Ethics, Propaganda and Civilization Part 2

  1. The Ethics of Civilization

So where does all this leave us? Having taken ourselves to the very depths of social, economic and political collapse, what remains as tools for us to rebuild? I would argue that it has to begin with a revisiting of fundamental ethics. Despite the popularity of the “burn everything from the past” mentality, it’s worth taking stock before we discard the accomplishments of millennia of human study and experience. Given what’s being contemplated in the fields of “transhumanism” and AI, it’s not hard to feel a similar chill down the spine to the one C.S. Lewis must have felt when he wrote: “Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man… The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future.”[1]

C.S. Lewis authored a compelling treatise on ethics in The Abolition of Man. Image courtesy Encyclopedia Brittanica.

This is why limits must be placed—and at times have been—on the application of gene therapies or “gain of function” research used to weaponize viruses. As Lewis makes clear, we have an obligation to the generations to come not to limit their choices to live free and self-determined lives. It’s arrogant and unethical to pollute the gene pool with our genetic manipulations or mRNA vaccines when we lack full knowledge of the repercussions. As Vandana Shiva reports, “As of now, it is technically not possible to make a single (and only a single) genetic change to a genome using CRISPR and to ensure that it has done so.” She cites a study that this method of genetic tinkering has resulted in “hundreds of unintended mutations” in laboratory mice.[2] The new Covid-19 “vaccines” (more accurately described as “gene therapies” if using mRNA technology) have already resulted in a high death rate amongst the elderly and thousands of severe adverse reactions[3] even among those otherwise perfectly healthy.[4]

  1. Utopian Author Sounds the Warning

19th century author Samuel Butler wrote a compelling satire of civilization titled Erewhon.

In the classic utopian/dystopian novel Erewhon (“Nowhere” spelled backwards), Samuel Butler pictures a society that consciously chose to limit its investment in technology despite considerable technological advancement in its recent past. To some extent this was a futuristic projection of the Luddites and frame-breakers of the Industrial Revolution, who were punished brutally for their resistance to the new technological paradigm. Frame-breaking was a capital offense in Britain in the 19th century. More than that, Erewhon is an astute, brilliant social satire that foresaw technocracy and even veganism 150 years in advance. (The novel was first published in 1872.) Butler predicted that “machines were ultimately destined to supplant the race of man…”[5] He arrived at this conclusion by a process of logical extrapolation that, just as human evolution eventually developed in us the capacity for reason and advanced consciousness, so eventually would machines—an early glimpse of today’s AI and cybernetics. Most alarmingly, given the exponential advances of technology during just the past 50 years since the advent of computers, the process for machines has been far faster than it was for humans:

“Reflect upon the extraordinary advance which machines have made during the last few hundred years, and note how slowly the animal and vegetable kingdoms are advancing… Assume for the sake of argument that conscious beings have existed for some twenty million years: see what strides machines have made in the last thousand! …what will they in the end become? …Where does consciousness begin and where end? …The present machines are to the future as the early Saurians to Man.”[6]

Elsewhere I’ve written about John Ralston Saul’s thesis that the so-called rational revolution of the Enlightenment merely replaced the old rule by theocracy and royalty with a quasi-rational managerial society dominated by corporations. Instead of being ruled by men in black priestly garb we’re now ruled by men and women in white lab coats. As the Romantic poets foresaw, the result has been a kind of spiritual dumbing-down, discarding the role of personal intuition and experience. Ironically, when it suits the power elites, genuine scientific rationalism is also tossed out, as has happened with Covid-19. Evidence is disregarded or even eliminated from view in a new censorship regime of truly Orwellian proportions. As with any totalitarian regime, the public is indoctrinated to “just trust us,” after first being taught not to trust their own intelligence or perceptions. Worse yet, as Saul explained in Voltaire’s Bastards, the rational revolution of science has caused a distancing from the humanism and ethics fostered by religious thought and the arts. This explains why the humanities have seen a steady decline in universities, as more and more emphasis is placed on business and technical training. Nearly 30 years ago Saul could already conclude:

Political philosopher John Ralston Saul.

