Thumos

The Art of Maniliness has a good post today on Thumos [θυμός]. It reminded me of something I read just yesterday on James Chastek's Just Thomism, The American Student.

Here is the passage from Got Thumos?:

Why is it that many men seem so lacking in thumos today?

Thumos is a potent force – left wild it destroys, but harnessed it creates. The thumos of man is responsible for the lion’s share of society’s progress.

Yet in our modern day, instead of helping men to harness their thumos for positive ends, society has decided it is better to neuter the force altogether. To protect some people from getting hurt, we’ve tried to breed it out of men, even if it means its positive effects will be sacrificed along with the negative. It is like getting rid of electricity, and all the benefits that have come with it, because some people get electrocuted.

From an early age, boys are taught to sit still, to be quiet. Physical fighting of any kind results in suspension. Competition is frowned upon because it means some will be left out and feel bad. Rewards and recognition are distributed equally; everyone is given a prize to avoid hurt feelings. As a result, boys feel less motivated to fight to rise to the top.

We’ve unfortunately come to think of elements of thumos, like anger, as entirely bad. Instead, what we need is an understanding that anger is neither bad nor good – it’s all in how it’s directed. There is such a thing as righteous indignation. The anger that drives one to stand up for that which is just and right. If you snuff out the force that makes bad men hurt the weak, you also eliminate the force that moves good men to protect the vulnerable.

Plato argued that you didn’t breed fierceness out of men, you trained it. Men of the warrior class, he argued, should be trained to neither be watchdogs who barked at everything – even innocent noises — nor watchdogs that only whimpered and rolled over when someone invaded the house. They were gentle with those they knew, and fierce with strangers of ill-intent. Their thumos was ready, if needed, to fight.

And here is the passage from The American Student:

-Within the educational system, the nature of little boys is met with an urgency, severity and unrelenting violence that rivals any hagiographical story of a desert monk chastising his nature with penance and prayer. If the educational system attacked concupiscence and the sense appetites with the same intensity that they presently attack masculine irascibility, aggression, and lack of ability to sit still and pay attention, then within five years we would have ten million six year old boys living in the wilderness on the top of fifty foot poles.

Thumos is simply something that we cannot abide, and so we aim to stamp it out. Thumos was a big element of C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man. He called its absence, men without chests, since thumos was said to reside in the chest, while reason was in the head and emotion in the belly. The relevant bit here, however, is this:

...we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still posseses.

Good luck on making those little boys sit still.