This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.
The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.
The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
It will be recalled that The Green Book taught the lesson, albeit not overtly and maybe not even consciously, that words need not have meaning, that qualities are nothing more than personal feelings, and that there need not be anything objective in either – in fact, there can be nothing objective in either.
But what does it mean to say “which accepts it”? Accepts what? Accepts the idea that words need not have meaning and accepts the idea that qualities are not more than personal feelings; accepts the idea that there are no such things as objective values.
And what does it mean to say “the destruction of society”? Can a society be destroyed if it is made up of individuals living a life of meaning? (No.) Or is a society destroyed when many living within it live meaningless lives? (Yes.) Can life have meaning if words have no meaning and if nothing is valued objectively? (No.)
In other words, a society is destroyed only when the individuals who make up that society are destroyed. And herein lies the crux of the issue – the connection of the loss of the objective values that underlie the natural law ethic to the meaning crisis that is consuming almost all of Western society.
However subjective they may be about some traditional values, Gaius and Titius have shown by the very act of writing The Green Book that there must be some other values about which they are not subjective at all.
This is, of course, the contradiction in which all subjectivists sooner or later are trapped. Ultimately, to say that there are no objective values is a statement of an objective value. But why should anyone buy this? There is no reason, if all values are subjective.
The important point is not the precise nature of their end, but the fact that they have an end at all. …And this end must have real value in their eyes.
It is not their own objective values that are being questioned by Gaius and Titius, but yours. And such values must be embraced, not based solely on propositions about facts alone nor solely based on reason. Facts don’t exist in a vacuum (the silliness of “trust the science” has made this clear, as science can be used toward any end); reason also does not exist in a vacuum (a course of action is reasonable or not, depending on the ends desired).
This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by mediation of society ought to be preserved.
Why ought society be preserved? There is no fact pattern that leads to this conclusion. One can use reason to destroy society or to aid it in flourishing. The end of preserving society must be taken as given; there is no other way to arrive at this end.
And this is described as Practical Reason – judgements such as society ought to be preserved are taken as given; these are not mere sentiments, but rationality itself. The Innovator cannot accept the whole of this Practical Reason, as it binds him from ends of his innovation; Practical Reason takes the word “progress” and aims it only in certain directions – an unacceptable situation for the Innovator.
This opens up an entire conversation on the topic of free will. Certainly, one is free to destroy one’s self. One cannot claim that such an action is rational or irrational absent free will being bound by Practical Reason – there are some oughts that must be taken as given.
…the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.
Free will bound by oughts. This goes beyond the oughts of the non-aggression principle: don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff. Nothing about preserving society to be found here. Why preserve society, if to do so one must give up something of his freedom – maybe even give up his life? Yet, a lost society is one which is populated by lost people – people without meaning.
The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct above its fellows dies very hard.
We hear it from free-floating ethicists (those who deny objective value but embrace the idea that there is such a thing as “good” and such a thing as “evil”) all the time: they cannot describe the “good” in any meaningful way, but at least they know that Auschwitz (the go-to example) is evil.
But on what basis is this so? Those perpetrating such evils surely have a rational basis for doing so. Why are their reasons no less satisfactory than any other?
The truth finally becomes apparent that neither in any operation with factual propositions nor in any appeal to instinct can the Innovator find the basis for a system of values.
Imagine such a society, where anything goes. Imagine even such a society, but one that respects the non-aggression principle…only (just pretend it can be done in a vacuum). Other than don’t hit first and don’t take my stuff, any values are just as good as any other, and you can choose to live however you want within this society.
Other than most people being blind about the theft behind taxes, this is the society in which most people in the West live – truly more license for unimpeded free-will than any society in memory. A man is free to be a woman, for goodness’ sakes. He is so free in this that he can force you to accept this freedom. How much freer can one get?
To avoid this hell-hole, where life is so meaningless that even something as obvious as gender is meaningless, one must begin with something objective, unquestioned:
Unless you accept these without question as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory, you can have no practical principles whatever. You cannot reach them as conclusions; they are premises.
You may continue to regard these as sentiments; yet try to argue that some sentiments are more valuable than others. On what basis? Careful, you are giving the game away. Every argument has its basis in the Tao, the Natural Law, the First Principles of Practical Reason.
If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.
Why should I not hit first? Why should I not take your stuff? But first principles are not limited to this. Why should I treat you as a human being, instead of as an object meant only to satisfy my purposes? This is to treat human beings as worse than even a pet, or a favorite tree in the backyard. But…why not?
Reject any of these first principles – anything of the natural law – and you have no basis on which to stand on any other of these principles.
This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value.
This is not a pick-and-choose menu. One is not free – individually or societally – to invent one’s own combination of desired first principles, whether chosen from the natural law or invented whole-cloth. In order to live as a human being, one must embrace this Natural Law in its entirety:
It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained.
Nor can anything be invented to replace it – not if man is going to live as he was meant to live:
There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world.
At least not in a world populated by human beings.
The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.
But the human mind is capable of destroying the values that make a human…human. Wouldn’t this make life…meaningless?
Modern man accepts no such limits. Nature has been conquered in so many ways, why not this nature inherent to man? Nature has been turned from master to servant in so many ways – this is overwhelmingly evident since the Enlightenment. Why not human nature, the values that govern us as humans? Why must these remain fixed?
Let us regard all ideas of what we ought to do simply as interesting psychological survival: let us step right out of all of that and start doing what we like. Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that….
But, then…he would no longer be living as a man. He would be living a life something other than what he is. His life as a man would be without meaning. And to avoid living under the Natural Law ethic leads to a life that is meaningless.
Hence, the meaning crisis.