“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
- Wm. Shakespeare, The Tempest
Every generation believes that, in some way, they are living in their own end times:
The end of a familiar way of life.
The end of reason.
The end of the age of Man.
It begins as a rising shared consciousness amongst the laity that something is…off. The men and women are rejecting traditional fashions in clothing, speech, and entertainments. The dominant, stabilizing religious influences are shifting. Science — the hard, unforgiving, but constant master — is crumbling as new insights or precepts take hold.
The slow boil of change has become painful all at once.
What, then, is to blame?
Has society simply gone mad for no reason at all?
The reality is that our perceptions of such a massive construct as “society” can only be understood by the dynamic associations we hold with other people.
People are both originator and vector for memetic possession.
It’s simple to trace the path already walked, to identify the “what” of cultural transition. This legal decision….this boundary-breaching movie or TV show…that new school curriculum…that war. Any and all of them are the waypoints through which we believe we can frame our present times.
But what to make of the “who”?
Whose influence in our lives shapes our worldview, and thus the lens through which we frame our past, present, and fears of the future?
There are three tiers of influence in our lives:
Media types, actors, professional athletes, politicians, et cetera.
We have no interpersonal relationship to these individuals, but often invest deeply into their representation of our own ideals, pathology, or desires. Our bond with them is emotionally intense (“my favorite actor/athlete/politician”), but fragile and superficial. The moment they step away from representing that specific state of being that we associate with them, our emotions will invert, and that individual becomes a representation of all that we despise.
Distant friends, acquaintances, people in the community, that guy you always nod at when you pass him in the store but still don’t know his name, co-workers.
Here, things get a little more personal…more nuanced. We have a facile awareness of the inner world of these individuals, and actually see them as people with their own challenges and triumphs. It’s truthfully easiest to give the benefit of the doubt to our social circle, simply because the impact of their transgressions tends to be fairly minimal. However, as they increase in importance to the activities and frameworks that we derive our own meaning from (church, sports, volunteer activities), their behaviors are amplified in direct correlation to our emotional connection with that framework. If someone in our social circle harms our standing in that domain, we will view them through a highly-negative lens moving forward.
Close friends, family, sexual partners.
This group receives at once the most benefit of the doubt, but usually catches the most significant blame for perceived or real transgressions. Because we at some level take for granted that the strength of the bond can survive a little negativity, we expose our loved ones to the greater portion of our fears and frustrations about the world at large. And once we feel betrayed by a loved one (or they come to represent a thing that we fear or hate), that deep emotional bond and knowledge of one another can open up gaping chasms that are impossible to heal. They become evil incarnate.
As the depth of emotional bond increases, our temptation to offload our fear and uncertainty at the world onto someone increases. It’s one thing to believe that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is the personification of evil — that’s a one-way connection. But to come to believe that hell has emptied its devils into one’s own life produces such a depth of negativity that it can become impossible to repair one’s own frame for interacting with the world.
This is exactly the effect that cultural manipulators want to achieve. I do not believe that there is some singular, planned, global conspiracy of control. What I do believe is that there is a cadre of hyper-elite, wealthy, and powerful influencers who do as all humans do — they act in their own fundamental self — interest with the resources available to them. This includes access to one another, access to mass-scale tools of narrative control, and access to political and legal systems unavailable to the common man.
What they know — what all powerful men come to know — is that distraction and division is a powerful tool. That’s why the Roman emperors often leveraged panem et circenses to refocus the attention of the commoners during times of turmoil. In our modern age, we have Hollywood and sports and 24/7 news cycles to distract us; but even more than that, they serve as useful mediums to interject dissonance and division within the “crowd”. By setting us against one another through narrative, the influencers are able to effect control at ever-increasing scale.
We focus on the devils we know, dividing ourselves through issues that generally have little or nothing to do with our day to day lives.
The only way out of this negative feedback loop is to remember that every person is a unique individual, with their own worldview and motivations. We may know someone well, but we can never know their inner world totally.
Focus on what they do, not how they make you feel.
Focus on their good points, not their completely-normal shortfalls common to the human condition.
And above all, remember your own imperfections and weaknesses, and work to improve them.
If everyone you meet appears a devil, then perhaps it is time to conquer your own demons.
Dum spiro spero,
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