No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my patient to stop practicing virtue! She’s just obsessed with doing good! As a child, she was nauseatingly obedient to her parents. After tireless work, in her teen years I got her to rebel against her parents and teachers, but then she began standing up for students who were bullied. I got her to stop THAT because I convinced her she was burnt-out, and NOW she’s telling people about the importance of self-care. Every time I squash a new virtue, another one springs up in its place. What do I do?
Tired in Tartarus
Although it goes against my principles to comfort such a whiner as you self-evidently are, I’m going to have to reassure you. By happy accident, this young lady seems to be merely a tiresome little social activist, and no true threat.
The truth is, that while it should always be our goal, it is VERY difficult to get any human to completely leave the path of virtue. They’re addicted to the disgusting stuff, and for the same reason they are addicted to such material goods as food and oxygen: it is how the Enemy designed them. Furthermore, even those who HAVE been adduced to throw virtue away entirely and come over to our side must almost always be made to believe that they have not done so. Oh they SAY they have rebelled against the Enemy and His bourgeois virtues, but the second you try to get them to overtly indulge and worship themselves, they start justifying their lust and will to power with talk of “the greater good.”
We do not – and unfortunately cannot – force Humans away from doing good. And even if we could, it would likely turn out to be a bad idea. What we do instead is to turn those virtues that they insist on practicing into sins, which then become weapons in our hands. In your patient you have already noticed these things, but you have been trying to counteract her virtues by attacking them. I can even tell you how you did it. You awoke rebellion by fostering her resentment at her parents’ demands (helped, no doubt, by the teenage hormones that were driving her in that direction anyway). After that, you awoke sloth by fostering her resentment at the ingratitude and cowardice of the spineless victims that needed her help to fight the battles that should have been their own.
Instead of all that work, it would have been much easier and more effective to foster the sins she already had, entrenching them in her character. If you look closely at the soul of any Human you will see that much of what they think of as “virtue” is merely their own fear of punishment. You say she was obedient as a child? Probably that was because she was afraid to rebel. You should have fed that fear until it dominated her and became despair. If in spite of that she rebelled? It was because of resentment at having been dominated for so long. You should have fed that wrath until it became indiscriminate anger at any who opposed her and turned to violence. But as things stand you have taught her the deadly lesson that she can change. You had better hope that this does not lead her to true repentance!
But there seems to be still time to correct your blunders. She is preaching self-care, now? It is still because of resentment at her own exhaustion. Let her apply her own “virtue” to herself until it is all she thinks of. If you do it properly, you will find that she can be induced to turn her proper regard for herself as a person (which the Enemy frankly encourages) into mere indulgence of her ego. All gluttony can be excused, all requests for help (however reasonable) can be denied in the name of “caring for the self.” Done properly, you will even be able to make her resent the normal obligation of every human and turn her into a self-centered parasite who — and this is the wonderful bit — actually believes she is still practicing virtue! This really is the end goal of the competent tempter: to raise up humans who will defend their own sins to the death in the belief that they are really virtues.
If you doubt this just look at their social media, the greatest garden for sins since Hollywood. There you will find the legions of the envious proclaiming their fight for justice, the wrathful trumpeting their compassion, and the nakedly lustful shouting of their love. And should any truly virtuous person dare to question their devotion, they are savaged with the cold fanaticism of the worst of the Crusaders. It is an easy enough state of affairs to bring about with any sin. Just look at the wonderful job we have done with the word empathy. This word, which is at the center of the Enemy’s injunction to the Humans about the danger of judging one another’s hearts and motivations, has been turned into one of the most useful weapons in our arsenal. It is now a shield against any form of criticism. In the name of empathy, the Humans are made to deny plain facts, the confrontation of which would make others feel bad. In the name of empathy self-destructive habits are defended and indulgence is excused. Have you impressed upon your patient how wonderful she is simply for following her natural inclinations? Fasten her attention upon it, and let her regard any request for aid, and especially any criticism, as a personal attack upon her. Soon you will have a patient who imagines herself virtuous, and who fights for her own corruption with the ferocity of an animal. Which is, after all, fitting.
