Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Abolition of Man

Book: The Abolition of Man
Author: CS Lewis

Edition: 1965 MacMillian Paperback Edition

Read: May 2008

121 pages

Rated: 3
out of 5

 A little hairline crack, a little tree root. That’s all it takes to break a solid slab of granite. That is how culture gets changed; not with a stick of dynamite. CS Lewis starts by looking at the curriculum in schools and sees what the implications are through society as our thinking changes. He calls us back to what he calls the Tao (pg 29), the core beliefs which are held across the centuries and cultures; what he believes is universal.
This book was made from three lectures from the Riddell Memorial Lectures. It was the fifteenth in the series. These lectures are given at the University of Durham. It consisted of three lectures covering “Men Without Chests”, “The Way” and “The Abolition of Man”.

Lewis is a scholar and he knew his stuff. The Greeks are quoted extensively; but not just them but from many other ancient cultures such as the Chinese are used in his argument. The argument which Lewis uses is not Christian-based, but one which is available to any philosophy based in rationality, historicity, and values. It is supportive of a Christian argument. Lewis understood this argument as a rationalist. Here he is at the top of his form. (It should be noted that shortly afterwards, Lewis was in a debate with a Catholic nun who shows Lewis the falsity of a rationalistic approach.) The Abolition of Man is one of his last philosophical works. See the 50th anniversary lecture for more background.

If you guessed that this not an exciting book, you are right. It is a book where Lewis directly attacks the creeping thinking of a materialistic world. He talks how the school books want to remove subjectism, but they leave nothing in its place. So a sunset is left as filtering sunlight through particles of dust. Beauty is removed—or at least the means to convey.

The conclusion of the first chapter leaves no illusions on where Lewis lies—when we remove the values we count as important, we are left with people without values; the values which drive them to live honorably. Valueless human are like men without chests.

But Lewis does not answer the question of are values real, objective, verifiable (this begs the question of what is real?). His second chapter works towards an answer—The Way, The Tao. Are the values we hold only a matter of survival? Like Nietzsche, can we say we have outgrown our values? We no longer need these values for survival? Our debunking is like a child taking his ball and going home. He has the ball, but nobody, including himself, can play the game. No fun, no opportunity, no chance to be heroic. We are left with nothing constructive, nothing good, only destruction.

To Lewis, values are something which is self-evident. It is not something to be proved. He goes on to state, that man cannot invent new values anymore than he can invent a new primary color. (pg 56). But values or the Tao can be developed and explored. The corrupted man stands outside of the Tao so the Tao cannot be seen.

Finally Lewis gets to the conclusion. Man has conquered all he sees, the only thing left to abolish is man himself. Everything is pure nature; nothing is left external to man. Nothing is left to rule man but man. We have traded long held rules to be ruled by men without rules. In our search for freedom, we have merely traded a stern impersonal master for a master who can be cruel and selfish. Are we better off? This all comes from being transparent, about to see through things till we cannot see anything.

The last of the book is a collection of the Tao. He has collected writings of the Greeks, Chinese, Babylonians and others to show a continuity of value and thought across time and culture. This chapter serves both as a mirror of who we are and a vision of what we are abandoning.
The conclusion on this book. It is a bit dry, but well worth the read. Its worth the read to understand the implications of living in a world as we have today and the little nuances which affects our thinking. That little crack which opens the boulder.

August 2015 - In The Fellowship, Phillip Zaleski identifies The Green Book as Alec King and Martin Ketley's The Control of Language.

Good Quotes:
  • The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts, pg 24
  • By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. Page 24
  • We make men without chests and expect virtue of them and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. Pg 35
  • If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proven. Page 53
  • Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. Page 70
  • Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Page 71
  • For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. page 72
  • Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man. Page 80
  • If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To `see through' all things is the same as not to see. Page 91

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