~Jaron Lanier from You Are Not a Gadget ca. 2010
“At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ - to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.”
~ C.S. Lewis from The Abolition of Man ca. 1947
The Abolition of Man is a tiny book, really a series of three lectures, in which Lewis attempts to describe what is really bothering him about the modern world. I’ve shared some quotes already, but I think the one above is particularly interesting because of the way it points to our particular little technology-driven crisis.
The core assumptions of our society are those of classical economics - that the striving of each individual for individual gain is for the ultimate good of all, that the ‘natural’ impulse towards greed, is in fact healthy, good, desirable, etc. If you doubt it, take a good hard look at the dominant class in the United States. I think it would be hard to make the case that we have a cultural elite, outside an arbitrary self-selecting “elite” that feeds off the financial classes on the East Coast. What we do have is a financial elite, a sector dedicated first and foremost to its own enrichment, to greed. And their ideology is just this one: the rule of impulse.
The impulse toward greed is interesting in that like the impulse towards, religion, it has as its object an abstraction. This is not a trivial matter. As an abstraction, money, can become its own end, the source of a set of self-referential games and conceits all revolved around its particular logics and whims. Money, typically, has been the product of production, of the “Gross National Product” variety, subject to cycles of boom and bust with a regularity similar, in some ways, to that of the seasonal shifts from Fall to Winter. To everything there was a season.
The goal of economics for the past several decades has been either to defeat this cycle - creating what is known as a “Goldilocks” economy, neither too hot nor too cold - or a least to dampen in it - in one some economists have called the “Great Moderation.” In essence the science of economics attempted to study the nature of man, as economic beast, to conquer him, ostensibly for the good of all, but definitely for the good of those seeking, primarily, after money.
But the conquerors, as we found out, were all too human. Because in the end, even if economic nature is conquered, people are still fearful, greedy, rapacious, apt to take it too far. We found out that instead of being ruled by cycles of production we are now ruled by the greed and fear of our economic class, the angels and demons of “natural” man, homo economicus, as he has been constructed since the 15th century. For this was the kind person we had placed in positions of power in our society, in positions to aggregate wealth, influence and control, to arbitrate ideals of culture, politics and lifestyle.
This was a mistake. And as anyone who’s noticed the unemployment rate can tell you, this crisis is not over. We’re living through it. An alternative construction is in order. A new ideal. Forget how. First we need to recognize (or at least attempt to grapple with) the nature of the problem.
(Picture from the Ottheinrich Bible via BibliOdyssey.)
C.S. Lewis again from The Abolition of Man ca. 1947
~C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man ca. 1947
~Taylor Hay, yet another reason he rolls hard.
My friend Taylor Hay cast this ring out of nickel from melted down pennies after a late-night post-volcano-boarding discussion of ways to live in Leon, Nicaraugua. Salute!
Diary of Morgan J. Rhees, Welsh Abolitionist Preacher, in western South Carolina, March 27, 1795.
In London, in the old days - per Martin - there were two mails, the evening and afternoon. And this was the stripped down version, there had been four or so in the 19th century. So matrons would send out invitations to their dinners or salons in the morning and get back replies in the afternoon mail. How magical; we were walking by the old houses of Yankee traders in the Heights, the twin city in the evening, looking at the iron work and masonry. I worry about the loss of these little masteries. Something is lost in a shortcut.