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Nothing but Growth

January 15, 2010

Shakespeare’s As You Like It begins with Orlando complaining about how his older brother, Oliver, has not fulfilled the responsibilities set upon him by their father. Orlando desires to be a (gentle)man for which he must receive an education. Orlando’s criticism toward Oliver discloses the frustration he bears for living no higher manner of life than an animal.

My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and \ report speaks goldenly of his profit: for my part,\ he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more \ properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you \ that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that \ differs not from the stalling of an ox? . . . but I, his \ brother, gain nothing under him but growth;”

My \ father charged you in his will to give me good \ education: you have trained me like a peasant, \ obscuring and hiding from me all gentlemen-like \ qualities.”

In The Discarded Image C. S. Lewis discusses the medieval perception of existence understood within “four grades of terrestrial reality:” mere existence, growth, sensation, and reason. Mere existence is observed with objects such as rocks, growth with vegetation, sensation with animals, and reason with the human person. The powers associated with each grade vary and increase in progression toward reason. The first and lowest grade, mere existence, can only be said to exist and nothing more. It is, if you will, without a soul. The second grade adds to existence the powers of “nutrition, growth, and propagation.” Sensation assumes the lower powers and adds the power of sentience—conscious awareness. Reason adds to all of these the ability to perceive and understand, a quality on the earthly plane unique to Man.

Now Orlando’s objection to Oliver’s treatment is that the higher grade (or mode) of existence reserved for the natural man is being denied him. Oliver is suppressing Orlando by offering him nothing “but growth.” Orlando is no better than an animal, indeed, no better than a head of cabbage. This mode of existence rails against Orlando’s nature; it is not right, it is not just, it violates nature.

Orlando perceives education to elicit the “gentleman-like qualities” for which he yearns. Until that state, or mode of being, is achieved his soul remains restless.

I do not believe that education is understood in the same manner today. People (adults and children) more and more appear to settle contently with “nothing but growth.” Such contentment makes one a slave to environment.

So why do so many seek comfort in a choked life, a life only half lived, and nothing more?

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