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    Men Without Chests (Post the First)

    October 3, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Today, we interrupt our regularly scheduled Miscellaneous Musings on Monday. Reason 1: I didn’t save enough links this week. Reason 2: Cindy’s book club started, but I didn’t have any time to participate until now. Frankly, I’d rather discuss Lewis than politics today–all this Day of Rage stuff reminds me for some reason of the Two Minute’s Hate, you know?


    Last week, the Club began discussing the first half of Men Without Chests, which is the first essay in C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. This means you still have time to read a copy online for free–or buy a copy–and participate! {Hint hint.}

    What I want to do is today is simply think through a few ideas that struck me as I read.

    Two Kinds of Men
    If you are unfamiliar with this essay, you need to know that in it, Lewis is criticizing a new English textbook. The textbook spends some time “debunking” an advertisement. We’ll come back to the idea of debunking, but what struck me as possibly the most important thought thus far is this:

    [T]here are two ways of being immune to such an advertisement–…it falls equally flat on those who are above it and those who are below it, on the man of real sensibility and on the mere trousered ape who has never been able to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of salt water.

    I think the obvious question is: which are we raising? Are we teaching our student-children to be above the sentiments in an advertising because they know and love the Good…and are not silly enough to settle for less? Or are we simply producing dullards incapable of mustering up enough passion to even fall for an advertisement? Who perhaps even takes pride in having a heart which is not moved by an advertisement?

    Lewis points out that advertisements typically appeal to real human emotions and desires. They are detrimental insofar as they coax us into settling for less than we ought. If we try and kill the emotion, we might succeed in creating a populace immune to advertisements, but not because they are actually a superior kind of men.

    How to Train Superior Men
    In the “debunking” which goes on in regard to the advertisement, Lewis explains that it is actually the emotion which is being debunked. Lewis assures us:

    What [the student] will learn quickly enough and perhaps indelibly, is the belief that all emotions aroused by local association are in themselves contrary to reason and contemptible…[H]e is encouraged to reject the lure of the ‘Western Ocean’ on the very dangerous ground that in so doing he will prove himself a knowing fellow who can’t be bubbled out of his cash. …[W]hile teaching him nothing about letters, [the authors] have cut out of his soul, long before he is old enough to choose, the possibility of having certain experiences which thinkers of more authority than they have held to be generous, fruitful, and humane.

     Lewis then reminds us of our duty, which is not to kill the emotions, but to train them:

    Until quite modern times all…men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it–believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. [snip] ‘Can you be righteous,’ asks Traherne, ‘unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.’

    I do not pretend to know exactly how to do this. But I think that Lewis gives us a clue when he suggests that instead of “debunking” {there’s that word again}, the authors ought to have

    put this advertisement side by side with passages from great writers in which the very emotion is well expressed, and then show where the difference lies. [snip] A lesson which had laid such literature beside the advertisement and really discriminated the good from the bad would have been  a lesson worth teaching. There would have been some blood and sap in it–the trees of knowledge and of life growing together.

    This is where I keep coming back to the fact that God may in fact use Charlotte Mason to save me from myself when it comes to our educational project. All of these good books we’ve been reading have done my soul good. They have corrected me where I have been wrong. There is a sense in which they have re-enchanted my world. I trust that, at the very least, as they are able to restore the likes of me, they will also do good to my children.

    I am trying hard to wrap my mind around debunking as a concept, and I’m not there yet. {Perhaps someone else is…I haven’t read all the entries yet.} What I have gathered so far is that it is a superficial form of criticism that may have unforeseen ramifications upon the soul. Lewis gives a number of examples. One is a piece in which a writer is criticized for calling horses

    the ‘willing servants’ of the early colonists of Australia.

     The author

    contents himself with explaining that horses are not…interested in colonial expansion.

    In both this instance, as well as the advertisement mentioned above, there are other writings which are Good in every sense of the word {hence the capital-G} which could, according to Lewis, be criticized in like manner. In this latter example, Lewis sees this as an attack on the entire human tradition of anthropomorphism and semi-anthropomorphism.

    In addition, Lewis seems to believe the long-term outcome of this sort of activity will be pride–what he calls taking “pleasure in their own knowingness.”

    Since I cannot completely unravel the mystery of debunking–and therefore cannot be sure I will not commit this trespass–my solution is to try and keep my focus on good literature, and loving good ideas. Personally, I’m not sure how studying bad advertising could possibly be as helpful as studying the best writing by the best writers. Just as bankers learn to recognize a counterfeit by studying a real dollar, so I shall place my faith in studying the real writing and the best ideas. I think if we tried to study the worst–or the silly–I would fall into the debunking trap as quickly as the next person, to the ruin of my children.

    Read More:
    Other book club entries are linked at Cindy’s blog.

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  • Reply Cindy October 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Over and over and over again I am thankful for Charlotte Mason if only I could remember that. It is like she did all the work for us.

  • Reply GretchenJoanna October 4, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Debunking seems to be related to the attitude that Dr. Senior warns about: skepticism. He writes that encouraging this attitude is one of the worst things one can do to children’s souls, as it robs them of the believing heart that is important to the development of faith — at least, that’s what I retained, not having read him for many years. Someone else could no doubt comment more helpfully on the subject.

  • Reply Silvia October 4, 2011 at 1:37 am

    What Kelly says about the attitude is what I gathered too about debunking. I can remember instances where I have been doing this ‘bad’ debunking, or criticism that had an added bad heart to it. When I do it from a bad heart, Magnanimous people like Lewis and Mason, show so much education, in their polite manners and in their knowledge always paired with true compassion, when they debunk.
    I remember CM’s feelings for the parents that want the best for their children but are ignorant about how to achieve it, how she commanded them for wanting the best for their children, and how ready she was to teach them with respect. Her love and patience are admirable. I’m one of those MOMS and I appreciate her for this.

  • Reply Kelly October 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Oh, it was Willa.

  • Reply Kelly October 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I can see value in laying bad writing beside good when you get to the age that “The Green Book” was written for — junior high. If they’ve been nurtured on good literature they should be able to handle a certain amount of that kind of critical work.

    But I would never do it with younger children, whose tastes and attitudes are still being formed. As someone said in this discussion, either on a blog post or a comment, (I looked over the blog posts and can’t find it!) debunking seems to come naturally to children — you don’t need to to anything that will encourage it.

    My family has a weakness in this direction, I think because we tend to be cynical. There’s a sense in which it’s appropriate to “see through” political or religious arguments and so forth, but if you do it with the wrong attitude, with an attitude of superiority rather than of humbly seeking the truth in order to glorify God, you’re going to see your children debunking everything they dislike, even if it is True, Good, and Beautiful.

  • Reply Daisy October 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    This was great! I FINALLY got my new copy of The Abolition of Man in the mail so I’m just now beginning to read. Oh well. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s posts on it.

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