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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Nature against true nature

Or Tao-nature, as the case may be.

Welcome to Part VI of a look at C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.*

In Part V, we ended with Lewis’ contention that the only true option left to the person who has abandoned all reference to the Tao in determining value, is emotional impulse. Lewis continues by expressing a hope that “among the impulses which may arise in minds thus emptied of all ‘rational’ or ‘spiritual’ motives, some will be benevolent.” He is quite doubtful, however, that benevolent impulses stripped of their grounding in the Tao will have much influence. He does not find any examples in history.

Says Lewis, “I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned.” He surmises that they will regard “as an illusion the artificial conscience which they produce in us their subjects” yet “perceive that it creates in us an illusion of meaning for our lives which compares favourably with the futility of their own.”

I do not follow Lewis here. Perhaps the Conditioners will hate the conditioned, but I would think that the form of this hate would be a failure to value them for their intrinsic worth, to value them only insofar as they can be manipulated or influenced. Or perhaps the Conditioners might value the conditioned as a sort of vicarious projection of themselves toward an improvement of mankind in general -- a legacy, if you will. I am doubtful that the Conditioners will actually recognize the artificial conscience they have created as being an illusion; they will create a false reality and be perfectly convinced that it is true. In other words, they will believe a lie.

Lewis does not insist upon his presumption, however; he states that it is “mere conjecture.”

It is not conjecture (says Lewis) to say that a hope of even a “‘conditioned’ happiness” can rest upon any chance that benevolent impulses may predominate in the Conditioners. There can be no basis for cultivating such impulses without a judgment that benevolence is good, a judgment derived from the Tao. And without such a judgment, motives arise according to chance (meaning Nature) -- “heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas.” The extreme rationalism that comes from “seeing through” all rational motives becomes, in actuality, “wholly irrational behaviour.”

Therefore, Man’s victory over Nature consists of the “whole human race subjected to some individual men,” who are guided, in essence, by none other than irrational impulse. Rather than Man superseding Nature, then, Nature has actually conquered Man -- ruling the Conditioners, and, through them, all humanity. “All Nature’s apparent reverses have been but tactical withdrawals.”

“[I]f the eugenics are efficient enough there will be no second revolt,” and the Conditioners will rule in this way, ruled by Nature, til the end of life on earth.

I don’t believe this could ever actually happen unless God abandons mankind. I do believe that these tendencies, running rampant among people, could lead to serious damage to the well-being of the human race, however. There are those who feel that no matter what people do, God is in control and will work everything together for the good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). I believe in this from a spiritual standpoint, yet cannot take it to mean that the rest of us are to stand by and watch this happen.

Lewis attempts to explain exactly what is meant by the term “Nature,” beginning by stating what it is not: “The Natural is the opposite of the Artificial, the Civil, the Human, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural.” He leaves the Artificial out of the picture in portraying what he views as “a rough idea of what men have meant by Nature and what it is they oppose to her.” I find this interesting because I think that in modern times, the Artificial has come to be seen as something both to be opposed and accepted. But that’s for another post.

“Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not so at all.” (The naturalistic position, therefore, would be one that does not allow the supernatural any place in its view of reality.) “She seems to be the world of quantity, as against the world of quality; of objects as against consciousness: of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous: of that which knows no values as against that which both has and perceives value: of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality of all) as against final causes."

Now, there’s a lot of conceptualization in all of that, for, against, and around which people have examined and dissected and argued up and down and every which way, to the point of folly. I won't pretend to be versed in any of it, nor do I have sufficient background to fully understand what Lewis may be referring to. I would guess, though, that by setting quantity against quality, he is referring to an utilitarian view, and by setting objects against consciousness, he means what I think of as the tangible vs. intangible. “Of the bound, as against the autonomous” I would take to mean the one driven by instinct as opposed to the one who has choice. “Of efficient causes as against final causes” might mean what is expedient vs. long-term effects. (I welcome correction here.) At any rate, Lewis refers to Nature as being that which can be analyzed and then dominated and used for our convenience, having “suspend[ed] our judgments of value about it, ignored[d] its final cause, and treat[ed] it in terms of quantity,” or, to paraphrase, used merely as a tool without regard to any inherent integrity it may have as a thing unto itself.

What Lewis defines as Nature, here, I would define as artificial. But perhaps that is why he disregards the term "artificial" earlier; he is trying to make a distinction between the proper use of something within the Tao and a use of something which makes it a mere object, stripped of its inherent quality and value. He speaks of “repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it,” stating that “it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome before we can cut up a dead man or a live animal in a dissecting room.” (emphasis added)

This is a very profound observation.

Not to take away from Lewis’ point, allow me a brief aside: I can identify strongly with Lewis’ observation. Growing up, I constantly found myself aware of the tension between the “natural” and the “unnatural” that Lewis refers to. I could not understand how people could have certain attitudes toward certain things or treat certain things certain ways. I assumed that I was just a sensitive idiot and that when I really “grew up” I’d be a lot “tougher.” Well, I’m happy to say that after years of trying to grow up that way and feeling completely untrue to myself, I was able to shake it off. I’ve spent the years since then recovering those sensibilities I had as a child. I’m still working on it :-)

Lewis speaks of the process of losing this sensitivity as that which is to many “simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to ‘bodysnatchers’ is simply obscurantism.” (As Bishop Spong and his ilk would no doubt attest.)

“But that is not the whole story.”

Stay tuned for the whole story...

*Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV


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