Thursday 30 June 2011

The modern, progressive creed - Weston from Out of the Silent Planet


From Out of the Silent Planet, a science fiction novel by C.S. Lewis, 1938.


Oyarsa is the ruling 'planetary intelligence' (or 'angel') of Malacandra (i.e. Mars).

Ransom was brought to Mars by Weston to be a sacrifice to the inhabitants.

Ransom escapes from Weston and befriends the inhabitants of Malacandra; but Weston (and his side-kick Devine) have shot and killed several of the Martians.

In this scene Weston has been brought in front of the Oyarsa to explain his motivations and conduct.

Ransom mostly translates Weston for the Oyarsa; but later in the passage Weston speaks directly to the Oyarsa using a basic 'pidgin' form of the Malacandran language.

'Hnau' means a sentient being, a 'person'. Hrossa and Pfifltriggi are types of sentient Martian (i.e. types of hnau).

Maleldil is God; the lord of the silent world is Lucifer/ the devil (said here to be the fallen planetary intelligence ruling the Earth - Earth being the Silent Planet of the novel's title).


'Speak to Ransom and he shall turn it into our speech,' said Oyarsa.

Weston accepted the arrangement at once. He believed that the hour of his death was come and he was determined to utter the thing - almost the only thing outside his own science which he had to say. He cleared his throat, almost he struck a gesture, and began:

'To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race. Your tribal life with its stone-age weapons and beehive huts, its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare with our civilization - with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time. Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower. Life -'

'Half a moment,' said Ransom in English. 'That's about as much as I can manage at one go.'


Then, turning to Oyarsa, he began translating as well as he could. The process was difficult and the result - which he felt to be rather unsatisfactory - was something like this:

'Among us, Oyarsa, there is a kind of hnau who will take other hnaus' food and - and things, when they are not looking. He says he is not an ordinary one of that kind. He says what he does now will make very different things happen to those of our people who are not yet born. He says that, among you, hnau of one kindred all live together and the hrossa have spears like those we used a very long time ago and your huts are small and round and your boats small and light and like our old ones, and you have one ruler. He says it is different with us. He says we know much. There is a thing happens in our world when the body of a living creature feels pains and becomes weak, and he says we sometimes know how to stop it. He says we have many bent people and we kill them or shut them in huts and that we have people for settling quarrels between the bent hnau about their huts and mates and things. He says we have many ways for the hnau of one land to kill those of another and some are trained to do it. He says we build very big and strong huts of stones and other things - like the pfifltriggi. And he says we exchange many things among ourselves and can carry heavy weights very quickly a long way. Because of all this, he says it would not be the act of a bent hnau if our people killed all your people.'


As soon as Ransom had finished, Weston continued.

'Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute. It is not by tribal taboos and copy-book maxims that she has pursued her relentless march from the amoeba to man and from man to civilization.'

'He says,' began Ransom, 'that living creatures are stronger than the question whether an act is bent or good - no, that cannot be right - he says it is better to be alive and bent than to be dead - no - he says, he says - I cannot say what he says, Oyarsa, in your language. But he goes on to say that the only good thing is that there should be very many creatures alive. He says there were many other animals before the first men and the later ones were better than the earlier ones; but he says the animals were not born because of what is said to the young about bent and good action by their elders. And he says these animals did not feel any pity.'


'She,' began Weston.

'I'm sorry,' interrupted Ransom, 'but I've forgotten who She is.'

'Life, of course,' snapped Weston. 'She has ruthlessly broken down all obstacles and liquidated all failures and today in her highest form civilized man - and in me as his representative, she presses forward to that interplanetary leap which will, perhaps, place her for ever beyond the reach of death.'

'He says,' resumed Ransom, 'that these animals learned to do many difficult things, except those who could not; and those ones died and the other animals did not pity them. And he says the best animal now is the kind of man who makes the big huts and carries the heavy weights and does all the other things I told you about; and he is one of these and he says that if the others all knew what he was doing they would be pleased. He says that if he could kill you all and bring our people to live in Malacandra, then they might be able to go on living here after something had gone wrong with our world. And then if something went wrong with Malacandra they might go and kill all the hnau in another world. And then another - and so they would never die out.


