Friday, February 8, 2019

Social Justice & Screwtape I


My Dear Wormwood.

I note what you say about guiding your patient's reading and taking care that he spends a good deal of his time on twitter arguing with strangers. But are you not being a trifle naive? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier when humans knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.

But no more. What the immediacy of the internet and other such weapons we have largely done away with the idea of argument as inquiry and replaced it with argument as cheerleading. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to disregard actual reasoning in favor of emotions to be praised by others. He doesn't think of Christian doctrines as primarily true or false, but as academic or practical, outworn or contemporary, progress or regress. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him cowed. Make him think Social Justice is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

Remember too that your man does not need to be a slave to the twitter platform—it is only the exclusivity which twitter provides that matters. Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a greenhouse of mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the cause is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. The longer your man fights for the cause against the world the more extremist he will become.

And once he becomes a fanatic you will find him very willing to antagonize and look down on those who don’t share his views. He will quite naturally view them as hidebound and reactionary, and will view himself as virtuous. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know on the internet who share his views. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. He will demand apologies on behalf of Native Americans who don’t care that a sports team is named after them; he will gladly agitate for reparations as a white bystander. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don't, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real center, what the Enemy calls the Heart.) All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from our Father's house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there.

Your Affectionate Uncle,

Screwtape

Next: Part II

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