REVIEW Ù The Abolition of Man


The Abolition of ManAlternative cover for ISBN 978 0060652944The Abolition of Man Lewis uses his graceful prose del. When things get bad I take out the bourbon When as occasionally happens time drags on and things don't get any better I put the bourbon away and take out C S Lewis His books are short readable and filled with an uncanny amount of wisdom His genius and the reason he's always been a comfort to me lies in his ability to convince me that the world as it appears to be the world that seems so oppressive is not the whole story The lifeline of depression the fuel from which it draws all of its power is the mind's misguided belief that it is able to encompass the complete truth about past present and future C S Lewis invites the mind into a conversation using humor commonplace observations and logic He welcomes you into a warm place like visiting your grandparents at Christmas when you were eight years old He takes hold of the worldview that led you to him With gentle honest understanding hands he wraps his palms around the neck of that worldview and proceeds to strangle it until it is dead dead deadLewis is known as a Christian writer Most people I know want absolutely nothing to do with Christianity to the extent that for example a friend of mine told me that despite my fervent recommendation he refused to listen to anything by Leonard Cohen because he heard he sang about religion Though this particular book is not about Christianity if you are of the camp that really doesn't want to hear the first word from someone who is religious you may find this book annoying Be forewarnedThe book is divided into three sections The first Men Without Chests begins with an example taken from a grade school grammar textbook In the example the authors of the textbook imply that there are no sublime things in the world only feelings of sublimity within us There is nothing that really deserves respect or castigation no right responses or ways of thinking about things there is only opinionAgainst this idea Lewis brings to bear the moral and ethical traditions of basically every culture that has ever existed He lists all the rather startling similarities between for example Confucianism Greek culture Hinduism and Jewish and Christian moral tradition I'm talking about things like finding joy in children having reverence for old people respecting your neighbor being courageous helping those less fortunate protecting your family and not lying about other people for your own gain In fact in a long appendix at the end of the book Lewis takes each of these ideas and gives examples of it in a myriad of different cultures throughout historyLewis calls this group of ethical ideas The Tao And it is at this point that the book gets really startling First these ideas are of a dual nature They are somehow natural to man exemplified by their reappearance throughout history yet at the same time they must be taught from one generation to the next I see this in my three year old son Through great effort again and again I try to teach him to respect other people Not to for example hit other people when he is angry The behavior I'm trying to teach is most emphatically not what comes naturally to himYet even in my own personal example I can see the duality Lewis talks about What arguments can I make to dissuade him from hitting someone out of anger If you do it and I see you I will punish you But that's not an argument against doing it it's an argument against getting caught How would you like it if someone did that to you But we're not talking about someone doing that to him we're talking about him doing it to someone else He pointed this out by the wayIn the end and it has taken me uite a bit of thought to understand this I have to actually convince him that it's wrong And this is something different than logical argument In order to do it there must be some latent sense ofwhat Justice Proportion Something that already exists within him that my words can latch on to Something already within him that the word wrong speaks to So the duality is there present in the facts that I a have to teach him this and b can only make him really understand it and feel it by appealing to something which he already possesses and carries with him The main point is this the idea of what one ought to do cannot be brought before the judge of logic Lewis made me realize that the word ought used so often in our culture is in fact one of the strangest words ever What does it really meanFortunately and here comes another startling argument from Lewis great thinkers like Aristotle and Plato have already thought over this idea What is ought Whatever it is it's the same thing it comes from the same place in our thoughts or our bodies that our appreciation of good art comes from The organ used to judge beauty is one and the same as the organ that tells you what you ought to doWhen I read this I almost couldn't believe it Of course I've heard this argument before I remember writing What the fuck are you talking about in the margins of my copy of Plato's dialogues when he brought up much the same argument At the time I thought it was completely ridiculous But reading it now in the present it seemed startlingly trueI thought back to some of the times I've had a strong sense of ought Years ago exhausted and tired my girlfriend and I were driving home from a late night movie Rounding the curve of a deserted Austin freeway at three in the morning our car passed a lone truck sitting still by the side of the road rammed into one of those gargantuan streetlights they've put up every 100 feet or so The streetlight had broken at its base and fallen directly on top of the cab of the truck In the compressed seconds after the image of the truck flashed by the following thoughts went through my mind I ought to pull over this car run over there and do what I can to help I don't have a