Man the Reality or Man the Ideal?
“…the face of a man often hinders people not practiced in love, from loving him. But yet there’s a great deal of love in mankind, an almost Christ-like love. I know that myself, Ivan.”
“Well, I know nothing of it so far, and can’t understand it, and the mass of mankind are with me there.”
The context of these lines, taken from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, is a conversation between Ivan, the elder, intellectual brother, and Aloysha, the younger and by far the most piously-inclined of the Karamazovs. Ivan is speaking of his despair at the condition of the world: man is selfish, violent, and nigh diabolical in his actions. He says that he would love humanity could he but love a human being. Is this illness not everywhere amongst men? “Philanthropy” is taken to mean the love of mankind, and indeed, the majority of works that people perform today in an effort to be charitable are philanthropic in nature. Largely, these actions involve giving donations to some organization which then takes on the responsibility of distributing these donations, so that donator never need meet the recipient.
Alternatively, the progressive take on the advancement of biological manipulation technologies is that by enabling man to alter himself – truthfully, enabling one man to alter another to the whims of the former – man will be bettered; that such is an act of love towards all mankind, as that which ensures better quality of life. The deformed can be normal, down-syndrome will never occur again, black hair can be brown and brown hair can be red; brown eyes can be blue!
What does that say about the individual man? Certainly it says bundles, though bundles which ought to be philosophically examined and considered, about mankind and his potential; but mankind is composed of men – and what such a desire for biological manipulation suggests is that men are inadequate. Forget any questions about whether or not man ought to augment himself if capable; he can be made better. Cloned, designer babies are soon to be available at your local Wal-Mart in the “Scientific & Medical Abominations” section. Particularly is this frightening in light of Barack Obama’s recent dismissal of the President’s Council on Bioethics, replacing them with those who offer “practical policy options.”
The reduction of man’s essence to one of materialistic principle is a sad and ultimately not very interesting story (though one which everyone ought to know). Needless to say, man having been thus reduced, it is little wonder that misguided “philanthropists,” those supposedly selfless lovers of an abstraction, are hell-bent upon improving mankind; not realizing that whatever “mankind” is, man is a spiritual being above and beyond any improvement which may be made through genetic alteration. That is why hating him, despising him, loathing his actions and the actuality of his existence, is so very easy: man ought to be better, man’s actions ought to be higher than the bestial.
Such is why man, as an individual, needs that “almost Christ-like love”: to love another a man, as an individual. From a materialistic perspective, it makes no sense: the animals of the world act in no way so as to preserve individuals, but only species. Yet man – every man is worth more than all of “mankind,” every individual infinitely more important than the society or community from which he comes. It is something of a paradox, something innately recognized but not always explicitly acknowledged by men. How often do two or three or four men die in an attempt to save a single individual? Mathematically, that is, regarding that which numerically corresponds to material reality, it is absurd. Why several bodies for the sake of one? The answer is simple: men are not merely bodies. The act of a man who dies in an attempt to save another is, consciously or not, an act of that Christ-like love; an act that disregards the disreputable, disturbing face of man and looks instead into the soul of incomparable earthly dignity and worth.
“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13