Why must our conquest of nature stop short, in stupid reverence, before this final and toughest bit of ‘nature’ which has hitherto been called the conscience of man?
The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis
It is time to extend Lewis’s vision….
Lewis is writing of the Tao: also known as Natural Law, Traditional Morality, or First Principles of Practical Reason. After all else of nature has been conquered, why not also this? After all, there have always been those, through each advancement in the conquering of nature, who have warned that the next step would be the disastrous step. Yet, here we are. So why concern ourselves with messing with the Tao?
Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that: not on any ground of imagined value, but because we want him to be such.
But what is meant by “man’s conquest of nature”? In reality, it is the power of some men over other men, with nature as the instrument (or weapon). Lewis is not after the issue of man using this power in potentially corrupt ways. He is after something more fundamental: what is meant when we say man has conquered nature? It is using nature to exercise power by some men (the Conditioners) over other men (the Subjects).
And this power extends through time: conquest builds on conquest, ever more men are lorded over by ever fewer men; each new power won by men is also a power over men:
Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billons upon billions of men.
It will be a conquest over human nature. At this point, the battle is won…but who, precisely, will have won it? Having removed the Tao, or Natural Law, men are free to do as they please. They need no longer act in accord with their nature – the nature of man.
The power of men to do as they please in reality is the power of some men (the Conditioners) to make others (the Subjects) do as these Conditioners please. The Conditioners will create an artificial Tao, one that ensures ever greater power by ever fewer men: Nietzsche’s Übermensch.
Will some of their impulses, their Tao of artificial creation, prove benevolent? Lewis has doubts. History only offers examples of the opposite:
I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned.
Without the Tao, obedience to impulse is all that is left; without the soul and reason, man’s base nature is all that is left. In other words, we move from obeying Natural Law (the Tao) to laws of nature (the strong dominating the weak).
It is not that they [the Conditioners] are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void.
All that is left to guide these Conditioners is their felt emotional weight of the moment. When everything that gave us the idea of objective “good” is debunked, all that is left is subjective “want.” To say that they are corrupt or degenerate implies some standard of objective value. But there is none.
This, it turns out, is equally true for the Subjects – those being conditioned by the Conditioners:
Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest proved to be the abolition of man.
What did I mean about extending Lewis’s vision? He is writing of the most important and unique aspect of man – his soul, his reason; that which God breathed into him, the one thing that makes man different from all other created beings. It is this that has been abolished.
Lewis hints at this extension, the next and final step, when he asks: with all of this power in ever fewer hands, what motivates them – these Conditioners?
The preservation of the species? But why should the species be preserved?
In March 2020, we entered this phase. There is no reason for the Conditioners to concern themselves with the preservation of the species. The subjects, due to their training, have no reason to expect it or even desire it.
Once man’s soul, his reason, has been abolished – via abolishing the Natural Law – this step was inevitable.