'It is in her right,' said Weston, 'the right, or, if you will, the might of Life herself, that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil of Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet, system after system, till our posterity - whatever strange form and yet unguessed mentality they have assumed - dwell in the universe wherever the universe is habitable.'

'He says,' translated Ransom, 'that because of this it would not be a bent action - or else, he says, it would be a possible action - for him to kill you all and bring us here. He says he would feel no pity. He is saying again that perhaps they would be able to keep moving from one world to another and wherever they came they would kill everyone. I think he is now talking about worlds that go round other suns. He wants the creatures born from us to be in as many places as they can. He says he does not know what kind of creatures they will be.'


'I may fall,' said Weston. 'But while I live I will not, with such a key in my hand, consent to close the gates of the future on my race. What lies in that future, beyond our present ken, passes imagination to conceive: it is enough for me that there is a Beyond.'

'He is saying,' Ransom translated, 'that he will not stop trying to do all this unless you kill him. And he says that though he doesn't know what will happen to the creatures sprung from us, he wants it to happen very much.'


Weston, who had now finished his statement, looked round instinctively for a chair to sink into. On Earth he usually sank into a chair as the applause began. Finding none he was not the kind of man to sit on the ground like Devine - he folded his arms and stared with a certain dignity about him.

'It is well that I have heard you,' said Oyarsa. 'For though your mind is feebler, your will is less bent than l thought. It is not for yourself that you would do all this.'

'No,' said Weston proudly in Malacandrian. 'Me die. Man live.'

'Yet you know that these creatures would have to be made quite unlike you before they lived on other worlds.'

'Yes, yes. All new. No one know yet. Strange Big!'

'Then it is not the shape of body that you love?'

'No. Me no care how they shaped.'

'One would think, then, that it is for the mind you care. But that cannot be, or you would love hnau wherever you met it.'

'No care for hnau. Care for man.'

'But if it is neither man's mind, which is as the mind of all other hnau - is not Maleldil maker of them all? - nor his body, which will change - if you care for neither of these, what do you mean by man?'


This had to be translated to Weston. When he understood, he replied: 'Me care for man - care for our race - what man begets-' He had to ask Ransom the words for race and beget.

'Strange!' said Oyarsa. 'You do not love any one of your race - you would have let me kill Ransom. You do not love the mind of your race, nor the body. Any kind of creature will please you if only it is begotten by your kind as they now are. It seems to me, Thick One, that what you really love is no completed creature but the very seed itself: for that is all that is left.'

'Tell him,' said Weston when he had been made to understand this, 'that I don't pretend to be a metaphysician. I have not come here to chop logic. If he cannot understand - as apparently you can't either - anything so fundamental as a man's loyalty to humanity, I can't make him understand it.'


But Ransom was unable to translate this and the voice of Oyarsa continued:

'I see now how the lord of the silent world has bent you. There are laws that all hnau know, of pity and straight dealing and shame and the like, and one of these is the love of kindred. He has taught you to break all of them except this one, which is not one of the greatest laws; this one he has bent till it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a little blind Oyarsa in your brain. And now you can do nothing but obey it, though if we ask you why it is a law you can give no other reason for it than for all the other and greater laws which it drives you to disobey. Do you know why he has done this?'

'Me think no such person - me wise, new man - no believe all that old talk.'

'I will tell you. He has left you this one because a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one.



Weston's views are pretty much identical with my own from the late 1990s into the mid 2000s.

The humour and wisdom of the passage comes from the contrast between Weston's idealistic abstractions and Ransom's translations into plain, honest language (the language of Malacandra is intrinsically plain and honest, since it is an unfallen world).


The Oyarsa's message:

There are natural moral laws that all people are born with - and one of these is the love of humankind. Lucifer (who rules the earth) has taught you to break all the moral laws except this one.

But love of humankind is not one of the greatest moral laws - rather it ought to be subordinate to other laws which you break.

Furthermore, Lucifer has exaggerated the application of this law to the point where it becomes folly and has set up this folly as your ruling principle. And now you can do nothing but obey it, without constraint and regardless of the consequences.

