Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Abolition of Man

Man seems to have engrossed himself in an eternal campaign to conquer nature. He attempts to transform all that is uncivilized, “nature,” into civilized culture. Man constantly looks for ways he can exert his power over the natural elements, the world around him. However, the result of this conquest is not always the progression towards a bright and peaceful future. Instead, often Man’s conquest leads him to conquer himself. C. S. Lewis gives various examples in “The Abolition of Man.” The first is that of the contraceptive. Here, Man is exercising his control over the natural process of reproduction and birth, but is also limiting himself and extinguishing human life. Second is that of newspapers, aero planes, and the wireless. We find, just like that of the contraceptive, that man in fact does transform nature into things useful and civilized, but in doing so he ultimately affects himself. Man becomes the patient and possessor, “the target both for bombs and propaganda.” From this conquest, C. S. Lewis believes that we should define Man’s conquest over Nature rather as Man’s attempt to maintain power over other men with Nature as his instrument.

Thus develops two groups of people. There are the Conditioned and the Conditioners. To be a Conditioner is to be truly human. The Conditioners follow a certain “Tao” or natural law (here C. S. Lewis is drawing from the wisdom of the East and the tradition of the Western world). The Tao is the doctrine of humanity and life. It is what the Conditioners pass onto the Conditioned. Hence, the Conditioned serve to represent the younger generation or an inferior group of people. They must be taught how to live and act. The Conditioners take it upon themselves to teach the Conditioned. However, this doctrine and teaching of the Conditioners is fraught with subjectivism. The reason for this being is that the Conditioners must choose what they shall pass on and educate to the Conditioned. They determine what doctrine and ways of life will be perpetuated into the future. It is almost as if the prior generation controls the current generation.

Man exerts control over himself by deepening the gap between generations. New civilization and technology only limits Man further. There are more manuals for Man to read and more directions for Man to follow. In general, future generations of Man seem to lose their autonomy because of the generations before them. They become dependent on the doctrine and teachings of the Conditioners. Thus we are in danger, for if we rely on humans to relate and pass down natural law, won’t their lessons simply be the result their current impulses and relative Tao. If we were to assume the Conditioners were not men, then they could pass down the Natural law, but we cannot bear the thought of this. Inconsistency is enough to prove this theory false. Thus the Conditioners are characterized by irrational behavior of which we naturally mistrust. However, if we assert that the Conditioners are men, we are held slaves to cruel subjectivism of the ages. What a position we find ourselves in. How are we to define and realize the Natural law?

Perhaps the answer to this question is to trust in some divine intervention. For, we recognize that Man, by himself, cannot consistently construct a coherent Natural law, and that Man cannot be held apart from the Natural law, for it is found in all of us. There seems to be a need of an outside source. Man desires to “see through” all things. The problem with this, C. S. Lewis writes, is that “then everything is transparent.” The world becomes invisible; we do not see at all. Perhaps, we must rely on the common grace of God to trust that Man’s attempt at defining Natural Law becomes not too distorted or too depraved. We need to recognize and address the casualties of our subjectivism. Then we are able to maintain that in man there is an inherent capacity for determining right from wrong, one inspired and authored by God, no matter how hidden or ignorant of it we may become.

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