The Abolition of Man in 1000 Words or Less

Men without Chests

The Control Of Language. A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing.
"The Green Book"

It begins with an English textbook referred to as "the Green Book." The authors claim that, when someone says a waterfall is sublime, what he really means is, "I have feelings of sublimity about this waterfall." By saying this, they imply to the impressionable reader that value judgments in general are purely subjective. Things are not good or bad in themselves, but can only be personally pleasant or unpleasant.

This may sound innocent in the abstract ("Hawaiian pizza is gross" just means "I don't enjoy pineapple on my pizza," right?), but the possible implications are enormous. The student will be primed to take statements of moral value the same way. "Murder is wrong," for example, may just mean, "I really don't like murder." And all other values can tumble from there, whether honesty or bravery or wisdom or anything else. By teaching about sublime feelings instead of sublime waterfalls, we are apt to produce "men without chests," people who are not guided by deeply held values but by superficial rationalizations. And how, then, will we expect them to live out those values? If we "debunk" these "sentiments" and try to live on purely "rational" grounds, we cut off the link between our animal and spiritual aspects, and we can hardly hope to remain human.

The Way

It is more sane to do like the philosophers and religious teachers of the whole world before us. They believed that objective value can exist, and that our feelings can either agree or disagree with the way things actually are. A waterfall can be truly and genuinely sublime, and a reasonable onlooker is right if he feels the sublimity. From this perspective, you can train people from childhood to love what is truly good and to hate what is truly bad.

People may try to do without the idea of an objective system of values (call it the Tao). But this will be a mess. They will either operate on certain implied values ripped from the Tao (such as utility, "human rights," etc.) or just go by "instinct." In the end, objective value is a unified whole, and you will not be successful at just extracting a few pieces while throwing away the larger system. And if we scrap the whole thing to live by instinct, we have a problem. Instincts don't always agree, and suggesting that we should favor certain instincts over others pulls back in an objective value system through the backdoor. You can't escape the Tao, unless you are willing to live beyond value, beyond any attempt to control instinct. And if you accept the Tao at all, you must realize that it has always been taught across cultures as a fairly consistent whole, so on what authority will you extract the parts you want, and how do you expect a part ripped from its home to hold up on its own?

The Abolition of Man

But what if we give up and scrap the Tao altogether? Who needs objective value? Why shouldn't we just start doing what we like? Can we not remake what a human "should" be to what we want it to be?

If we try this, we find we are doomed to fail. We often speak of scientific and technological progress as "man's conquest of nature," but this is very imprecise. In fact, it is not the race as a whole which wields this conquering power. It is wielded only by experts and scientists and STEM majors. So man's conquest of nature is really the conquest of a handful of men over nature. These few people can let everyone else share the benefits, but they are the ones in control.

But these powers can be and have been applied by humans not only to the rest of nature, but also to human nature. Given this, consider the role of biological and social engineering. With sufficiently advanced technique, this expert class can come to choose all on its own what future humans will be like, physically and psychologically. They can come to have the maximum freedom to reshape their own lives, resisting or undoing the influence of the past, and the maximum freedom to reshape future lives. So we find that man's conquest of nature will actually take the form of the conquest of a minority of men over all their peers and descendants. The biological, psychological, and social science communities will, if they develop enough technique, have the ability to drive the future of the whole race.

But in what direction can or should they point the human race? How can they decide what humanity is going to become? Here it seems we need objective value. If people are one way right now, and a few elite will be able to remake them, they will need to have a way to decide what they want people to be. This obviously transcends the way they are now, but without a doctrine of objective value, without the Tao, there will be nothing left to guide the engineers but their own whims. They can, if they please, adopt some parts of the Tao, but this is hardly the same as living under it the way the race has largely done for its whole history. And even if they do this, the standard by which they have chosen only a portion of a whole value system is itself largely arbitrary. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, wittingly or unwittingly, the new humanity will be largely a product of the irrational instincts, biases, and habits of this expert class.

In this way, man's conquest of nature has become nature's conquest of man. No longer subject to a universal and objective system of value, the engineers act not as men at all but as something else, something governed by an unregulated hodgepodge of natural impulses. The men without chests shall cease to be men, and abandoning the objective force of the Tao will be the abolition of man.