Image top Left by Thomas allen
C.S. Lewis’s witty tale The Screwtape Letters is a satirical tutorial delivered by a master devil to his apprentice. Thematically, it explores the art of spiritual deception of humans via subtle temptations and evokes consideration of whether purely spiritual domains are the only vulnerability of mortal beings. How much of this tale of skewed perceptions and misinformation could be undercurrents in our present public disputes?
In any heated conflict, opposing entities might employ altered depictions of reality to persuade others for noble or dishonorable purposes. Such deception mimics Lewis’s demonic instructional. Could such deception occur in societies of enlightened earthly entities? No doubt, given a Screwtape-like series of “anti-” directed strategies to confound judgment, multi-pronged pitchforks of propaganda that focus on:
Anti-trust: To undermine confidence, simply discredit facts, faith, and foundational beliefs with alternative scenarios and spread confusion. Attack sources rather than substance, while avoiding response to solid assertions. Polarize traditional support networks to divide and confound, while also demonizing one’s detractors. As Screwtape would likely add, “when humans have faith or trust in very little, they will fear almost anything.” When we are fearful, emotion overrides reason. If we forsake reason, we default to primitive instincts and ignore new information which may be contrary to our fears. We respond to challenges with combat instead of contemplation. Once our beliefs are distracted or suppressed, we reject anything new beyond core biases and comfort zones, and are ripe to become pawns for those portraying more chutzpah and carnal creativity.
Anti-reflective: Noise always overwhelms contemplative silence. Distraction and misinformation overload create and exploit vulnerability, compel reaction, not reason, and enable retreat into friendly echo chambers. Those safe havens reinforce our biases and make it all the easier to turn from the burden of sorting through haystacks of deception for needles of knowledge. As a result, we forfeit judgment to those more confident and vocal, who are delighted to make our decisions for us.
Antipathy: When we discredit and disdain those with whom we disagree, we invite similar behavior and exclude respectful dialog. When we inflame others rather than seek to understand opposing views, we escalate hostility. Anger provokes primal reflex behavior that protects self and precludes respecting others. Escalating incivility is amplified through social media vehicles and similar pathways of partial truths; consider, for example how many tweets make you angry instead of thoughtful.
Given so much surrounding distraction and disinformation, what can one do to seek more balanced engagement with others?
One approach – seeking common ground with others and restoring self-scrutiny – is to consider basic respectful practices, the ABCs of “to do’s”, and the Ds for “don’ts” of civility, reflection, and thoughtful engagement:
A: Acknowledge differences and seek to understand the intent of contrary opinions;
B: Bridge all relationships with grace, discernment and non-judgmental listening;
C: Consider whether what you read or hear makes you angry or frightened; if so, suspect the intent that is playing to your emotions and be cautious about whatever distracts from creatively challenging you; and
D: Don’t default immediately to degrading or denouncing others, nor to delegating your decision power to the “superior viewpoints” of others.
This anti-Screwtape proposal is not about politics or religious affiliation, nor is it directed to any red vs. blue, Democrat vs. Republican, or other partisan divisions. It is a call for each of us to reclaim self-reliance and civil interactions with others. If we accept that we are all in the same boat together, then rowing against our fellow man is folly. Guard your decisional dignity scrupulously and beware of the subtle Screwtape-like intentions of others to foster fear and confusion.
Above all, anchor all interactions with faith and grace.