Superman Has Two Dads! (More on Plato and the Man of Steel)

We’re hardwired to be free, but we’re also hardwired to be relational beings. Man of Steel is nothing if not a celebration of fathers. Maybe the most repulsive feature of the Republic’s “city in speech,” for us, is the absence of parenthood. Devices are invented so mothers won’t recognize their biological children. Marriage is reduced to coupling—a quickie—arranged scientifically to improve the quality of the citizenry. And fatherhood disappears altogether; men don’t know and aren’t attached to their biological kids in particular.

You don’t have to be a feminist to notice that the discussion of the communism of women and children in the Republic is so destructive of human love and human “relationships” as they actually exist because all the interlocutors are men. A woman’s voice would have introduced some realism about a mother’s love and the need for fathers. And we can assume that a woman would have let those men have it for not thinking of themselves as having paternal duties. Men, on their own, are tyrannical and ridiculous in privileging public life over the pleasures and responsibilities of the intimate life of the family. A subtext of the Republic is that men diss intimate life because of their erotic inferiority by nature. They can’t actually have babies, and their sexual lives are more limited by time.

Krypton’s eugenics scheme perfects the deconstruction of the family and diminishing erotic or relational life. Women no longer have kids, and so they no longer have to be educated not to care for their own. There’s no need for marriage at all, although it seems to still exist.

The single most moving moment in the film is the relational transformation that occurs when Jor-El and his wife are bonded by their shared love of their own child. That’s nothing less than the rediscovery of the natural foundation of the love that properly distinguishes self-conscious persons. Love of “the city” is nothing compared to love of one’s own child. And contrary to what philosophers sometimes think, and what the Republic seems to suggest, Aristotle reminds us that the most relational human bond is between husband and wife sharing responsibility for the goods—mainly the kids—they share in common.

The Republic shows that men more than women need this lesson about being a parent. And who can deny that today men find it harder than women to think of themselves as responsible parents?  That explains, of course, both why we have so many single moms and why men are faring so badly.

It’s deeply instructive that the Man of Steel displays for us wonderfully admirable fathers, even as it was released on Father’s Day. Superman has two dads! And he’s darn lucky that he does. He has his biological father Jor-El, and his foster-father Jonathan Kent—an ordinary rural guy from Kansas. The dads are played—maybe somewhat overplayed—by the two most expressively talented actors in the film—Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner.

Two of the three heroic “role models” in the film act mainly as dads, and the third—Superman himself—is who he is largely because of what he was given by those two dads. We’re reminded that fatherhood is less directly biological than motherhood, but that makes being a father a freer and arguably more sacrificial choice. The foster father, in fact, is more of a father than the biological one.

Superman, ironically, only knows his biological father as disembodied or displaced consciousness—or not as a father in full. From the philosopher Jor-El, he gets his wisdom, both his huge I.Q. and his intellectual orientation toward the world. It’s because of this father, after all, that he can understand Plato and apply what he’s read to saving us from what seems to be those monstrously amoral products of Kryptonian eugenics. He actually gets from Jor-El  all that is natural about who he is.

According to Aristotle (who was refining Plato just a bit), by nature we’re incomplete. We become who we are by acquiring moral virtue—the habits and opinions that are the foundation of the character that allows each of us to act freely and responsibly. Moral virtue is neither natural nor contrary to nature; we’re hardwired to need to be completed by it.

The Kryptonians, having had their natures altered with “prosocial” behavior in mind, need that completion less or are more oriented to a certain kind of completion. But Kal-El/Clark Kent, free of eugenic enhancement or direction, could have been completed in a wide variety of ways. He was completed, in fact, by being raised by a trustworthy, steadfast, loving American man (and his wife) from Kansas.  Jonathan didn’t raise Clark to be just like him; he raised him, without really understanding him, with all those natural superpowers in mind. He knew his son had to remain, in part, an alien, and that his was to be a singularly mission-drive life.

Still, there’s no denying that the main source of Superman’s moral virtue is his foster father. Given those superpowers, Superman would have made his own life and our lives hell without the character—developed in him by his Kansas dad—that allows him to control his desires with his singular mission in mind, one version among many of the singular destiny that constitutes every personal life. It’s because Superman is really from Kansas that we can trust he’s not our enemy.

We can't forget, of course, that not only does Superman have two dads, he has two moms.  We're shown a biological father and a foster-father, but not a single father.  Both marriages are good, and both wives and moms are tough and loving.  Fatherhood is highlighted, to repeat, maybe only because fatherhood is slighted today, but it's not presented outside of its proper relational context.  Dads can't be moms.  That's a natural fact.  But the film stays true to the Republic by making a good deal out of another natural fact.  It's a male prejudice to believe that women can't be fine warriors.  Maybe the toughest character from our planet is the gutsy Lois Lane, and no Kryptonian matches the courageous impetuosity of Zod's fierce subcommander Farora-Ul.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
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Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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