Thus far, the New Unreality Method has been serving me splendidly. My patient’s priorities register nothing as important that ranks higher on the reality register than her time in the state school, while her free time is entirely taken up by a digital “feed”, which she mainly uses in crafting a persona which is a nervous wreck, proud of it, and has been trained to regard any suggestion of improvement as tantamount to a boot upon her face. She is socially reliant on a fractious and treacherous “support network” of other digital denizens of this kind. She is stone ignorant of the Enemy, regarding Him as a bogey conjured by those who simply will not accept her inner beauty (with a theoretical but largely illusory extension to the beauty of everyone else.) It is, in fact, going so well that I have caught myself in complacency. Please apprise me as to any likely pitfalls or counterattacks.
What Can Possibly Go Wrong?
You have clearly made excellent use of your opportunities and have your patient right where you want her. So much so that I almost suspect you of using this letter as an opportunity to advance yourself. The condition you have your patient in is exactly what we would like: a human who trumpets her own flaws as virtues, for the purpose of pleasing people she neither truly knows nor cares for. You plainly have her convinced that the sources of all her unhappiness are external, while the source of what happiness she has (or should have) is internal. This is a great triumph. Because as long as she is focused on the shortcomings of her acquaintances, or the World in general, she is rendered powerless by two main factors: Firstly, she is concerned with something that is mostly fiction. Oh, not that her acquaintances, or the World, do not have shortcomings. We have been hard at work seeing that they do! But her perception of what those shortcomings are all come from the narrow, parochial perspective that must be any human’s view of another. Secondly, that while she can do a great deal to change herself, she can do almost nothing to change others, still less the World.
But the major thing that concerns me in your letter is that you mention no relationships outside of the digital world. No family. If you simply forgot, that is very careless, and a blind spot you had better attend to before the Enemy does. Or, perhaps you have succeeded in isolating her from romantic love or strong friendships in favor of addiction to the digital world. This would be a positive step: we want the Humans to be frightened and alone, and you may think that the loneliness you have achieved makes your patient safe from harmful doctrine and addicted to pseudo-relationships. But there is one great flaw in this that is sometimes overlooked: the patient knows that she is lonely.
If she knows she is lonely, then she will tend to latch on to any real relationship that is offered. Such as acquaintances inviting her to social gatherings or clubs disconnected with the digital world, or even (Our Father Below forbid) a church! The Enemy is adept at using tactics of this kind, and your patient does not appear to have any attachments that would prevent her from following any person who offered her true Friendship.
Now you might be tempted to make your patient a shut-in. A Paranoid, believing that any person not part of her digital circle is de facto an enemy. But this is harder than it appears, and if it collapses it tends to collapse utterly. Far more reliable is the temptation to Sex.
Sex is a wonderful substitute for relationships and very reliable. In the first place, very few humans are at all hard to tempt into sexual activity, and we have been hard at work making it even easier. I suspect, in fact, that you have laid the groundwork already, and that you will find that her digital circle will be entirely supportive of any and all sexual activity you can induce her to perform. We have taught the humans that, like fragility, sexual promiscuity is to be celebrated as a virtue: that it is bold, heroic, and defiant, rather than being an activity that practically all multicellular animals perform without a thought.
Of course, besides the fact that fornication is a sin (and we have practically eliminated both those words from their vocabularies except as jokes) it has excellent value for you as a means of ensnaring the patient. Firstly, while we have tried to downplay this factor as much as we can, sex ties people together, and female humans particularly focus on the relational aspect. If you play your cards right, you may get your patient to believe that sex is a relationship by itself. But even if you do not, you will be able to tie her to a partner, or better, a series of partners, with whom she will always be seeking fulfillment and never finding it. And the overwhelming advantage to this is that she will stop recognizing she is lonely. How could she be, with another human always around to leech from, to fight against, and to hate for not valuing her as she longs to be valued? Even as unlikely a place as their own memes have recognized this and put it very well: “The worst thing is not to be lonely, but to be around people that make you feel alone.”