“In reality we are today in the midst of a theology of pure power—power born of structure, not of dynasty or arms. The new holy trinity is organization, technology and information. The new priest is the technocrat… But by any standard comprehensible within the tradition of Western civilization, he is virtually illiterate. One of the reasons that he is unable to recognize the necessary relationship between power and morality is that moral traditions are the product of civilization and he has little knowledge of his own civilization.”[7]

As Saul makes clear, without the humanizing influence of arts and ethics, it’s all too easy for government and corporate bureaucrats to devolve to an amoral philosophy of “pure power.” In that context, it’s not hard to see why the 20th century saw some of history’s greatest atrocities and two world wars. The reformed bureaucrats of Butler’s imaginary realm in Erewhon had evolved beyond this self-destructive state, coming to the critical insight that “reason uncorrected by instinct is as bad as instinct uncorrected by reason.”[8] Undoubtedly, both Jungian depth psychology and Buddhist spiritual practice would advocate for an integration, a balance of these complementary qualities. “Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike,” C.S. Lewis wrote.[9] 

  1. Ethics: The Way Back is the Way Forward

Already in the 1940s, Lewis was forecasting the need for a return to a classical—one might say global—system of ethics, something he called “natural law.” Before readers cry “moral totalitarianism,” it’s important to remember that Lewis, like Toynbee in the field of history, was collating a kind of “best practices” outline from the total store of world ethical knowledge to date. This eclectic approach draws from sources as diverse in time and place as ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Israel, India, Rome and China, alongside Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon and classical Greek texts. Lest the argument be made that his list of sources in The Abolition of Man is Eurocentric or racist, Lewis also includes ancient Australian Aboriginal and North American First Nations wisdom traditions. Asia is well represented, as are the Christian and Hindu traditions. Under eight headings of what might be dubbed “first principles,” Lewis compiles the following set of guidelines. These can be read in two ways: as a checklist of the ways in which our civilization is currently failing, or as principles that generate benevolence when applied:

1) The Law of General Beneficence, both positive and negative principles; i.e. the ancient Egyptian precept from the Book of the Dead, “I have not slain men.” Or the ancient Babylonian disdain for someone who has “driven an honest man from his family” or “broken up a well-cemented clan.” Or the Hindu admonition, “Utter not a word by which anyone could be wounded.”[10] Positive principles include: “Nature urges that a man should wish human society to exist and should wish to enter it.” (Cicero) Or the Hindu injunction “He who is asked for alms should always give.” I especially love Roman writer Terence’s precept that “I am a man; nothing human is alien to me.”[11]

2) The Law of Special Beneficence. Here we find from a North American Native source: “You will see them take care of their kindred (and) the children of their friends… never reproaching them in the least.” Compare that with today’s social shaming and the warehousing of our elderly in neglectful nursing homes. And once again the ancient Egyptians have wisdom for us: “Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.” The same could be said of both partners in a relationship. From the civilization that fostered the foundations of philosophy comes the eloquent Greek principle: “I ought not to be unfeeling like a statue but should fulfill both my natural and artificial relations as a worshipper, a son, a brother, a father, and a citizen.”[12] Again, the same could be said of “a daughter, a sister, a mother…”

3) Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors. Repeatedly in ancient texts cited here by Lewis we see a version of the precept to “honour thy father and thy mother.” In sharp contrast to today’s youth-centred culture in the West, we also read in Leviticus: “Rise up before the hoary head and honour the old man.” Imagine the suffering we could relieve for millions of elderly people if society lived by this principle. Instead, the new machine mentality views them as disposable, broken-down cogs that are no longer economically productive. Recent reports on Canadian nursing homes have revealed the shocking state of neglect and even cruelty in which our elders lived even before Covid struck.[13] In the Confucian Analects, this respect and dignity is extended even to our ancestors: “When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force of a people has reached its highest point.”[14] As I’ve written in the essay “Bring Out Your Dead: Honouring Our Lost Ones,” by preventing families from holding public funeral services to honour their loved ones, this civilization has by this measure sunk to its very lowest ebb. Thankfully there are conscientious grief counsellors such as Stephen Jenkinson and psychologist Francis Weller fostering a return to these values.