But you cannot give any reason why you should obey this moral law, and disobey all the other (and greater) moral laws.

Lucifer left you this single natural moral law, the love of humankind, for this reason: a warped man who is actively and zealously pursuing a single moral law is capable of far more evil than a man with no morality at all.


Would I have seen through mine/ Weston's views if I had read OTP at that time, and seen what they translated into 'in plain language'?

Sadly, I doubt it...



Gabe Ruth said...

It's been a while since I read the Space Trilogy. With movies I've often had the impression that they get worse when you see them again after a long time, and with books it's the opposite.

Thanks for the reminder.

Daniel said...

Today I saw a white woman on the street wearing a shirt that said "NEVER AGAIN" and showed white explorers landing on the shores of the Americas (to kill and rape and destroy the angelic natives, of course). This was here, in America. Presumably this woman believes that by the very act of being alive, she and every other Westerner is party to a crime greater than the Holocaust. Presumably she does not kill herself because she feels she must be alive to spread the word about the horrible crimes that her own people commit by breathing and living.

She is one step beyond Weston. He had "loyalty to humanity" and saw his own project (as an Englishman and a scientist) as part of that loyalty. The woman in the shirt takes it to the next logical step: loyalty to humanity in general, but disloyalty to one's own kin and history.

The real nub of the matter is not which incomplete moral principle that we are left with, it's the effect that this has on us: to become "a little blind Oyarsa in your brain."

Bruce Charlton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel - yes, things have moved a long way Left since Weston - Weston would nowadays be regarded as being on the Libertarian/ Transhumanist Right of the mainstream political spectrum.

(Of course the Libertarians/ Transhumanists are in reality of the Left, not the Right.)

From the persepctive of the Oyarsa, it seems that the dynamism and zeal of Weston's generation is disappearing into the despair and inertia of those who instead of *one* moral law have almost-no moral laws at all; hence are consumed with suicidal self-hatred.

This could be an example of evil defeating itself, as sometimes happens...

GFC said...

This is one of my favorite things in the trilogy and one of the most profound I've read in Lewis, which is saying a lot. This is what convinced me to go on to read the rest of the trilogy (which in some ways, mostly setting, is a bit weird even for Sci Fi). The deep insight into exactly how the lord of this world has bent us is startling, I think it's one of the best expositions of the nature of the sickness of modern (progressive) man in literature.

It is important to understand what's really behind Weston's views. A modern leftist could read Weston's speech here and come away a bitter foe of Weston, believing himself to be different and not comprehending why he's no different than Weston, why his sin is the same. He would do this because most leftists (the outer party type, not the inner party type) mistake appearances for substance.

What's really behind Weston's speech and unites him and his modern leftist counterpart in their hearts is that both desire to usurp the place of God, and to that end both desire to obliterate that in the world that does not conform to the whims of their designs at any given moment. The motivation and method are the same; who the target is at any given time is beside the point. Weston wants to obliterate the other hnau, the modern leftist wants to obliterate traditional culture and its adherents, religious faith, his own countrymen.

The inability to discern appearance from substance is one consequence of a life devoted to lies: sooner or later the amount of time spent in the toxic embrace of untruth will destroy your faculties for discerning truth from falsehood. This is how the evil one bends people, the blind little oyaresu installed in their minds won't let them see the truth anymore. Only a miracle can save such people. It reminds me of another scene from that trilogy for some reason, in That Hideous Strength where Merlin confounds the speech of the members of NICE, tongues that have twisted the gift of speech to the propagation of lies should no longer be able to be understood by anyone.

(This puts the lie btw if you will to the idea of the Noble Lie. Many leftists I know explicitly believe in this - that lies told to a good end can work good in the end, are even necessary to achieving some political goal. You cannot do good by doing evil, and the use of evil tools will corrupt and destroy the one who wields those tools in the end)

TdT said...

When I first read "Out of the Silent Planet" a couple of years ago, when I got to the part where Earth was described as the Silent Planet--and why it was silent--I was electrified.

It is clear to me now that we live in Satan's kingdom--a dark kingdom of lies, where people lie and are lied to, and most like it that way. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Being in the light is an extraordinary thing, and I am giddy even to be thinking about it.