But you must never let her suspect the truth of this. Tie her into romantic and sexual relationships that she cannot find the strength to walk away from, and that can never fulfill her. The mere fact of having a partner whose feelings and schedule interfere with her own will make a true Friendship difficult, and an altered schedule a struggle. And if you have your patient as well in hand as your letter suggests, you should find it easy to guide her toward partners as shallow and empty as she is. Who will also demand that she fulfill them in the same impossible manner that she expects them to fulfill her. Look up the term codependent. Even better would be to make her a mother, and to tie her to children. Those whirling vortices of time and attention will make her unable to focus on anything — especially anything as ephemeral and unimportant as her own soul — for years. And, of course, they are likely, with such a mother, to grow up exactly like her. Hell does still need food, you know.
By Stabigail Van Burnin
With, as always, apologies to C.S. Lewis and Screwtape.
Dear Stabby: Through no fault of my own, I have been assigned to one of the worst patients in the world: a young man who has been raised in a Christian household and who has kept up an interest in matters of faith and theology. He’s most of the way through high school and already advanced in the Enemy’s service beyond most adults. Where do I even start in the face of such a terrible beginning?
First of all, no one wants to hear your whining about how unfair the situation is. Either you were assigned to this patient by random chance, or you weren’t paying sufficient attention to your superiors to influence them better in your favor. The first is just bad luck, the second is incompetence, and either way, no one cares.
The first thing to determine is whether your youth is really as advanced as you believe. Is he truly devoted to the Enemy, or is he merely loud about matters that he truly does not understand? Is he comfortable with the world in which he finds himself? When he is with friends who are not Christian, does he challenge them? Or even hold himself apart from them and refuse to agree with their worldliness? Or does he throw himself in with them wholeheartedly, pretending to be one of them, before going back to his family and his church, where he throws himself just as much into praising his God?
If it is the latter, then you truly have nothing to worry about: the wretched creature is merely imitating his surroundings, and once he goes off to college (I presume you ARE, at least, trying to get him into their colleges, the transformation of which is our resounding triumph of this century in that nation.) he will quickly fall away from any church and into your lap like the ripe — and dead — fruit that he is.
If, on the other hand, he complains that he is alone, and that he cannot find anyone with whom he can be honest: that he feels like a stranger in this world and longs for fellow-workers with whom he can share burdens and confide, then you will have a harder road, because you have a man who has actually begun to realize that loyalty to his God and to his own soul has a cost. This can, however, be fought on two levels.
The first and best is that of simple despair. Draw his attention toward the right kind of people: friends that hate all he stands for and yet are “nice to him,” or even better, “fun.” Draw his attention to how easily happy they appear and how they outnumber the people like him in this world we control. Never let him find like-minded people: if he runs into them, draw his attention to every defect of their characters (humans always have plenty), while downplaying those of the friends you want him to have. This way, when the crisis of faith comes (and it always comes, the Enemy foolishly allows them), he will have no support. In fact, his “friends” may even demand he abandon his faith in exchange for their support.
However, if this were going to work, you would probably already be seeing signs of it. Assuming you are not, then he is more tough-minded, your situation is worse. You have a young man who is already used to losing friends and being called a crank and a bigot for simply not agreeing with everything the popular people say. Therefore he knows that it is survivable. So the best thing in that case, as Undersecretary Screwtape once suggested, is to harp on his conscience and suggest that since he is being persecuted, he might as well dedicate himself to extremes of devotion that will turn him into one. Let him rail against all he comes in contact with. Never let him feel he has “done enough.” NEVER let him remember that the Enemy holds simple endurance to be a primary virtue; that, in the words of Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Although it’s unlikely he’s ever heard of Milton; we’ve got that fellow out of most of their schools. In so doing, you will, at the very least, make his beliefs extremely unattractive to all he may come in contact with, and you may be able to drive him into a cult.
But whatever the course of action, you must work on his emotions and the dread that every human has of loneliness. Do not let him notice the extremes of loneliness that so many followers of Christ went through. Let him believe that if he were really pleasing the Enemy, he would feel better. The Enemy wants the humans to discover the facts of the world and His spiritual principles, to base their actions on those facts and principles, and allow the results of their actions to shape their emotions. We, of course, want to invert this: for them to found their actions upon their emotions, and to choose or declare facts and principles based upon those. Since such “facts and principles” are as watery and formless as the emotions upon which they are based, they are thus open to every manipulation we can devise. We are aided in this by the fact that all human children naturally begin life in this way, and most of them on some level long to return to it.