cell phone I don't have any medical training There's nothing I can do I'm really tired Somebody else with a cell phone will be along in a minute or two Could I really make any kind of difference What if there's a lot of blood and I have to take him to the hospital I don't even know if there's anybody in that truckWhile all these thoughts were going on in my head my stomach was fluttering with worry But in betweenin between my stomach and my head there was another place the chest What we often refer to as the heart While one part of me was fluttering with emotion and another part was dithering with logic this third part spoke its solution with an almost harmonic simplicity I mean that though my chest my heart spoke a single answer it felt as if this answer were made of a number of unified objects or notes or ideas Like when someone strikes an e major on a well tuned guitarThat I think is the ought that Lewis is talking about And he is right it does come from the chest It is the chest Compare this to the experience of viewing something really beautiful such as a cathedral or sculpture or a vast rock wall full of shades and contrast carved out over centuries by falling water Lewis claims that you will realize perhaps to your surprise that the two feelings come from exactly the same organThe I read of books written from the 1900s onward the I become convinced that we are all in the middle of a fierce debate that started somewhere around that time and that continues on to this day This debate is over the future of mankind the meaning of progress and in the end what it means to be human The remainder of the book concerns this debate During Lewis's time eugenics was popular One hopes that the current reader will regard as Lewis did the concept with great distaste But however unpopular eugenics may be at the moment Lewis points out that it is the concepts and philosophical ideas behind eugenics that are what are truly hideous Any vision of a perfect utopian society or of any real progression toward it must hold somewhere within its core whether acknowledged or not the idea that people must be changed People must be made better And the only way to do this in the end is to strike at the heart the chest inside each person The only way is to attempt to change that organ that function that I have been trying to describeThis is the meaning of the title of the book Lewis argues that the essence of what man is can be found in that organ in the chest the heart And in order to achieve utopia men in power are than willing to modify dull or if necessary rip out the heart in order to achieve their goal And when they do so they will discover to their perhaps horror that what they have left is not a man at allExamples of this kind of coerced modification of the chest can be listed endlessly To use the media to present something as ugly which people never thought of as ugly before Or to make people think of certain other people as weak and diseased who are not Or to deliberately try to make people afraid out of all proportion to what they have to fear Or to attempt to redefine what people ought to do based on the recommendations of some experts Or to paint some people as corrupt and evil and as the cause of the problems of societyIn the end the ugliness comes from looking at another person and judging them judging the ought they have come to within themselves That after all is what you are doing every time you say you need to make a person or group of people better As it is this would just be ugliness But when the massive power and coercion of the state becomes involved as it always seems to then the ugliness turns into something much much worse The course of history over the last century will provide plenty of examples all provided courtesy of people whose goal was to make mankind better Of course now that we all recognize how horrific all of that was we are no longer engaged in the business of making people better We are no longer involved in using the pronouncements of doctors scientists famous people and intellectuals to dictate through force or influence what people ought to do or how they ought to think Nor do we disparage those with ideas different from the common culture Nor does society lean on businesses artists and families to believe and behave in certain ways Now we recognize that a diverse vibrant society takes all kinds of viewpoints As long as none of those viewpoints profess or seem to profess any wrong ideas all voices are welcome We invite everyone to join in the national discussion about which of the many new laws being proposed are the best ones to get people to behave like they ought to and to move our society into a better futureAs if all this weren't enough content for a rather flimsy paperback there is yet another startling argument that Mr Lewis makes He calls our attention to the nature of science Accepting that science has certainly given us many wonderful things can we say anything about what exactly science isScience is a way of looking at material objects in which we deliberately dismiss some aspects of those objects Not only spiritual or emotional aspects but also even physical aspects that are not of concern to the nature of our inuiry In science we deliberately blind ourselves to the whole of something in order to better understand some part of it Many would argue perhaps truthfully that a clear understanding of the parts leads to a better understanding of the whole Certainly a clearer understanding of the parts allows us in many cases to manipulate the wholeThrough a really inspired comparison of Bacon's New Organon to Goethe's Faust Mr Lewis argues that in doing this we are making a kind of deal The result will be increased ability to get the stuff we want medicines airplanes cheap food leisure time sex without pregnancy And what are we giving up to get all this stuff that we want Are we giving up anythingBefore I read this book my