The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis (1943)
We all want progress…but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back, going back is the quickest way on. – C.S. Lewis (via Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move)
It is not that they 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.
It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere `natural object’ and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one’s first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.
We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own `natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls.
The Abolition of Man: Chapter 3
Men Without Chests: A Dystopian Future
Lewis criticizes modern attempts to debunk natural values (such as those that would deny objective value to the waterfall) on rational grounds. He says that there is a set of objective values that have been shared, with minor differences, by every culture “… the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christan, the Pagan, and the Jew…”. Lewis calls this the Tao (which closely resembles Confucian and Taoist usage). Without the Tao, no value judgements can be made at all, and modern attempts to do away with some parts of traditional morality for some “rational” reason always proceed by arbitrarily selecting one part of the Tao and using it as grounds to debunk the others.
The final chapter describes the ultimate consequences of this debunking: a distant future in which the values and morals of the majority are controlled by a small group who rule by a perfect understanding of psychology, and who in turn, being able to “see through” any system of morality that might induce them to act in a certain way, are ruled only by their own unreflected whims. The controllers will no longer be recognizably human, the controlled will be robot-like, and the Abolition of Man will have been completed.