To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley (they died the same day as John F. Kennedy) it seemed apt to ask what we understand of their views of technology and Christianity.
A bunch of resources are useful for thinking about these two men.
CBC on Lewis 1: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2013/10/09/cs-lewis-and-the-inklings/
CBC on Lewis 2: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2013/10/17/cs-lewis-and-the-inklings-part-2-1/
BBC on Brave New World http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jn8bc
I have never seen or heard these two books compared with one another but as I read Brave New World I could not help but see the Abolition of Man in it.
Some context for the life of Lewis and Tolkien is important. Both served in World War 1 and that conflict with nerve gas and trench warfare would be enough to turn anybody against technology and build a desire for the peace of a rural setting Oxford library..
There are many insights into man and technology sprinkled across Lewis' work but perhaps the best source is The Abolition of Man. The book is a work of non-fiction matters in the context of the current blog and was written in response to a school book that Lewis calls the "The Green Book'.
Chapter 3 is called the Abolition of Man and includes the following text.
I understand the concepts of power and direction as Lewis writes of them. Each age by choosing a direction cuts off possible futures from successive generations. That is simply true. However, Lewis give this great gravitas but I am uncertain about it because every choice does this. The choice to develop planes empowers some and puts some in a weaker position relative to those that have built and fly the planes. But not building the planes does exactly the same thing. One group has a certain type of power, it is just potentially a different group and power they have is different.
The choice not to use contraceptives creates one world, the choice to use them creates a different world. But they power have trajectories, they both have impacts.
Auldous HuxleyHuxley was a descendant of a line of famous scientists and atheists. His best know work is Brave New World. I decided to start reading BNW again with this blog and the anniversary in view. I read the book like many people across the world in early high school somewhere around 33 years ago. Obviously what sticks in the memory over that time is some sense that it involved genetic engineering, which reading it again fills the the early chapters. But other than that I could remember nothing.
In contrast to The Abolition of Man this a work of fiction and therefore it is character driven and not necessarily reflective of Huxley's views. Or at least a work of fiction allows and author to play with the complexities of realities rather be offering a 'position'.
For those that similarly don't remember the plot. The one world state now controls the economy, population and takes responsibility for the birth rate through it 'Hatcheries' where children without parents are breed and brought up. There are five types of humans all breed for particular levels of jobs. Monogamist relationships are frowned up as potentially unstable. Nothing is really owned or wanted for. Finally, the taking of drugs (Soma) is essentially essential. The calendar was restarted after a particularly bad war at the date that the first Model T Ford emerged and with it mass production and consumption. The ideologies of Ford, Freud and to a lesser extent Marxism prevail.
What struck me in the reading was the emphasis of the names on socialists (Marx, Lenin etc)) and the economics of mass consumption. There are powerful echoes of 21st century lifestyle. Chapter 3 provides a number of the State's aphorisms:
- ending is better than mending
- I love new clothes
A future without courageWhat is perhaps most striking to me an utterly surprising is the similarity of vision. Both works write of a future when conditioning has removed courage from men and women.
Lewis: And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
Lewis: But 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.
Huxley's book is essentially a book about the man moulders and the scientific technique. Of Soma bliss rather than facing the tedium of work, of people like Bernard Marx who know the lies but has no courage to stand against them.
As we develop ever more technological helps how do we encourage Christian virtues in the knowledge that they ARE difficult?