This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.
For without the judgement ‘Benevolence is good’ – that is, without re-entering the Tao – [the Conditioners] can have no ground for promoting or stabilizing these impulses rather than any others.
The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
Benevolence: desire to do good to others; goodwill; charitableness: an act of kindness; a charitable gift:
Hierarchies have always existed and will always exist. Once a value is promoted, a hierarchy based on success toward that value will be established. This chapter will begin to examine the relationship between the reality of today, a reality where we live with any value other than love as the highest value, and today’s meaning crisis.
What do I mean by a meaning crisis? It is man living other than as the human being he was intended in creation, living as a man having little if any say in his life and his future. Living, not as a human being; living without hope for a future.
The meaning crisis is evident in many ways: higher rates of suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, the great resignation, fatherless children, aborted babies, gender fluidity, the normalization of the most life-destroying behaviors.
This chapter will also begin to develop further the idea that love (benevolence) must be the highest value if man is to live as intended – respecting creation’s human nature. Foundationally, Christianity has offered the basis for this via two simple ideas:
Genesis 1: 26(a) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Genesis 2: 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
This is what it means to be a human being. No other creature was made in the image of God. in no other creature did God breath.
Matthew 22: 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
This is man’s highest purpose, his telos.
If these ideas were proposed in another tradition or religion, I am not aware of it; if they have been developed as thoroughly as they have been in the West, I haven’t seen it. These ideas form the basis for holding love as the highest value for man, man’s purpose or telos.
But why does that matter? What does this have to do with the meaning crisis? Lewis will explain this in the chapter of this book entitled The Abolition of Man.
‘Man’s conquest of nature’ is an expression often used to describe the progress of applied science.
No doubt, we have all benefitted from this “conquest.”
In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over nature?
Lewis offers three technologies to demonstrate his points. Two of these, the aeroplane and the wireless, offer a conquest for men living today, now. One of these, contraception, offers a conquest over men living (or not) in the future. But this conquest is not absolute, nor always available to all.
Any or all three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men…
While this has always been true, and there are multiple examples throughout history, certainly it was obviously evident in the last two years.
What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.
And this is the point Lewis is getting at: Man’s conquest of nature is actually some men’s conquest over other men using Nature as the instrument. Of course, since there will always be a hierarchy, some men will always be over other men. No problem if love (benevolence) is the highest value. But what if it isn’t?
Then there is the time dimension. This is present not only via contraceptives (using nature, the power to bring forth, or not, the next generation), but also using technology to shape the next generation – the Conditioned – into the mold desired by some men who are controlling Nature – the Conditioners. Again, no problem if love (benevolence) is the highest value. But what if it isn’t?
[The Conditioners] know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they wish to produce.
It need not be love. They will produce the conscience they wish.
The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reasons, produce in the Human race.
They might even perceive this as being for the good of all – some form of bastardized benevolence. It is their duty. But “duty” cannot be its own judge.
They know quite well how to produce a dozen different conceptions of good in us. The question is which, if any, they should produce.
Duty to what end, toward what purpose? Using the things they are comparing as the standard by which to choose is, in Lewis’s word, absurd.
But it isn’t that these are bad men. Having set the standard for what is good, how could they be bad? Just as in ancient Rome – where abandoning babies and satisfying one’s sexual desires in any orifice, willing or unwilling, was considered objectively good – we have versions of this in our day.
The very words corrupt and degenerate imply a doctrine of value and are therefore meaningless in this context.
To be good, one must be free to subjectively create his own being. This is today’s standard – an infinitely malleable yardstick by which to measure “good.” Yet there is no freedom even in this, because one is conditioned toward this end.
To be considered evil today…that answer is easy. Just bring up the idea of objective ethical values – not any specific objective ethical value, just the concept that such things exist.
When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. …The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure.
What happens if anything other than love is understood to be man’s highest purpose? What if benevolent love is not the highest pleasure for the Conditioners? Man will evolve into something other than that for which he was created.
What will he have inherited for all of this conditioning?
The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future.
The meaning crisis.
This is what we are living today. Arguably, its roots will be found in the Enlightenment, where science, as the term has come to be understood (man’s conquest over nature), has been placed at the pinnacle of all knowledge. For example, we find it necessary to debate with physicists about the reality of God and His creation. Why? Because…science.
We are unable to exercise power over the future. Today, it is true for the vast majority of us – far more than in Lewis’s day, although he saw it. But Lewis also sees that eventually, even the Conditioners will suffer the same fate. For example, what happens if / when they are able to upload their brains into some machine. What control over their future will they have at that point? Whatever the answer, we know one thing with certainty: they will no longer be human beings.
But we are not there yet. What Lewis saw as coming in the future, we are living today:
Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men.
Never before in the history of man has the technology been available to change and propagandize the whole of humanity, levers in control of those who wish to make man in…what image, exactly?
Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. …The Battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?
Or…what, precisely, will have won it?
It is not that [the Conditioners] are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of man.
A fabulously insightful statement, but I also think Lewis had something not quite right. We are seeing that some of these men are unhappy men. That part of them that remains “man” is struggling under the weight of that part of them being made to suffer the Conditioner.
If man, created in some man-made image, can no longer live in the manner for which he was created, or is pushed and driven to live contrary to his nature, what, other than a meaning crisis, will be the result?
In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed the Tao – a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.
The Tao: Natural Law. Ethics based on objective values, values which must be accepted as given, not created by man but discovered.
Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning.
Keep in mind, man was created with a purpose – an objective purpose: love. Man was created in a divine image: God’s image. Any other purpose as man’s highest purpose results in corruption of man. Any other image results in something other than man.
What happens when we do not live with, under and through these objective values, with love as man’s telos?
A meaning crisis.