4) Duties to Children and Posterity. “Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere,” urges the Hindu scriptures. As noted above, Lewis foresaw that our genetic manipulations carry consequences far into the future, few of them predictable, thus pre-limiting our descendants’ prospects without giving them a word to say about it. Lewis also cites here an account from the Battle of Wounded Knee, lamenting “the killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people…” Put in 21st century terms, if we are to truly venerate our children as the wellspring of our future, should we allow the development of sophisticated forms of digital media addiction to go unchecked? In the documentary The Social Dilemma, Silicon Valley whistleblowers have admitted they used cutting edge behavioural psychology to induce addiction to their social media apps. How many young girls have killed themselves due to vicious criticism from their peers on social media? How many young boys have had their relationship skills stunted by addiction to porn or video games? And worst of all, should we allow Big Pharma to continually inflate the immunization schedule for children with vaccines that are never tested for long-term adverse reactions? Should we allow them to continue without financial liability for children damaged for life by vaccines?

5) The Law of Justice, which includes sexual justice, starting with the ancient Jewish prohibition of adultery. A special place in the Old Norse version of Hell (Nástrond) was reserved for “tempters of other men’s wives.” Imagine the grief, the shattered families, that could be avoided if people learned to practice sexual fidelity. In a self-indulgent culture that’s a challenge. In addition to the standard prohibitions against robbery, bribes to public officials and not bearing false witness, an ancient Babylonian precept for judging conduct asks: “Has he drawn false boundaries?” And imagine how we might rein in the abuses of Wall Street if we abided by the ancient Greek principle advising that one “choose loss rather than shameful gains.” Although such a principle is probably impossible to institute by law, it should at least be possible to ensure that our legal system isn’t tilted to favour the rich. As the Jewish book of Leviticus urged the ancient Israelites: “Do no unrighteousness in judgment. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.”[15]

6) The Law of Good Faith and Veracity. Here again we see the wisdom of ancient traditions that recognized that good conduct begins in the heart, that place no one else can see except through our actions. “A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud,” notes the Hindu scriptures. Instead, in Western culture especially, we have a well-established tradition of people who have become fabulously wealthy by exploiting their fellow humans or destroying an ecosystem. Then—often late in life—these same oligarchs turn to distributing charity as a means of burnishing their image or cleansing defiled consciences. Even then, this largesse usually comes with conditions, such as “earmarked” funding that effectively sets the agenda for the recipients. Such acts of expiation can even be a kind of judiciary trade-off: establish a charitable foundation to avoid a prison sentence, as in the Bill Gates Microsoft trade violations case that led directly to the establishment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Often these foundations are little more than tax havens. Worse, they can provide cover for oligarchs to go on committing abuses, as Vandana Shiva has observed in the Gates’ GMO initiatives in India.[16]

Even the ancient Egyptian principle, “I have not spoken falsehood,” gets short shrift in our culture. We raise our children to tell the truth at home and at school. Yet when they enter the workforce, they’re expected to cover up or outright lie for their employers. This double standard has resulted in the unjust persecution of whistleblowers or the arrest and murder of journalists, currently on the increase globally.[17] Brave souls such as Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning should be decorated heroes. Instead, they are falsely jailed and subjected to psychological and even physical torture. Contrast this with the Old Norse Hell, where perjurers—not whistleblowers—have a reserved seat.

7) The Law of Mercy. Although some of the provisions in the Code of Hammurabi are shocking by modern standards, in the Babylonian List of Sins it asks: “Has he failed to set a prisoner free?” Flipping to the positive, it praises those who “make intercession for the weak…” The Egyptians too understood the need for an active, positive principle in their code of ethics: “I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked…” Contrast that with Calgary police, who arrested and fined a pastor for distributing food to the homeless. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were no saints, but at least they got this one right, and so did Australian Aborigines, who never desert even the severely disabled. And in the Hindu scriptures it advises: “One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.” Neurological science has proven through the discovery of mirror neurons that humans are hard-wired for empathy. This is why we involuntarily wince or flinch when we witness someone being attacked, unless we happen to fit the profile of a sociopath. The 1st century BC Roman poet Juvenal summed it up two thousand years before modern science: “Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.”[18]

8) The Law of Magnanimity. Statesman, lawyer, scholar, and writer Cicero, who tried in vain to uphold the principles of republicanism before the Roman state descended into an imperial dictatorship, recognized both sins of commission and omission: “There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.” As Western civilization succumbs to the throwing overboard of values now considered supposedly retrograde—honour for example—it’s no wonder we see corruption everywhere we look. Without justifying war in the least, consider the millions in the 20th century alone who fought and died for freedom. Now during the Covid crisis most people won’t even risk a fine to publicly protest the elimination of our rights and freedoms. Confucius is recorded in the Analects as saying, “To see the right and not do it is cowardice.”[19] Cicero said, “death is to be chosen before slavery and base deeds.” On the Joyce family crest our motto echoes this principle: “Death, or life with honour.”

