Sometimes, it really looks that way to me.
For a long time now, ever since I sprang into modern public knowledge first through Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, I have been enlisted as a simple-minded do-gooder and a useful symbol to get the world through the miseries of World War II and the dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. Then, as writers of increasing sophistication chose to interpret me, there was a break from the grim morality of the super-do-gooder to flashes of humor, insight and complexity until the things I stood for were finally "defragmented"in the persona of Bizarro. But first, my "reality" was given more depth, if you like, by the Clark Kent side of my character. Because Clark isn't really just a disguise. He is a necessary means for navigating in the real world that someone with my capacities desperately needs. In a sense, he underscores my reality. And just what do I mean when I speak of my reality?
I burst onto the scene in 1938 in a comic book whose initial printing was an unheard of million copies. My comic book appearance, as everybody knows, was an instant success, and although my name still headlines the comic books in which I continue to appear, the writers of today still seem to be searching for a more precise way of defining my identity, of expressing my meaning and of maintaining a high level of public interest in my unique being. More or less, they have not been too successful. You might say that, after a time, the uniform of a major mythic character needs major readjustment.
Perhaps then it's time to explain who and what I really am. To start with, I'm uncopywritable. The superman myth has dominated our history for centuries and is, in effect, as many of our dominating cultural images are, archetypal, that is, basic and fundamental to what we are as a species. Does that make me unreal? Only if one mistakenly assumes that reality is only what can be encountered by our supposed five senses. But, in fact, we have many more senses than that, sometimes mistakenly labeled supernatural. A more modern way of expressing my reality is, as I suggested in one of my earliest columns on this site some years ago, a kind of field.
I am, then, a field like a gravitational field or an electrical or magnetic field, very real and very obtrusive in the real world. To use the term of the distinguished British biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, I can be described as a morphic field, a kind of form-shaping reality that acts upon other living forms in the various ways that I, as Superman, along with my writers, or interpreters, if you prefer, decide. And those decisions are in turn activated by the shifting wave-lengths of my own reality. So, I can sit here this morning in my Fortress of Solitude and, by courtesy of one of my former writers, express these features of my reality in order at this beginning of a new year to expound on the entire question of "doing good" and what it really means. Probably, the most important question of the day.
I shall return from time to time to discuss other aspects of being a do-gooder, and other topics relating to an existence whose reality is an emergent expression of one of the most active fields of our human existence.
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