Sunday, 3 August 2014

CS Lewis's The Abolition of Man - true prophecy always happens with a twist

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The Abolition of Man was a series of lectures given by CS Lewis in 1943 about half a mile from where I am sitting as I write this; Walter Hooper, Lewis's greatest editor, regards them as Lewis's best and most important non-fiction writing (and a companion to the novel That Hideous Strength).

If you have not read it, you should - here it is:

https://archive.org/details/TheAbolitionOfMan_229

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The three linked essays are studded with extraordinary insights and predictions.

Lewis really was an inspired prophet at times; but - as always - genuine prophecies come true in unanticipated ways.

According to Lewis, the 'abolition' of man comes when an elite of 'conditioners' use scientific methods to shape human psychology as they think fit. Initially they may do this for some goal such as efficiency, or in line with scientific ideals - but very quickly their own effectiveness will undermine all strategic principles (including all morality) until they are guided merely by the whim of the moment - there being nothing that is regarded as more fundamental than whatever happens to be their currently dominating emotion.

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This is - of course - precisely what has happened in our world dominated by an ever-more pervasive and ever-more addictive mass media - but with the twist that the conditioning is working at an indescribably more trivial level than could be imagined 70 years ago.

The masses are conditioned into a frenzied-zombie state of transient stimulations, momentary distractions, cynicism alternating with grandstanding moral poses.

A world of liars lying about their own lies; then lying to cover their tracks.

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We don't feel oppressed because modernity is invisible to us.

I don't think an accurate and exciting and thought-provoking 'warning' novel could be written about the modern condition, in the way of That Hideous Strength. 

Indeed, modern life cannot be depicted realistically on truthfully in a movie, TV series, comic, or as an opera; it cannot be depicted at all! - because any depiction of the way things have actually turned-out would be unbelievable, too dull and pointless and incoherent to sustain audience interest or attention - let alone to persuade them of its validity.

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