In his honour roll of ethics Lewis cites under this heading some key spiritual principles: “The soul then ought to conduct the body, and the spirit of our minds the soul.” Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue wrote: “The human body is a mirror and expression of the world of soul,” that the body is in the soul, not vice versa. [20]This is about as far as you can get from the 21st century belief that humans are nothing more than a biological machine, the brain a mere “computer.” Humans are spiritual beings and ethics are clearly a manifestation of that.

Of course, under each heading are many more similar principles than the ones I’ve listed here. It’s worth getting a copy of The Abolition of Man just to have them all neatly in one place, thanks to Lewis’s labours. The philosopher Aristotle sums up the list beautifully when he says that we must “strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which, being small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honour surpasses all else.”[21] Humans are imperfect and will often fail, but it’s the attempt to hold to an ethical code that counts. Indeed, it may be the only way back from the Covid dystopia that has so paralyzed us with fear.

REFERENCES:

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, HarperOne, New York, (orig. copyright 1944), pp. 57–58, 64.

[2] Vandana Shiva (with Kartikey Shiva), Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont/London, 2018 (2020 ed.), p. 102. Emphasis mine.

[3] “501 Deaths + 10,748 Other Injuries Reported Following COVID Vaccine, Latest CDC Data Show,” The Defender, Children’s Health Defense, February 5, 2021: https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/deaths-injuries-following-covid-vaccine-cdc/?utm_source=salsa&eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=d093802f-20de-48fa-8f8f-f45c77feae49

[4] Sharyl Attkisson, “Deaths of Elderly Who Recovered From COVID-19, but Died After Vaccine, Raise Questions,” The Epoch Times, February 10, 2021: https://www.theepochtimes.com/deaths-of-elderly-who-recovered-from-covid-19-but-died-after-vaccine-raise-questions_3692259.html?utm_source=newsnoe&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=breaking-2021-02-10-4

[5] Samuel Butler, Erewhon, Penguin English Library, Great Britain, 1970, p. 97.

[6] Samuel Butler, Erewhon, ibid., pp. 199, 202.

[7] John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards—The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, ibid., pp. 22, 110.

[8] Samuel Butler, Erewhon, ibid., p. 243.

[9] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, ibid., p. 73.

[10] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Appendix, ibid., p. 85.

[11] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Appendix, ibid., p. 86.

[12] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Appendix, ibid., p. 88.

[13] “Canada’s long-term care system failed elders, before and during COVID-19,” Canadian Press story on a report issued by the Royal Society of Canada, July 3, 2020: https://canoe.com/news/national/canadas-long-term-care-system-failed-elders-before-and-during-covid-19-report

[14] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Appendix, ibid., pp. 90, 91. In the Analects, Book I, ch.V.3 we also find: “While parents live serve them rightfully; when they are dead bury them with filial rites…”

[15] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Appendix, ibid., pp. 93–95.

[16] Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont/London, 2018.

[17] Freedom of the Press Foundation report: “A record breaking number of journalists arrested in the U.S. this year,” December 14, 2020: https://freedom.press/news/2020-report-journalists-arrested-us/ In the US alone, “Arrests of journalists skyrocketed by more than 1200% in comparison to 2019.” UNESCO reported: “The number of incidents of violence against journalists covering protests across the world has risen sharply, with police and security forces the main culprits… UNESCO said it had counted 21 protests between January and June of this year where journalists were attacked, arrested or killed.” “Attacks on journalists during protests increasing: UNESCO,” MSN News, September 14, 2020: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/attacks-on-journalists-during-protests-increasing-unesco/ar-BB190ULz

[18] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Appendix, ibid., pp. 96–97.

[19] Confucius, The Analects, Dover Thrift Editions, New York, 1995, Book II, Ch.XXIV.2, p. 9.

[20] John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, HarperCollins 1997 (Harper Perennial 2004 ed.), New York, p. 52.

[21] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Appendix, ibid., p. 100.

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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