Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Those Who Are Deceived, Are Enchanted

In Plato's Republic, Socrates and Glacon, in conversation, decide that "to be deceived to be enchanted." They didn't mean it in the good, J.R.R. Tolkien/C.S. Lewis sense of wonder and awe, but in the bad H.P. Lovecraft sense of monsters out to get you.

The little-used word, "ensorcelled" springs to mind. It means "to cast a spell." And "spell" means "by the use of words." To ensorcel someone, to cast a spell on them, to deceive them, is always done by the use of words.

The problem, as always, is how is decided if you've been ensorcelled or not. Socrates had something to say about that: "this ignorance in the soul of him who is deceived may be called the true lie." It means that no one can deceive you unless you first deceive yourself. It's also why Socrates spoke of his "enchantment" being done by fraud.

I have given this a lot of thought, and have come to several conclusions about how to cast a spell upon people, and how to tell if you've been deceived.

The first thing you do is speak of Good and Evil, and only Good and Evil. It doesn't matter what you use it for: it can be politics or religion. But to ensorcel people you must always say you are the Good Guys and your opponents are the Bad Guys. You have to say you are "the greatest force for good in the world today" and those you define as your opponents are "the axis of evil." You must claim God is on your side and the Other Guy is on the side of your opponent.

I do not believe the idea of people being Pure Good and Pure Evil can be considered Christian, considering the horrendous problems that flow from the concepts. I am reminded of the answer Jesus gave to a woman who called him "Good Rabbi": "Why do you call me good? There is no one truly good except -- that is, God." But people as purely good or bad? No.

The second thing you do is say the Bad Guys, being bad, are insane, homicidal maniacs looking to do the Good Guys in. As Orwell wrote, "Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac."

Herman Goering, at the Nuremberg trials, spoke of Orwell's point, although not by name: "Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

The third thing you do is exaggerate the threat, something that leads straight to paranoia. You talk about "drones of death" being flown across the Atlantic by a country with a GNP less than that of North Carolina, as an example that would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. About this, Socrates said, "the enchanted are those who change their minds. . .under. . .the influence of fear."

That's an important word: fear. How clearly can we perceive a threat when our minds are under the influence of fear and paranoia? Not too clearly, I'd say. It reminds me of a quote from Frank Herbert's wonderful novel, Dune: "Fear is the mind-killer."

It's actually pretty simple to ensorcel people: speak in simple-minded terms of Good and Evil, scare people by claiming the Evil is going to gobble them up like the Blob, grossly exaggerate the threat, and denounce those who may question the whole thing, claiming they're they ones who are deluded. That one sentence is the essence of propaganda. It'll work every time.

So, then, people who are not ensorcelled do not divide people into neat and mutually exclusive groups of Good and Evil; they never believe the State when it speaks of homicidal maniacs lusting to conquer the world, and they certainly do not believe in exaggerated threats about teacup Chihuahuas taking on a pack of Rottweilers. And they are not afraid. Neither do they hate or lust after war.

The most powerful forces in the world are not nuclear weapons, or earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. They are words, which can be used for great good or great evil, as Richard Weaver wrote in his book of the same title, Ideas Have Consequences.

One of those ideas that’s had terrible consequences is that of all-good heroes fighting the all-bad monsters who wish to devour the kingdom. It's the stuff of children's fairy tales and pop horror stories. In fiction, it's a pleasant diversion. In reality, though, the idea really is a horror, one of the worst there is.

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