A Man’s Power Over Nature
Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men—by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their recurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.
~CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pp. 68-69
A Man Presents Some Works by Stanley Spencer Depicting the Resurrection
What a Man Watched in 2019, Pt. 6
TV Assures a Man it is Entirely Harmless
Everybody knows that TV is mostly false and stupid, that almost no one pays that much attention to it—and yet it’s on for over seven hours a day in the average household, and it sells innumerable products. In other words, TV manages to do its job even as it only yammers in the background, despised by those who keep it going. TV begins by offering us a beautiful hallucination of diversity, but it is finally like a drug whose high is only the conviction that its user is too cool to be addicted.
~Mark Crispin Miller, excerpted in Harper’s in 1986
A Man is Easily Distracted
John Milton Gregory, discussing the “law of the learner,” describes two kinds of attention: active, “effortful” attention and what he calls secondary passive attention. You might think that he’d advocate the first kind. After all, students need to exert themselves if they’re going to learn, right? But, no, he says that the second kind, secondary passive attention, is what makes for the best kind of learning. To grasp this, you have to understand what exactly he’s describing.
Generally speaking we learn most easily and most economically when we are “absorbed” in our work, when the objects that we are trying to fix in mind and remember permanently really attract us in their own right, so to speak—when our learning is so fascinating that it simply “carries us with it.”
This secondary passive attention is powerful because it generates its own steam. The student who is attracted to and absorbed in the lesson is going to make the most progress in learning. Students can only sustain so much active attention; at some point, the teacher must take over the heavy lifting and “pull” the students along. That said, active attention does have its place:
Attention of this sort [secondary passive] frequently grows out of persistent effort—out of what we have just termed “active” attention. This attention resembles passive attention in that its object is always attractive in itself and demands little or not effort to be brought into the focus of consciousness; but it also grows out of active attention, out of effort and perseverance…
In other words, the student makes progress through hard work, but can only sustain hard work through something attractive—we might call this curiosity or inspiration or imagination. To guide the body, the head and the heart must work together. (If you’re thinking of The Abolition of Man, you’re not alone…)
A couple of practical applications spring to mind. First, if the student (reader, audience, etc.) is bored, it is at least partly the fault of the teacher (author, artist, etc.). Second, active attention is a skill that can be developed. So you might not like classical music, but if you do the hard work of listening to Beethoven, you may find that, at some point, you become absorbed in the music. But you have to actively listen to even have a chance of being absorbed. Third, so much of our computer technology is designed to eliminate that first step of active attention. The barrier to entry is so low it’s part of the floor. Without that active engagement, there’s no chance of secondary passive attention, only of passivity. Growing pains are good. Without them, technology becomes a crutch.
A Man is Responsible for His Imagination
To think without feeling would be thinking with a total indifference to the object of thought, which would be absurd; and to feel without thinking would be almost impossible. As most of the objects of thought are objects are also of desire or dislike, and therefore objects of choice, it follows that all important action of the intellect has a moral side.
This is from John Milton Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching, chapter six. Gregory goes on to say that all education has a moral character because the education is only possible through loving knowledge, which implies that knowledge is good.
I like the connection he makes here between feeling and thinking, but what I really like is where he goes from there. Objects of thought, he says, are objects of desire or dislike, meaning that we have an emotional or imaginative reaction to our thoughts. A man’s imagination can embrace thoughts or it can hold them at arm’s length. Therefore, says Gregory, objects of thought are objects of choice. Dwelling on something, weighing it in the mind, is a choice. And we are responsible for our choices, right or wrong.
This fact is hugely important in any discussion of imagination and, consequently, art. Movies are not simply looked at or books read. Your imagination chooses how to respond. In a saner era, people understood that the imagination (the emotions, really) could be trained to choose well. Today, we still train our imagination, of course, we just don’t always realize what we’re doing.
Most people in our culture (and others) are bombarded daily by objects that stoke their imagination: TV shows, commercials, ads, memes, tweets, pop music, headlines, photographs. In order to cope with the sheer number of these “objects of thought,” we need to recognize them as objects of desire or dislike, and recognize that our response to them is a choice that we are responsible for.
A Man Digs
Not only does Ondara have the same initials as one of the greatest musicians of all time, his silky vocals are working wonders on my eardrums. Recommended.
A Man Feeds Excursively
He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?
~James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
What Boswell describes here of Johnson’s reading habits reminds me of Alan Jacobs’s praise of reading at Whim. (Lotta “ofs” in that sentence…)
A Man Read About Business
Here are short reviews of two books I read recently about Christian business.
Business for the Glory of God, Wayne Grudem
To his credit, Grudem argues that business, possessions, money, profit, competition, and all the rest are not evil or even morally neutral, but fundamentally good. As in, blessed by God. (Exempli gratia: the commandment against stealing implies private ownership; the Proverbs 31 woman is commended for earning profit.) Grudem admits that all created goods can be used for evil, but he goes to bat for them, which is commendable.
I part ways with him in two places. First, he says that the free market produces love of one’s neighbor because you have to get along in order to do business. I don’t think so. Quashing your hatred of the local mechanic so that he’ll fix your car is not a good thing. Your hatred needs to be dealt with. I do think that business and trade are good things that will flourish in a place full of confessing Christians. I just don’t think the causation works the other direction.
Second, Grudem has far too much faith in the free market to solve the world’s ills. He tells a story of firing a painter who botched the job of painting the Grudems’ living room. Don’t worry, he says, I did that man a favor. Eventually, market forces will tell him that he’s a terrible painter and he’ll find something else to do, something he’s good at. Listen to the market and the market will reward you. It will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Now, a businessman should not feel guilty for firing a bad employee. In some situations, it is a favor to everyone. But the way Grudem explains it here makes it sound like the best thing you can do for someone who’s struggling financially is tell them they need to work harder. That’s not always true. The market is not kind to everyone. People do get caught in the riptides and go under.
Works of mercy require more than telling someone what they’ve done isn’t good enough. Sometimes you have to step in and show them how to do better next time. And, sometimes, you just pay the man and repaint the living room yourself.
Acres of Diamonds, Russell H. Conwell
I read these books because I do not have a head for business. This one was useful in encouraging me to look for talents hidden in my own backyard, so to speak. He’s so positive about the fact that anyone (everyone!) can make themselves rich that you almost believe him.
On the negative side, I discovered an upstream tributary of Wayne Grudem’s book. Conwell (a Baptist minister) has this bizarre blind faith in the free market. Don’t leave an inheritance to your children, he says. They won’t experience the benefit of amassing wealth for themselves. Don’t give money to the poor. It will just make them lazier than they already are. Yeesh.
One last thing: he notes that ninety-eight out of one hundred rich men are honest. Being honest is what made them rich. I think he’s probably right about that. But that doesn’t mean that honesty and riches always go together. God’s world isn’t that cut and dry.