Thursday, June 7, 2007

Men without chests, but with diplomas

In the past two days of graduation exercises, I have sat through not one, not two, but three whole speeches about the importance of keeping an open mind, embracing complexity, refusing to see the world in black and white, abjuring certainty, etc, etc, etc. In other words, speech after speech after speech putting forth the defining statement of the modern liberal mindset: "who are we to judge?" So now listen up, and listen up good, because I'm only going to say this once (well, not really, I pretty much say it all the time, but I'm on a roll, don't stop me now): if there is a problem with society today (and is there ever), it certainly is not rooted in an excess of judgment.

It's late, I'm tired, and I don't want to start a rant, so I will point you instead to the perfect antidote to commencement's cultural cowardice: C.S. Lewis' "Men Without Chests." An excerpt:

The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. 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 difference between Lewis' time and ours? We no longer even pay lip-service to valor and honor. As demonstrated by so many of the graduation speeches this week, we castrate, and sing the virtues of impotence.

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