answer would have been No What could we possibly be giving up Now I'm not so sureMr Lewis states emphatically that he is not anti science He just wants us to be clear about what we are doing when we embrace science whole heartedly I think that's fair If we pretend we are not making a choice when in fact we are then somewhere down the line a point is going to arise when there are conseuences that we didn't realize I think that time is now I think the fact that we have made this choice and we didn't realize we were making a choice at all has resulted in many of the conflicting views in our current societyWhat are we giving up We are giving up our view of the whole object the object with all of its philosophical emotional and spiritual aspects intact This is in actuality the object as it appears to us before we apply the scalpel of science to it Yes science can help us find out things but only by a deliberate destruction in our minds and often in physical reality of the whole of the thingTake the following story as an example In college during a cat dissection my partner and I were working on the large intestine The room smelled of formaldehyde and our cat was stretched on a stainless steel table his four paws tied with rope to allow us the easiest access to cut into his chest cavity Our lab assistant came over Oh let me show you this he said We stood back He gathered the intestines in his hand and plopped them out onto the table beside the cat's body There was a thin membrane covering them which he proceeded to pull off and stretch out It stretched like a balloon him pulling the transparent membrane between his hands There were blue and red vessels colored with some kind of dye they'd put into the cat running through the membrane that reminded me of scraggly branches of treesHe held the membrane up still stretched between his fingers I saw his face on the other side of the membrane staring at the criss crossing vessels Isn't it absolutely beautiful he saidIt was beautiful But suddenly I was hit with the strangeness of what we were doing That membrane was never meant to be stretched out like that between someone's hands in a lab room Those veins were never meant to be that color That cat whatever he was whatever personality he had was gone forever The cat as he had been presented to the world a living organism with certain habits and tendencies in fact a uniue thing in all the history of the world had been destroyed This was done so that we could learn something that ostensibly was about all cats and was about ourselves as well how the organs in mammals functionI am not against dissections I'm glad I did it and I would do it again My only point is that a choice was made Our minds were made to focus on certain aspects of the cat at the expense of othersMr Lewis asks whether we don't lose some of our essential humanness in viewing things in this way Do a dissection once and you might think about the things I thought about Do it a thousand times and what happensI chose a cat dissection as my example because I thought it might carry weight with modern readers distant as they are from slaughterhouses But Mr Lewis is actually talking about every aspect of science I doubt anyone who reads this has performed a thousand dissections But I would wager that there are things that everyone including myself who has grown up in our science worshipping culture has thought about only scientifically a thousand times a thousand times And Mr Lewis argues I think rightly that this must have the same effectI read this book four times thought about it for weeks and tried to boil down what I thought about it into something succinct Obviously I was unable to do so Looking back over the review now I see that I have for example neglected Mr Lewis's incredibly profound statement that all that we think of as evil is simply the good of a part of The Tao magnified in importance so that it dwarfs all the other aspects of The Tao That thought alone is worth the price of admissionThere are probably five other main points of the book like this points that I have missed This book is simply too full of interesting points for any review of mine to do it justice Five stars

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REVIEW Ù The Abolition of Man æ Alternative cover for ISBN 978 0060652944The Abolition of Man Lewis uses his graceful prose delightful humor and keen understanding of the human mind to challenge our notions about how to best teach our children and ourselves not merely reading and writing but also a sense of moralitySt teach our children and ourselves not merely reading and writing but also a sense of morality. Published in the 1940ths this is a work of a brilliant mindC S Lewis The Abolition of Man is also a timeless wake up call to all of usWhat does it means to be humanWhat about honorWhich values needs to be held upMust we defend or surrender our way of lifeFor sure a work needed to be reread again and againEntertains and teach at the same timeI would say the right book for this timeHighly recommendableDean;

C.S. Lewis Þ 1 REVIEW

