One of the obvious ways of producing your superman
is one that was taken so seriously in the last century that it was
actually tried. Ever since the basic ideas of Darwin and the
mechanism of genetics were understood, the idea popped into the mind
of Sir Francis Galton that what can be done to dogs and
pigeons can be done to men, so if you want to create Homo Superior,
why not simply breed human beings selectively?
This wasn't just idle speculation, he was dead
serious and many a philanthropist, scholar, scientist, businessman,
and politician became determined advocates of improving the lot of the
human race by making sure that the "best" of the breed intermarried
while the sick, feeble-minded, and generally undesirable were
prevented from reproducing. For some, this was
simply a matter of educating the population in the selection of a
"proper" mate and the forced sterilisation of the insane. For
others, it was part of a grand vision of people being required to
carry around health passports and pass batteries of genetic
compatibility tests before they could marry-- if they were given a
choice in the matter at all.
Can't make an omelette and all that.
And while you're at it, why not go for particular traits?
General improvement is all well and good, but a narrower focus is also
possible such as in
Robert Heinlein's novel Methuselah's Children, where a secret
foundation ran a program for breeding long-lived people who, by
fortunate side-effect, also had a penchant for mathematical prodigy
and telepathy. Of course, there was also the drawback of
producing smart-ass libertarians who fancy themselves as
cracker-barrel philosophers, but one must take the rough with the
But Eugenics did not stay on the pages of
sci-fi magazines or the lecterns of advocates. In the early
decades of the 20th century governments such as in the
United States adopted the idea of improving public health through
eugenics and passed legislation aimed at keeping "unhealthy"
races from immigrating and sterilising the feeble-minded or even the
epileptic! And some of these laws stayed on the books for fifty
And then there were the really nasty little pieces of work.
Joseph Stalin in the USSR was determined to create the New Soviet Man;
a superman who would take to collectivism like a duck to water and would arise
spontaneously out the of utopian conditions of Soviet Communism. That
was a lot of hooey, of course, but, being Stalin, he wouldn't let an
untidy little thing like facts get in his way, so he decreed that
biology must conform to the party line and heaven help any biologist
who begged to differ.
this was as nothing compared to the leaders of Germany's Third Reich, who
became so obsessed with their worship of the Aryan and so determined
to create a "master race" that they took practical steps to do so by
introducing meticulous racial classification of the population,
breeding camps to produce as many blond blue-eyed
übermensch as possible, and
tried exterminating "inferior" races by the millions as quickly and efficiently as a
modern industrial society can.
Needless to say, Auschwitz and the Nuremburg trials
put paid to the Eugenics movement and gave the world a very stern
lesson of what happens when you stop seeing people as children of God
and more as laboratory animals.
What is even more frightening is that we have been
so slow in learning our lesson and so quick to forget it. We've
made great strides in medicine, particularly in genetic research, but
in doing so we have reached the point where we are in danger of doing
far more harm than good. If not to our bodies, then to our
souls. Our society is tampering with things such as
contraceptives, fertility drugs, genetic engineering, selective
abortion, infant euthanasia, in vitro fertilisation, designer
babies, and artificial insemination with so little real discussion of
the ethics of what we're doing that we face a very real risk of one
day turning 'round and discovering that we are not becoming genetic
supermen, but moral monsters.