“People… are the main spring” by King Crimson: Peer Pressure and the “Inner Ring” of C. S. Lewis

innerring

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In this song by one of the oldest, longest lived prog-rock groups, King Crimson, sings

people are the main spring
turning the world around
people, they’re the main spring
spinning this world upside down

I have used this song as a theme for this post, not only because I wanted to put a great song by them on my blog (check it out! – I wish the video quality was better but the sound is good) but because they point to the simple fact that in an important sense people are the “main spring.” I like the fact that they do not see this as a good thing, since “people” turn the world “around,” meaning, “upside down.” This post will therefore explore two aspects of this proposal, first, how people through a type of desire are the mainspring, and second, that this desire is not a good thing.

C. S. Lewis had a similar proposal, which very specifically states why this proposal is so. In his oration called “The Inner Ring” he sets forth examples of with one drawn from Victorian “society.”

Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hag-ridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that “Society,” in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings, and snobbery therefore only one form of the longing to be inside.

As you see, Lewis thought that there were many “inner rings.” For the purpose of this post, I will focus upon what I feel is the largest “inner ring” of humankind, and will apply some of his words to the idea of such a ring. For Lewis, the dynamic of human desire to belong to “inner rings” “may be dangerous,” although the phenomena of “inner rings” was “unavoidable” and “morally neutral.” “King Crimson” is itself an example of an “inner ring” as was “The Inklings” of which C. S. Lewis was himself a member.

So in this post I will concentrate on the “dangerous” desire to “belong” to an inner ring that therefore becomes an evil. But I also note that (I think) Lewis believed the degree of self-consciousness regarding this inordinate desire may vary greatly, from a nearly unconsciousness longing to that of acutely conscious obsession.

The largest ring that I propose to be that of humankind is the inner ring of “worldly acceptance.” In the old terms of Christendom, which Lewis mentions at the beginning of his oration. this was the first of the dangerous trinity called “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” In modern jargon “the world” is probably best known as “peer pressure.”

At this point I would like to raise an observation that we stubbornly individualistic humans are ironically, under peer pressure, nearly perfect conformists. I think this is illustrated by a statement of Lewis on the failure of our “skepticism.”

We are always prevented from accepting total skepticism because it can be formulated only by making a tacit exception in favour of the thought we are thinking at the moment-just as the man who warns the newcomer “Don’t trust anyone in this office” always expects you to trust him at that moment.” (Christian Reflections, “DeFutilitate”, 1967, para. 10)

It seems that the well-nigh universal “skepticism” that we wear to prevent us “being taken in” by other people, such as smooth talking politicians, salesmen, or religious fanatics, is gladly hung outside the door for the sake of our admittance to “the inner ring” of worldly acceptance. This transaction is effected by the unspoken but understood rules for “membership.” Lewis said,

When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself “we.” When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “all the sensible people at this place.”

So this largest “inner ring” of humanity, is merely membership with the “sensible” folk that think they have not been “taken in” by those defined by its peer group as “insensible.” But the newly admitted, have actually been “taken in” by the “inner ring.” Lewis shows how this deep desire for membership works, in a strong illustration demonstrating the trumping power of the “inner ring” over other normally powerful human desires.

I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number of people who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.

The “dangerous desire” for the “inner ring” is perhaps the threshold at which the fall of Adam is re-enacted as we mature into the caucus of sensible society. Annie Dillard, in her first book, narrates how this desire is also driven by an inner insecurity of unknowing (bewilderment) that is evaded by adopting through “untaught pride” the stance of the human collective “squatter” status, and thus also “al the sensible people in this place.” For Dillard joining this “inner ring” occurs at a very early age.

I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn’t the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn. In a couple of years, what he will have learned instead is how to fake it: he’ll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly been set down, if we can’t learn why. (Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” Bantam Books Inc: 1974, p. 12)

In this regard Lewis narrates our longing at adolescence that is another such fall by saying,

To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of “insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them.

But to enter thus, is a tragedy, as Dillard notes, and as Lewis concludes, saying

But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction.

If the reader is familiar with C. S. Lewis, she will know that “quite another direction” is the way of following Christ. In the Gospel of John we read of a narration of the conflagration that occurred when Jesus confronted the keepers of an “inner ring” called “the synagogue.”

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The synagogue, with its gates kept by the Pharisees, had become “the inner ring” to which membership to, through the peer pressure of worldly acceptance of “glory that comes from man” was more loved by many than the “glory that comes from God.” It is uber-ironic that God’s Israel, as a nation, ultimately subverted Jerusalem itself into an “inner ring” by (they thought) permanently excommunicating Jesus “outside” their inner ring. The book of Hebrews shows how God made the shameful public execution of Jesus the means by which he made those excommunicated from the world’s inner ring holy, while also setting forth the example they follow “outside the camp” (or “city” or “inner ring”).

