Logan, Technocracy, and the Abolition of Man

The newly released film Logan, the final appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the metal-clawed and brooding member of the X-Men, is indeed a film heavy on violence and profanity. It does, however, offer a fascinating view of what is possible when man uses technological advancement divorced from any conception of nature and the good. Many have discussed the consequences of rejecting nature in favor of technological “progress.” C.S. Lewis, in his Abolition of Man, spoke at length about the attempts to change and alter nature. Further, the most recent popes have warned against allowing technology to transgress moral norms. Logan illustrates why Lewis and Catholic teaching warn against “technocracy” and demand that scientific investigation be limited by nature.

The film Logan charts the story of the title character Logan as an elderly man attempting to find his way in a world that no longer tolerates the X-Men and actively seeks to eradicate mutants. While caring for an ailing Professor Charles Xavier, Logan meets a young girl who possesses the same healing abilities and metal claws as himself. Logan eventually learns that the young girl was cloned from his own genetic material, and she is one of many young children who were similarly created by a major biotech company attempting to manufacture living mutant weapons. A nurse, having pity on the children, attempts to free them, but she is only able to escape with Logan’s cloned daughter. She then seeks out Logan and asks him to help bring the girl to a mutant refuge in Canada.

A major theme throughout the film is the contrast between the human-driven attempt to manipulate nature for material gain and an alternative vision where man works with and submits to nature. A particularly striking sequence involves Logan helping an Oklahoma family, struggling to maintain their farm against large agriculture businesses, rescue horses that have begun running across a highway, which features self-driven commercial trucks. The audience views the living, natural horses juxtaposed with the artificial and man-made vehicles. This contrast is continued when Logan, together with Xavier and his daughter, join the family for dinner at their home. Logan, a man artificially created by military scientists and without a clear understanding of his past, sees what his life could have been like. Xavier remarks to him, “that is what life looks like.” So we have the contrast between a family struggling to maintain and sustain natural life and the business seeking to manufacture mutants as weapons. It is, fundamentally, the struggle between man accepting nature and man attempting to conquer nature. It is nature versus technology.

Lewis, in his Abolition of Man, explains that any increase in technology and power over nature ultimately means also greater control of some people over others. This power, he notes, could be for good or ill, but it is only rational when connected to our human nature. He explains that, “what we call Man’s power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” Lewis does not suggest that such power is, in itself, evil or that individuals would necessarily use this power for evil. In fact, he suggests that our human nature can be the standard by which we judge whether a particular use of nature is good or evil. He notes that, traditionally, men were bound by “the Tao,” code for human nature and natural law. Previous generations “did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity, which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly.” Our use of technology, when measured against human nature and natural law, is good and perfecting of individual men and women. The use of new medical devices to restore health, or using new means of communication and transportation, can be in accordance with natural law. What happens, however, if we reject natural law and thereby seek to create our own natures?

Lewis argues that those who wish to change nature, whom he calls “Conditioners,” will have nothing left but arbitrary choice to justify their decisions to make human beings into this rather than that. Lewis argues that, “The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure.” Previously, actions were measured by natural law and human nature. If we wish to change nature, we cannot judge that change to be good or bad according to human nature. That is precisely what we wish to change! Therefore, the only thing left to use as a reason for changing humanity to this rather than that is the arbitrary desire of the individual in charge of making changes. It will be the lab technician who decides to make human beings according to his or her own image, and those created are wholly under the control of the one creating. Thus, Lewis sees this result as the final conquest of man over nature, when we see the actual abolition of man.

The previous two popes, in their social encyclicals, have warned against leaving nature behind in favor of a “technocracy.” Benedict XVI writes, “technological development can give rise to the idea that technology is self-sufficient when too much attention is given to the ‘how’ questions and not enough to the many ‘why’ questions underlying human activity” (Caritas in Veritate, §70). Similarly, Francis warns that,

those with the knowledge and, especially, the economic resources to use them [have] an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used. We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people. (Laudato Si’, §104)

There is a tendency to believe that any technological development, any increase in the power or abilities, is a good. This view is what the popes mean by “technocracy.” We recognize, however, that these developments are deeply ambivalent. We may use technology for good and the perfection of humanity, or we may use it to promote death and destruction. Technology in itself is not enough. We must have recourse to nature, our human nature, to judge the good of new techniques. Rejecting nature leaves us in a moral vacuum. The engineer cannot determine whether a bomb or some other weapon is used to liberate an oppressed nation or to enslave a free people.

Returning then to Logan, we see how the desire to control and manipulate nature, rather than the humble accepting of the given world, leaves us open to manipulation and control. The same company that uses biotechnology and genetic research to cure cancer or vaccinate against a deadly disease could also use those same advances to decide the kind of human beings who live. Such a world is one that prizes a false notion of perfection, and it sees any imperfection as something to eliminate. Reminiscent of Brave New World, those with the technological knowledge and abilities can control who exists and how they exist. It is only when we accept nature as a given that we are able to decide the proper use of technology. We must support those uses that perfect our humanity, and we must reject uses that seek to alter it. Only by recognizing the reality of our humanity are we able to use technology well.

John Macias

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John Macias is Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

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