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Modernity Rewrites Man as Tool
Is the rise of cannibalism the final stop on our journey of the eradication of the dignity of man? Could we possibly fall lower?
A recent article at the New York Times garnered deserved outrage amongst social media platforms for its endorsements of cannibalism, but it was largely a commentary about what has become a staple of modern ‘literature’.
I'm drawn to consider the plights of the most desperate, the starving, such as those who set sail on Endurance in 1914 with polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, to become locked inside an island of ice. The freezing men endured arduous internal monologues of whether God would forgive them, or whether they could forgive themselves if they did the unthinkable (they never gave in). Then we jump back to a New York Times piece that questions simply, why not? To see man as food, one must no longer see him as man. And painfully, this is where we find ourselves.
None of us should reel back with surprise. Does your neighbor value man, really? If we value man, we would naturally value life, and that very phrase “value life” sounds like the placard of an anti-abortion protester outside Planned Parenthood. This parallel shows us the connections that most do not wish to see. We have accepted some evils into our culture that relay how we actually view each other. Most abortions in the United States take place because the child is inconvenient — it is determined that he or she would represent too much of a burden, due to financial, career, or romantic complications. So the decision to end the child's life is a utilitarian one. The child isn't useful. The child is a burden. Therefore, the child has no value.
When we reduce people to their value and utility, we deprive them of the dignity inherent to their humanity. Widespread acceptance of abortion necessitated this fundamentally wrong misunderstanding of human life.
It is from there that people begin to encourage the early deaths of the terminally ill. We can expect socialized health care systems to do the most to encourage such barbarism, for their existence revolves around reducing costs, and such people are expensive to care for. For-profit schemes such as in the United States will be much slower to adopt that barbarity, for there is plenty of money to be made from the severely ill. This still isn't morality, of course, and in truth, there's not a lot of morality governing our collective decision making in regard to the dignity inherent to men.
This is how we arrived at one of the biggest, longest running, and most well-known newspapers in the country wondering aloud whether it's time to start eating one another. Elsewhere in the country, autopsies are performed for entertainment and still others are seeking to melt bodies in acid, lest they not take up too much space in the ground. There is no respecting of the dead, for we barely pay respect the living. We embody a sort of Nietzschean philosophy. If they can scream loudly and make enough of a fuss, particularly while having a utility, then they can live. This must be the sort of horror he had in mind when he claimed that most morality is cowardice.
I'm not sure that I'm ready to begin attempting to convince people why eating our dead is wrong. That would be too much for even my melancholy to bear. In 10 years, doubtless we will have to have that discussion. There haven't been grand indications that our respect for our fellow man is increasing. Perhaps for now we can suffice to discuss why man matters, why we should “value life”. If the secular understanding of the world is true, then we really needn't value it: Man is morally indistinguishable from cow or pig, and his worth is based on his utility alone. When he dies, so does his utility (unless we use him for food). This is why we have fallen so horrendously off course.
Even many of the self-identified Christians of our age fail to see man as special. And it's not enough to say that we matter because of our greater capacity than animal to reason, for while true, that still lands us at utility. What about the person who is too young, injured, sick, depressed, or senile to reason? Do we then say that his life doesn't matter? Some do, but no. That's not right. He matters even when he's not conscious, even when he's burdensome, and even when he doesn't see his own value.
He matters because human life is sacred; from his first moment of being, he was chosen by God — he was wanted. Yes, he may also have utility to the other people of the earth. Yes, he may grow to be loved by a family and an array of friends. But he matters even without all of these things, because he matters to the one who created him, who should be our principal care. So, Christians who say that they love God must therefore care for and see value in human life for that reason alone. Then we bury the dead, both in hope of the resurrection and to respect the dignity of a person created by and in the image of God.
This is what we have lost or forgotten, to the degree that some now speak aloud in wonder at the very idea that we should treat man as the higher being that he is.