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:12-14; ESV)

In “The Last Battle,” the last volume of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Lewis has a scene in which the dwarves have become self imprisoned in their own delusional “inner ring” because they were “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out” by Aslan himself. Their fearful skepticism fear at “being taken in” resulted in their conformity to a collective “inner ring” of blindness to the only one that could give them true freedom from being taken in by the peer pressure of worldly acceptance. The ancient wisdom in the book of Proverbs summed it up as the perennial way of  Adam the individual and Adam the collective:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (14:12)

The King Crimson song proposed that with “People” as the “mainspring” of life the world is turned upside down. C. S. Lewis proposed that this is because the “mainspring” is the “dangerous desire” for membership in “the inner ring.” Can we believe that Jesus of Nazareth showed another way “in” to an inner ring that is not based in the worldly acceptance of peer pressure? An inner ring that at the gate accepts all and excludes none but those that exclude themselves through their trust in the glory of man’s “inner ring?”

Perhaps we can believe if we consider the nature of “the glory” of man’s lesser “inner rings” that Lewis mentioned such as those at which smoking, drinking and promiscuous sex were the initiatory rites, we may see in every case some monotonous conformity as the entrance fee and permanent boundary marker of man’s “inner rings.” Lewis said

That is why the worldlings are so monotonously alike compared with the almost fantastic variety of the saints. Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality.

Now I admit that if we look in many places at the church today in America, we may unfortunately find monotonous alikeness rather than fantastical variety. The church is also always in danger of falling, as did Israel of old, into its own “inner ring” rather than Christ’s inner ring in which he alone is the head. This has become a slight digression, but for clarification I’ll mention that Paul told the Church in Rome to be careful in attitude toward “national” Israel that had fallen, lest she fall to the same temptation that as we saw was a type of “unbelief” that was formed by pride in “inner ring” status.

19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (Romans 11:19-23 ESV)

To return from  this digression, I would like to conclude with an excerpt from lewis that demonstrates that the Church, though always falling short of a pure participation in the inner ring of Christ, is meant nonetheless to be thus participating. Lewis says

It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men. In that sense Christianity must seem to secular collectivists to involve an almost frantic assertion of individuality. But then it is not the individual as such who will share Christ’s victory over death. We shall share the victory by being in the Victor. A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. That is just how Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individualism and collectivism. There lies the maddening ambiguity of our faith as it must appear to outsiders. It sets our face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies. As mere biological entities, each with its separate will to live and to expand, we are apparently of no account; we are cross-fodder. But as organs in the body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple we are assured of our eternal self-identity and shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale.

Note once again the book of Hebrews’ exhortation to join Christ “outside” man’s “inner ring,” leaving the “camp” that is not “lasting,” and seeking the city “that is to come.”

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

It is a city inhabited by individuals, its gates are open to all to come as they are, being sanctified not by admission to the “peer group,” but by the blood of the one that gave his life to save them.

Thanks for reading, and as always I’d like to know what you think!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Arcade Fire’s “Month of May” and the Question of Posture

From the first time I heard this song I found the lyric regarding the posture of some young people to be very interesting. Here is the excerpt:

Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
The kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Now some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
I said some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
So young so young
So much pain for someone so young well
I know it’s heavy I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

The song adds another verse that seems to provide a hope that this adopted posture will not become ultimate fate:

If I died in the month of May
Let the wind take my body away then
Wish I may I wish I might
Don’t leave me down there with my arms folded tight

The adopted posture here has perhaps become that of the corpse in the casket, and seemingly signifies a desire for being saved from such a permanent posture. But the honest irony in the lyric is that it is saying “the kids” adopting such a posture are already dead! They certainly cannot do something only live people do, which is to “lift” the pain that has perhaps provided the impetus (or excuse?) for their posture.

I find these lyrics to be quite interesting in relation to the cynicism and skepticism that seems to be part and parcel of the generation that has grown up in postmodern times. U2 sang of this generation in one of their earlier songs called “Like a Song” on the 1983 album “War.”

A generation without name, ripped and torn
Nothing to lose, nothing to gain
Nothing at all
And if you can’t help yourself
Well take a look around you
When others need your time
You say it’s time to go… it’s your time.
Angry words won’t stop the fight
Two wrongs won’t make it right.
A new heart is what I need.
Oh, God make it bleed.
Is there nothing left?

