Wolf Larsen, Nietzsche and the Titans of Capitalism by Gary Sudborough

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by Gary Sudborough
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
5 July 2009

When he was young, Jack London was a very strong man and an oyster pirate on San Francisco bay. He initially believed in might makes right. However, he worked in many different occupations and noticed many strong, decent, hard working men destroyed by accidents, diseases, the fickle hand of fate or the toxic, dangerous and harsh environments of the capitalist’s factories and mines. Jack London became similar to Upton Sinclair, who wrote about the destruction of Jurgis Rudkus’s Lithuanian family in the meat packing plants of Chicago in a book called The Jungle. Jack London, besides writing novels like The Call of The Wild and White Fang, also wrote books critical of his former ideology and of capitalism such as The Sea Wolf and The Iron Heel. Much to his credit, Jack London became a socialist.

In Jack London’s book The Sea Wolf the main character is a captain named Wolf Larsen aboard a sailing vessel called the Ghost. He is on a seal hunting expedition off the coast of Japan and is the ideal example of Nietzsche’ s superman hero. He is so powerful physically that no one on the ship can challenge him. He is callous, brutal, selfish, indifferent to others suffering and believes that life is only a ferment where the strong survive and the weak perish. He intends to survive. At the same time he has educated himself in the classics of literature and philosophy and loves discussing philosophy with a shipwreck victim he has picked up named Humphrey Van Weyden. Although he clings tenaciously to his theory of existence, he still has doubts about the meaning of life and whether there is a soul or such concepts as right and wrong. Wolf Larsen like Hitler and others have a misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and do not realize that many living organisms gain a selective advantage over other organisms not only by strength, but by cooperation, even between different species living together. It is called symbiosis.

Wolf Larsen develops terrible headaches, which get progressively worse and eventually disable him through some undiagnosed brain disease, making all his great physical prowess useless. He becomes blind and progressively more paralyzed  Shakespeare talks about the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to in the famous lines stated by Hamlet. Shakespeare, obviously, realized the numerous calamities which could befall human life in spite of physical strength, while Wolf Larsen is completely oblivious to these things, until the end.

There are those like Hitler who subscribed to this superman theory of individuals or races of people. However, for an ironic bit of humor look at four of the individuals who supposedly personified this Aryan superiority- Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Himmler. None of these people were great physical specimens or indeed intellectual specimens. They were one of the greatest examples of human egotism and  hypocrisy in world history. Hitler and Goebbels were small and weak. In fact, Goebbels was a cripple. Goering was grossly obese and Himmler was like a bespectacled human scarecrow. Also, he was a mass murderer. He was a former chicken farmer and was a thin and far from broad shouldered man. Obviously, they were far departures from Nietzsche’s supermen. There were many German soldiers who indeed were so tall, well muscled and proportioned so that ancient sculptors could have made statues of them. But many of them were killed off at the Russian front or somewhere else. Bullets are equal opportunity killers. They don’t care if you look like Hercules or a midget. They will kill if the right organ is hit. If the rise of the Third Reich proves anything, it is that people who are cruel, deceitful, clever propagandists and have the backing of large industrialists and bankers can come to power and cause untold destruction, suffering and bloodshed, without being outstanding examples of either brains or brawn and definitely not superior human beings in any way. In fact, the exact opposite.

Now, let us come to the present time and look at those people who essentially rule much of the world, as they have a majority of the world’s wealth. I am talking about the owners of the large corporations and banks. Are they superior in any way to the rest of us? I have seen bankers and corporation executives paraded before Congress, and if these balding, obese, lying, arrogant, ignorant, greedy, deceitful, thieving, hypocritical individuals are in any way examples of a higher order of human beings, then we may as well throw in the towel. However, I believe the rabble or mob as rich people like to call ordinary workers have more morality and common sense than these rulers of society. It is time for the nationalization of banks and corporations and let the workers run them. At least they wouldn’t concoct schemes to defraud themselves or lower their wages or lay themselves off. Capitalism has failed. We need to try compassionate cooperation, instead of dog eat dog competition coupled with an everyday theft of labor’s value. By the way, having capitalistic insurance companies run the health care system is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. People will suffer and die needlessly. Capitalism is like Wolf Larsen. It is a cruel anachronism.


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One thought on “Wolf Larsen, Nietzsche and the Titans of Capitalism by Gary Sudborough

  1. One has to be very very careful talking about Neitzche . he is very complex and changes from book to book , and even changes within each book . his Ubermench theory is an existential rebellion against the systemizations of Hegelianism used by all the movements trying to find the driving force of history …thru dialectical usage. he has been co -opted by many groups unfairly . i dont happen to agree with his ”will to power” . i stand with that other rebel of the time Soren Keirkegaard who said that one must renounce ones will to God .

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