Thursday, December 30, 2004

Demolishing the terminology of the Right's exclusive morality (with a Trojan horse)

Pro-life. Pro-family. Pragmatic. Realistic. Pro-America.

These are all terms that, at least in certain contexts, cause progressives to squirm due to how their meaning has been adapted to correspond only to the conservatives of the United States. However, there are only very few progressives to which the true definitions of these terms could not be applied. We are nearly all pro-family; we understand how edifying a strong, loving family can be upon the youth of the United States. We are all pro-life; we don't take joy in performing abortions, executing inmates, torturting prisoners of war, or trampling the poor. Progressive Americans wish the best for their country; we simply do not place material success over moral success (integrity, honesty, courage, peace) in our priorities.

Due to the effectiveness of the GOP's subtle and primitive mind control, simply "reclaiming" these terms without demolishing the premises upon which their current meanings are based will prove to be quite difficult at best and nearly impossible at worst.

Bringing the public's perception of these terms back to their real meaning is, if not completely necessary to the success of progressives, something that would be very beneficial. The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius would argue that this "rectification of names" is absolutely necessary.
If terminology is not corrected, then what is said cannot be followed. If what is said cannot be followed, then work cannot be accomplished. If work cannot be accomplished, then ritual and music cannot be developed. If ritual and music cannot be developed, then criminal punishments will not be appropriate. If criminal punishments are not appropriate, the people cannot make a move. Therefore, the Superior Man needs to have his terminology applicable to real language, and his speech must accord with his actions. The speech of the Superior Man cannot be indefinite.
Book 13, Verse 3 of the Analects**
As truthful as our objections are to the redefintion of such terminology, and the implication this has on the bigger picture, it is likely, that at least for some time, until the precariously built Jenga tower of the Bushistas is brought down, our objections may fall largely upon ears deaf to us, as the redefinition of morality has also resulted in us being written off as corrupting influences.

Historically, one of the most effective means to bring down an enemy was to utilize a mole. It worked for the Greeks in Troy, with their famous wooden horse. It worked for the Philistines in the case of Samson, with Delilah. It must still work, as it is one of the same strategies employed by national intelligence agencies, crime fighting organizations, and terrorist groups worldwide.

We already have our mole. Though deceased, he has already been accepted warmly into the heart of conservativism in our country: the evangelical Christian church. Our mole is CS Lewis.

In the The Abolition of Man, Lewis effectively argues that a number of various moral values exists within each man and woman. These are not values that relate directly to issues of gay marriage, the necessity of war, gun-control, fiscal responsibility, or patriotism. However, they clearly relate to that which is at the root of each of these issues: how we are to treat our fellow humans. Lewis labels this notion as the Tao. This name was chosen to illustrate that the notion is not strictly limited to the West, but rather that it includes the East, and all of mankind.

The method by which Lewis makes his argument is by homing in on the laws/writings of many different civilizations, from antiquity to the present. Among these "civilations" (I use the term loosely here) are included the ancient Egyptians, Norse, Hindu, Jewish (Old Testament), ancient Chinese (including Confucius), Roman, British (via John Locke), early Christian church, Babylonian, ancient Greek, Australian Aborigines, Native American, old Anglo-Saxon, and ancient Indian. The laws/writings are then grouped together by topic, in a means to demonstrate each group was based upon a value inherent to all humans, across many years, miles, continents and racial/ethnic groups.

The main text of The Abolition of Man is very densely written and sometimes difficult to understand, but the Appendices include a compilation of laws/teachings/writings from the civilizations listed above.

The general principles into which Lewis groups the areas of the Tao are
  • The Positive and Negative Laws of General Beneficence (love one another/harm not one another)
  • The Law of Special Beneficence (love one's own family)
  • Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors
  • Duties to Children and Posterity
  • The Law of Justice (in the areas of the sexual, honesty, and the courts)
  • The Law of Good Faith and Veracity
  • The Law of Mercy
  • The Law of Magnanimity (liberality in bestowing gifts)
Lewis himself could be properly described as a liberal, as in his day he opposed the idea of legislation that would have made it difficult for non-Christians to be granted divorces at the will of Christians in a secular state. He advocated the notion of creating two very distinct "types" of marriage: the first to be granted by the state, with rules for all marriages; the other to be granted by various churches, in which case the rules would be set by given churches and applied/enforced only upon those who claimed to be members. See the parallels between this view and the debate on gay marriage?

Most evangelicals lack knowledge of Lewis in these areas. Thus the next step for all of us, including me, do a little more research, and make sure they come to know it quite well. They will have two choices then. They can either reject Lewis as they have with other politically-liberal Christians, or they can accept the waywardness of their own attitudes. As one who has grown up in and been schooled for nearly 10 years in evangelical Christian institutions, I do not believe they will find it easy to discard Lewis so easily.

Update: Let's make their heads crack with outrageous amounts of cognitive dissonance. I'm very serious. Spread the word that CS Lewis was a liberal and cite the reasons above and any others that you can find. I'm tired always being on the defense; its time for us to be on the attack now.

**Note: Here is an alternative translation to Confucius' statement on the the Rectification of Names; one that "fits" more today.