I included the exhortation of U2 to help others “if you can’t help yourself” to highlight Arcade Fire’s question to those that have adopted the “arms folded tight” posture that prevents helping oneself or others.

Of course postmodernism is not the actual cause of such postures, unless postmodernism has always existed! The truth seems to be that such postures are a common (albeit not necessarily uncomplicated nor a wholly conscious) choice of us human beings. C.S. Lewis provided an interesting story about some dwarves in the perilous times of “The Last Battle” in his Chronicles of Narnia. This brief summary from a commentator should be adequate to show that “the kids” with the “poor postures” in Arcade Fire’s “Month of May” are very much akin to Lewis’s dwarves, and that such postures can become permanent liabilities.

Among other things, I think the chronicles help children (and adults) understand the fundamental battle in life between good and evil. Good is represented by a great lion named Aslan, an archtype of the resurrected Christ. In the land of Narnia, evil shows up in many familiar guises of wicked witches, horrible beasts, and dark dwarfs.

The last of the seven books is appropriately entitled, The Last Battle (Revelation?). In this chronicle, the evil characters are Narnian dwarfs. They are dark and gloomy folk, with sneering grins, who distrust the whole world. The basic issue is that they have chosen to live in darkness, refusing to see the good around them, refusing to believe that Aslan can bring God’s light into their lives and world. So, they live in misery, squalor, and self-imposed darkness.

Near the end of the story, some of the children who follow Aslan go out into a field where the dwarfs live. They want to make friends; they want to help them see the light and the beauty of the world which surrounds them.

When they arrived, they noticed that the dwarfs have a very odd look and were huddled together in a circle facing inward, paying attention to nothing. As the children drew near, they were aware that the dwarfs couldn’t see them. “Where are you ?” asks one of the children. “We’re in here you bone-head,” said Diggle the dwarf, “in this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”

“Are you blind?” asks another child. “No,” respond the dwarfs, “we’re here in the dark where no one can see.”

“But it isn’t dark, you poor dwarfs,” says Lucy, “look up, look round, can’t you see the sky and flowers – can’t you see me?” Then Lucy bends over, picks some wild violets, and says, “perhaps you can smell these.” But the dwarf jumps back into his darkness and yells, “How dare you shove that filthy stable litter in my face.” He cannot even smell the beauty which surrounds him.

Suddenly the earth trembles. The sweet air of the field grows sweeter and a brightness flashes behind them. The children turn and see that Aslan, the great lion himself, has appeared. They greet him warmly and then Lucy, through her tears, asks, “Aslan, can you do something for these poor dwarfs?”

Aslan approaches the dwarfs who are huddled in their darkness and he growls. They think it is someone in the stables trying to frighten them. Then Aslan shakes his mane and sets before the dwarfs a magnificent feast of food. The dwarfs grab the food in the darkness, greedily consuming it, but they cannot taste its goodness. One thinks he is eating hay, another an old rotten turnip. In a moment, they are fighting and quarreling among themselves as usual. Aslan turns and leaves them in their misery.

They children are dismayed. Even the great Aslan cannot bring them out of their self-imposed darkness. “They will not let us help them,” says Aslan. Their prison is only in their minds and they are so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. “But come now children,” says Aslan, “we have other work to do,” and they leave the dwarfs alone in their miserable world.

These chronicles of Narnia reflect an ancient way of presenting truth through stories – using allegory. Allegorical stories help us see, through ordinary events, another higher level of truth. In this tale, the earthly lion, Aslan, represents the heavenly resurrected Christ who brings hope and life and light into the world.

What the children of Narnia discover, to their dismay, is that everyone has a choice… to see and respond to that light or to sit in self-imposed darkness unwilling to see the beauty which surrounds them, to smell the violets held under their nose or eat of delights of God’s table set before them.

We all know people like this who live in the dark. It is a lesson Lucy, Edmund, and the other children will carry with them as they return home through the magical door which separates the mystical kingdom of Narnia from their very ordinary earthly home. It’s a lesson we must all eventually learn as we walk through the shadowy valleys of life.

(The excerpt is from the Lewis website: Into the Wardrobe)

dwarves

In conclusion, Arcade Fire’s “Month of May” provides a very good commentary and warning concerning our reactions to the perilous winds that challenge our life, if we wish for our life to ultimately be more than premonitory postures for death.

Neither I, nor Arcade Fire, nor U2, nor C.S. Lewis make light of “the problem of pain” or violent winds in the month of May. But neither should we make light of our reaction and response that consists in a posture that is more dangerous in the long run because it has to do with what kind of person we are becoming.

So young so young
So much pain for someone so young well
I know it’s heavy I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

Comments are always welcome. Someone must have some thoughts about something here.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.