In 1980’s The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler looked back at how the varying strains of “Progressivism” had attempted to synthesize “the New Man” over the years:
As a novel civilization erupts into our everyday lives we are left wondering whether we, too, are obsolete. With so many of habits, values, routines, and responses called into question, it is hardly surprising if we sometimes feel like people of the past, relics of Second Wave civilization. But if some of us are indeed anachronisms, are there also people of the future among us — anticipatory citizens, as it were, of the Third Wave civilization to come? Once we look past the decay and disintegration around us, can we see emerging outlines of the personality of the future — the coming, so speak, of a “new man”?
If so, it would not be the first time un homme nouveu was supposedly detected on the horizon. In a brilliant essay, André Reszler, director of the Center for European Culture, has described earlier attempts to forecast the coming of a new type of human being. At the end of the eighteenth century there was, for example, the “American Adam” — man born anew in North America, supposedly without the vices and weaknesses of the European. In the middle of the twentieth century, the new man was supposed to appear in Hitler’s Germany. Nazism, wrote Hermann Rauschning, “is more than a religion; it is the will to create the superman.” This sturdy “Aryan” would be part peasant, part warrior, part God. “I have seen the new man,” Hitler once confided to Rauschning. “He is intrepid and cruel. I stood in fear before him.”
The image of a new man (few ever speak of a “new woman,” except as an afterthought) also haunted the Communists. The Soviets speak of the coming of “Socialist Man.” But it was Trotsky who rhapsodized most vividly about the future human. “Man will become incomparably stronger, wiser and more perceptive. His body will become more harmonious, his movements more rhythmical, his voice more melodious. His ways of life will acquire a powerfully dramatic quality. The average man will attain the level of an Aristotle, of a Goethe, of a Marx.”
As recently as a decade or two ago, Frantz Fanon heralded the coming of yet another new man who would have a “new mind.” Che Guevara saw his ideal man of the future as having a richer interior life. Each image is different.
Yet Reszler persuasively points out that behind most of these of the “new man” there lurks that familiar old fellow, the Noble Savage, a mythic creature endowed with all sorts of qualities civilization has supposedly corrupted or worn away. Reszler properly questions this romanticization of the primitive, reminding that regimes which set out consciously to foster a “new man” usually brought totalitarian havoc in their wake.
It would be foolish, therefore, to herald yet once more the birth of a “new man” (unless, now that the genetic engineers are at work, we mean that in a frightening, strictly biological sense). The idea suggests a prototype, a single ideal model that the entire civilization strains to emulate. And in a society moving rapidly toward de-massification, nothing is more unlikely.
And while — at least so far — today’s progressives aren’t building the current incarnation of the New Man through genetics, their efforts to create one via education, or the lack thereof, seem to be proceeding on schedule, if this passage from Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood is any indication.
To set the scene, Dr. Norman Lewis, is the book’s a Miami-area celebrity psychiatrist, who had just been interviewed on 60 Minutes on the topic of “the Porn Plague.” His assistant is Magdalena Otero, the girlfriend of the book’s central protagonist (a young Cuban-American Miami cop also in the midst of his own intense media spotlight). Lewis and Magdalena are out on Lewis’s cigarette boat, which he’s dubbed the “Hypomanic,” to check out the Miami’s Columbus Day Regatta.
After witnessing a particularly lurid orgiastic moment, Magdalena decides she’s had enough and calls it a night:
“Norman, if you want me,” she said in a tense, clipped voice, “I’ll be in the boat, trying to get some sleep.”
“Sleep?” said Norman in the voice that said, “How can you even think of such a thing?” Nevertheless, he was at last focusing upon her. He spoke sternly. “Now, listen to me. Tonight is an obligatory all-nighter. All night is what this experience is all about! If you keep your eyes open, you will witness things you never thought possible. You will have a picture of mankind with all the rules removed. You will see Man’s behavior at the level of bonobos and baboons. And that’s where Man is headed! You will see the future out here in the middle of nowhere! You will have an extraordinary preview of the looming un-human, thoroughly animal, fate of Man! Believe me, treating porn addicts is not a narrow psychiatric specialty. It’s essential to any society’s bulwark against degeneracy and self-destruction. And to me, it’s not enough to gather data by listening to patients describe their lives. These people are weak and not very analytical. Otherwise they wouldn’t let these things happen to themselves. We have to see with our own eyes. And that’s why I’m willing to stay up all night—to get to know these wretched souls from the inside out.”
Jesu Cristo… this was the thickest wall of theory she had ever heard Norman concoct! An impenetrable fort!… and an inimitable pulling the rug out from under any critic.
She gave up. What use was it to argue with him? There was nothing to be done about it.
Is there anything to be done about it? In an interview with the Huffington Post, Wolfe described the Regatta as “an example of the sexualization of almost everything.” The above passage from the middle of Back to Blood dovetails remarkably well with the cold opening of Wolfe’s previous book, which referenced “the cultural para-stimuli,” and his mid-’90s Forbes article on neuroscience, “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died.”
If this is indeed where man is headed, “The Coming ‘Soft Dark Ages,'” as blogger Charles Martel dubbed them a year ago at Bookworm Room, look particularly bleak indeed.
Related: Kori Schake of the Hoover Institute on the latest book by Jared Diamond, whose “achievements make it especially a surprise and disappointment to encounter in his latest work, The World Until Yesterday, a vanity project marketed as anthropology. In this book, Diamond draws from his extensive field research in New Guinea to share his views on the shortcomings of contemporary American society. Primitive approaches to social problems, he thinks, would better serve our society.”