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BY BENJAMIN WIKER
In 1943, C.S.
Lewis published his masterful The Abolition of Man,
a book that is far more profound than its short length (130 pages) might
suggest. Lewis’ central concern is the use of technology to control, manipulate
and reconstruct human nature. The book was written in the shadow of the Nazi
war machine, one of whose aims was to create a master race through eugenic
breeding and the elimination of “unfit” races and individuals.
But Lewis’ warnings were directed at
a deeper evil, of which Nazism was only a morbid and significant sign.
“The final stage is come when Man by
eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based
on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself,” he
wrote. “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?”
This victory will come about through
politics, for “the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of
an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: We shall get
at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what
shape they please.”
We are not surprised to find Lewis’
dark prophecies now being fulfilled through the fantasies of genetic
manipulation — a small number of scientists funded by a small number of heads
of corporations attempting to determine the future shape of the new humanity.
But the real evil is not the
manipulation itself. That is, rather, the effect. The real evil is the
horrifying change in outlook, the insidious transformation of the substance of
the will that occurs when we suddenly regard all natural limits as momentary
obstacles that technology can remove. That is what gives the devastating sting
to moral relativism today — the notion that human nature is not the inviolable
beginning point of our moral reasoning but merely presents us with one more set
of obstacles for technology to overcome.
To cite one example: What could be
more natural than the distinction between male and female — a distinction that
we share with animals and even, in a real sense, with plants? This distinction
is the source of marriage as a natural institution, making it the origin of all
moral claims about sexuality, the family and marriage itself. It would be hard
to imagine “Thou shalt not commit adultery” if there were no such thing as male
and female and human beings somehow produced children through means other than their union.
what if we suddenly looked at human reproduction as a problem subject to
technological solutions? What if we began to look at male and female as
concepts to be abolished? We’d soon find that the natural distinctions of male
and female, and marriage itself (and all its attendant morality), would become
obsolete. Marriage would become meaningless as men became superfluous through
the advance of reproductive technology; as women became unessential through
cloning technology; and as the mass of humanity became dispensable through
genetic manipulation, trait selection (and de-selection) and abortion.
this fall, scientists announced the creation of one offspring by three parents:
sperm from the male, an egg from a female and additional DNA material from a
third female. This “advance,” now applied to monkeys, will soon enough be
available for human beings. What then is the moral meaning of “adultery” once
this becomes as acceptable a practice as in vitro fertilization?
The effect of the abolition of male
and female will be, and in fact already is, the unraveling of morality. Once
the sexual union of a man and a woman becomes just one way to make a human
being, then it is not the way to make a human being. Heterosexuality loses its
privileged status in defining what way we are to be sexual. The natural gives
way to the artificial, and what was once a natural standard defining sexuality
becomes a historical artifact and (at best) a quaint option for sexual
human beings live in society, and society makes laws, this great transformation
by technical power must find its way into law. If children can be had by a
number of other means, then laws designed to limit marriage to one male and one
female would be like laws designed to limit transportation to horses.
abolition of man and woman is part of a larger cultural revolution, a fact seen
quite clearly in the active drive to make male and female obsolete in the
culture, as well. First, there is a kind of relentless spirit of androgyny
pushed in our intellectual culture, where manliness is actively discouraged and
disparaged and womanliness is taken to be a kind of servitude from which women
must be delivered. The goal seems to be to make men more like women and women
more like men, so that, by their eventual blending together, they become
indistinguishable. The result, of course, is that male and female become
morally insignificant distinctions in our minds.
The insignificance feeds the notion
that there is really nothing wrong with endless technical manipulating of our
sexuality and reproduction.
there is another related sense of obsolescence because the spirit of androgyny
takes flesh in the actual culture and through real social and educational
institutions and policies. If the distinct aims of manhood and womanhood,
fatherhood and motherhood are removed as the proper and good goal of boys and
girls, then what, precisely, do boys and girls aim at? They are each taught to
aim at the exact same target: becoming self-supporting, individual moneymakers.
guiding assumption that a boy becomes a man precisely in becoming a husband and
provider for his family has been replaced by an entirely indistinct,
androgynous image of a large boy making money by himself, for himself, and for
the satisfaction of his own pleasures. The guiding assumption that a girl
becomes a woman by becoming a wife and mother has been replaced by the same
indistinct, androgynous image of individual moneymaker working by herself, for
herself, and for the satisfaction of her own pleasures.
Little wonder, given this image,
that when men and women do decide to become a couple, the marriage would have
as little moral meaning to them as divorce. Nor are we surprised to find the
cultural push for androgynous terms like “partner,” “significant other” and
“caregiver” replacing such morally meaty and precise words as husband, wife,
father and mother.
Perhaps there is far, far more to
those words in Genesis than we imagined. “So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Here lies
the boundary keeping us from all moral chaos. Once it is crossed and then
crossed out, all things are “without form and void.”
Benjamin Wiker is online