21 September 2016
The Abolition of Man
In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?
C.S Lewis asks this and many questions about the way our world is heading in his book The Abolition of Man. This is essential reading for everyone, I do believe. In less than 100 pages, Lewis addresses some critical points of the direction our society, world, and thoughts are heading, and his critique of that. This book came about after he read a new version of a school book for children and how language was being used to instill morals that did not grow well-broadened minds. In his wise foresight, he saw what the future would look like under this modified realm. There were three lectures that he gave on this subject in Oxford, which became the three chapters of the book. The sword was his pen in this case, and it has spoken for many decades. It is eerie how prophetic the book is. Will we stand up for what is right in these modern days?
The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head. (Chapter 1- "Men Without Chests")
Lewis calls us to maintain a devotion to truth and sensibility, Through education, the concern regarding the school book stems on phrases that make the words "appear to be saying something very important, when in reality we are only saying something about our own feelings." That word, only, weighs heavily indeed, a message subliminal. It is seemingly such a tiny matter, and yet it has the potential to grow into something much bigger. This will set in the school boy's mind an assumption that will later come into play when he doesn't even realize how his mind has been shaped. Lewis goes into that more deeply through the chapter.
He goes on in the next chapter to talk through the advancements that occur and how they should only be done from within the system of natural law (he calls the Tao), rather from the outside. As Christians, our beliefs will influence how we seek to advance the world. Someone who is not a Christian will already have altered views, as their system of belief is not the same.
This is why Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible. He may be hostile, but he cannot be critical: he does not know what is being discussed. (Chapter 2 - "The Way")
In his final chapter, Lewis dives into humanity's hunger for power over nature. This is where he was headed from the beginning of the book, but he was building up his case. Whether it be industrial or pre-natal, he finds serious fault and issues with the way the world is leaning (ex. trying to create exactly what we want at every whim), and these concerns have (sadly) come to fruition in our modern day. Keep in mind Lewis published this book in 1944. So much of what he has to say is reflected in his amazing book That Hideous Strength (the final book of his space trilogy).
Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion. All Nature's apparent reverses have been but tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really the opening of arms to enfold us for ever. (Chapter 3 - "The Abolition of Man")
It is a frightening thing, indeed. I am imagining scenes from That Hideous Strength of that prediction actually coming true, and it is forever imprinted in my mind as absolutely horrifying. Lewis has issues with those who just explain away to support their own cause without thinking through the heavy cost of it. These are matters that haunt our world and Lewis is one who saw it and actually did something to address it. Now it is our turn.