Thursday, January 28, 2010

C.S. Lewis On Two Tiered Morality (Or: What's Wrong for You is Not For Me)

"Well, then, it was jolly rotten of you," said Digory.

"Rotten?" said Uncle Andrew with a puzzled look. "Oh, I see. You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true: most right and proper, I'm sure, and I'm very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys - and servants - and women - and even people in general can't possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages.

No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy is a high and lonely destiny."
(The Magician's Nephew -C.S. Lewis)

C.S. Lewis had a way of putting great truths in beautiful simplicity, thus making their profundity accessible. This can most readily be enjoyed in Lewis' Narnia series. These stories geared toward children have more depth and Christian argumentation than many apologetics books.

In the words of the character of Uncle Andrew we see a dichotomous ethic, there are moral laws that apply to men, but, there are some men who due to their greatness are exempt from adhearing these laws. Uncle Andrew of course considered himself such a man. Thus, Uncle Andrew rationalized his theft, lying, cowardice, and endangerment of the lives of others as he belonged to a higher class of men that were exempt from the laws of morality they themselves expected others to follow.

This is a profound example of much thinking today, we can see it clearly in much of the area of scientific ethics, or lack thereof. The question is NOT whether doing experiments on human embryos is ethical, the question is "Can we do this?" (do we have the ability?) Likewise, the same can be said in the areas of human cloning and the chimerical animal hybrids scientists are experimenting with. Glowing pigs are an example of this (Pigs mixed with jellyfish genes HERE).

If scientists are doing that sort of thing to pigs and and telling us about it, imagine what they are doing they feel we are not yet ready to accept so they keep a lid on it.

Likewise, in the area of statecraft, politicians and bureaucrats, with one auspicious exception, see themselves as part of a cast that is exempt from following the laws they themselves write for everyone else to follow. This can be seen in the fact that most of the individuals in government do not pay their income tax. Timothy Geithner is a most offensive example as he himself is one of the current architects of American monetary policy.

Yet, in an even more astouding feat of alacrity in real time applying this notion of 2 sets of laws, one for us another for them, is a recent story of a Senator R.C. Soles from North Carolina shooting an intruder that broke into his home.

To this I have no objections, the man shot was a violent intruder threatening Soles' person and property.

The problem comes when we realize that Soles is one of the most anti-gun Senators in Washington. (An excellent article can be read HERE on this)

This is the Uncle Andrew principle in action. Apparently, Soles thinks it is proper to defend himself with a firearm yet he shudders at the idea of a mere unwashed commoner acting in like manner. This is one of the most sobering realities of all of this gun control talk...namely, that those who are passing such laws don't expect to have them applied to themselves. Government will always be armed, they just don't want the unhallowed hands of common folk to be able to access a firearm.

(Pictured to the left is the scene in the Magician's Nephew where Uncle Andrew tricks Polly into going into another world by putting on a magic ring. Uncle Andrew sets Polly up for the reason that going into an unexplored world is too dangerous for a man like Uncle Andrew)

Of course the principle is much bigger than gun laws and taxes as it really extends to most of what government does. Think about the phrases "Top Secret" and "National Security" how they are used to keep things from the public. Somehow these profound truths can be trusted in the hands of the state, yet not in our unwashed hands. Then they people wonder where conspiracy theories come from...

Also, think about the Obama healthcare plan, it won't apply to those in government they have their own package, nor does the military draft apply to those who make it into law. Furthermore, Those who vote to attack a country that has committed no aggression toward the United States would never dream of themselves going to fight in the cause they see as noble enough to spill other men's blood.

They are the Nietzschian "Ubermenschen", who are to boldly go forward letting no obstacles such as morality, decency or split infinitives hinder their march. They are the indispensable ones, we like Uncle Andrew's Hamsters and Digory and Polly, are expected to be the docile subjects of their wild Utopian experiments.

The troublesome fact is that those in the "commoner" class often acquiesce to this paradigm, and see such individuals as properly unbound by law.

Where ultimately does such an ethic lead? Lewis in the same book gives us a picture of the results of this 2 class ethic in the character of Jadis, queen of a dying planet named Charn. The interaction between her and the children is intentionally similar to the discussion cited earlier with Uncle Andrew. In the case of Jadis she had gone to the point of destroying everything living on the planet rather than relinquish her own power. Upon the children learning of this mass murder the account reads:

"But the people?" gasped Digory.

"What people, boy?" asked the Queen.

"All the ordinary people," said Polly, "who'd never done you any harm. And the women, and the children, and the animals."

"Don't you understand?" said the Queen (still speaking to Digory) "I was the Queen. The were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?"

"It was rather hard luck on them, all the same," said he.

"I had forgotten that you are only a common boy. How should you understand reasons of the State? You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny."
(The Magician's Nephew)

When this sort of ethic is applied it creates a class that is above the law, and thus see those in the other category as dispensable. I have no doubt that an ethic of this sort pervades much of the attitudes toward and within government at all levels and even science. On the firearm issue here in America, just think of how nobody flinches when a police officer walks down the street with a loaded gun on his belt. Yet, if a common man did so people of the more timorous bent would quake, and most likely the man would be tackled by a cop and have his gun taken from him (regardless of the fact that his behaviour fell within the bounds of legality).

A flurry of further examples could be provided, let it suffice to say that there are no two classes of men, one above the law and the other bound to it. That sort of thinking is quite literally deadly. That is the folly Lewis seeks to spell out roughly 75 years ago, as failure to reject and oppose this two class ethic has disastrous results.

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