Mind is too weak for Matter

Someone I respect, on Twitter, dropped a concept, with which I take issue.

I do not mean to demean his wisdom. Twitter is a format ill-suited to nuance. There is truth to what he says, and if it is not the whole truth, well… there’s not room enough in a tweet for the whole truth.

But let us nit pick because I sense the nit picking may be of use to me and perhaps you.

And the expansion in which I found it:

I responded with fragments from the Abolition of Man.

The Silver Fox, you will note, has accounted for what I wish to draw out in his expansion. He mentions the Will. Let it not be quite said that I am arguing against them. Rather, I am spinning out implications.

Here’s a bit more context from Lewis.

It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism … about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. … A persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment… It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

The Abolition of Man. C.S. Lewis.
Emphasis mine

I grew up a fan of Spock from Star Trek, and my love of logic and reason has earned me the nickname “Logic Monkey.” I did not come up with that name by myself. It was given to me.

But I am a man without a chest. Indeed, thanks to isolation and old books, I am more a product of the Enlightenment than my peers, who are more products of the Counter Enlightenment. My head is swollen; my peers have swollen bellies, but in this I am not more virtuous than they. We both lack for chests.

I’ve said on many occasions that there is a conflict in the arts over whether art is a work of passion or merely diligence. And that I have spent most of my life thinking it was the latter, only to learn that the former is also needful. An artist must put in the work, but he cannot safely ignore the muse.

Lewis’s metaphors draw out what is wrong both with the argument and my current and former positions within it. To enslave oneself to the muse is to be an artist of the belly. To enslave oneself to a formula or a market is to be an artist of the head. What is needed is the chest. Trained emotions.

2 thoughts on “Mind is too weak for Matter

    1. That is not a deeply considered thought on my part either. It just came to me as I was polishing off this blog post, and I thought, “I don’t know if I’ll find anything here, but it’s certainly worth exploring, so I better note it down before I forget.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s