Ightful humor and keen understanding of the human mind to challenge our notions about how to be. This is a very short but pithy book with actually only 113 pages and only the first 81 of those make up the main body of the text; the rest are the Appendix and end notes mostly documenting sources The three main chapters are the texts of the three Riddell Memorial Lectures delivered on successive evenings in February 1943 at the Univ of Durham's King's College It's sub titled Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools starts with a critiue of some aspects of a 1939 British high school textbook The Control of Language A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing although Lewis didn't name the book and is cataloged by most US libraries that have it with books about education However the real focus is on fundamental philosophical uestions of value and morality which of course necessarily underlie whatever approach one takes to education but which underlie every other aspect of human life as wellBy 1943 the British intellectual establishment like their counterparts everywhere else in the Western world had pretty much totally embraced the view that the concept of right and wrong has no objective validity and that human emotional affective responses to persons things or situations in the world are purely biochemically determined reactions with no legitimacy apart from whatever evolutionary survival value they might have or formerly have had for the human species as a whole The task of education and of social engineering generally in this view is to systematically debunk transcendent ethical values and whatever emotions support them Lewis' message here is a root and branch rejection of this view and a thumbnail case for debunking the would be debunkers Since the establishment consensus in 2020 is the same as it was in 1943 with the only differences being that it now has if anything political power less willingness to tolerate opposition and the benefit of nearly 80 years of time to further its mission of social and cultural demolition it's clear that the debate set forth here is as relevant as everBasically to paraphrase and condense the contents of these lectures in my own words Lewis' contention is that there is an underlying Natural Law of right and wrong wholesome human relations and appropriate response to the beauty and majesty of the natural world and universe the existence of which can not be demonstrated by reason though it is not contrary to reason but which rather has to form the first axiom of moral reasoning and which is intuitively perceptible by the inborn human conscience This has a similarity as Lewis recognizes to instinct the existence of which his opponents admit but transcends the idea of purely biochemical instinct for evolutionary survival value This Natural Law which Lewis here as he does sometimes elsewhere calls the Tao has been recognized as valid throughout human history by cultures around the world with considerable unanimity as to its basic concepts Whether or not this Tao derives ultimately from Divine revelation although Lewis himself believed it did as he asserts in other writings is immaterial; the important thing is that it exists as the bedrock postulate of reality however you explain it and conveys information about moral truth that we neglect at our perilIn his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Philip K Dick suggests that the basic difference between his androids and humans is that the latter can feel genuine empathy for their fellow humans and other living creatures while androids can not Though they're very different writers writing decades apart Lewis here is saying something similar Natural feelings of love pity respect reverence family affection patriotism tempered by general fellow feeling for all humans delight in beauty are the things that make us truly human so than the dispassionate operations of our reason and which mediate the demands of reason to our bodies which by themselves wouldn't be anything but animal Annihilating human capacity for these kinds of emotions produces men without chests alluding to the idea of the heart as the seat of emotion and really would for all practical purposes mean the abolition of Man as genuinely human He's using Man here generically of male and female humankind and all readers in 1943 would have taken it that way He also suggests that the social engineering that brings about the creation of such post humans is not an elevation of humanity in general but simply an elevation of the engineers to absolute power which according to their own principles would be exercised without ethical values This main body of the text is very rigorously reasoned and can be demanding to followThe Appendix is a roughly 19 page collection of uotations from around the world drawn from a variety of cultures and representing sources ranging from ancient to modern roughly topical in organization designed to illustrate the universality of the Tao The uotations are not intended to be comprehensive Three of these are taken from American Indian sources and what cost the book a star in my rating is that the cultural source of these is identified as Redskin Wikipedia has a very comprehensive discussion of the etymology and use of the term and its gradual pejoration in the 19th and early 20th centuries here I do not think Lewis consciously intended the term as a slur and it was not apparently as pejorative in British as in American English at this time But it was still a slangy term not normally used in formal contexts as it is here and as such I think reflects a lack of respect This would have been general among British intellectuals on both the Right and the Left in 1943 some of whom still advocated the extermination of inferior races for which Lewis to his credit called them out elsewhere and his opponents at the time had no objection to it; but it's nevertheless objectionable to meNote The Goodreads description of this edition states that it's Permanently unavailable owing to copyright issues Since it was originally published in 1943 which under the terms of current US copyright law aka the Mickey Mouse Protection Act would presumptively remove it from the public domain I'm guessing these issues would have been the result of some lawsuit against the publisher Harper However the terms of whatever verdict or settlement was reached presumably wouldn't have reuired the surrender of copies sold before the suit took place One of these was donated to the Bluefield College library in 2016 and was the one that I read As an author albeit in a small way and a librarian I support reasonable copyright protections I don't consider perpetual copyright reasonable and I doubt that Lewis would have either