The Incoherence of the Man-made man

Parvez Manzoor

Without doubt, the most cherished myth of our times is that ‘Man makes Himself’, that he is the outcome of an evolutionary process which regulates itself by the circular logic of survival. Man lives because he outlives himself, because he survives his extinction and outsmarts his doom! And yet, such priceless reasoning does not exhaust itself by this claim. The biological tale of man’s triumph on earth, it is contended further, merely re-enacts the cosmological drama and reveals the ultimate mystery about the ‘origin of the universe’. A chance hiccup in the tranquillity of being, so it is posited, produced a big bang in the cosmic nothingness and created everything; time, matter, energy, life, consciousness, morality! The universe is thus devoid of any goal, meaning and purpose save that created by man. Man’s humanity, his morality, art and science, are nothing but gifts of the biological struggle, chance benefits of man’s effort and genius. For his genesis and existence, therefore, man need be grateful to no one but himself because it is Man not God who is the creator of man’s humanity!

Were this merely a symptom of the metaphysical despair that followed in the wake of Man’s enlightenment in the age of humanism, one could have endured it with equanimity. However, the modern ‘discovery’ of the ‘origin of the universe’ and ‘evolution of life on earth’ does not remain confined to labs and academies. It is no longer a biological theory or a scientific dogma but has acquired the mystique and power of a cultural myth: it even arbitrates the ineluctably human question of the nature and destiny of man. Man, the modern sage triumphantly proclaims, is the source of his own transcendence: he is not only the measure of everything but is the creator of norms and values as well! Little wonder that we are facing a crisis of meaning the like of which we have never known before.

For nothing could be more fertile a metaphysical ground for a moral and cognitive nihilism than the claim of man being a creature of Man; of man’s humanity being a gift of biology, and of man’s history being a story of divine self-fulfilment! The incoherence of the Man-made man is staggering: Man makes laws and voluntarily submits to them. Man is dissatisfied with his laws and defies them with impunity. He smashes old idols and creates new ones. He scoffs every authority but willingly submits to his own whim. There is no categorical imperative, only the contingent logic of survival; no inner drive of the soul, only the external compulsion of raison d’état; indeed there is no moral man submissive to Truth, only the amoral superman worshipping Power. Freedom, compassion and love are mere empty words and so are justice, fairness and equality. Brotherhood and sisterhood are non-existent and human community is a sham. Facts are real and given, while values are illusory and imposed. What counts in the end is the realisation of the will and not any triumph of reason or truth.

Paradoxically, the roots of the modern delusion go back to the mythos of faith itself. The self-sacrifice of god, which did not eradicate human suffering, which brought only the possibility and not the actuality of redemption, left some men of Biblical faith questioning. One response, enunciated through the Gnostic speculation, was that God himself had gone into hiding, that he had retreated into the darkness of his own groundless ground. Man, abandoned in the universe by the absent God (deus absconditus) had therefore no other option but to secure salvation for himself. The ‘burden of man’ was indeed to redeem nature and God as well! Thus was born the vision of an immanent Utopia whose actualization became the true calling of modernity. Faith in the God of the here-after gave way to the promise of the Man of the here-now.

The man without a here-after sought his immediate salvation, his enlightenment, first in the realm of nature, then in that of reason, but finally in the world of history. He strove to replace the authority of a transcendent God by that of an immanent reason. He convinced himself that the signs of reason are not only manifest in the realm of nature, but are also most cogently visible in the world of human history. What is historically real, what is actual, he triumphantly proclaimed, is rational, and what is rational is ineluctably historically real and actual! Alas, on closer scrutiny, human reason was found to be as fallible, contingent and parochial as man himself. It provided no secure Archimedean point outside the individual subject or beyond a temporary and opaque societal consensus. The man of enlightenment, who renounced God because He transcends reason, was humiliated by his own discovery that both nature and history are bereft of objective and universal reason! The modern man who believed that reason informs history was dismayed by the insight that a world governed by reason is a pre-determined world where there is no morality and freedom for the human individual. The post-modern man who contends that the world of history is not a pre-determined world but is marked by contingency, chance and ‘the mystery of the being’ is equally disenchanted by the import of his claim, namely that there are no moral standards and that every kind of cognitive and moral judgement is ultimately arbitrary. Neither a world of reason, nor a world without reason, seems to provide any basis for a moral view of the world!

Leaving aside the nasty, albeit ‘archaic’, problem of a man beyond truth, or that of the intelligibility of a world beyond reason, the hubris of the Man-made man robs us of all ‘privileged’ vantage-points in history. Indeed, it disbands the tribunal on world-history (Weltgerett) and abolishes the notion of universal history itself. Paradoxically, the morality of Human Rights, the optimism of human Progress and the solace of the End of History are all rendered null and void by the sovereignty of the human creator. Further, all arguments for the uniqueness and superiority of the West, and its emulation by the rest, are squarely debunked by the relativist vision. There is no pattern of history, no march of civilisations and no moral progress in human affairs. Even Science, the source of the glory and power of the Man-made man, is reduced to a mere metaphor – legitimated by its will to power and not a paradigm of rationality distinguished by its pathos for truth! Modernity, in short, is just a signpost encountered in the course of the meaningless meandering of humanity and it has already been surpassed and left behind.

The Man-made man creates meaning but robs everything – God, Nature, History – of meaning! He has bartered the transcendence and mystery of the will of an all-compassionate and all-powerful God for the contingency and immanence of the being. He has vowed to submit to his own idols and smash them when they no longer serve him! He has accepted to act as his own prosecutor, jury and judge. How illogical and incoherent are the ways of Man!

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