Are you a demon who has a question for Dear Stabby? Contact it at this link and submit your question!
By Stabigail Van Burnin
Host’s Note: Like a certain other author who managed access to an older and more personal format of such advice, I cannot provide any information as to how I obtained access to the following entries. Let’s just say they come from someplace that I will refer to descriptively as the Darker Web. I leave interpretation to the readers, and apologies to C.S. Lewis.
Dear Stabby: While researching ways to influence my patients, I came upon the following advice. The source is above reproach, but ancient, and I thought that since here you were running an internet advice column of all things, you might be able to tell me whether this was obsolete or of any practical use.
It’s hard to tell whether you’re more interested in being a demon or a troll from the tone of your question. Either way, you plainly need help, because what you’ve managed to do is call attention to your execrable research skills.
This quote is not, in fact, by the esteemed but vanished Under-Secretary Screwtape, but by one of his many imitators, which you would know if you had ever bothered to look at one of those “ancient” repositories of knowledge those of us in the business call “books.”
Nevertheless, in context (which means “understood correctly with all the other knowledge you should have,” n00bilator) the quote is nevertheless good advice for any demon in the process of leading humans astray. The problem lies in isolating the context and in the general sloppiness of human languages.
I draw your attention to the key terms in the quote. They are “fixated,” and “politics.” Firstly, keeping a human “fixated” on anything requires a great deal of careful balancing, with two possible and undesired outcomes. The most likely, but least dangerous, is that you will expend endless and wearying effort trying to keep the wretched creature’s naturally wandering attention on the incredibly tedious business of human power struggles. On the other hand, and far worse: should the creature possess any actual talent for such things, you may have inadvertently encouraged your human to become an expert and acquire skills at the use of power, which he will attempt to use for his own ends, or worse, for those of his fellow human. What you must do is to encourage your human to become a dabbler: one who feels passionately, and does nothing except scream endless abuse against his fellow humans. This odious activity can be excused by giving it the label “activism.”
Closely related to the first point is what is meant by “politics?” The danger, as I pointed out above, is that “politics” can have two meanings. Its true and robust meaning is the understanding and use of power. This can be gained by shrewd observation, and the careful study of economics, history, and law. That is what we must never forget and what you must never allow the humans to discover. Instead, they should be encouraged to think of politics as a kind of social warfare in which battles are to be won by having the purest and most righteous feelings, and expressing them in the most extreme terms possible, for the object of securing immediate and symbolic victories. They should think of every defeat as a glorious triumph over a subhuman foe, and every defeat as a threat to their very lives and offspring. In this way, we encourage them to make the twin goads of hatred and fear the gods around which they arrange their every act. We make the political personal and vital to them.
So it is obvious that when the author says, “keep them fixated on politics” he is correct in that we want to encourage the inhabitants of these democratic republics to behave as little microtyrants over their fellow men: to imagine that they should be able to rule over them at every whim of feeling, and to feel justified in being terrorized at every imagined setback. But we must never confuse that with humans who actually study and learn about the use of power, and devote their lives to mastering it. If they did so, they might rediscover impartiality, which we are finally extirpating from their minds. They might rediscover something approximating evenhanded justice. Better to keep that sort away from politics altogether!
I would also caution you about the false dichotomy expressed at the end of the passage. “Be sure the patient continues to believe that the problem is ‘out there’ in the ‘broken system’ rather than recognizing there is a problem in himself.” As if their puerile systems were not ACTUALLY broken! Of course, there are better and worse systems just as there are better and worse men. If the problem is ACTUALLY in a system, it does us no good to focus their attention on it! No, the core principle is to always push them away from the truth. In bad systems, we want men always trying to improve themselves, and in bad men, we want them always trying to improve the system. Which one they are loudest about improving should give you a fair idea of which one they feel the worst about.